Focus Pocus

I was one step out the door as I turned to look at Lorri and snidely declared, “Don’t say it.  I see the bike.”

She grinned with both amusement and suspicion.  “Okay.  Just making sure.”

Her concern was not without precedent.  Running over and/or into things has sort of become my avocation.  There was the time that I snapped off the pedal of my daughters bike pulling out of the garage.  There was also the time that I ran over and fatally bent the lawn mower while pulling out of the garage.  Additionally, my Mitsubishi Outlander is currently one side mirror short of a pair as I snapped it clean off by running into the recycling can on my way out of the garage.  So, yeah, the garage is clearly an issue. And I wish that I could tell you that these mishaps were limited to my carport exits.  They’re not.  I obliterated one of my girls scooters which had been left near my back right wheel.  And, at least twice, I have backed right into my wife’s front bumper somehow forgetting that she was behind me at some point between stepping off the porch and shifting into reverse.

So the idea that she was about to remind me about the bike sitting directly behind my car before I aborted her attempt to do so fell somewhere between entirely appropriate and desperately critical.

The bike in question did not belong to us.  It belonged to one of the three children of our close friend Darcy.  If you have been an even occasional reader of this forum, than you have heard me mention Darcy.  Darcy the home schooler.  Darcy the kitten fosterer.  Darcy the delightful ex-hippie who lives one left turn and four houses up on the left away from us.  And as she is prone to do fairly regularly, she had gone on a stroll with the kids and her beautiful Collie, Logan, and stopped by for a cup of java and some chit-chat.

I had shared some caffeine and a bit of conversation with my friend and then had to take off, as an appointment with a group of drunks beckoned.

So I bid farewell, kissed my bride, sarcastically stated that her bike fears were unfounded, hopped into my front seat, turned over the ignition, popped the car in reverse, hit the gas, and ran over the bike.

I jacked the brake and jumped out of the driver’s seat to find Lorri frantically dashing out the front door, completely aghast, bellowing, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”

Obviously, she was well within her rights.  And let me tell you.  Lorri does not bellow.  Nor does she swear.  It takes a hell of a lot to get Lorri to raise her voice and launch nasty epithets.  And running over a neighbors bike which you had affirmed not thirty seconds previous that you were entirely cognizant of is a pretty solid way to get her there.

Luckily the bike survived with nary a scratch and it was essentially laughed off by Darcie and, after a few deep breaths, by Lorri.  So, no harm done.  Not really.  But it disturbed me.  It always disturbed when stuff like this happened.  It was as frustrating as it was confusing.  And it wasn’t limited to destroying objects in and around my driveway.

It happened with errands.  Lorri would ask me to go to Ultra foods and grab her some half and half.  Thirty-five minutes later I would return with peaches, squash, hummus, batteries, US magazine and a three-pack of sugar free gum.  But no half and half.

It happened with appointments.  In that I missed them.  I forgot about them.  They would be written on the dry erase board attached to our refrigerator.  They would be entered in the calendar application on my iPhone.  Often times, I would even have mentioned the appointment in question to Lorri not two hours before the set time and scheduled a part of our day around that very appointment.  And still, I would completely space out and miss the appointment only to receive a text asking “where are you?” causing a most sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach and a fresh round of exasperation at my seeming brokenness.

All of this, the fresh bike incident specifically, made my upcoming testing session all the more pivotal.

My official diagnosis had been in question for some time.  And, if I don’t mention this I’ll never hear the end of it, by Lorri in particular.  She had wondered aloud for years whether my particular pathology had been accurately identified or my medication properly administered.  And, for most of that time, I essentially shrugged her off.  And, much like the aforementioned bike scenario, shrugging off my wife rarely reaps me anything but anguish.  It’s not that I don’t trust my wife’s opinion.  I do.  Very much I do.  She’s an unquestionably adept and shrewd woman.  I don’t fail to listen to Lorri because of a lack of faith in her wisdom.  I fail to listen to Lorri because I am stubborn to the point of full-blown idiocy.  Also, I have almost zero history of learning anything in the realm of valuable lessons without slamming headlong into the sidewalk first.  Lorri understands and accepts this about me.  God bless her and her seemingly unending supply of patience and non-judgmental adoration.

I married so far above my station, I am still amazed that the village elders have not shown up and beheaded me for my insolence.

Anyway, she knew eons before I did that something about my diagnosis failed to ring true.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  That’s what he told me.  Funny, I don’t even remember the name of the guy that made the initial diagnosis.

