Welcome My Little Goldfish

Many were surprised when Microsoft, the people who brought you the digital world you live in, announced this week that they have conducted extensive studies and to virtually no one’s surprise who has been paying attention; we now have a poorer attention span than a goldfish.

The 54-page study sought to understand what impact technology and today’s digital lives are having on attention spans. The researchers collected data from surveys of more than 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18. They played games and interacted online to help scientists determine the impact of smartphones and other digital media on everyday life. Participants’ brain activity was recorded and behaviour was filmed while they interacted with different social media platforms across .

By now you should be at least a little suspicious of media surveys but this particular study has a ring of truth to it. Many of us in the psychology game have been noticing something of this ilk for years. Society in general has become addicted to instant and now. I consider the Tap option on my credit card one of the greatest inventions since the wheel. This week a small vendor made me sign an actual Visa bill and I was almost offended. How quaint. Recently, while at an automated teller the person next to me complained that the little machine that gives you money was taking too long. This reminded me of the brilliant sketch by Louis C.K. called Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy. If you haven’t seen it, it will become a classic. I’m old enough to remember when the first debit card came out. You put your card in and apparently a monkey or one of the staff that no one liked pushed cash out of a window for you. At least that’s what I remember thinking the first time I tried this new technology.

LOUIS C.K.: Yea, because everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy. Like, in my lifetime the changes in the world have been incredible. When I was a kid we had a rotary phone. We had a phone that you had to stand next to, and you had to dial it. Do you know how primitive – you’re making sparks – in a phone. And you actually would hate people with zeros in their numbers because it was more – you’d be like “uh this guy has two zeros in his number, screw that guy, why would I want to-uh!” And then if they called and you weren’t home the phone would just ring lonely by itself. And then if you wanted money you had to go in the bank, when it was open for like three hours.

My in-laws had a “party line”.

It is impossible to foretell the devastating impact technology will have on the future. The global village has changed everything from how often I have to talk to people I thought I ditched twenty years ago to the exacerbation of cultural morality and the decline of religion in the western hemisphere. The internet has literally transformed the world forever. We take for granted technology that would have been considered witchcraft only a few generations ago. Again Louis hits it on the head.

LOUIS C.K.: Well yea ‘cause now we live in an amazing, amazing world and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care, because this is what people are like now – they’ve got their phone and they’re like “uh! It won’t…” Give it a second! Give – it’s going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space!? [laughs]

I was on an airplane and there was high-speed internet on the airplane – that’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go “open up your laptop, you can go on the internet.” And it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips – it’s amaz – I’m in an airplane!” And then it breaks down, and they apologize the internet’s not working. The guy next to me goes “phff – this is bulls%$^!” Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed ten seconds ago.

Flying is the worst one because people come back from flights and they tell you your story and it’s like a horror story – they act like their flight was like a cattle car in the forties in Germany – that’s how bad they make it sound. They’re like “it was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn’t board for twenty minutes, and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for forty minutes we had to sit there.” Oh really what happened next? Did you fly through the air incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight you non-contributing zero?! You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going “oh my God! Wow!” You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!

But it (the seat) doesn’t go back a lot. And it’s not really –

The impact of everything from texting to Facebook to your new Smart TV has yet to be determined. Society must grapple with the psychological, spiritual, and socioeconomic impact of such a monumental swerve in the history of civilization that some day historians will look at the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Nihilism and impact of Two World Wars and then the textbook will open to a chapter on what the world looked like when you were alive. It is impossible to exaggerate how different the world has become from even your grandparents time. It has been an amazing time to be alive.

Unfortunately they will not only write about all the wonderful things you could do with your smart phone. Psychologists will better understand the incredible impact that carrying around a personal computer while texting 150 times a day will have on your neural pathways. Have you not noticed that the world around you seems to have become more frantic? I don’t remember feeling the need to speak with all my friends every day when I was younger. I am uncertain as to what benefit my cell phone and laptop have brought to my life. Here’s what the article said about the conclusions they found:

The team measured their attention levels and activities to view how attention varied by screen, task, content type and structure. The findings revealed human attention span has fallen from an average of 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds today.

The decrease was seen across all age groups and genders in the study. Those in the age group of 18 to 34 had a 31% high sustained attention span compared to those age 55 and over at 35%. Meanwhile, males (33%) had a better attention span than females (31%).

Call me a Luddite but there appears to be a correlation between the increasing invasion of technology into our lives and the overwhelming stress that pounds in many of our brains. I tease many of my female clients that it must be scary to have a brain like theirs. Always going, always spinning and thinking, processing and worrying. Many, many of my clients complain that they do not know how to shut their brains down.

I am convinced that learning to wrestle back control of one’s impulses and attention span may well be one of the most important and arduous psychological disciplines that no one is teaching. Most of us are convinced that our brain is out of control and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Most of us are wrong.

