Faith and ADHD

There’s a guy in my circles on the interwebs, name of Jeff Hendricks. He’s got the ADHD. So do I. He’s got the religion. So do I. He’s got the article about it.

Well, now so do I.

My experience is almost completely different, so being as arrogant as anyone, I’m going to use him as a springboard to talk about myself. Perhaps between the two angles, you’ll find something of value.

Buckle in my friends. I am about to hold forth at length. And I suspect my fellow Chaos-monkeys are unlikely to make it all the way to the end.


I have spent my entire life not fitting in. When you realize as a child that you’re not like everyone else, it changes the way you think. It leads you down very dark roads, constantly searching for something that will make you feel “normal,” and never finding it.

I’ve been fighting against ADHD my entire life. For decades I saw it as something I had to “work around” or “learn to live with.” I was also smarter than everyone else in my classes (that’s not a brag- I just was). All the school system was geared towards the average learning child, which means it wasn’t suited to me at all. I was constantly bored, ostracized, and miserable. The only time I was happy was in music class. For some reason, my brain absorbed music like a sponge, and I had no problem focusing on it. And then I grew up.

My childhood is a bit of a counterpoint. I’m a hardcore introvert, though not at all shy, so it never bothered me that I don’t fit in. And while elementary school was hell, I didn’t stay there long. When the local, decent school announced in my 3rd grade year that they would be shutting down, my parents chose to homeschool me rather then send me to the next nearest, but not decent school.

Somewhere in my homeschool years, I was diagnosed with ADD, which is now called ADHD-PI (Primarily Inattentive). My parents figured since I was being taught at home, there was no need to medicate me. They’d just work around it.

RIght call? Wrong call? I think it was the best call they could have made given the info they had. I think I might have had a more optimal life if medicated, but I don’t think the data was as conclusive then as it is now. And I’m still grateful they did their best by me.

In homeschool, I blossomed. Sure, I couldn’t control my focus. I wouldn’t do my homework in Government School, and I didn’t do it at home either. But ADHD isn’t lack of focus, it’s lack of control. When my focus snapped on, it was on, and it tended to snap on when I was reading. I devoured my schoolbooks and came back for seconds. And when the State tested me to make sure I was learning, I scored well ahead of my peers.

But I didn’t do my homework. I could swallow a math textbook before lunch, but I couldn’t do the practice problems for the first chapter. No way no how.

That bothered me quite a bit. I never wanted to be a bad boy. I never wanted to be a lazy boy. Couldn’t clean my room. Couldn’t write an essay. Couldn’t do a page of spelling practice. And it bugged me.

My parents didn’t have a theory of ADD and how to educate around it, or how to build coping habits. They charged blithely ahead assuming that just removing me from the Public School environment and letting me chart my own path would be enough. And in fairness, my brothers had ADHD, the Ricochet Rabbit variety. Why spend a time worrying about the guy with the perfect test scores and his nose in the book when his siblings need to be lassoed before they leap out of a hayloft and into some barbed wire again?

I got punished for not doing my work, of course. And yelled at. Gotta find a way to make money in this world. Boys who don’t do their homework don’t get the good jobs. But the real damage was theological.

I hate to get denominational. But doctrine matters. And the church I went to at the time taught that if you were saved, you would do good works, simple as. If you looked at yourself, and didn’t see any good works, well, you were probably not really saved.

One of the ironies of the Protestant Reformation is that it’s supposedly all about Grace, but most of the denominations lose the Grace real quick. At least if I were Roman Catholic, I could’ve gone to Confession and upgraded to Purgatory. I’ll take Purgatory. The sad sacks in Purgatory will one day be triumphant Saints in Paradise. They finished their race on the right side of the point of no return.

With many in my former tradition, the result of this dogma is a wild swing between Phariseeism and despair. If you can convince yourself you did good, you’re self-righteous. If you can’t, you’re despondent.

With ADD, you can’t convince yourself you did good. You didn’t do your chores once this month, let alone preach the Gospel on the streets. You did nothing.

All I had on tap was despair.

Eventually, the depression got noticed, and the doctors put me on SSRIs. The drugs would make the depression go away for a short time, but it would come back, so I would stop taking them. This got the diagnosis upgraded to bipolar, and a new batch of drugs, which set the depression on a weekly schedule, three days a week, but made it light enough that I could get out of bed most weeks.

By this time, I had long since forgotten the ADD diagnosis from early childhood. I figured I was lazy, undisciplined, hopeless. At best, I thought, it was the bipolar, and if I found a way to manage that, maybe I would one day be able to enter the ranks of functional adults.