My therapist was a man named Alan.  He was a sweet guy, if not a brilliant therapist.  But he served his purpose.  I enjoyed sitting and chatting with him and every now and again his insights proved quite useful.  He took what my insurance company gave him without demanding the additional cash that his set fee certainly entitled him to; so he while he was something less than “Dr. Right,” he was more than adept enough to be “Dr. Right Now.”

One day we were sitting in session discussing some dark corner of my pathology when he asked, “Would you be willing to sit down with a colleague of mine, a psychiatrist?”  I answered, “Sure.”  So I did.  He was a weird bird, the shrink.  But they all are.  Psychiatrists are a curious breed.  I have met more than my share and every single one of them was, at best, an oddball, and, at worst, a nutcase.  This dude was somewhere in the middle I guess.  He asked me the run-of-the-mill cadre of generic questions and, within thirty minutes, declared me the victim of a mild to moderate case of OCD.  “Would you be willing to take medication?” he asked.  “Okay,” I answered.  So he pulled out his little pad, scribbled some indecipherable letters, and sent me off to the drugstore.

And for the next decade or so that was the long and the short of it.  I had OCD.  I took pills for OCD.  Did they help?  Beats the shit out of me.  They didn’t seem to hurt and I wasn’t compelled to ask too many questions.  I’m a proponent of taking all the help you can get in this world and the cat with the medical degree said this would help; so I followed the directions on the little orange bottle and called the CVS when it’s contents were cashed.

After a while, I dumped the psychiatrist as he was pretty pricey and, in his place, used a mix of general practitioners, friends of friends and quacks who write scripts out of the back of their SUV’s to stay medicated.  Why pay some fucktard a fortune to bring me back in every few months and say, “Yeah, good.  You answered all the questions very nicely.  Keep doing what you’re doing.”

Then, in 2003, we moved west and, in terms of immediacy, I knew I needed to secure three things.  A gym, a cable plan which included all 162 Yankee games and a shrink.  Up the street from our new home was a Christian Counseling Center who took our insurance, so I called and basically asked, “Hey, you all got a guy there with a little note pad who can scribble notes telling the Wal-greens to give me drugs?”  They said that they did and a few days later I met Paul.  Same shit.  Weird bird.  Whatever.  He was fine.  Nice enough.  Asked the same exhausted list of bullshit questions and gave me what I came for.  Give the monkey a peanut and he’ll do a dance for ya.

But it was different for me in the suburban midwest than in had been in the great metropolis.  Way different.  Different in more ways than I could possibly illiterate in a blog post without boring and alienating whatever sparse readership I am currently clinging to.  In short though, I went from living on my feet and moving at the speed of light riding buses and subways through the narrow streets of the city living by the seat of my pants and with little demanded of me other than artistic culture-hopping with my caravan of allies and acquaintances to being a new daddy and a new home owner sedentary as a shut-in in the heart of suburbia with no career direction and not a friend in sight.

And while, seven years later, all of those changes have been navigated to some extent, I really don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered from the experience.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love my life.  What I have is so far beyond what I thought possible for man like me that I can’t even remember what my dreams used to be.  It takes no more than a quick glance ten feet in every direction to remind myself that I am playing with the houses money.  And yet, internally, my time here, in Wheaton Illinois, has been difficult.  And, at times, excruciating.

For those of you who have faithfully followed and read along on this circuitous mindfuck of free association, you have some idea of the difficulties I am referring to.  For those that have just joined the madness, I suppose you could read all the archived posts on this site and when your done, let me know, and I will be more than happy to send you the hundred or so posts from the previous incarnation of The Approvalholic which got hacked forcing me to shut down and throw the contents into a word document before launching this one.  Or you could just trust me.  It’s been kind of a bitch.

And, quite frankly, the details of said difficulties are far less important than the perpetual undercurrent of low-level anxiety which has undercut almost every single second of it.  And here’s what’s really fascinating.  Up until three years ago, in spite of years of exhaustive work on myself, I would never have identified myself as anxious.  I never used that term in regard to myself.  Compulsive, yes.  Narcissistic, sure.  Impatient, arrogant, selfish, sadistic, shameful, frightened, dishonest, irritable?

Yeah, yup, uh-huh, affirmative, certainly, definitely, by all means and no doubt about it.

But not anxious.

