This story is mostly for the parents who are raising ADHD kids. Bless your hearts. I want you to know one thing, above all. The love and patience that my parents showed me was pivotal for my being equipped emotionally to take on the challenges I faced in life. That said, I deeply relate to the frustrations and heartache you experience in daily family life, but want to assure that it gets better for them and your patience and love has tremendous power to help.
I doubt that any of us making those first frightening leaps into the unknown during the early days of the sport in the 1970’s, ever dreamed that over-indulging in the addictive euphoria of unassisted body flight would come to dominate our lives. But tens of thousands of us found out otherwise, and went forward from those wacky introductory jumps to create long lists of mind-boggling freefall experiences in the high skies of this planet during our every free moment for the next 30 years – and the rest of life was left to twiddle its thumbs on the sidelines waiting to pry away much of our attention.
And attention had always been the issue with me. As an ADD kid in the 1950s, before the sticky behavioral problem (which is now viewed at epidemic proportions) was recognized to exist, I had long struggled to remain focused on the important issues of education and learning, but eventually discovered that coping with fear has an amazing power to direct my thoughts with laser clarity.
Although the damning inability to keep my wandering thoughts confined to a specific detail became more manageable as I matured into an adult, I came to realize while still a downtrodden teenager that my focus was superior to many around me in the extreme-stress environment of high-altitude freefalling – and therein, I found a nitch where I could vanquish my demons of insecurity and begin to turn the tables on this bewildering mental aberration.
But, as an under-achieving tadpole growing up in a staunch Southern educational system, my inability to fit in and remain focused kept me in constant turmoil with authority figures which resulted in recurring instances of demeaning corporal punishment and public humiliation. As a result, I was pretty well beaten down by this oppressive environment at an early age and even resorted to unnecessary medical mutilation to escape it.
Determined to break out of the cycle of underachievement as a teenager, I eagerly seized skydiving as a means to prove my worth and focused my energy on that ethereal sport like a prized bird dog on point.
While I have fought through much of life against the mystifying inability to harness random thoughts and stay on track, my experience with the hard edges of ADD has grown in recent years while observing with sadness how this perplexing mental condition impacts the lives of so many concerned parents who live with the nagging fear that their unpredictable ADD/ADHD kids will grow up to become dysfunctional adults.
But my 55 years of personal experience with this abnormal thought pattern may yield some hope for the affected and I hope that this hesitant recounting of my personal journey through the morass of Attention Deficit Disorder might offer some encouragement to the anxiety-ridden parents of children with ADD / ADHD. When your child is the one in the outfield being laughed at by the audience as he looks up at the sky through the lacing of a glove (while his teammates are fully engaged in a group effort to win the game), it’s an intimate suffering for a loving parent that’s not easily conveyed.
I rather imagine that the scarcity of books written from the perspective of ADD sufferers has a thing or two to do with the quirky nature of the disorder itself. According to health care professionals who have studied the curious behavioral traits common to the tens of millions who live with the problem, extreme introversion is a consistent byproduct of the experience and certainly admitting to the world that you suffer from a behavioral disorder isn’t great copy for job-hunting resumes. You pretty much have to give up the charade to analyze your life with an ADD filter and in my personal case it has been no easy decision to make.
Current medical analysis of ADD sufferers divides them into three groups using the acronym ADHD as a blanket term for the various types. While the variations of type range from simple inattention, to hyper-activity combined with inattention, my own personal variant of the disorder fell somewhere in between. Though my wacky behavior as a child was aberrant enough to get me into plenty of unpleasant situations, I was largely the introspective, quiet type living in my own little world and going through the motions; with all the problems that such an absent-minded approach to life carried with it.
And while professionals will debate the causes of ADHD, one thing I have learned over the years is that the insidious symptoms are treatable! Though the mindset may never be totally reversed, an awareness by the sufferer of the deficiencies they operate under allow them to consciously reform the abstract tendencies of their behavior that set them apart from the rest of the world, and operate more normally. I certainly wish that it had been possible to council me on this issue at an early age, but the behavioral problem was unknown in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and I was left to scratch my head in anxiety-ridden confusion over the seemingly insurmountable problems that I faced in life; some of which, incidentally, were pretty darn insurmountable by most any standard.
