Here's why I don't want to hear about your ADD

I posted this at Twitter: "A lot of people claim to have ADD. But I bet if they were starving and had to hunt for a meal, they'd be able to concentrate for a while." Must have struck a nerve; It was retweeted almost 100 times, way more than anything else I've ever posted there.

Some ADD folks fought back. One replied: "people with ADD can 'hyperfocus' if their brain chooses to. So yes." Another responded: "Re: ADD We don't focus, we *hyperfocus*. Have you read Thom Hartmann's 'Hunter vs. Farmer' theory?"

Hyperfocus! That sounds great. I didn't know ADD folks actually had a superpower. It's like you were exposed to radiation at a nuclear factory as a kid and now you get to yell things like "Quick, to the Ritalin Cave! It's time to hyperfocus!"

I guess I didn't know about it because I've never heard anyone say, "I've got ADD. That's why I'm so hyperfocused on what you're talking about right now! Tell me more. I'm fascinated with what you are saying and I can't wait to pay more attention to you."

That's not the ADD I ever see. The one I tend to encounter: "I've got ADD. That's why I can't do my homework, sit still, listen to anything you say, or...wait, what was I talking about?"

See, I have this crazy theory: When you have a hard time paying attention to things that aren't interesting to you, that's not a disease. That's actually totally normal. (OK, maybe a few people out there have a brain chemistry issue that needs correcting. I'm guessing that's a tiny percentage of the people who claim ADD though.)

The real problem is society and what we surround ourselves with: smartphones, Facebook updates, Twitter posts, YouTube videos, emails, IM messages, texts, Foursquare check-ins, iPods, iPads, laptops, TVs in bars, TVs in backs of cabs, TVs in elevators. Elevators! We can't even go five floors without a goddamn TV.

I was on the Q train the other day and as soon as the train got out of the tunnel and went over the Manhattan Bridge (cell service then becomes available), every single person in that car immediately went to check their phone. We looked like a bunch of jonesing addicts that were finally given access to a pile of glistening needles.

Labelling this a disease is a lie. First off, it should be a red flag when everyone has the same disease. Also, a disease is when your body isn't functioning correctly. That's not what's going on. Our bodies are doing exactly what they should do: freaking the fuck out because they are being attacked by information and don't know how to process it all.

So let's stop blaming our bodies. We, as individuals and as a society, are making choices. We're continually choosing to stick our faces in front of this information-spewing fire hydrant.

Yet instead of accepting responsibility for our behavior, we choose to disease-ify everything. We let Merck, Pfizer, and the rest of the pharmaceutical industrial complex sign us (and our children) up for their neverending subscription programs that pick our pockets on a monthly basis while we tell ourselves we're the poor victims here instead of admitting we're junkies.

And while we're on the subject, let's settle down with everyone being "depressed" too. Depressed is just what we call people who understand what's happening. Look around. If you're not at least a little depressed, that's when you should be worried something's wrong with you.

And don't take a pill to forget about your "depression" either. You feel pain for a reason; It's your body trying to tell you something's wrong. Listen to it, don't numb it. The solution to touching a scalding hot pan is to stop touching the damn pan, not to take some pill that makes you forget your flesh is melting.

Oh, and while I'm addressing disease inflation, I suggest we rename "Type 2 Diabetes" to "You ate too much poison that laboratories in New Jersey disguised as food."

Ever notice how rarely these things exist in third world countries? Starving people who are desperate for a meal don't have ADD, Type 2 Diabetes, or depression. They have real problems. The prevalence of these "diseases" here are a sign of our society's excessive wealth and free time. Malaria, now there's a disease. Being bored and checking Facebook a lot? That's a choice.

Listen, I'm as guilty as the next guy. I raced to check my phone on that train. A 500+ page book? Uh, no thank you. Read your screenplay? Doubtful. When my phone vibrates, I stop caring about what someone is telling me because I just want to look at my phone. Because my phone wants to tell me something about me! And there is no more fascinating topic to me than me.

But I do not have a disease. It's my fault. I'm making choices. I spend too much time staring at screens. And when you constantly bask in the glow of pixels that are customized to your every whim, almost everything else, including actual human beings, starts to pale in comparison.

So ADD people, let's all just be honest and admit that the real problem...ah, who am I kidding? There's no way they made it this far.


Josh Homer said...

you're talking about two different things here; legitimate medical concerns and the idiots who claim to have them in order to seem more interesting than their plain Jane lives have afforded them.

ADD and ADHD are real issues, as are depression (not feeling sad but have a chemical imbalance. I know I have a family member who suffers from this. It's not "i feel bad today" thing like these hacky comics say they have in order to seem cool) and Diabetes (I don't think you're body's inability to process sugar is in your mind. My mom's on insulin and I don't think she's faking it when her eyesight goes out due to a sugar spike.)

I think you got the most comments on this twitter post because it shows your lack of understanding of an actual medical condition. Instead of calling people out on over diagnosing it, you made a blanket statement towards all people who claim to have ADD, even legit cases.

PS - you ever notice no one in 3rd world countries has these disorders is a Chris Rock bit. "No one in Rwanda is lactose intolerant" Maybe they are, but having food to actually shit out might overpower their desire not to shit their pants.

Matt Ruby said...

I am arguing that most people who claim to have ADD do not actually have anything wrong with their brains.

I am also arguing that many people who feel depressed are rightfully sad and should look for ways to change their lives. Also, any society that has the extraordinary rates of depression that we have needs to examine itself and its priorities.

Type 2 Diabetes is a response to the poisonous food we eat in this country. See our ridic obesity rates, read Michael Pollan, etc.

