I have no scientific proof of this, but I have long believed ADHD to be the American Disease.
Up to 5% of Americans are diagnosed with ADHD. I'm one of them. I'm creative, I'm quick, I tend to being a polymath. I also have trouble finishing anything longer than a blog post, I'm quick to anger, and I have enormous trouble concentrating on anything I'm told I have to concentrate on (as opposed to what I want to concentrate on). I am very difficult to compel.
In other words, I am both hyper-focused and distractable, I can be charming but I'm prone to depression. These are symptoms typical of what I call "male" ADHD, the kind you hear about and read about most often. I have likened it, most popularly, to having Robin Williams in my head. (This also brings a tendency to self-medicate. Robin's had two stints in rehab.)
There is another kind of ADHD, which may be dramatically under-diagnosed. I learned about it from my daughter. I call it "female" ADHD. In this version you become Robin's audience. You're lost in your own world, and breaking out into the real world can be a struggle. This often comes with learning disabilities -- dyslexia in my daughter's case.
So why do I call this the American disease? Partly because very few Europeans have it. To many Europeans this proves Americans are making the whole thing up. But think about it. If you were living in, say Germany or Italy 100 years ago, or in Ireland or Scotland 200 years ago, or in England 300 years ago, and you had ADHD, what's the first thing you'd think of doing?
Right, getting the heck out of there. Going to America.
So European-Americans are very likely to have ADHD -- we're self-selected for it. And it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Californians are more prone to having ADHD than other Americans. My own father had a lifelong love affair with California as the final paradise, the place which would make everything right. Which no place can do. (Here he is in 1986. I miss you, dad.)
Figure that, on average, 2% of the world's population tends to have ADHD. These are the shamans, the priests, the visionaries, the ones who drive us "out there" yet often fail to get there themselves. It's of immense evolutionary benefit for an intelligent society to have some members who are bent in that way -- gets us out of our rut.
Europeans have self-selected in recent centuries against the ADHD trait, so the rate among African-Americans should be somewhere between 2% and the European-American rate. (Depends on how many white folks fall out of their family trees when you shake them.) Asian-Americans may have rates similar to other Americans, maybe a little lower for those whose choice to come here wasn't entirely voluntary. And the native American rate is about equal to that of the rest of the world -- again a little higher because of inter-marriage.
What can we do with such self-knowledge?
We can start by taking pride in it. The most powerful medicine I ever got for my ADHD was the "owning" of it. That is, I admit I have it, I know what the symptoms are, I know when those symptoms are manifesting, and I know how to fight back or compensate.
Owning ADHD means ADHD no longer owns you. It's the most powerful part of the anti-addiction process, admitting it's an organic condition you'll always have, seeking the good in it, being aware of and fighting the bad.
There is immense good in ADHD. I hate it when it's called a Disability. A door is closed but the windows are wide open. In my case I can sit here and write all of this in one draft, publishing this whole essay in less than an hour. Not just because of blogging software but because of ADHD.
In your case, whoever you are, you can do something similar. Maybe not the same thing. But whatever you most care to do, you can do it with enormous intensity. Time will seem to stand still when you're doing what you love, and you'll look up suddenly and a half day will have gone by. Then you'll look down and something marvelous will have come to be, or the beginnings of something marvelous. That's what hyper-focus and a creative impulse buys you.
And this is the miracle of America.
We are a nation of dreamers, of creators, of inventors. Not all of
us have ADHD, but enough do so that there's a frisson you get from just
being in America. It's what makes America so attractive, still, to
people outside it, even with the craziness of our leaders and the
amnesia of our voters.
But if ADHD is "the American disease," and ADHD has had so much to do with what makes America so wonderful, so special, so unique in all the history of the world, is ADHD really a disease at all? Is it really a disability?
No, it's not. And if you've reached this point in this essay, you
know that now, in your heart. It's our inheritance. It's what makes us
what we are. It's why we so treasure freedom. The ADHD mind demands freedom, and will take it even when it's not given. We call this the American way.
Attention Deficit Hyper-American Dreamer.