I have noticed over the past 10 years that I have become increasingly distracted and distractible, more irritable and anxious and less productive and creative.
I joke about whether I have “adult onset ADD” because I can’t concentrate. I am starting to feel stupid. It’s too hard to concentrate long enough to read or write anything. I’ve gotten up twice just in writing the first paragraph of this letter. My work has suffered, and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets.
I feel that I am approaching a crisis, which is why I recently filled a prescription for Prozac that was written over two months ago. I now find that I can’t even pray – my brain can’t seem to hold onto the rhythmic meditation of the Rosary, which used to be a great comfort to me.
I now have continual anxiety about what is not done. And now that I have my prescription for Prozac, I don’t feel clear about what I “really” need to address – my biochemistry or my filing cabinet.
You’re right about adult onset ADD. Many of us are affected. I recently attended a conference with a colleague who was bragging about how independent he was because of his cell phone, portable laptop and BlackBerry (a.k.a. “crackberry”).
Yet while others were lounging at the pool during their free time, he was often talking on the phone or answering e-mails.
Once our brain loses perspective, we are more likely to react to whatever comes our way rather than simply letting it go for another time. Reactivity becomes so habitual that breaking the habit requires practice just as altering any habit would.
Anxiety makes pain worse and vice versa. That’s also true for emotional pain or even distractibility. You get behind in your work, so you get anxious, which makes you more distracted, and puts you further behind in your work. So the cycle must be broken.
Let’s not address your biochemistry or your filing cabinet yet. From your letter, I tried to imagine what it was like to live inside your mind and I felt exhausted and a little frightened! If your mind is racing, your emotions must follow, and I can imagine how much tension you must be holding in your body.
You must first make a commitment to be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as you would your own child or best friend if they were overwhelmed. You would shower them with kindness, understanding and love – or just hold them in your arms for a while.
Imagine doing that for yourself. Nothing will happen until you get some care and rest. And before you argue with me about how much needs to be done, think about how much is not getting done because of your apparent exhaustion.
Rest. Rest your body and tell yourself you will do nothing for the first half-hour of every day. Learn yoga or meditation or just listen to your favorite music. But the first 30 minutes is for nurture.
Then, take several breaks during the day for about five minutes. Leave your office and reconnect with your body and your physical environment. Monitor your breath and be aware of the state of your mind. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes to calm down a bit. But do it several times a day.
This will begin to break the cycle of reactivity. Over time, you will notice that you can simply walk away from your work and then return and everything will be OK. You will also notice that your thoughts and emotions come and go regardless of what you do about them.
Prozac or other medication might help. Good psychotherapy might too, but none of that will make you better unless you commit to your own well-being several times a day.