ADD-dar, The ADD Radar: Part 1 – ADD in History

ADD-dar, The ADD Radar: Part 1 – ADD in History

Now that word has been getting out about my blog and my mom-with-ADD musings, people have started to consult with me when they have questions about ADD/ADHD.  I even get referrals: “Nicky told me I should ask you what to do about my husband who I suspect probably has ADD.”

That sort of thing.

Long before people ‘come out’ to me, however, I begin to draw my own conclusions. I mentally develop the diagnosis on people who,  if they would just put the pieces together and figure out what is holding them back, would be so much more productive and satisfied.  Some people read auras. I read ADD. When I spot an ADD-er, I see a giant animated Monty Python hand squooshing down on their heads, holding them down like an extra dose of gravity and repressing their ambitions.  I can also hear their brains whirring like a hangar full of airplane propellers: Why. Can’t. I. Just. Get. This. Project. Off. The. Ground!?! It’s hard for them, though they look fine on the outside.

I see ADD everywhere. I saw this on a notebook cover in a gift shop not long ago:


“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

-Abe Lincoln

Famous Manism No. 1


I was confounded. Why would this particular epitaph, which could easily have been uttered by Bart Simpson,  be used to embellish stationary when every other item on the shelf has inspirational sayings about Dreams Coming True and The Meaning of Friendship?     To me, this quote seemed to be saying ‘I will get around to the important part of my job at the last possible second, and attempt to create a facade of productivity until that point.’ Is that what a ‘Manism’ is?  Is it something to be proud of?  Maybe Abe Lincoln actually had ADD and wrote this in the ‘areas of improvement section of his journal.  Did he feel ‘different’? Did he celebrate it? And why do we never pronounce the second L in Lincoln, and if we did, what would it sound like? Link-Ole-n? Link-O-Lin? My tongue is tired.

But I digress. Blame it on my ADD.

How long does it really take to sharpen an axe and take down a tree? I am not even going to Google this information because you know it’s a six-minute task that will take me four hours once I get distracted. However, I am guessing that axe sharpening does not take an entire afternoon. You might notice the obsessive element of this pronouncement, which would lead me to believe that Lin-colon might have had a touch of OCD–which has a high rate of co-occurrence with ADD.  Based on this quote, (which is attributed on 10,000 memes to Abe Lincoln, btw, but which was probably invented by someone at Hallmark), I would sit Abe down to do some serious googling to find out if he has any more symptoms and what he can do about them. Lots of material out there, Abe. You’ll do fine.

Here’s another example of history engaging my ADD-dar. I picked The Broadview Book of Canadian Anecdotes (Douglas Fetherling, Ed. 1998) out of a discard pile at the library once. I’m finally getting around to reading it, and I found this gem inside:

George Brown (1818-80)

The founder of the Toronto Globe, an important moulding force in the early years of the Liberal Party, and one of the architects of Confederation, was also active as a businessman, farmer, civic leader, and philanthropist on many fronts simultaneously. He in fact despised sloth as only a militant nineteenth-century Protestant could do, but he also lamented one consequence of his busy-ness. A significant portion of his voluminous correspondence begins with profound apologies for his tardiness in replying. So far behind was he in his letter-writing that for much of his life he kept one “special pocket” in his frock coat for letters of a more urgent personal nature than the ones which filled the large box lodged permanently atop his desk. Every so often he would empty the pocket and let its contents mingle with those of the box. Then he would re-sort and reprioritize the mess once again. The habit was already well advanced when he was in his thirties. It, and its habitual contrition, continued the rest of his life.

Here is a list of all the ADDetails in this account:

  1. Correspondence bottleneck
  2. Involved in much more work than he could handle (as evidenced by the correspondence bottleneck)
  3. Apologizing at the beginning of every reply– I have just recently trained myself NOT to do this– or to at least cut down on the number of e-mails that start that way– the logic being that I do not necessarily owe people replies, much less prompt replies, and that opening a letter with a ‘sorry’ creates a sense of onus or vulnerability which I do not necessarily want to communicate.
  4. The ‘special pocket’ in his frock (fun word of the day: Frock Frock Frock) screams ‘ADD-proof strategy’. We all have them, or at least we (ADD-ers) have them if we are at all serious about staying on top of our numerous commitments. Clearly, the frock pocket (frocket?) was not the best strategy for him. But that is another topic for another blog post at another time.
  5. Constant re-sorting and revisiting of the mess of papers in his care. Classic indication of someone who has trouble with prioritization.

In other words, George Brown, who has an enormous and well-established college named after him was, by my estimation, a functioning and accomplished but still struggling ADD-er. Like myself.

I can’t help but reflect on one more series of questions that arise from the disorder– both literal and figurative– that both these men seem to have dealt with.  If Abraham Lincoln had to pick up his kids at 4pm, would it have affected the amount of time he spent in preparation– or procrastination, as I see it– by sharpening his axe? Would that tree have come down at all? Would he have started out swinging and chopping, glanced at his watch, left his tools scattered (only to be dulled once again by the humid overnight conditions) and urged his white horse through a series of yellow lights to get to the school on time?

And what of George? Would he check his frocket one morning for correspondence, only to find it glued together by a half-sucked lollypop, deposited in the spirit of love and sharing by a 4-year old for his father’s eventual consumption?  Do you think he ever got around to reorganizing his mail box, only to discover that several very important letters had the name MARGARET scrawled upon them in a shaky hand as his daughter practiced her penmanship?  Also, was the snail mail issue really the one consequence arising from his busy-ness that he lamented?  Probably yes.

I don’t begrudge either of these men their successes, but is it petty to say that I’m sometimes envious of the relative disencumbrance they enjoyed while navigating through their (presumed) ADHD? I know, they lived in a time before toilet paper, so it’s hard to say that they really had it better. But I can’t help but wonder if they’d have gotten as far as they did if they had the modern shared parental responsibilities of raising kids.

Food for thought.



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