How ADD is ADHD-friendly science journalism


'Who told you to think? I am not giving you enough information to make it worthwhile for you to think! "
Governor Cohaagen, in
«Total recall»

Your brain.

As simple as it often seems - it is the most complex object known to date in the universe. A network of 86 billion constantly restructuring nerve cells, continuously active, powered by the energy of a 20 watt light bulb, plus a highly autistic structure - your sensory organs feed only an astonishingly small part of its communication; Your brain prefers to talk to itself.

The part that makes you an adult, reliable, successful, at least socially acceptable person is located a few centimeters behind your forehead, in the evolutionarily youngest part of your brain, in the prefrontal cortex.

Your executive functions are based here. They are responsible for priorities, goals, strategies and working memory - and thus for self-discipline, timing, self-assessment and self-correction.

And here is also a permanently installed sabotage system. At least if you have ADHD. It does its job by crippling the chemical transmission system from nerve cell to nerve cell.

The communication works in the executive functions (roughly simplified) as follows: An electrical impulse chases through the tree-like branching nerve cell, which is up to one meter long. At their ends, the synapses, a tiny reservoir of dopamine is emptied when the impulse arrives. This floods the space in between to the neighboring cell, docks there on the receptors, whereupon the electrical impulse now chases on in the neighboring cell in the direction of new synapses.

Since nature works economically, tiny vacuum cleaners operate in the synapses of each cell, which suck the discharged dopamine back into the reservoir.

ADHD means - roughly simplified - too many or too strong vacuum cleaners. The result is that most of the dopamine is sucked in again before it can dock with the neighboring cell. Which means: the impulse comes across too weak. Or not.

(A second theory is based on too few receptors on the receiving side: But the bottom line is that the result is the same.)

There is only one single case where an ADHD brain transmits its messages smoothly: in excitement or panic when a storm surge of dopamine is released. Then suddenly, in love as in war, the executive suite of the brain works in a highly disciplined manner - even if only towards a single goal.

The actress and ADHD sufferer Jessica McCabe once described the result in a lecture: The vast majority of adults can regulate the intensity of a perception or an action more or less precisely on a scale from 1 to 10. Brains with ADHD, on the other hand, only have two factory settings:

  1. random;

  2. 15.

The embarrassing thing about it is that the sabotage takes place before the consciousness is even accessed. And with it even before the will.

Which means that with ADHD you are always able to break your own plans or principles. And no matter what to forget - every appointment, every resolution, every promise. Not to mention caution and common sense. Even if you manage to control your actions in the most disciplined way possible, a fuck-up is always possible.

Most studies show that ADHD is essentially an inherited disorder. (As significantly inherited as intelligence.) It can become more severe as a problem through upbringing and the environment - or it can also become more manageable. And it will have different effects in every phase of life.

This means that the occurrence of ADHD is largely independent of culture and upbringing. It is not a disease of civilization, but a human constant: no matter where, no matter when, in every society around 5 percent of all children are born with more or less severe ADHD. For some it grows out. But not always. Depending on the study, ADHD remains life-long in 40 to 80 percent.

If you drag ADHD into adulthood, you will live an absurd double life: You have a job, a family, a moral, some dignity. But you are always capable of missing the vacation plane, a job interview or your date. And for absolutely silly reasons. For example because you were playing solitaire on your computer. Or because - the hangman knows.

So you keep doing things that people around you can't avoid asking themselves: Are you stupid? Or insensitive, arrogant, disinterested? Or did you do it with full, malicious intent?

Your answer?

Well, your problem is that you are asking yourself the exact same thing. Most likely it would be: "It just happened." A child's answer.

But that is exactly your situation: you are an adult, controlled by a seven-year-old.

How you see the world (more precisely: must see)

ADHD therefore means that several social and professional decisions are anticipated for you, so to speak, as a basic setting. About this:

1. It is almost impossible not to attend one Things have a life of their own to believe when these randomly disappear all the time. And you spend time every day looking for your keys, files, pants, or brains. The only realistic theory is that things do this on purpose.

2. No matter what you achieve in your life: Would remains a subjunctive for you. The older you get, the more goofy ADHD becomes. For example, if you, as a father or boss, miss appointments. No wonder, there is little left for you to do but find fun in the ridiculous. Besides anger, you have no alternative to humor.

3. There is also no alternative: Charm. (If you run into a person with charm, you can bet that this person has some not entirely harmless behaviors, because charm is best developed if others would kill you without him.)

4. You will Fear boredom more than money attracts you. (Or power. Or prestige. Or security. Or - you can fill in whatever you want here.) Because when you are bored, your dopamine level drops. And it's like dying in slow motion. Then the head office of your brain collapses completely.

5. After all, there is a good chance that you have a weakness for the new, the new beginning, the birth develop. For good reasons:

5.1. To avoid boredom.
5.2. Because very often you will have no alternative to starting over. This is because your negligence will repeatedly destroy large parts of your life: love relationships, friendships, jobs.