But I am.  I am anxious.  Chronically, habitually and unequivocally anxious.  So why has such a blatantly obvious fact eluded me for three and a half decades, including fifteen of deep and thorough self-analysis?  Well, there are two tent pole reasons that I can offer in terms of clarity.  The first one is fairly simple.  It has always been there.  Always.  I can now see that I have been maddeningly restless from as far back as my memory allows me to travel.  I have spent my life trapped in the manic anticipation of nothing.  But it has almost always been a far cry from incapacitating so I was more compelled to mask it than to address it.  And how could I have addressed it anyway as I had yet to identify it?  I found ways to manage what I now understand to be anxiety.  Endless ways.  Food, sex, drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, spending, television, shoplifting, sports, and the internet to name but a few.  And, to varying degrees, they all worked.  And while I maintain residence in no less than three anonymous programs, and have visited and hung out at least four or five others, I have not spent a single day of existence on this big blue spinning marble without one of the items on that list either at my disposal or coursing through my system.  I masked the anxiety so effectively, that I masked it from myself, to the point that I was completely unaware of what it was that I was masking.

The other tent pole issue is, I suppose, as simple as the first one.  I left Manhattan.  If you’re anxious as hell and don’t want anyone, least of all yourself, to spot it, I highly recommend a move to virtually any section of Manhattan.  It’s like any big city… times infinity.  Everyone in Manhattan is moving incessantly at warp speed.  Other than the disgustingly affluent 1% of 1% wiping their asses with twenties and bathing in Evian, everybody is living week to week.  Everyone is chasing a dream.  Everyone is hyper-manic, balls-to-the-wall, 1.21 gigawatts in the flux capacitor of pure vibrating adrenaline because they kind of have no choice but to be.

I wasn’t anxious.  I was just a New Yorker.

But then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t.  I left and came to a place where the pace, at least in comparison to the big apple, is downright glacial.  Everyone is… settled.  Few people came here so much as they never left.  It’s lovely in its own right, yes, but it’s also an excellent environment for getting in touch with how diabolically swift your insides are moving.

And I believe that is what happened.  The synchronistic pairing of the above two theories.  I subconsciously created a perfect storm to allow myself to realize something that had always been true.  Something that, by all rational evidence, appeared to be, at least in part, biological.  And, to my wife’s credit, it wasn’t Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Paul, my suburban psychiatrist, had long since departed the Christian Counseling Center and, when the center let me know, I asked if they had another guy who had a little pad similar to Paul’s that might induce the necessary scribbling for drug retrieval.  There was.  His name was Barry.  Weird bird.  Less weird than Paul but not so much that he failed to fit the model.  I came I sat I answered I drove to Wal-greens.  But as Barry and I continued on in our tri-monthly tete-a tetes, the pacing, and according difficulties, of my time here in the flat lands grew ever more apparent and my wife’s theory regarding my misdiagnosis went from suspicion to assurance.  And finally, stubborn bastard that I am, I relented and brought her hypothesis to Barry.

I asked him about the possibility of my suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder.  I told him how long this question had been gestating and he inquired as to why I had waited this long to bring it up.  I told him that I had asked the guy before him about it casually when I first arrived here and he had answered, “No, you don’t have ADD.  You have OCD and they are mutually exclusive.”  Barry answered, “That could not be less true.  You can most certainly have both and, what’s more, their symptoms tend to mimic each other.”  He then asked who I was seeing before him.  I flippantly told him that he had my file sitting in the middle of his lap.  He took the remark lightly, as it was intended, and proceeded to flip backward.  He turned and turned until he stopped on a dime, grimaced and said, “Oh…”

The “oh..” gave me the distinct impression that Barry was not the secretary-treasurer of Paul’s fan club.  This is really nothing more than an interesting aside, but I will tell you to go ahead and do what Barry told me to do when I tried to push him on his “oh…”  When you get a second, Google “Dr. Paul Dobransky” and feel free to peruse the many hits you are sure to get.  I was totally being treated by a celebrity and had absolutely no clue.  On the celebrity doctor scale, “Dr. Paul,” as he is most commonly referred to (he also goes by the monicker “Dr. Love”), falls short of Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, but not too far short.  But more tantalizing than those Oprah teat-suckers, Dr. Paul is a professional pick-up artist.  He’s been featured on every show you can think of and profiled endlessly as he is pretty much the only board certified psychiatrist in The United Stated coaching people on how to get laid.  Equally as entertaining, the reason he “left” the clinic is that somehow his employers had managed to spend a fair amount of time as clueless to his exploits as I had been.  But when they got wind of his little side business (growing rapidly into his main business), they were like, “Have you lost your fucking mind?  We are a Christian Counseling Center, you crazy oversexed bastard!  Get out, bitch!”  I’m fairly certain that it didn’t go quite that way, but, you get the gist.  As I said, it’s an aside.  Most certainly a guy’s abilities with the fairer sex don’t necessarily affect or inform his medical competence.  I can’t even say for sure that his opinions and theories were hogwash, but Barry certainly thought they were and that was enough to radically shift the landscape

And so we come back to my testing session.

