Thursday, August 29, 2013

ADD and Decisions

Do you have ADD or know someone who has ADD?

Have you ever noticed how hard decision making is for you or your friend/spouse/child with ADD?  I'm not talking about life-threatening, should I pull the plug or not decisions.  I'm talking butter or margarine decisions, or coffee, tea or milk decisions.  Decisions that to any perfectly ordinary person wouldn't even register as a decision.

I suffer with minor and semi-major (but not should we bomb another country) decisions on a day-to-day basis.

I used to think this made me neurotic and I would laugh about this "quirk" with my friends so that my irritating behavior wouldn't completely turn them against me.  Sure I'm paralyzed over which movie/restaurant/bar to go to, but I can joke about it so what's the harm?

In college this "quirk" almost delayed my graduation.  I was a serious student and studied all of the time.  I loved school, but more than five times during the course of my college career I took a class that sounded great, bought the $50-$150 text, sat in on the first week of classes, then panicked.  It was harder/easier/less interesting/more ridiculous than I had originally thought and I worried, should I continue on and trust that it will get better or should I bail?  Usually, I tormented myself for a good two weeks until a major assignment was due and then go to the professor in tears.  By the time I finally dropped the course and heaved that sigh of relief, it was too late to enroll in another class and I had to eat the cost of the dropped class.  At the end of four years I had just enough credits to graduate.  One more dropped course and I may have needed to return the following fall.

Not good planning, but this had nothing to do with planning.  It had everything to do with trusting my instincts and making decisions with which I could live.

After college, I did exactly the same thing only now I couldn't decide which city to move to with which friends.  This nearly cost me a good handful of wonderful friendships.  The decision had relatively little to do with the city or the friends or even a potential job opportunity and everything to do with doubt and worry and option paralysis and, I suspect, ADD.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not using ADD as an excuse for my behavior, I just understand myself a bit more.  Give me too many open-ended possibilities and I feel like a mouse in an IKEA warehouse staring up at a looming city of cheap wood and metal stacked to the ceiling.  That's when I start rocking myself in a corner trying to self-soothe.

Obviously, this trend in decision making still haunts me, but at middle-age I've managed it better (although with two school-age children, this can be a challenge).  I worry less and get over it quicker.  I've also lessened the opportunities for paralysis (I don't go to IKEA very often and when I do, I only drink decaf beforehand and keep the aromatherapy oils on hand).

Another thing I did in college - and sometimes still do - was over-research my options.  It was a way to delay the decision, but also put me into what ADDitude Magazine calls "attention surplus disorder."  

Does any of this sound like you or your friend or partner?  

ADDitude offers some lovely options for relieving the chest-tightening anxiety caused by decision-making, but I have to say their options aren't all that helpful.  They suggest making a pro/con list, prioritizing, thinking long term/big picture, not acting on impulse, and (my favorite) making a decision with confidence.

The reason I find these suggestions unhelpful and frankly hilarious is because if someone was able to prioritize, think big picture, not act on impulse, and make a decision with confidence, that person would not have ADD!  On top of that, I know how to stack a pro/con list  so that it is exactly even on both sides.  Completely useless.

I wish I had an answer for you, you lovely ADD brothers and sisters of mine.

The best advice I can give is to find a quiet place and meditate, if you can, or draw, free write, bake, garden.  Go for a run or swim or just take a walk.  Play a video game or watch a dumb movie.  Get away from the decision making and just be.

Picture yourself happy.

What does that look like?

Chances are you envision yourself putting butter on your toast instead of margarine, drinking that coffee with a splash of that milk and feeling really happy about that decision.  If nothing else, you've calmed the hell down.

If you have other useful advice for the option-paralyzed ADDer, I'd love to hear it.  Leave me a comment.  I promise I'll respond.


  1. Oh my god, Amy. My boyfriend can NOT make a decision... EVER. Seriously, we can't even go grocery shopping together because he will spend an hour in the bread aisle trying to figure out what the best brand is. "Maybe this one? Or that one! That's a good deal, right?! OOOOH LOOK AT THAT ONE!" I try to be as patient as possible, but my go-go-go nature makes it very difficult sometimes. Needless to say, we don't go shopping together anymore.

    1. For the sake of your relationship, that's probably a wise decision on your part, Farah! So long as you don't make him feel bad about it when he gets into his "shiny" thinking, you're not going to upset him. My husband has worse ADD than me and it took some real self-examination on my part to realize he's doing the best he can and I am the one who needs to be patient.

    2. Exactly. We've just come to accept that when it comes to decisions, we need to process separately and then collaborate. But since I have relatively no problems making decisions, I try to show him the way my brain processes things, hoping that maybe he can see that it doesn't always have to be so difficult. But for the most part, we've learned to accept this difference between us. And he's also taught me to slow down and not make impulse decisions (which I often make). So I guess we're both learning something.

    3. You guys are waaaaay more mature than I was at your age. I'm so glad you communicate so well and are making it work!

  2. I have a really hard time making decision. Especially about restaurants. And what to order at coffee shops. And what to order and said restaurant once it's been decided about an hour of deliberation. And whether to cut/color my hair. And the list goes on and on.

    Shall we have a long coffee soon? We can have someone else pick the place. :-)

    1. Thanks for getting me, Kate, as always.

      Long coffee, yes. Let Lola choose the place. I trust her judgment.

  3. I don't have ADD, so on that level I can't relate (although worked with plenty of students I saw this manifest itself in). If it's a relatively small decision, sometimes I can't make it because, honestly, I just don't care enough.

    But I can get real hung up on major life decisions. I'm a chronic people-pleaser and have the hardest time making my desires a good enough reason to act on a choice. I'm a big believer in checking in with the gut, except when its motivation is fear. I hate making choices dictated by fear.

    I'm quite sure I'd be a mess if I had to wear the ADD shoes.

    1. Julie,
      This is precisely what I've been thinking about this week. I am a people pleaser as well and do let fear often motivate my decisions. I think you're right: trust the gut. It's just really hard to do when the gut make illogical choices!


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