Any counselor worth their paycheck can teach you how to stop that runaway train from going off the rails. There are skills, very cheesy skills, that you can practice until the demons are at bay. I’ve been using one method for six years and it works about 40% of the time. By learning one methodology I have been able to decrease my problem 40%. That is a staggering success. I learned it on the internet, in spite of the fact that I am in school and working as a professional counselor full-time. Professionals who tell you that there is nothing you can do about your mental health issue are tools.

ADHD And The Power Of Being An Outsider

Weird fact. Many many people I know who are ADHD and ADD get “hyper” after they take Melatonin. Some can drink coffee and then nap. I have noticed a trend lately, in the stories I hear; and I find this mildly interesting. I guess I could look deeper into this but… squirrel!

In my ‘D&A’ world (drug and alcohol) I have known several hyper people who like ‘down’ as opposed to ‘up’. Heroin is a down. Chill. Cocaine is not a down. You can solve all the world’s problems in twenty minutes when you are high on coke but the next morning your careful notes may not make sense (true story). Some of us like both. Some of us are just stoners. There is a feeling that comes with that revving down of the motor. Some people self-medicate so that they can be like the rest of us are all the time.

I have no research to support this but, when I think about my love for storytelling, it makes for an interesting tale. Some of us have self-diagnosed ourselves with ADHD long before anyone suggested tests. Some of us were wrong.

But here’s the interesting thing. Some of us were right. In a world of slowed cameras and boring lineups we knew we didn’t fit in. And a few of those who knew they were different lacked something call practical intelligence.

Practical intelligence is not the same as intellectual intelligence. Many of us are intellectually bright but still have difficulty fitting in. Practical intelligence is not the same as emotional intelligence, either. Ask any twenty year old female who chooses to date a twenty year old male and they can tell you about emotional intelligence, even if they don’t know the technical verbiage. Emotional maturity is the capacity for wisdom, the understanding of the emotional context in life. People who are emotionally intelligent are often described as “discerning” or “intuitive”. You know who you are. As I have written elsewhere, often girls develop emotional maturity faster than boys, especially heterosexual boys, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them are the way that boys and girls learn to communicate, and the importance of feelings. Younger generations of men understand this better than the yuppies, but we are still a fair ways behind.

Practical intelligence is something much different. It is the capacity to understand how the culture operates and then operate effectively within that culture. We call it “playing well with others”. Several people I know who feel they are ADHD admit to struggling with the confines and rules of the passive majority. They don’t always understand why the passive-aggressive people with “middle of the bubble” personalities who know how to sound boring seem to go further than we think they should. Some of my clients complain that they shouldn’t have to try to fit in, that society is “dumb” or “complacent” or just plain bullshit. It’s not that they can’t fit in, it’s that they won’t. It’s not that they won’t fit in, it’s that they can’t.

Some of you know of what I am speaking. You may have difficulty playing well with others. Popularity may have escaped you, in spite of relatively good looks or even a stunning charm. Some are prone to say whatever they feel, ofttimes disregarding the feelings of others. Maybe they have greater difficulty with impulse control, or addictions, or just “being nice”. They don’t suffer fools. I don’t know if this is really a “thing” but I have heard the stories. Many, many, stories. The sheer volume of the story has impressed itself upon my subconscious. I seem to hear this tale over and over again, year in and year out. It may not be a “thing” but it’s a “thing” around here.

I say this with a level of confidence because I too have struggled with practical intelligence. I was listening to a book some time ago and the author mentioned this issue in a new way. I have known of this concept for decades but did not apply it to my own story. I have a certain lack of practical intelligence. That is difficult to write because, by the main, I like to consider myself fairly intelligent and intuitive. I have know for years that I have difficulty being “normal” or whatever vanilla word works. I know several of you are probably lining up to question my definition of normal, but you know what I mean.

A few among us have never been able to fully integrate into the dominant culture and they occasionally come from tragedy or poverty or a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

My own story is familiar. My father was an orphan. My grandparents were alcoholics. My family was exposed to addiction. We did not come from wealth or security or education. I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and I am a middle child of two parents. I am not endeavouring to become even more self-absorbed, none of this is my story – it’s only my history.

I grew up in a safe place, everything else was gravy.

My ancestors were not privileged, and had to fight to steal a piece of the Canadian Dream. My father was opening, and often running, a local gas station by the time he was 14. After joining the military he would often borrow a military “flip” back to Toronto from the prairies (think almost half of the second largest country on the planet) in order to open the garage and work the weekend. Who would fly thousands of miles to work for minimum wage? My ancestors were tough, and they were poor. They were not promised the untold wealth of even the middle-class. They were not like me, they had to earn it. They knew how to drink and they knew how to fight but they could never figure out how to work the system. Practical intelligence.