Why are we so misdiagnosed? Follow the money:

"The market for prescription drugs and medical devices to manage Type 2 diabetes, which the Centers for Disease Control estimates will afflict one in three Americans born after 2000, is one of the brighter spots in the American economy. As things stand, the health care industry finds it more profitable to treat chronic diseases than to prevent them. There’s more money in amputating the limbs of diabetics than in counseling them on diet and exercise."

From Big Food vs. Big Insurance.

Forgot about that Rock bit. He's right on. The problem is the choices our society and we as individuals are making. We are not helpless victims here. We need to start taking responsibility for the choices we make.

Matt Ruby said...

Oh, and re: this: "I think you got the most comments on this twitter post because it shows your lack of understanding of an actual medical condition." I mentioned two of the handful of negative responses I received. Almost everyone else retweeted it without comment. I'd take that as a sign of agreement, not protest.

D. Angelo said...

ADD is a byproduct of television. every 5 or 6 minutes, there's a commercial break, which is then 5-6 30 second spots, then BACK to the programming. When little kids watch, that pacing stays with their brain.

It may not be "fake" - but it's cultural. In Japan, they have "Sudden Overwork Death" called KarĊshi. Obviously, Americans don't have that problem...

I'm a scientist, by the way.

myq said...

@chrisrock et al:


"Primary lactose intolerance: Environmentally induced when weaning a child in non–dairy consuming societies. This is found in many Asian and African cultures, where industrialized and commercial dairy products are uncommon."
"The frequency of decreased lactase activity ranges from as little as 5% in northern Europe, to more than 90% in some African and Asian countries."

Other than that, everyone is correct.

Diabetes is a real disorder with real causes that can be avoided or prevented, maybe not all the time.

ADD is a real disorder that most people don't have, but is more prevalent today than it once was likely due to technological and societal circumstances.

Depression is a real disorder, but if you are walking around upright, eating regularly, and saying "I am so depressed" to people on a daily basis, that's not it.

We all win!

Josh Homer said...

Myq is very diplomatic, it's one of the reasons I enjoy his input even when I disagree with him (now is not one of those times though)

I'll leave it at this: I disagree with this blog for many reasons but I'm tired of arguing on the internet. No one wins.

soce said...

ADD is more difficult to handle when you're a small child. I know kids who have ADD, and it makes a world of difference to their teachers and parents when they're on the proper medication.

Adam Torres said...

Matt, I don't have an opinion whether you're right or wrong, but I think you've found your voice. You clearly care about this subject, and have found a topic that is both self-relatable and a commentary on society. Keep at it. And make sure you TM the phrase "disease inflation"!

Matt Ruby said...

Soce, I'm sure some kids have genuine issues with their brain chemistry. But I bet it's way less than are diagnosed that way. I think we need to examine how much of what is labelled as ADD in children is actually a reaction to stimulus overload (TVs in the backseat!?), awful diets of processed food, a lack of exercise, and/or the way schools treat children.

I mean this is just disgusting:

"More than one in four insured children are now taking at least one prescription medication to treat a chronic medical condition. The figure is even higher -- nearly 30 percent -- for adolescents aged 10 to 19. The most significant increases over the past nine years have been seen in the use of antipsychotic, diabetes, and asthma drugs." (source)

What kind of society drugs 30% of its children? Sad.

sarah said...

the routine prescription of anti-psychotic meds to kids is the worst.


Selena said...

I completely agree that ADD/ADHD is horribly overdiagnosed and overmedicated these days. I went to college with a TON of kids on ADD/ADHD meds and very few of them truly needed the drugs. When I was growing up, I knew ONE boy who had ADD/ADHD and it was completely obvious and identifiable and he definitely needed meds to be functional. Otherwise, almost everyone I've known who is on those meds, I'm like, "Really? Huh."

Not to get too "old crotchety dude who walks uphill both ways to school," but when I was a kid, my family went to church every Sunday morning. I learned to sit still and shut up for an hour and I wasn't given a game boy or indulged in any way. So many parents today seem to fear their own children, and raise them accordingly.

myq said...

"More than one in four insured children are now taking at least one prescription medication to treat a chronic medical condition. The figure is even higher -- nearly 30 percent -- for adolescents aged 10 to 19..."
"What kind of society drugs 30% of its children?"

Silver lining--we only drug 30% of the INSURED children, and from what I hear, that's not anywhere close to all of them.

Also, one serious point--I think there are a few issues being conflated here. One is the overdiagnosis of ADD, which I agree is indeed happening. The other goes back to the initial tweet mentioned at the beginning of this post, about a lot of people claiming to have ADD. Just wanted to point out that many more people make such claims casually without actually being diagnosed (rightly or wrongly, likely wrongly in that case, if at all).

That latter issue isn't really much of a problem except for the fact that it can confuse the issue of the real problem. "I am SOO OCD" or "I am SOO depressed" are fine to say, as long as people are aware that most people who say them are not afflicted with the real disorders that DO afflict people who benefit from actually treating said disorders medically.

Sorry to be so obsessive and compulsive about making that point. I'm anxious that I haven't depressed you, if you paid attention to the whole thing. Suicide.

Steev said...

I'm months late to the party on this one. I was lured to your site by Jared Logan strutting happily up the street, being hated on.

Just wanted to say I agree 100% with your blog post. Well put! I'm going to go post it on Facebook! Whoopy!

Sherrod Henderson said...

@soce Being a carnivore is more difficult to handle when you're a lion. I know lions who are carnivores, and it makes a world of difference to their zoo keepers and circus handlers when they're doped up enough to be submissive.

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