Some aspects of the ADD experience are frustration beyond words. The intense feeling of being overwhelmed that pounds the sufferer when surrounded by projects that need attention, results in near pathological levels of procrastination and corresponding anxiety that one is virtually helpless to control without help of some form. And large projects are relentlessly interrupted by an insurmountable jumble of divergent thoughts that simultaneously compete for attention. Imagine the frustration of composing the tens of thousands of words and sentences necessary to complete a book, when you are repeatedly dragged kicking and screaming away from the task by a barrage of abstract thoughts – not the epitome of efficient time management.
And trust me, you’ll get no sympathy from the world when you are speechless to recover the name of a person you know but haven’t seen in mere months. The insidious mental trick that abrogates your ability to recall some seemingly normal memories under pressure is indescribably frustrating and I am very thankful that my wonderful wife of 30 years has been able to deal with the punishment – most of the time, at least.
Let me also apologize in advance to the reader who may be annoyed by instances of subject skipping in the pages of this manuscript, but welcome to our world. Any editing of the document that resulted in a seamless story of smooth and continuous flow would be an inaccurate depiction of the challenges faced in the ADD life experience.
My personal journey through life, as I peered intently at my surroundings and loved ones through the impenetrable barrier of a one-way looking glass, was fraught with fear and anxieties that came from interrelating with a world that had no clue what I was thinking. And while the resultant stress levels did indeed work tirelessly to wreck my mental well-being, and even physical health, I was fortunate to unwittingly stumble upon effective self-medication in the early 1970s that helped tremendously to reduce my anxiety levels and even allow the indescribable joy of being able to focus on a single subject without repeated mental interruptions.
While constantly streaking through beautiful blue skies in pursuit of my friends, like Superman racing to catch Lois Lane before her impact with the street, I discovered divine focus such as I had never experienced on Mother Earth and therein began to turn the tables on the arbitrary mental aberration that had tortured me throughout my childhood. Uninterrupted focus was an absolute joy, and finding ways of achieving it became a driving force. Nothing in my life experience even came close to the electrifying intensity of human freefall flight because honestly, getting to be Superman really is an indescribable rush.
But, experimentation, of course, was the watchword of the1970s and there were ample opportunities to test a wide variety of substances that either impeded, or assisted the ADHD mindset. Mostly, I found them annoying as they generally provided yet another obstacle to unobstructed, cognitive thought, but some assisted focus nicely with a measure of soothing stress relief that was welcome after a lifetime of intense anxiety.
And while the medical community is quick to push magic pills upon the ADD sufferers of today, I have witnessed first-hand several tragic life stories of powerful drug addiction over the years within the circle of my friends and acquaintances that started with their being trained to fix life problems with a reliance on pills and addictive substances.
I read recently from a UK medical journal that Ritalin is so very similar to cocaine that it takes a chemist to tell them apart. I have seen enough intelligent people drug down by cocaine use to know that it is not sustainable. Now, they say that these drugs affect the young, immature mind differently than they do the adult brain. Oh, well then that makes it OK, huh? How was that ascertained anyway? At some point, it seems they had to utilize data about how the kids felt that was accumulated by asking these kids what they thought - while under the influence of a strong narcotic – an interesting concept.
From my observations in life, I remain unconvinced that synthesized chemicals are always necessary, or even helpful in the final analysis for sustaining human health and well being. But they are pricey little critters - with one overwhelming price being the inevitable down side of addiction, depression and physical side effects which predictably follow the use of powerful pharmaceuticals and/or alcohol. Having been tragically forced to witness those effects among others while being powerless to intervene, I don’t take that reality lightly.
But during my 40 years of self-medication, I have been spared those agonizing periods of despair that I have seen scythe the legs from under other talented (and normal) individuals who have allowed substance and alcohol abuse to run amuck through their lives, and I feel very fortunate to have avoided such terrifying substance dependency.
I do however realize that my personal experience with self-medication may not be necessarily mainstream, but also believe that untold millions around the world understand with absolute certainty from their life experiences that natural elements exist on this planet that can significantly benefit the pursuit of happiness, without the great risk of permanent physiological or psychological repercussions. That sure knowledge has come to countless members of the baby-boomer generation who have personally witnessed through their lifetime repeated examples of closet self-medicaters blending seamlessly into productive society by not abusing the intake. Life is a learning curve, and mine has some years on it.