Barry assured me that the main test they would be administering would involve some written tests inquiring about your life, your habits, your propensities; and that these would followed by the big gun, The TOVA test.  The Test of Variables of Attention.  My ombudsman through these many tasks was named Nadia.  She was both Russian and not at all unpleasant to stare at.  She sat me down for the first test, and left the room.  Sixty in-depth questions like, “Do you ever anticipate a loved one being angry with you even though there is no reason to believe so?”  Next to each question were five possible answers reading “never” “sometimes” “often” “very often” and “always.”  You circle the one that best fits and move to the next one.  Many were obvious to me without even finishing my reading of the question.  Others were more ambiguous and took some time answer adequately.  And still others had me totally dumbstruck.  But I finished, and none to soon, because in the instant I dropped my pencil, Miss Nadia swept in, collected test number one and dropped test number two in its place.  This next test was similar to the first, although longer in that it had 100 questions and trickier in that all the questions had yes or no as possible answers.  What made it rough was that no more than 20% of the questions were questions I could easily answer yes or no to.  This, apparently, is at the very heart of this particular tests efficacy.  They are primary looking for what they call, “forced answers.”  That is, the subject (me) is forced to look at the way they experiences certain things in somewhat narrow way and force themselves to pick what sometimes equates to the “less wrong” answer.  I found it fascinating but also rigidly difficult.  Plus, this test uses those forms that the SAT tests tend to employ with all those stupid little circles you need to fill in perfectly which, for an obsessive perfectionist like me, is an extra task all in itself.  It had been an hour and a half and I was already running on fumes.  And the big boy was still awaiting my presence.

She moved me to a tiny room in the back corner of the office which contained one chair and one computer desk supporting a computer that looked much like the Apple 2c my folks had bought me for Chanukah in 1985.  There was no mouse or keyboard that I could see.  Only a cord emanating out from the guts of the machine with a button at the end of it.  She handed me the button.  She told me that for the next twenty-one minutes, shapes would appear and disappear on the screen.  She said that there would be one large rectangle which always be there and that sometimes the rectangle would have a white square at the top of it and at other times it would have a white square at the bottom of it.  When the square is down low, do nothing.  When the square is up top, push the button.  Sounded simple enough.

The first five minutes were easy though about as interesting as balling my gym socks.  The second five minutes brought an uptick in speed demanding sharper focus and quickened reflexes.  I still felt like I was rolling along okay, but I was definitely starting to miss a few, which kind of pissed me off.  The third five minutes were starting to get to me.  I was still maintaining some level of competence but was missing ever more of them and, at times, wandering off and missing one completely without any response at all only to try doubling my focus in an effort to really hone in.  I was starting to feel sweaty and pissy and desirous of leaving.  The last five minutes was a bloody mess.  I was now missing many them altogether and when I did manage to focus in I was pressing the button when the box went down and not pressing it when it went up and then I’d remember that this is backward and seethe and start doing it right again only to drift again and I was becoming quite confident that I had actually been doing this for hours and that the real test was to see how long I could go before I kicked the moderator right in the cunt and went postal on the rest of the facility.  It was right about that moment when she told me to stop.

I was a wreck.  I was drenched with sweat.  My body was shaking.  My neck and shoulders were aching.  I couldn’t uncross my eyes and even though the TOVA test included no sound whatsoever there was a piercing ringing in my ears.  She told me that all this was normal and that I did just fine.  Then she brought me back to the first room and asked that I do this last written test while she went and evaluated the data.

Winded as I was, shifting from the devil test and going back to paper and pencil and tangible questions felt something like returning to the womb.  Also, the last test was the easiest and most fun.  It was basically a list of 125 items with a 1-5 next to them.  The idea was to look at each item and rate the level to which you find yourself disturbed by each item and rate your level of disturbance with a number; one being the least and five being the most.  The list, while I’m sure was meticulously constructed appeared random as hell.

  • Bats
  • Heavy Traffic
  • Grass
  • Crying Babies
  • Lamp posts
  • Obese People
  • Clouds
  • Shoelaces
  • Dead People
  • Glass Tables
  • Celebrities
  • Fingernails
  • Cats
  • The Real Housewives of Orange County

Like that.  Of the four, this test seemed the most frivolous, but, like I said, it was sort of fun and I gave it my all as I was determined to reap the truest conclusion possible.

When Nadia reentered the room, she was strewn with paperwork.  Graphs and charts and scrawlings and arrows; a world map of data pertaining solely to me and my neurosis which I couldn’t have deciphered with a whale gun cocked and pointed at my short and curlies.