I grew up with cable television. We were the first people on our block to watch Love Boat. I have never known poverty because my father made sure that I grew up in a world where he held three jobs so that I could have one, and an educated one. No one told me about college because it had never been a part of the equation. I stumbled-in by accident. My parents sacrificed so that I would qualify for student loans and never understand what it was like to go hungry. Some of those lessons leaked into my life.

There are times when we are shaped by our world more than by our biology. Ancestors who could not flourish have traumatized value systems and coping mechanisms. Certain social graces were not learned. They have not “flourished” yet. They never grew up understanding wealth or education or leisure. Generations of oppression teaches lessons that can become of a part of your fabric. Poverty and injustice leave scars. I’m not suggesting my ancestors experienced anything akin to what our African-American brothers and sisters have endured. I’m simply saying that many of us were not the Real Housewives Of Vancouver. But this is not my story, only my history. The moral of the story is that many of us were peasants. We came from hard stock that was not in touch with their feelings. Our ancestors served in wars as cannon fodder, never calling the shots but usually storming hills. Cutlas fodder. Roman fodder. You may believe that you were a concubine to Caesar in a past life, but chances are you were probably digging ditches.

Just ask the African-American in Mississippi or the openly gay man in Steinback, Manitoba. Ask the sons and grandsons of those who fled the potato famine in Britain or came to this country on a boat from the Far East. For some, the new worlds only promised empty stomachs and unrealized dreams. For them, the colonies did not turn out to be the land of milk and honey, just more minimum wage jobs.

Some of us figured it out better than others. Someone has to stop the cycle. My dad and mom decided it would be them.

Certain heritages are closer to the earth are still working out the kinks. Among this demographic you often find the one who will not share his toys. Or maybe, just maybe, he knows how to run a service station.

Perhaps he has ADHD.

Waiting for Change

Waiting-chorus-string-quartet-pianoAnd waiting.

I remember hearing the song, “Waiting On The World To Change” and thinking, that’s not going to happen anytime soon! Things tend to get worse before they get better, or so the maxim goes. What I have found is that things get ridiculously old before they change. Most of us spend day after day, month after month, even year after year desperately praying for change, until things slowly move. And we’re talking slowly. I don’t have any recollection of when I got out of my all-pervading, soul-stealing, life-draining, ‘who gives a crap about anyone or anything’ depression. There was no “ah ha!” moment, no prayer meeting that turned the corner, no epiphany, no medication, no counselling appointment that finally turned the tide. No conversation seemed to help at the time, though later it was obvious looking back that small change was beginning.

I remember, when I was grieving, going to see a really terrible religious counsellor. I went religious because I could get it cheaper. Mistake. Some religious counsellors are undoubtedly fabulous, but they never met this guy. I should have saved the money and bought a milkshake. NOTHING he said helped. But then again, nothing anyone could say at that point made much of a difference. He was extra pathetic inasmuch as he couldn’t keep confidences and literally ratted me out, exacerbating the situation exponentially. Long story short… he sucked. Sadly, many counsellors do. They go into this occupation to save the world and somehow fix their own dysfunction. They are rarely successful. By way of example, hundreds of addicts I have worked with, and we’re talking hundreds, are convinced six weeks into sobriety that they want to be a drug and alcohol counsellor, or work with youth. People love love love theoretically working with youth… until they work with one and realize that adults actually listen, most youth in counselling have no longer than five minutes of attention span (thank you every adolescent male for the stimulating conversation), and adults won’t attempt to give you a wedgie during your coffee time or fart out loud and blame you at Starbucks. These are, of course, only theoretical examples and I’m not really upset with that little puke who blamed me at the coffee shop I frequent almost daily by yelling and holding his nose, pointing and gagging. Completely theoretical.

Anyway… what were we talking about? Oh right, depression. Happy times.

Coming out the other side of depression seems to take forever. By the time someone lands in my office to actually deal with such things they usually are so far gone it can take months just to talk them into getting up in the morning. I never start by asking a depressed person to do much of anything. The key problem with depression, as I oft recite, is the lack of motivation. The number one thing you need to get out of depression is… motivation. So how do you get motivated to get motivated? Certainly not by going to a doctor who prescribes an hour or walking, journaling, or going out socially on dates. Such goals are laughable, in the beginning. Unfortunately doctors are left to diagnose and prescribe such maladies on a daily basis, while having little understanding of psychology or mental health in general. It simply isn’t really covered all that much in medical school. But again I digress.

I cannot point to a day when I felt better because there wasn’t one. Coming back from the living dead took years of reading and crying and praying and talking and talking and talking… and not a little bit of drinking, much to my chagrin. I don’t recommend taking a depressant for depression. It’s similar to smoking pot for your anxiety – short-term gain, long-term pain. Doctors recommend that too!

