Deviant, disabling, and distressing are the three criteria that psychologists use to define a disorder. If it’s significantly deviant from what’s “normal”, if it causes problems for every day life, and if it is distressing, either to the afflicted or the afflicted’s close associates (y’know, like family), it’s a disorder.
That said, yes. Some mental disorders for some specific people are not book disorders. Maybe you have all the symptoms of some anxiety disorder (deviant), but you cope well enough it doesn’t affect your every day life, and maybe (somehow?) you don’t find your excess anxiety distressing. Technically speaking, you don’t actually have a disorder. But let’s be honest; most disorders are distressing for the afflicted.
Attention Disruption Disorder is an interesting disorder because there’s a lot of argument about whether or not it’s actually even a thing. I want to be clear that I think it totally is a thing – especially because I am afflicted by ADD pretty badly. You can see it in posts where I only performed a tertiary edit, and my sentences run along and seem to veer from what I was originally saying – or paragraph thoughts seem disrupted. It’s more evident to those who actually speak with me and more than once, I’ve had to turn to my husband and say something like, “I know I just asked you a question but X distracted me and I totally wasn’t listening to you at all.” The most recent time, I was noticing how shiny my nail polish was and was enthralled in shifting my nail back and forth to see how it shone differently for a few minutes (some of the light was shaped like a bolt of Anime energy attack and it was like Hadoken missiles were being shot across my nail!) before realizing in doing so, I had absorbed 0% of what my husband was saying. It’s not that he was saying something unimportant or uninteresting, and I had had every intention of paying attention to him. I just got distracted. (Luckily my husband is a very tolerant and patient man and will just laugh and repeat what he said.) Finally, if I had any remaining doubts, if I just assumed I was someone who was out of control and physically unable to reign in the onslaught of thoughts that plague me, there’s the time I was on medication. I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like for my head to be quiet, if that’s what other peoples’ minds were like – but I couldn’t before I was put on a med. Likewise, I couldn’t understand the concept of meditation, worried I just lacked self discipline because I couldn’t get things quiet enough to meditate – it makes sense to me now, now that I had had the chance to experience a quiet mind, the chance to hush all my thoughts and sit in mental silence. Without medication, I cannot do this. I am incapable of it. I have tried many, many times, ostensibly, to meditate both before and after I was taking my meds, and it’s not about control. I can no more control the volume of my thoughts than a blind man can see or a paraplegic can walk.
If we ask, “is this a disorder?” let me answer by saying it is, apparently, abnormal (deviant) – if you don’t have ADD, you can manage to not think of anything for more than three seconds. I can’t. You probably usually only have a few thoughts running through your head at a time maximum – I usually have many. My head is like a busy street scramble, everyone pushing and shoving and shouting and no one can get where they want to go. It is disabling – aside from not being able to listen to my husband, it was troublesome in school where I’d attend a lecture, need to be paying attention, and find myself thinking how I need to remember to call my mom when I’m on my way home so I can ask her if there’s any special thing I need to do to cook beets, and how I can steam them if I don’t have a steamer and fffff I think the professor just said something really important. Same for any sort of church service, which I’m sure many of you might like to tune out, but generally I actually do want to listen. Even myself – my own thoughts, I can’t follow all the way through without difficulty. I’ll give an example of that later. It makes life harder when I can’t listen to or think of the things I would like to. And you can bet that’s distressing.
I was going to talk here about the clinical side of things, the specific diagnoses and whatnot…but it’d really be better to just look it up in the DSM (or Google or whatever if you don’t want to dig up a DSM). I will say, to clear up language, that ADHD and ADD are the same thing in psych terms. It’s medical terms that people differentiate. Beyond that, I want to address the argument about it being real or not. The thing is, a lot of people argue that it’s just a made-up disorder for kids who are active and we want them to sit down and shut up. My belief is that it’s a real disorder that’s easily applied to a healthy kid who is active. No one argues that bipolar disorder isn’t a real disorder and that’s easily confused with ADD (in children primarily) and also heavily misdiagnosed in kids. I don’t think it’s fair to say ADD isn’t real just because the primary diagnosis is in kids who probably don’t have it (or at least it seems that way). I could get on my soap box about the problem with the misdiagnosis and our culture’s obsession with having children turned into boring gray bricks but then I’d have to get into our school system and our intolerance for play which is the best learning and so suffice it to say that I think there’s a huge problem with misdiagnosing kids but I think that it’s stupid to use that to conclude ADD isn’t a thing.
I have a sample of my own distracted thought, but then there’s also Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Here’s arguably the best sample of Pinkie Pie (and several clones from a magic pond) suffering from inability to concentrate on the task at hand (well, actually the real Pinkie is able to because it’s vitally important that she does but see the note at the bottom):
Here’s my distracted thinking I wrote down for when I’d do this blog post: “Everything in Majora’s Mask is so creepy! Wait, but what was I thinking originally? It was important…I think…was it something I needed to do? Was it a bit of plot I needed to remember? Okay, let’s…try to back track, what led me to think about Majora’s Mask? …oh, right, I was thinking of visiting [Zelda fan friend] up north because I got thinking about how sad I was about missing Comicon…all the cosplay pictures I saw and stuff about panels and…oh, that’s right, I thought about Comicon because I was thinking I needed to buy more baby clothes so EE has something to wear once she’s born and that reminded me of going to the hospital because of her and missing Comicon. That still wasn’t the original thought though, what was it…what was I thinking of that made me think of buying baby clothes? I feel like it was related to it and now I’m certain it’s really important…come on, Rii, come on…Was it a baby related thing? What are some important baby related things? Remembering to take my prenatals? Snap I haven’t taken those. I should do that right now. Maybe I’ll get some milk too because the prenatals are gross. Speaking of milk, looks like the jug’s half empty so we don’t have to go the store for it but we should go to the store soon because we’re almost out of hand soap and some other things. Haha, “the upstairs bathroom is out of hand soap“. Aw, it’ll be so sad the first time EE has a balloon and it pops or she lets go of it or someth-FFF WAIT I was trying to remember a thought I had that was probably important earlier! And I can’t even remember where I was, shoot, shoot! Okay let’s see. EE with a balloon, what made me think of that…Was I thinking of baby things? Oh, I remember, I was thinking I needed to get baby clothes and that…why did that make me think of EE with a balloon? Whatever, I was thinking of getting baby clothes…”
I wanted to draw a little comic about this sort of thing, but I keep getting distracted from it (hah, of course, right?) So maybe one day I’ll post it, but for now, I hope this is example enough for how to do ADD. Oh, and if you don’t know treatments for ADD – Ritalin is common, Adderall is common. The latter is an amphetamine, so usually the former is given to kids. (Amphetamine? But that’s a stimulant! Stimulating someone with ADD seems like a stupid idea!) Uh, no, see, the part of our brain that says “Shut up, stop thinking, slow down” to our thoughts doesn’t work and it needs to be stimulated so it’ll do its freaking job.
One more thing – just because someone can’t control their thoughts doesn’t mean they can’t control their actions. Even if they have a lot of energy and are all hyperactive. It’s easy to let random thoughts bounce into your head and then with all your bounciness, just do whatever you think…but while I can’t help the thoughts, I can help the impulse. It’s been incredibly difficult for me to do so, but I can. So can anyone else with ADD. There’s always enough space between thought and word/action to choose to not do it.