And while leaning heavily on any medicinal crutch is surely a shortcut to unhappiness (or worse), I believe with utter conviction that mild substances exist that naturally and effectively ameliorate rampaging symptoms of anxiety and overwhelment, without leaving one cross-eyed and craving like so many products from Big Pharma. That same calming effect helped me (a brutally shy Southern kid with the self-esteem of a gnat) to repeatedly face-down large, intimidating crowds of prejudiced adrenaline junkies (numbering in the hundreds) that were led by bigger-than-life power figures determined to bring me to my knees. Now I don’t know how it goes for normal folks, but from my twisted ADD perspective, blasting through the heavens with a couple hundred intimidating strangers dressed in full parachute gear who all regard you as,” that guy”, can be emotionally taxing - especially for a meek person so introverted that he’s barely able to carry on a conversation in the elevator.
But my superior aerial performances recorded on video for all to see allowed me to commanded the position of utmost respect by being allowed to be the last to exit large aircraft with these seasoned groups of surly sky warriors, but the political war surrounding my business venture was intense and the pressure to out-fly these many antagonists in the high sky, over and over, day after day, was unrelenting.
However, skydiving on the edge each week successfully promoted my product to a global market in the face of industry-wide hostility toward it and I was therefore forced to continuously make my case in the air to keep a business growing.
Over the years, I made thousands of high-velocity skydives under the influence of self-medication where my critical mental acuity was undiminished and the resultant intense focus allowed me to produce a string of landmark freefall performances under intense pressure that required split second timing and instantaneous decision- making. Absolute focus was crucial in order to react in milliseconds to deadly danger at high speeds. When you are blasting through the sky on the very razor's edge of death, you don’t get second chances. Slamming into someone like a Patriot missile with a 100 mph approach speed is lethal, and we rode aircraft to altitude relentlessly in order to aim our tender bodies at our friends, and pull the trigger. There is no slack in mid-air for indecision and I lost many friends over the years to brief mistakes made in the unforgiving high sky.
And today, the documentation of that constant nearness to disaster in which I remained immersed for so many years provides a pretty good data base with which to analyze the effects of a natural, mind-altering substance as being more than a simple giggle and munchies producer. Of course, the addition of massive infusions of adrenaline, along with a few strong shots of stark fear probably figures into my particular chemical equation on some level because adrenaline courses through your body like electric lava when you are roaring through the sky at rocket speed, and that fear thing is never far from the surface when things go off-script.
But even beyond the situations of maximum intensity, substances that allow ADD sufferers to find calm and overcome the overpowering urge to bounce from subject to subject are of enormous importance to the affected – if the price, both physically and mentally, is not too high. But like any crutch that is relied upon too heavily, the source of my self-medication had its unwanted baggage and I eventually learned to hold its participation in my life to an absolute minimum as I fought through a series of bewildering challenges out in the real world.
However, now as an aging parent, I hope that this very personal recounting of one person’s struggles and successes during an ADD lifetime might serve to bolster the confidence of other parents with ADHD kids and assure them that their children can grow and mature to find happiness in a world full of people who have little hope of understanding them.
A rocket scientist skydiving buddy of mine (he really is, and a shuttle astronaut too) commented to me one day on my personal relationship skills while I was dealing with some problems to assemble a group of my jumpsuit customers for a skydive. He said, “Buzz, you don’t get it do you?” Well, Fred was normal, and we had competed head-to-head as teammates on hundreds of high-intensity skydives over the years where our skills were closely matched as we blasted through the sky like super men and communicated volumes with brief flashes of intense eye contact – so, I trusted Fred.
But I didn’t get to hear his dissertation on the degree of my disconnect because we were cut off by some forgotten incident at the dropzone, where exciting events fall from the sky like hail with rapid-fire succession. I did however blurt out a brief reply that came unscreened from the heart just before we were interrupted and said, “No Fred, but then I don’t care.”
My reply was only partly true. While it was accurate that I had finally lost my esteem for the group of self-absorbed narcissists that I had followed around for most of my life trying to fit in with, it was untrue that I didn’t care about: not getting it. I would consider his observations on my condition refreshing now and Fred, if you read this, I’d enjoy finally hearing your take on it some day, but here’s how things looked from my side of the fence.
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Swoop for Life!...with ADD
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