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Mindful : April 2016
An estimated 4.4% of Americans aged 18 to 44 suffer some degree of disability from ADHD, according to a 2006 sur vey by the National Institutes of Mental Health. 10 million + US adults affected by ADHD Newspaper deadlines had kept my distraction more or less in check during the dozen years I’d been a foreign correspondent, based in Mex- ico and Rio de Janeiro. A full-time assistant and the constant excitement of scandals, coups, and natural disas- ters also helped me stay focused. But then I’d moved back to the California suburbs to freelance and raise my two kids—combining hyper-responsibility with minimal structure and even less support, with plenty of bent fenders and burned pots as the embarrassing results. Worse, far worse, was what I feared was the toll on my husband and children of my ready-fire-aim disposition, as, under stress, I’d blurt out insults and threats. All of which helps explain why I, too, was soon in the patient’s chair, receiving my own diagnosis and officially joining the club—a large and rapidly expanding club—of several million adult Americans who struggle with ADHD. In the decade since I first found my peeps, I’ve made a point of learn- ing everything I could about this perplexing disorder. I’ve interviewed I remember watching my nine-year- old son receive his diagnosis of atten- tion-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. As I listened to his doctor’s questions— Did he often lose things? Did he often interrupt people? Did he often have trouble finishing tasks?—it struck me that he wasn’t alone in answering all those questions with a “yes.” I was 48 years old, and could have easily filled a large suitcase with all the sunglasses, jewelry, cell phones, and notebooks I’d lost over the years. top experts, read scores of scientific studies and books, and authored and co-authored three books on the topic. I’ve also test-driven every one of the major and most of the minor recommended treatments that belong to what I’ve come to think of as the ADHD industrial complex. This includes medication, neuro- feedback, special diets, exercise programs, and, yes, mindfulness meditation, which in recent years has gained increasing prestige as evidence accumulates of its effec- tiveness as a strategy to manage clinical-grade distraction. There’s a lot more to say about mindfulness as a treatment for ADHD. But first let’s clear up two common misunderstandings about the neu- ro-predicament that has become a kooky hallmark of our frazzled era. A GENUINE GLITCH The most damaging misperception about ADHD is that it’s nothing more than a convenient excuse for slackers, spineless parents, and prescription stimulant addicts. Yet however much the label has in fact been abused, it’s also estimated that more than 16 million American children and adults genuinely suffer from this mostly genetic disorder—more hereditar y than schizophrenia, and nearly as hereditar y as height. The classic symptoms of restless- ness, impulsivity, and distraction derive from a glitch in the way the brain processes dopamine, a crucial neurotransmitter that affects moti- vation, interest, and self-control. Longitudinal studies have shown that those of us with authentic ADHD suffer many more accidents, inju- ries, academic failures, divorces, and periods of unemployment throughout our lives than our “neurotypical” peers. We also, not surprisingly, have significantly higher rates of anxiety, low-self esteem, depression, and suicide attempts. People joke about ADHD, but on balance it’s not really all that funny. 38 mindful April 2016 health