Feel It, Don’t Fight It: Making The Disorder Work For You

by Bill Brenner on October 18, 2011

Instead of fighting mental disorder — be it OCD or A.D.H.D. — picture yourself accepting and even embracing it, then learning to use it to your advantage.

It’s kind of like Luke Skywalker learning to use and control the Force instead of it controlling him.

Yesterday’s post on mental illness as a luxury item resonated with several readers, especially the part where I quote Edward (Ned) Hallowell, psychiatrist and co-author of “Driven to Distraction” and “Delivered From Distraction.”

Here’s what my friend Heather Stockwell said:  “Dr. Hallowell shaped a lot of my perceptions about A.D.H.D. and how to live with it rather than fighting it.

From my friend Anne Genovese: “Ned is a great guy and has developed many techniques to deal with his A.D.H.D. Ask him about highly purified EPA and DHA. We did a study with him on about 20 A.D.H.D. kids; the ones on the ultra-purified fish oils did way better concentration-wise than the ones considered to be doing well on medication.”

Hallowell has written about mental disorder being the stuff legends are made of. The thinking is that you have to be a bit crazy or off-balance to do the things that change who we are and how we live:

“Consider also the positives that so often accompany A.D.H.D.: being a dreamer and a pioneer, being creative, entrepreneurial, having an ability to think outside the box (with some difficulty thinking inside of it!), a tendency to be independent of mind and able to pursue a vision that goes against convention. Well, who colonized this country? People who have those traits!

“Back in the 1600s and 1700s, you had to have special qualities — some would say special craziness — to get on one of those boats and come over to this uncharted, dangerous land. And the waves of immigration in subsequent centuries also drew people who possessed the same special qualities. In many ways, the qualities associated with A.D.H.D. are central to the American temperament, for better or worse. I often tell people that having A.D.H.D. is like having a Ferrari engine for a brain, but with bicycle brakes. If you can strengthen your brakes, you can win races and be a champion, as so many highly accomplished people with A.D.H.D. are. But if you don’t strengthen your brakes you can crash and burn as, sadly, many people who have A.D.H.D. but don’t know how to manage it ultimately do.”

That’s also true of people with OCD, like the late Joey Ramone, Harrison Ford and Howie Mandel.

Early on in my efforts to get control of my life, one of my biggest struggles was that I didn’t want to completely rid myself of the OCD. I knew that I owed some of my career successes to the disorder. It drove me hard to be better than average. I needed that kick in the ass because being smart didn’t come naturally to me. I had to work at it and do my homework.

There was a destructive dark side, of course: The OCD when stuck in overdrive would leave me with anxiety attacks that raised my fear level and drove me deep into my addictive pursuits. That in turn left me on the couch all the time, a used up pile of waste.

The two sides of the disorder were like two buzz saws spinning in opposite directions. My brain, caught between them, took a lot of cuts.

My challenge became learning to shut one of the blades down while letting the other keep spinning. Or, as Dr. Hallowell put it, developing a set of breaks to slow it down when I needed to.

My deepening faith has helped considerably, along with the 12 Steps of Recovery, therapy, changes in diet (more on that tomorrow) and, finally, medication.

You could say those are the things my breaks are made of.

I still need a lot of work, and the dark side of my OCD still fights constantly with the good side. I’ve come to see the OCD as a close friend. Like a lot of close friends, there are days I want to hug it and days I want to launch my boot between its legs.

My progress has come with a fair share of irony: Without the fear and panic driving me, I sometimes act more like someone with A.D.H.D. I lose focus, my mind wafting into that place that makes you forget to put your coat in the closet and pay the electric bill. Erin has noted more than once that I’ve become a slob.

I have. But I am in a happier place than I used to be, so it’s a trade-off I’m willing to accept, even if earns me the occasional scolding.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Arlie Pharmer July 31, 2012 at 12:03 AM

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