It is the same with trauma, anxiety, and much of the mental health spectrum. There is no fad diet or cleansing that really can make you whole again; no magic pill or medication that will solve your problems. Some of us desperately need to be medicated, but with an understanding that medication alone is rarely sufficient. What really needs to happen is time. Time to move beyond the raw beginning. Time to let all that good stuff you are learning congeal and begin to take effect. Healing takes time. Real healing always does.

I tell this to patients all the time. Even with the best counsellor change rarely happens overnight. I find, and this is not even remotely scientific, that my clients usually take about three months of intense therapy before stuff starts to vibrate. Six months to a couple of years to deal with trauma, or anxiety, or serious depression. Sorry to say but a combination of co-morbidities could require longer than that. Some of us know this, though it’s counselling suicide to speak of it out loud. “Short term interventions” that we were all teethed on in college are only relatively short, when compared with how long it takes to not get better. Consider then, if you will, that most extended health plans cover 5 or 6 counselling sessions. So why aren’t you better yet?

Depression is not necessarily a terminal illness. Neither is anxiety or trauma. What is true, is that they are not easy to overcome. It took me years, and I still bear the scars even today.




Don’t Give ADHD Meds To Undiagnosed Kids

English: A child not paying attention in class.

I have been preaching this for years, since reading a Reader’s Digest (of all things) survey of schools in Canada who were pushing for meds for kids who were disciplinary issues. Confirmation from WebMD.

Some people call it “brain doping” or “meducation.” Others label the problem “neuroenhancement.” Whatever the term, the American Academy of Neurology has published a position paper criticizing the practice of prescribing “study drugs” to boost memory and thinking abilities in healthy children and teens.

The authors said physicians are prescribing drugs that are typically used for children and teenagers diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for students solely to improve their ability to ace a critical exam — such as the college admission SAT — or to get better grades in school.

Dr. William Graf, lead author of the paper and a professor of pediatrics and neurology at Yale School of Medicine, emphasized that the statement doesn’t apply to the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Rather, he is concerned about what he calls “neuroenhancement in the classroom.”

The problem is similar to that caused by performance-boosting drugs that have been used in sports by such athletic luminaries as Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire, he explained. “One is about [enhancing] muscles and the other is about enhancing brains,” Graf said.

In children and teens, the use of drugs to improve academic performance raises issues including the potential long-term effect of medications on the developing brain, the distinction between normal and abnormal intellectual development, the question of whether it is ethical for parents to force their children to take drugs just to improve their academic performance, and the risks of overmedication and chemical dependency, Graf noted.

The rapidly rising numbers of children and teens taking ADHD drugs calls attention to the problem, Graf said. “The number of physician office visits for ADHD management and the number of prescriptions for stimulants and psychotropic medications for children and adolescents has increased 10-fold in the U.S. over the last 20 years,” he pointed out.

Recent parent surveys show about a 22 percent increase in ADHD, a 42 percent rise in the disorder among older teens and a 53 percent increase among Hispanic children, according to the paper.

While Graf acknowledged that the data about rising numbers associated with ADHD includes a number of cases that have been appropriately diagnosed as ADHD, he said the increase — especially among older adolescents — suggests a problem of overdiagnosis and overmedication.

“We should be more cautious with healthy children in treating them with drugs they don’t need,” he said. “The ethical balance tips against overuse and toward caution because children are still growing and developing and there’s a lot we don’t know.”

The position paper, published online March 13 in the journal Neurology, was also approved by the Child Neurology Society and the American Neurological Association.

Dr. Mark Wolraich, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and chairman of the subcommittee that wrote ADHD guidelines for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that his group was not consulted in the development of the position paper Graf developed. Wolraich noted that the AAP also did not recommend the use of stimulant medications for performance enhancement or pleasure.


I am amazed by the similarity of people in various professions. Is it that each job brings with it changes to the people so eventually they look alike? Or rather, are we drawn to certain occupations because of who we are? And how often do we ‘change’ or try to at least, to fit in with the group that we want to belong to? This starts young and we can see it all through grade school into college. And for what outcome do we do this? Acceptance? Personally, I’m done chasing acceptance.

Here’s an example. Have you ever noticed how many ministers/pastors seem so similar? There has definitely been some temperament profiling going on. I have known hundreds of ministers and after a while it began to dawn on me how much alike they are – outgoing but not aggressive, confident but not opinionated, absolutely dead center on the extrovert/introvert scale. It’s true, look around you. I have been at conferences with literally hundreds of pastors. You can count the number of controversial personalities on one hand. If you are looking for marginal personalities, check the kid’s table. Most of them make a brief appearance as youth pastors.