Dysfunctional Adults

College was a mistake. I went in confident in my grades, and got my AA with mostly flying colors (4.0, baby,) but the moment I tried to pick a major, it all fell apart. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Or rather, I did. I wanted to make comics, books, and games, as I do now. Under my own banner, as I do now. So there was no need for college. I just had to teach myself as I went, and I’d be fine.

But I didn’t think it through. I figured I had to get a degree and a job. So I spent two years at a Bible College toying with the idea of becoming a pastor, and a year at the state’s premier education school, with the idea that if I was a Middle School teacher, I could tinker in the summers. Sadly, or happily, the schools in my state are officially spite-worthy shit-fires that abuse children, and I chose to drop out of college rather than become that particular flavor of flaming shit.

So there I was.

Debt.

No degree.

Retail flunky.

Next fifteen years.

Slow Cars

Working a 7-5 office job crunching numbers is a mental concentration camp to me. I react to it the same way a prisoner does- I just want out. It takes all my energy to do my job and not go insane. When I get home, I’m so starved for stimulation that I’ll do anything to break the monotony, to calm and soothe the noises in my head. ADHD is notorious for hijacking your ability to make good choices when it’s looking for stimulation.

As an adult, my brain’s drive for dopamine hasn’t stopped at all. I drive fast cars, I’ve done extreme sports, I love loud music, I play fast-paced video games- because it’s agonizingly painful to be bored. When ADHD people aren’t mentally stimulated, they actually go into a state of depression. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes it’s pretty bad. And if you know anything about depression, you can’t just “snap out of it.” It has nothing to do with discipline or “just trying harder.”

Since I got the “PI” variant of ADHD, my story is less exciting. Fast cars and extreme sports don’t do much for me, more’s the pity, as physical exercise is very therapeutic for basically everything that can hamper a man’s brain. I can get lost in a videogame or a book, though. Go without eating or sleeping until it’s done. And while I’m less explosive, I’m no less impulsive or distracted. Made bad money choices. Didn’t pay bills.

One symptom of ADHD is you can’t hold down a job for more than a couple of years. Fortunately, the Walton family had me covered: I could switch departments every year or two at Walmart and even though I’m bouncing from job to job like a pinball, my resume says I’m as stable as a rock.

And of course, I was still depressed 3 days a week. And a couple things fell into place to attenuate that.

A couple of friends started arguing about the Bible in my vicinity. Over the course of their arguments, I learned about the objective Grace of the Sacraments. Instead of looking at my works to see my worth, I started looking at Baptism and the Supper, and Absolution. I started looking outside myself, at Jesus.

That made the load lighter, though it didn’t go away, not with the drugs I was on. And the next thing made the load heavier.

I got married. I had a kid.

Now I wasn’t just failing myself and my parents. I was failing a helpless infant that I had created and for whom I was ready to die if necessary. Try that one on for size.

I needed to change something drastic. So I moved to another state 1400 miles away. Warmer weather. Different people. My wife had kin in New Jersey. Maybe there I could completely turn myself around.

Spoilers: Not so much. But…

In Jersey, they have ten times as many head cases per psychologist as anywhere else. In the state I grew up in, you gotta book two months in advance. In Jersey, they say you gotta book 6 months in advance, but what they really mean is, “I’m sorry, Dr. So and So is not taking new patients at this time.”

It was a blessing in disguise. I spent a couple of months in a hellish withdrawal. I wanted to hang myself every day. I could feel the rope around my neck. It felt nice.

But I wouldn’t go through with it for the sake of my kid. And because of God’s objective Truth that when I am weak, He is strong. That no matter how hard I fail, no matter how sure I am I’ll fail the next time too, my duty is to ask for forgiveness and try again.

If I never get anything right for the rest of my life, my battle, my station as a Christian, is still to get up and try again every. Single. Time. Until I die or Christ return.

And then the clouds parted.

Depression Gone. Still ADHD.

For the first time in 20 years, I spent a week without depression.

And then another.

And then a year.

I was still lazy and impulsive. I was still top of my class, bottom of my retail department. I was still an objective failure. And I still found it frustrating and enraging.

But without the pills manufacturing despair, God’s Grace was enough. Heck, the 20 years I spent fighting to hang on by any thread I could had developed a reflex of Hope so iron, that the next few storms to rock my boat would not dislodge it.

Took a few months off to rethink my life. Made a kids’ book for my kid.

Decided New Jersey was not for me, and got the heck out of dodge. Goodbye New Jersey. I’ll miss your toasty winters. But my homeland is full of my homeboys, and it was time to return to where my back is had.

I moved back to my mother’s farm. Decided to live a couple of months on welfare for the first time in my adult life, while I thought over everything that was wrong with my life and whether there was any way to fix it. And watching my wife and kid interact, I realized something.