But Nadia could.  And, like a scientific savant, Nadia did.  She had broken the TOVA test down into a seemingly endless array of quadrants detailing  how many right and wrong answers were offered, how many in I got right in the first two minutes, how many in the last two minutes, how many in minutes 9-17.  It detailed how fast my trigger finger was, how fast it was in the first six minutes, in the last four, in the middle seven.  It detailed the expression on my face in various time allotments, how often I turned away from the computer, whether I appeared to be sweating.  Jesus, I didn’t even realizing she had been watching me.

Along with the data from other tests, she claimed that her official diagnosis was that I was suffering from a borderline severe case of ADHD.  She said that the empirical evidence conclusively showed this.  She said that she had seen worse, but not much worse.  She said that based on the severity of my condition coupled with the fact that I had never been properly medicated for it most probably had me living, from my earliest days, in an almost perpetual state of restlessness, boredom, irritation, impulsivity and a relationship with focus where, when I choose to hone in on something I can manifest almost laser-like focus but that I rarely choose to hone in on anything because of the boredom and the restlessness and the irritation creating a situation where it was nearly impossible for me to prosper in the way that I, and most probably others, thought I ought to have been.

I told her that while I had no intention of acting out this fantasy, I was feeling an intense desire to take her face in my hands and kiss her deeply on the mouth right then.  She laughed heartily.  I had never been so powerfully and effectively summed up by anyone in this world.  She also said that while she is sure that my addictions to alcohol, drugs and food are real, they were most likely ways I had found to manage this base, fundamental issue.  She said that she would talk to Barry and that, in her opinion, the proper medication might very well revolutionize my very existence.

I couldn’t get to Barry quick enough.  My current weird bird was certainly not as excited and nurturing as I longed for him to be, but no matter.  He unholstered the little pad and wrote me my new prescription for Adderol RX and sent my brain chemistry off into its next, and hopefully, richest, journey.

After some pain in the ass insurance company game playing, the pharmacist finally handed me the prescription.  I went home, said three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers (no, I didn’t, I don’t know those prayers.  I’m a Jew).  I think I said,  “Well, here’s go nothin’,” tossed the capsule toward the back of my throat and drowned it in tap water until it had safely fallen through my esophagus and nestled itself somewhere near my belly that it might start its process of disintegration in advance of joining the rainbow coalition of chemicals already coursing through my bloodstream.

Now, unlike Zoloft and Cymbalta and Effexor and Prozac, ADHD meds don’t take weeks or months to begin to operate at full efficiency.  These drugs are amphetamines.  They kick and roll inside of an hour or two and, as designed, have a paradoxical effect on the issue at hand.  That is to say, one might not think that an illness that has you jacked up and percolating all the time would be treated effectively with uppers.  Hence, paradoxical.

And, as promised, within an hour or so, I felt it.  At first it was a mite disturbing.  Kind of speedy.  Almost like the first hit of cocaine.  But that passed quickly and then I just felt… it’s still hard to say or write this… I just felt… I felt good.  I felt focused but not in an obsessive way.  I felt energetic but not in a manic way.  My attention had, magically, unbelievably, narrowed.  I felt drawn to leave the house, and, for the last five years, I have avoided the outside at all costs.  I wanted to call some friends, which I had slowly come to avoid in equal measure.  I wasn’t high.  I was… I don’t know what I was.  I don’t know what I am.  Even as I sit and write this, with the medication working in my system, I don’t know how to talk about this.  But I will say this.  It is new.  I have never, ever felt this way before.  I’m not sure I trust that it is good.  It almost feels too good.  For two days, I have been cycling between astonished at how “in the moment” I feel and terrified that it won’t stay.  It can’t.  I’m not meant to feel this good.  I know I’m not.  Because, well, because I never have.  Part of me feels like I made a deal with the devil.  It can’t be free to feel like this.

Blessedly, in spite of my cranial ramblings, I don’t need to know any of these things.  Not today, anyway.  All I need is the next right action.  And, for me, for today, the next right action is to take my medicine as it is prescribed and keep my wife, my doc, my sponsor and perhaps you folks abreast of what is going on.  And so I have.

What a sweet, strange trip it has been so far allowing my perfect spirit to take up residence in this vastly imperfect human shell.

Oh, one last thing.  As Barry prescribed the Adderol he said, “So yeah, let’s give it a month and we’ll see where you are at.  Also, knowing you and your particular areas of difficulty, in terms of side effects of this medication, I expect you won’t be hating the fact that your appetite will most probably be severely curbed and you will probably drop weight.”  I smiled.  “Yes, Barry.  You are correct.  I won’t be hating that.”

Probably a subject for a future post.  Stay tuned.

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