A little known fact is that most youth pastors have a shelf life of only a few years before leaving for good. Why is this? I counsel several ex-youth pastors and they have admitted to me that they never ‘fit in’, that the pressure to conform was overwhelming; and that most of their creativity was shot down by established mores and hierarchical power brokers within the church culture. They expressed an increasing frustration and heightening awareness of their own worthlessness, brought on by repeated rejection and character assassination.

Unfortunately these are not isolated cases. The pressure to conform in society is overwhelming.

I love the Tony Campolo story about conformity. He starts by pointing out how important we like our children to feel. Imagine them at their first day of kindergarten. The school principal comes to the microphone and reassures the parents, “Here at hippity hop elementary school we take seriously the trust of your children. We like to think of each child like a little flower that needs to be watered and nurtured until it can blossom.” So the kid grows up thinking he’s a little flower. And everyone treats her special.

But the day comes when she has to get her first job. I’m pretty sure the foreman doesn’t get up and say, “Here at Landmark Lumber Mill we like to think of each employee as a little flower…” No way! The name of the game is conformity. About fitting in. About not making waves.

Institutions, by their very nature, stringently require conformity. It can be argued that effective organizations must not be constantly threatened by opposition or change to operate efficiently. Marginal employees and leaders are guilty of polarizing issues and straining relationships. They are difficult to bear with, without a modicum of understanding and equanimity. Many people simply do not put up with the extremes of opinion and action, viewing it as self-indulgent and evidence of a lack of restraint. Ultimately they come to be judged as immature or in need of Ritalin. One has but to witness the horrendous rise in childhood medication within the school system to see the practical application of current cultural philosophy. In a recent issue of Reader’s Digest they cited studies that concluded that while only a few percent of the general population of Canada suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, over twenty percent of school students have been recommended for mind-altering drugs. It is far easier to dismiss and medicate than it is to recognize the inherent lack of appreciation for differing personalities. I have little doubt that I would have been recommended for such medication as a child had I been born ten years later. There is less and less room for ‘busy’ children in established organizations.

Considering the psychological ramifications, the societal pressure, and the subsequent lingering feelings of inadequacy, it is no wonder that marginalized personalities have a higher rate of chemical and emotional abuse. A vast majority of society’s disposable people exhibit anti-social behaviour and lack a general sense of propriety and culturally acceptable behaviour. An investigation into their pasts often reveals that they experienced catastrophic rejection as a child and continued to struggle with conformity well into adulthood. The example of Columbine High School put a magnifying glass on the potential dangers that we as a society face when we refuse to assign value to those who are unable to easily move within accepted norms.

I know a little bit about what it feels like to not fit in. My grade three report card actually said, and I quote, “Although Scott does well academically he thinks he can run the class and frankly I am getting sick of it!” Grade three, already a leader. Sweet.
One time, a very long time ago, my father asked his pastor at the time what to do with me. Apparently I was a handful. The old guy gently reminded my father that the story was not over yet, that often the most high-strung and oppositional kids grow up to be great leaders. This was sage advice.
I am keenly aware that I write for many people who have been beaten down by the system, by the expectations of others, by the death of dreams. It is tempting to feel marginalized when people are actually marginalizing you. As they say, it’s not paranoia if they are out to get you.

You’re ok just the way you are. I have spent much of my life chasing acceptance and it is vastly over-rated. I am tired of trying to “fit in” and chances are you are as well.

The story isn’t over yet.

Love Me Or Screw You


Like many of us I can look back on my life and see a variety of pitiful attempts to fit in. As a little child I have vivid memories of my grandmother telling me that ‘children are to be seen and not heard’. I remember being demeaned by relatives for being hyperactive and aggressive. Today I am sure I would have been deemed ADHD and medicated.

Love me, hate me, but please don’t ignore me. The classical class clown. I would do anything to be noticed. In some ways it was easy, I was blessed with a certain level of athletic prowess. I could always make an impression with a ball in my hands. But it was never enough.

Like most of us, I have spent my life trying to fit in.

My grade three report card actually says, “Scott thinks he runs the class and frankly I’m getting sick of it!” It didn’t help that school came easy and so I was bored. Being bored leaves you a lot of time to irritate the teachers and I am nothing if not persistent. I don’t remember much of those early years, but I do remember spending most of grade four in the hall. The principal and I were on a first name basis. Back in those days teachers didn’t get danger pay.

I am a very imperfect person who, for many years, has spent his time trying to help other people deal with issues that I struggled with as well. For many years I felt like a hypocrite who had to pretend to be something I was not.

I’ve been trying to be real, but it’s hard. We’ve all been burned. I am told often that I am not very normal. I don’t act, look, or dress according to the caricature of a staid and mature authority figure. For many years I wore this mantle like a badge of honor, secretly relishing my status as a maverick. It was easy to justify any sort of behavior, whether appropriate or completely asinine. Hey, if I can’t fit the mold, then screw the mold.