My wife couldn’t understand why my kid never seemed to follow through on anything. But I did. Because that was me too.

And I remembered that once upon a time, I had been diagnosed with ADD.

ADHD and Faith

Being a dopamine junkie has its downsides. Everyone around me feels like they’re not exciting enough, and take it personally. People try to keep up with my brain running 200MPH, and can’t, so they give up in frustration. Dopamine starvation also tends to lead you to very unhealthy obsessions, like pornography, dangerous activities, toxic relationships (because they’re exciting), and so on. If not kept in check, it’s easy to get wrecked by your own brain.

And therein lies the problem: as a Christian, I believe God made my brain this way on purpose. And I resent it, because for years I didn’t see it as a good thing. This made me resent God for making me who I am. It’s a miserable place to be.

God didn’t make my brain ADHD for amusement. He didn’t do it as a joke. He didn’t make a mistake. So what gives? What am I supposed to do with this?

God created me- and you- the way we are simply because he’s a creative God, and everybody’s different. My ADHD isn’t defined by how much I do, any more than I myself am defined by what I do. And God doesn’t love me because of what I can or can’t do, or have/haven’t done in the past.

Here’s a place where I’m on a different page than Mr. Hendricks, with all respect.

There’s this idea that ADHD is another brain type. A “Type E for Entrepreneur” personality. We’re hunters; you chumps are gatherers.

Nah.

It’s brain damage.

Men are born with no arms all the time. And maybe they become super balanced, able to paint with their feet, able to do backflips. But that isn’t God’s creativity hand-crafting unique snowflakes. It’s Death. It’s the Doom of Adam. It’s the flickering ember of God’s good creation burning brighter because the darkness is deeper. And in the resurrection, those guys’ll have their arms.

In the resurrection, I’ll have my forebrain. I’ll have self-control.

I’ll be able to decide what I want to do, and do just that.

Sure, there is a silver lining. I can’t focus at will without powerful drugs because my diffuse brain doesn’t shut off. But that also means I have “shower thoughts” all the time. While I’m working. I can think inside or outside the box because the box doesn’t exist to me.

Now, with medication, I can pick my focus at the beginning of the day. Then I’m stuck, and I may forget to eat or sleep for three days, but that’s a heck of lot more useful than only being able to focus on videogames and Twitter.

Just as a blind man has powers of hearing a sighted man will never have, I have adaptations.

But it is still wrong when I do not pay my debts on time. It’s still wrong that I halfass Christmas and birthdays the night before. And the fact that I can’t do any better is no excuse.

A kleptomaniac can’t stop himself from stealing. That doesn’t pay back the people he’s robbed.

But!

But!

But Christ can undo the harm. Christ will undo the harm. He will restore stolen property. He will unmurder the murdered. He will purify the defiled. And He has covered my transgression with His own blood.

It’s not an excuse to stop trying. I still gotta fight Adam within me. He wants to swear oaths and break them. I gotta stop his fool mouth, and then try to do better than the word I would have given. He wants to scroll Twitter all day, worship at the glowing altar. I gotta set aside time to work and set aside time for my family.

But not for my salvation.

For my wife. For my kid. For my neighbor. To love them.

The failing is covered. What is left for me to do with ADHD is to look at it and say, “can I arrange my life to to minimize the downside? Can I use the upside to help the people around me?”

And there are answers. My twisted mind may be my particular flavor of the Doom of Death, and not a gift of God’s good design. But He set me where I would be most useful to His cause, doom and all. He chose the people around me. They are the right people. I am the right person.

But God didn’t give me this mind to do. He gave me this mind to be. And just coming to Him as myself is all He asks of me. Seeking God in my own way is all I can do… that’s what He’s called me to do. God won’t ask me to be something I cannot be. As long as I come to Him with everything I am, and nothing I’m not, it’s enough.

If you’re struggling to find God through your depression, your ADHD, your Autism, or whatever you’re dealing with:

He’s there. He knows you. You don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not. God says He will do the changing on the inside, through the Holy Spirit working in you. And whatever work the Spirit is doing in you, it’s always good.

I don’t want to fight against what Mr. Hendricks is saying here.

But I’m gonna.

God didn’t give me this mind. Adam gave me this mind.

God gave me salvation. God gave me a future where my body and spirit are whole.

And God gave me people I can help, I being who I am, flaws and all.

And if I don’t help them? If I try and fail? If I fail even at trying?

Easy.

I am paid for. He is Risen. Thus also will I rise.

Get up. Try again.

And if that’s my life, over and over and nothing else til the day I die…

Then that’s my fight. That’s my post.

And I’ll die at my post. That’s what a man does.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s