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ADD or OCD or both?
Jul 26, 2008
I'm new to this web site. After reading your posts, it hit me that what has beleaguered me for the past 20 years might be a combination of OCD and ADD. Sorry about the length but please offer me any advice:

1. When I read, I get constantly distracted by objects on the desk or around me. For instance, while I consciously strive to focus on my reading, my mind notices a pencil lying on the desk, which soon starts distracting me from reading. I try to ignore the pencil and focus on what I do, but shortly realize that the degree of attention has already significantly weakened. Thus, I stop what I do and move away the bothersome pencil and go on with reading.

But soon enough some other things start to bother me. This time, a cup, or a page number on the book, or the corner of the desk, and so on. I keep putting things away and change my position not to see them, but to no avail because almost always new things pop up.

At some point, note taking, I think, might help me focus. But this time, my finger tips distract me from reading. I might want to cut my fingertips away, but then people would call me crazy.

This distraction or inattention occurs not only when I read. It also happens when I write, play tennis, take a walk, and almost in all circumstances. This phenomenon makes my life quite miserable, although I can pretend that nothing is wrong with me. In fact, I’ve lived like this not letting others know for twenty years so far. I lived like this for ten years as a public official and I have even acquired a graduate degree.

One might ask, “How could you go through graduate programs if you had a problem of inattention such as yours?” To that legitimate question, I would answer, “With sheer willpower.” It was extremely painful to read, write, and to take tests. But I have gone through all of them, in fact, with flying colors. But again it was very painful.

Other than the inattention problem, I think I have some issues with cognitive ability. For instance, I keep repeating certain words or sentences in my brain, which gives me unpleasant feeling. Frequently I feel that the flow of thought gets inhibited and blocked. I do not get depressed, but frequently feel irritated, anxious, and nervous. I am sensitive to noise. I cannot sleep with clock sound in my room. It seems some sort of gating mechanism in my brain is somewhat at fault. This feeling also applies to the inattention from visual distraction due to outer objects. I have had no problems of this sort until adolescence.

2. Now let me explain how I developed these problems. When I was a little boy, I was pretty much a loner probably because I was not very athletic. I also was a chronic bed wetter almost until I was an eighth grader. I was neither a calm nor a good boy. Not being able to pay attention to details, I once was so frustrated that I was compelled to overturn a chessboard violently and made my elder brother angry who was teaching me chess at the time. Quite frequently, I enjoyed vivid daydreaming, so much so vivid that I can still feel the excitement, sensation, and accompanying euphoria. (According to my haphazard research, all of the above appears to be characteristics of children with ADHD.)

Despite these, I was an avid reader of books, especially story books. My ability to read was quite remarkable in a way that books made me feel as if I lived in the dream world of stories. I used to read four or five hours without stopping intensively not realizing the passing of time at all, which was my daily routine. I could remember all the details of my readings and used to narrate stories to my friends in most telling ways. Not only that, I was an all A student. I did not enjoy as much concentration when it came to school work, however. Although I could not sit still for a long time while studying, I somehow practiced a unique and efficient way of studying—I would read for less than ten minutes very rapidly and wander around and play pranks for the next five or ten minutes while re-picturing and absorbing all the contents of the ten-minute reading. I continued doing that until I was an 11th grader, although the duration for reading had to be longer about this time. This method of studying saved me time, making me a lot more efficient than other classmates. I was always at the top of my class of 60 students. One day, a real hard-working classmate of mine remarked, “You study only 30 minutes while I study 3 hours, but you get the highest score always.” His remark was true and I felt always confident about my academic aptitude and ability to focus.

But all these were to change. To make a long story short, I got suddenly and emotionally entangled in agonizing love-friendship turmoil when I was in the 11th grade, which made me severely depressed for about three months. Emotional turmoil and intense feeling of sadness completely gripped me, twirling me around into the land of no self-control. Sleepless nights and unstoppable crying continued for many months.

Wrapped in depression, I suddenly became a 12th grader, which was one of the most important moments for all students in my country because of that horrible, competitive college entrance exam. One day, still suffering and somehow relishing the emotional agony, it suddenly struck me so hard that I was situated in a life-or-death moment at the time, because if I passed the entrance exam for the university that I was applying, then I would grasp a successful life (with full scholarship for four years and acquisition of the rank of police lieutenant upon graduation). If not, a very dim prospect of college education given the economic hardship my family was going through at the time. Suddenly, a sensation of enormous responsibility and crisis fell on me. Right at that moment, I programmed myself as follows in a determined way: “I’ve wasted my precious time fooling around with that foolish friendship issue. To make up for the lost time, I am going to study harder. Not only am I going to study harder, I will focus, focus, and focus and I will have every sentence and every chapter that I study from now stored and inscribed in my brain.”

Alas! That was the entrance door to the scourge of my life. Strangely and devilishly, the more I tried to focus I couldn’t focus at all. The symptoms that I’ve described at the beginning crept into my life, sabotaging my dream, consciousness, and life. For the next one year, I couldn’t study at all. While my eyes fell on the book, my mind was grasped by a myriad of objects around me. It made me sweat along the spine and around the forehead all the time. I slept very little, probably less than 4 hours every day in order toSTUDY, despite the fact I could not study at all. Not being able to enjoy the joy of learning and ability to focus rendered me hopeless and helpless, suggesting putting an end to my miserable life.

Miraculously, I passed the entrance exam, probably through sheer luck. However, the ensuing four year could be best described as hellish. The problem of inattention became intensified, along with mental fogginess and anxiety. The regimented dormitory life in a militaristic style deprived me of sleep. During the four-year period, I couldn’t READ a single book although I was constantly reading books. My huge desire to read and absorb contents of books was dashed every day and every minute. At some point, I could not tolerate the tick-tack sound of a clock, and not long after the snoring sound my roommates drove me crazy. Insomnia became my close but nasty friend.

3. I saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist for the first time in my life 7 years ago. They surmised that I might have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). They put me on various drugs such as Zoloft, Luvox, Paxil, and so on. I’ve tried about 2 weeks for each, but other than making me groggy, they did not show any sign of efficacy. After about 6 months of trial, I gave up hope and did not see doctors anymore.

One year ago, I went to a neurologist due to insomnia, who prescribed me Triazolam. I was on Triazolam for one year, but, due to side effects (anxiety, short term memory loss), stopped taking it just about one month ago. Instead, various natural products such as 5HTP, L-theanine, L-tyrosine etc were tried in many different ways. Also religious teachings and simple behavioral and cognitive techniques helped alleviate the sleeping disorder. At this point, albeit not definitive, I think I should be able to manage insomnia somehow.

My doctor conjectured, although without any systematic tests, that I might have ADD (attention deficit disorder) and prescribed me Dexedrine. I’ve been taking about 20 mg a day for one week. Although I see some improvements in attention, objects still pop up and continue to bother my reading.

At this point, I still don’t know whether I have ADD or OCD. After reading various online writings and academic journal articles, I came to a temporary conclusion that I had experienced an imbalance of neurotransmitters during my high school period. This imbalance worsened during my college due to sleeping deprivation and anxiety stemming from the militaristic regimen. My symptom does have a lot to do with ADD. A combination of ADD and OCD is another possibility. Whatever it is, I’m exhausted after having lived with this scourge for 20 years. I am also tired of living as though things are just fine. Things were not fine and they are not fine. I would like to be more honest with myself and tackle this problem head on.

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