This is no longer something I am proud of. I have had to come to peace with my personality and not use it as an excuse any longer. What has been painfully difficult for me to come to terms with is that marginal personalities and maverick leaders need to humbly assess their own effectiveness and admit that we tend to marginalize others because we are unable or unwilling to listen, to affirm, and to appreciate that people’s perceptions can have value. Those of us who have fought a lifelong battle to be free and come to grips with our uniqueness are often too quick to take offense when those whose opinion we usually honor smacks up against our hard-won acceptance of ourselves. It becomes easier and easier to arrogantly shoot back that ‘we have come to accept that we are different and you better start accepting it too’.

In the struggle to appreciate our own worth and our exceptional contribution, it is all too easy to stop listening, stop learning, stop growing. There has been a failure on my part to consider that I alone am responsible for monitoring my behavior and the way I interact with others. I must not use my temperament as an excuse for immaturity or belligerence. In the same way that others need to come to grips with my uniqueness and special gifts, so I also must grow up in my conversations and relationships. Those on the fringes know better than most that feelings are easily hurt and we don’t have the luxury of trampling over the feelings of others with a ‘damn them all’, ‘love me or screw you’ attitude. Restraint is called for. Maturity is not optional. It is a lesson that I continue to learn, often suffering the consequences of my marginal temperament. I cannot expect people to understand my heart when I damage with my mouth.

ADD And Defining Normal

1212mentalhealth-RWWhen Mark Twain’s hero Huckleberry Finn was forced to study spelling for an hour every day, he said, “I couldn’t stand it much longer. It was deadly dull, and I was fidgety.” His teacher, Miss Watson, threatened him with eternal damnation if he didn’t pay attention. Huck admits it didn’t seem like such a bad alternative. “But I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewhere; all I wanted was a change, I wasn’t particular.”

If that had happened today, Huck would have been diagnosed as ADD, put on Adderall, and forced to attend school, while the book about his adventures would never have been written.

The American Psychiatric Association invented the term ADD in 1980 to give kids with hyperactivity, impulsivity, short attention span and easy distractibility a diagnosis. Who would have thought that 28 years later, the National Center for Health Statistics would report that over 5 million American kids (8%) between the ages of 3-17 would receive this diagnosis. That’s 1 out of 12, with about half of those on medication.

William Evans, PhD, with the Journal of Health Economics found that a huge predictor for the diagnosis of ADD was the age of the child with respect to their grade. In other words, younger children in a given grade, have more ADD symptoms than older ones.

No surprise there – younger kids clearly are more restless and less able to concentrate on a topic, or sit quietly in a classroom all day long. According to his research, “approximately 1.1 million children received an inappropriate diagnosis and over 800,000 received stimulant medication due only to relative maturity.”

Let me quickly point out, that I’m not opposed to medication to treat those with severe symptoms, but do 1 out of every 12 kids really have ADD?

I wish this was just about ADD, and though that clearly is the most grievous example; bipolar disorder, OCD, generalized anxiety, social anxiety and other diagnoses also illustrate the over-diagnosing, over-treating and over-medicating of psychiatric problems throughout America. The first psychiatric diagnostic manual, DSM-I, in 1952 had 106 disorders listed. The revised DSM- IV in 2000 had 365!

The National Institute of Mental Health has found that 26 percent of Americans (1 in 4) have a diagnosable psychiatric illness. The only word for that is “ludicrous”. A disorder of any kind is by definition something wrong, screwed up, malfunctioning.

A mental disorder is an irregularity in the functioning of the brain. If the brains of one quarter of the U.S. population are disordered then something is very, very wrong with the human mind. Or with our mental health system.

In a Wired magazine interview in January 2011, Allen Frances (lead editor of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental disorders –IV) blamed the DSM-IV itself. “We made mistakes that had terrible consequences,” says Frances. One of these consequences, the article notes, is that diagnoses of ADD have skyrocketed.

“Frances thinks his manual inadvertently facilitated these epidemics— and, in the bargain, fostered an increasing tendency to chalk up life’s difficulties to mental illness and then treat them with psychiatric drugs.”

Here’s the problem: The profession of psychiatry has taken on the role of defining ‘normal’ in our society. Even Webster’s dictionary defines normal as being, “free from a mental disorder”. As we purposely shrink the box called normal and it gets smaller and smaller, the abnormal universe expands to include almost everyone. But we say, “don’t worry, we can fix that with a pill and make you normal just like everyone else”.

My profession has not only redefined mental health by over-diagnosing and over-medicating an ever-expanding number of diagnoses, we are also taking away the hope of human nature by telling our patients that they are inherently “abnormal” and need to be fixed.