6. No wonder you will be with one fluctuating self-esteem and live a well-founded guilty conscience. Whereby, here's a warning: Even after years of brooding, your guilty conscience will bring you sensationally little. Since most of the mischief they commit has nothing to do with a voluntary decision, at least in terms of its systematics. Though your conscience keeps telling you that. (No question about it: you do act unscrupulously at times, but you should know that your conscience is no better than you. Remember: you have an unscrupulous conscience!)

7. Paradoxically, the number one cause of self-doubt is often the best therapy for you: you have a poor working memory. And with it an innate talent in Forgetting the unpleasant. That leads to a lot of trouble. But it also enables you to start over again in innocence.

(The most charming anecdote is about the son of an acquaintance, a 14-year-old high school student with ADHD, who had called his English teacher "you asshole." He had to write an apology letter. Two weeks later the rectorate contacted his mother. She said : "I know why you're calling. He messed up the letter, right?" The answer was: not really. The English teacher had just received the third letter of apology that morning. And was wondering what that was about. As it turned out, that : The boy wrote the letter, mailed it and completely forgot about the disgusting thing. Then he remembered the letter again, wrote it, sent it, forgot it again. And then the same thing again.)

8. If you care about your life, you may forget that you want to compete with average people in an average job. Even if you are more competent, your mistakes will get you done. You have to come up with something else - and on exotic areas evade: where your weaknesses become strengths.

These are a few theses. Are they correct? I have no idea.


And that's why:

Perhaps one of the central consequences of this strain is that you can never be sure. Not just about the future: whether you really do what you plan to do. But also in the present: you cannot even be sure whether what you sincerely think, feel or remember is really a fact. Or whether your perception is just completely distorted.

The dramaturgical core of ADHD is:

9. You can yourself never, anywhere, trust completely. But you can only get something done if you do it anyway.

10. Your life partner, your friends, your work colleagues cannot trust you 100 percent. Yet without trust there is no love, no friendship, no business.

Which means that if you want to live constructively, you have to live counterfactually. And again and again, despite all counter-evidence, having to take the plunge into faith.

That of course shapes the way we think. Under these conditions, the relationship to reality can at best be shaped diplomatically.

Hence the warning: You cannot completely trust everything that is, has been, and will be written in this column.


End of the subjective, speculative part.

If you read ADHD tips, you will always find friendly interpretations. That ADHD used to be the perfect brain for hunters and gatherers, that it favors creativity, is paired with unconventional intelligence, et cetera.

But the statistics speak a harder language. ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence - those affected are spread across the spectrum. And the consolation with creativity is ambivalent. There is no question that if you don't have guard rails you will encounter the unconventional faster. Only the question of the result remains: because creativity without discipline remains dreaming.

The American ADHD expert Russell Barkley was probably right in 2002 when he dryly stated in his "International Consensus Declaration": "ADHD is not a benign disorder."

That is what the numbers say too. If you have ADHD, the rest of the population is much more likely to:

- early school leaving;

- if you made it into a university: university degree;

- at least in childhood: few or no friends at all;

- later in life increased risk of unemployment, spreading diseases, loneliness in old age;

- financial problems from not paying bills, not filling in forms, excessive purchases, lack of retirement provisions, corporate bankruptcy;

- antisocial career;

- the commission of and being caught in the case of crimes;

- the experience of bullying as a child and sexual abuse afterwards;

- Dismissals: four times more likely with ADHD than without, according to a US study;

- voluntary dismissals. Because of boredom: twice as often as others. Because of bullying: three times as often;

- Accidents and injuries, especially in road traffic (plus five times more parking tickets);

- Addiction: Smoking (the classic, around three times the probability), alcohol or cocaine addiction (around twice), plus an increased affinity for internet addiction, excessive gaming and buying intoxication;

- an enormously increased susceptibility to the complete catalog of mental illnesses: depression, bipolar disorder, autism, panic attacks, mania, narcolepsy, whatever you want (your chance, just Having ADHD is 30 percent as a child. The reason ADHD works so fraternally with one or more mental disorders is because ADHD doesn't sabotage any of your brain's subroutines. But the operating system);

- suicides;

- Divorces (in Germany, for example, the divorce rate is four times higher).

After all, there is also Productive. This is how statistics predict you a greater probability of:

- more children;

- significantly more company start-ups.

But that Conclusion is pretty clear: ADHD is an extremely efficient condition for messing up your life.

That means you have little choice but to say: fuck statistics! And live against the odds. And to do what is actually irrational: by taking your curse as a blessing.

After all, chemistry and fate have given you a lone weapon - as an animal, you'd be a cancer with just a pair of scissors. Because there is actually a situation in which you function predictably: in excitement or panic.

So you need a dime novel life. Or at least a dime novel life. Because only then, in love and in war, will you come close to normal. By going on one of the coolest trips in the universe: the Hyperfocus.

Illustration: Alex Solman