Monday, December 3, 2012

Thinking in Harmony -- a Different Kind of ADD?

I once mentioned, in a discussion with my wife and some friends, that the environment in my head is pretty crowded -- like a bunch of conversations going on all at once. This is true, except when I am listening to or composing music -- or even when I am playing. Otherwise, the old attic is full of people and they are chattering away.

When I said this about the "conversations," my wife said that this is a prime symptom of ADD. I disagreed with her diagnosis and began questioning how I could have achieved what modest academic, professional and artistic successes I have if I am an un-diagnosed sufferer of that learning disability (which, as you know, prevents focus in thinking -- or, at least, clouds focus).

Yesterday, I was taking a class on learning disabilities and we were discussing the various types of cognitive malfunctions and, as always, I found myself "hearing" several conversations at once: 1) one about my own childrens' learning styles by comparison; 2) one about students in my own school and how our program for "special education" works; 3) one about the content I was supposed to retain by the end of the class about documentation for learning disabilities; 4) one about the line between not discriminating against those with disabilities and overburdening schools 5) one about this blog post -- the workings of my own possibly learning-disabled mind; 6) one about my strategies for accomplishing my tasks for the rest of the day; 7) one about an idea for a composition that I have; 8) one about...well, you get the point.

The thing is, these were not a series of ideas; it wasn't a Benji, stream-of-consciousness thing. The ideas were all going on at the same time for the duration of my class. Each of these "conversations" eventually lead me to write a note to myself in the corner of my book: "Somehow, I have learned to think in harmony...not in discordant clusters of notes, but in chords..."

A Copeland score; it does look
like my head sounds...
I have written about attention deficit disorder before -- about the reasons I believe we need to be careful about giving kids drugs to help them "focus." (I have also said that there is certainly a time when it is necessary for some kids to have medication.) I have also brought up the idea that maybe those with ADD (or ADHD) are the most creative people -- something that I am not alone in thinking; many studies have shown this. I would bet lots of money that, for instance, Shakespeare would have been diagnosed with ADD.

But, until yesterday, I hadn't realized that I was missing a key element: One can only benefit from a mind full of simultaneous "conversations" if one learns to experience those "conversations" in harmony. I don't know how, but I have never felt those disparate discussions were confusing. They have never sounded in discord or cacophony, but in harmony to one another.

If that is the case, maybe my "attention deficit disorder" is more of an elevated kind of attention: the ability to "focus" on many things at once, as opposed to the "normal" ability to filter out all but one thing on which to focus -- an ability that is so encouraged by teachers across the globe.

Again, I find myself thinking that it is a good thing that I never had to take a medication that would have turned the choir in my head into an acapella solo. Now, if I can figure out how I manage to think in harmony, I might be able to do some real good -- but it feels to me like it just sort of happened. Maybe it's the music...


  1. Good post. When I pause to think about it, I feel that my mind teems with variety, people, thoughts, memories, pictures, etc. The beneficial quality that I ascribe to this 'possible malady' is the usefulness and value of associations, and how one idea or memory relates to and reveals more about another idea or memory.

    1. Thanks, Lincoln,. Wonderful to hear from you, as always. there is definitely something to be said for the "associations" you mention. If I can be permitted another musical metaphor, I suppose we can benefit the most if we learn to conduct the choir, so that those associations turn from jumping from one to another and into an integrated opus, complete with rousing cymbal claps in finale...

  2. I agree with LH, good post. I'm currently reading a book that mentioned ADD/ADHD, maybe you would find this interesting. The book is "Frequency" by Penney Peirce. It it she mentions that researchers have found that the brains of those with ADHD function mostly at the theta level.

    Theta is one of the four categories of brain waves. 1. Beta: Fast waves, alert waking state. 2. Alpa: Slower waves, appear when your relaxed but not drowsy. 3.Theta: Much slower and associated with drowsiness, the first stage of sleep, dreaming, deeper levels of meditation, inspired creativity and imagination, recall, and mystical states of intuitive perception. This correlates with those many "conversations" in your head. 4. Delta: Very slow waves found during deep sleep. As you sleep you rotate those these phases.

    Back to ADHD functioning mostly in that theta level - They work to develop into the beta state. Most people work to escape the over-stimulation of the beta state. Hyperactive kids are actually trying to 'speed up, live inside their bodies, deal with ordinary reality and think straight and logically.' Peirce believes that perhaps those with ADD actually are naturally tuned into a higher state of consciousness and must learn how to function in the mental and emotional atmosphere on earth. I believe in a way Peirce may be saying that perhaps those with ADHD are ahead of the game as we move into the 'Intuition Age.'

    1. Michelle -- that is fascinating -- thanks so much for visiting and commenting. This is a book that I will definitely read. I have always had a suspicion that the "disorder" was at least as much a blessing as a curse (but I lean more toward blessing...) I hope my readers read your comment carefully.