The psychiatrist’s office has gone from being the place no one would be caught dead visiting…to the place where a pill could fix anything. And psychiatry itself has gone from being stigmatized to glamorized.

Psychiatric conditions don’t come with an on/off switch, but rather occur along a continuum. High levels of any given trait may represent a severe psychiatric diagnosis requiring medication, BUT in small to medium doses, these very same traits can represent your greatest strengths.

On a scale of 1-10, what separates an ADD 7 from an ADD 10? Who gets medicated…..and why? How could one person use a set of “symptoms” as a springboard for success while another with the exact same symptoms needs meds and therapy?

How are CEO’s like Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines), John Chambers (Cisco), and Charles Schwab able to parlay their ADD into tremendously successful careers, while others are searching for a magic pill and a cure?

David Neeleman, founder of Jet Blue has said that if he found a magic pill to make his ADD go away, he wouldn’t take it. Creativity and innovation are hallmarks of those with ADD.

When a child first presents with symptoms, why aren’t we telling them that they are three times more likely to form their own business, will thrive in disruptive situations, will embrace adventure and are adept at multi-tasking, as opposed to giving them a diagnosis and a pill?

We must stop thinking how to give the “patient” what they think they want and start taking a look at what’s good about what they have. We must empower individuals to think it’s ok to be “not normal” and change the mindset that everything can be “fixed” with a pill or a few therapy sessions. We must help them understand that what they perceive as their worst trait, may in reality be their best.

“It’s time for a new order of business in mental health, based on the premise that when you try to conform to a perceived “normal,” you lose your uniqueness—which is the foundation for your greatness.”

by Dale Archer, M.D.

Life Is Boring

For most people, real life is…well…boring. The real world isn’t like it is on television. Most of us don’t spend our days chasing bad guys and running along roofs in Monte Carlo. There is a reason there are so many exciting cop shows and gun battles on the big screen – it’s called escape. Our real lives are a series of commitments and kids and shopping and work projects. Unfortunately most of us have made financial commitments and have obligations that we need to pay for. Paying for things means work.

I have, arguably, a pretty sweet ride. I get paid to listen to other people’s problems, drink coffee, and pretend to be smart. When you think of vocations that are demanding and difficult, my career path doesn’t even crack the paint. If you have empathy and a desire to help other people it’s easy and very rewarding. Still, even this easy walk in the park gets old. Very few of us, in fact, after the initial blast of career steam, wake up every morning in a lather to get to work. Our lives are not overwhelmed with excitement and variety. Hopefully our home lives are fulfilling and stable, though probably not an adrenaline rush either. The media has us convinced that life should be a series of orgasms broken up only by trips and gunfights and touchdowns. Real life is not, unfortunately, “True Lies” and your nerd husband is not actually a super spy who hangs out with Tom Arnold. Sorry, he’s actually a nerd.

No one is talking about the catastrophic effect this is having on our dissatisfaction with life and the effect this media driven hysteria has on relationships, addictions, depression, anxiety, and life in general. Most of us grew up believing we were going to have exciting lives of adventure similar to the fantasies thrown at us since birth, and it is dawning on us that we aren’t models and rock stars and astronauts. Is it any wonder than that the statistics on depression are staggering? Why are we so shocked with the growing angst among the emerging generations? There is a reason people are doing more drugs and experimenting with sexuality and growing up later. We have bubble-wrapped our children and they are growing up unchallenged, uninjured, and curious, very curious.

When people ask me how anyone could become a drug addict I am prone to tell them the reason is – drugs are awesome! The high from Cocaine is way better than reality and if it wasn’t for the fact that it takes your house and your joy and eventually your life many of us would probably be stoned 24/7. Want to know the number one reason most of my clients who are recovering addicts return to active drug usage? Boredom. No one is talking about it at 12 Step Meetings but get an addict to be honest and he or she will probably tell you the ‘normie’ world is mind-numbingly boring.

Take the average day of a heroin addict. They get up in the morning feeling sick. Their day consists of finding money to get high, finding drugs to get high, getting high, being high, coming down, and going to bed. It isn’t much of a life but it isn’t boring, spending half the day getting high and the other half desperately on a search. Now put that same heroin addict on a Methadone Program. They get up in the morning and go to the Pharmacy at 8:15 for their cup of juice. They drink the juice. Day is over. Now what are they supposed to do all day? They have never had a job and have no capacity to lie on a resume and look for work. They come from generations of welfare recipients. They tell me all the time that they cannot imagine going to work every day and becoming a citizen. Many addicts equate that with giving up. Did you read that? My definition of success is their definition of giving up. Startling.

I have had to become ok with the real world. My life is not racing cars and nightclubs and beautiful hotel suites. Many people, however, continue to struggle with finding meaning their entire life. They are depressed by reality and long for a fantasy world of knights and damsels and adrenaline. They have a hole in their heart that they try to shove alcohol and Prozac and Ciprolex and sex and hoagies into, hoping to somehow feel like their life matters.

The real world is boring. Let’s say it together. The real world is boring. But that is actually not a bad thing. I cannot speak for everyone but I am fairly certain that I was not created or built for wall to wall orgasms. In fact most of the things in my life that matter have very little to do with adrenaline. I find more complete joy and fulfillment in the people I love and who love me than I ever could from something as shallow as a race car. The things that matter to me are the people I care about, in whose presence I feel more alive.

Fantasy is called that for a reason. I love pretending to shoot aliens and ride spaceships and being a spy as much as the next guy, maybe more. But at the end of the day I wouldn’t give up one minute with my new grandson Angus Scott for all the acclaim this world has to offer. And chances are, you wouldn’t either.

I think it was that Jesus guy who said something about that, even before Twitter.

Casual Friday – Taking a Shower

I was in the shower. Stop. Don’t try to visualize this or it may scar you.

I was in the shower.

For 30+ years I had been struggling with feeling like a loser. I have come to realize that many of us struggle with self-esteem issues, but as I reflect, it seems apparent now that I had a very jaded view of myself and was prone to believe I was an outsider in society. As a hyperactive child I was constantly being belittled by adults. In high school I did not develop physically like other teenage boys. Skinny, I still had fat deposits instead of pectorals. As an adult I chose to enter a career designed and maintained by pseudo-introverts, politically correct personality types. Believing I could never fit in, that my temperament was somehow ‘flawed’ it became easy to act like a rebel, an outsider. I took pride in the fact that I was different, controversial, an opinionated and unbending ass at times.

So I was in the shower…

Every now and then there is a moment of clarity not induced by Percocets or Cheetos – an epiphany that stays with a person. Some people have them in church, others at a retreat, or in nature, or at a moving play – I had my life changing event while soaping areas you don’t want to know about. While there is a certain romance in believing that I suddenly realized something, that I had an epiphany, the facts would determine otherwise. The moments of reflection in those wet moments were born out of a lifetime of insecurity and reflection.

It is easy to believe that events are born in a vacuum, that they just “happen”. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”, argues that vacuums rarely happen. Bill Gates didn’t just come up with the Microsoft phenomenon by himself, overnight. He was the product of a myriad of circumstances that converged to produce a great idea. In his words, “Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.” (Gladwell, 2008)

That day in the shower I realized that I had spent my whole life feeling bad about who I was. I had ample evidence to support my feelings of inadequacy and the experiences of life only served to confirm that I did not measure up. But in that moment it came to me “all of a sudden” that I was supremely tired of being hard on myself. Yes I may be a marginal personality,  but surely this was not wholly a bad thing. What if it was ok to like myself, in spite of glaring faults and shortcomings. I had spent years feeling inadequate and seeking to change myself (with only limited success), but with what result? In spite of countless hours and attempts to change my fundamental self I still remained largely the same person – extroverted, opinionated… marginal.

That day I decided I would no longer fight to become something I could not be. No longer would I apologize for what I could not change and berate myself because I was not like other, more seemingly stable, people. I was done.

I wish I could say I have never had occasion to feel bad about who I am again, but alas some battles continue to be lost and won for some time. I do know, however, that I was fundamentally changed that day. Like all of us I have had my fair share of insecurities and feelings of worthlessness. I have many people who can and have lined up to tell me what kind of disappointment I have been. It is easy to believe them… but not today.

Is ADHD Crap?

English: Symptoms of ADHD described by the lit...Interesting article from Psychology Today questioning whether or not ADHD is a scientifically verifiable diagnosis or simply a social constuct.

“The main point of my article was that there is no scientific evidence that ADHD is a real biological disorder. Medical scientists have not isolated a biological cause for ADHD, nor is there a laboratory test for it. ADHD is a social construction by a committee of psychiatrists who author the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Many of the authors of the DSM-4 (56% to be exact) have financial ties to pharmaceutical companies who stand to profit greatly from medicating children.”    As I point out in another Psychology Today blog, ADHD: The Emperor’s New Diagnosis,”…the moniker ADHD merely describes a cluster of externally observed symptoms: the child often fidgets, makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, often loses his pencils, has difficulty waiting his turn, blurts out answers in class, and so forth. This is like defining diabetes as excessive urination, frequent thirst, lack of energy, and having sweet-smelling urine. Of course doctors do not define diabetes by these observable symptoms because diabetes has a well understood biological cause. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder of the pancreas being unable to produce sufficient insulin. But ADHD…[is] defined only by externally observable symptoms.”