Book Review: Hyper

Book Review: Hyper: a personal story of ADD                                                                              Timothy Denevi,  Simon & Schuster, 2014      

Timothy Denevi introduces all of his characters– historical and contemporary — with a description based on memory, jacket cover, or photograph image and also on his personal impressions of the person. I’ll do the same for him.

Denevi looks out at you from the back flap of his book with a gaze that belies his tenacious relationship with authority.  The three-quarter view of his face, with a neat beard softening his  tight-lipped smile,  sharp nose, and trendily ‘squinching’ eyes, is a story in itself;  a hard-won adulthood emerging from a long battle with mental health and self confidence.  His forward-facing torso, draped in a bookish professor jacket, leans casually against a wall as if to invite either challenge or earnest inquiry.

Part memoir, part review and critique of the history of ADHD, Hyper is ambitious in trying to intersperse Denevi’s personal experience with the story of ADHD’s changing and expanding scientific, medical, and pharmaceutical paradigms.

Denevi’s recounting of life from toddlerhood to university is compelling. He is as successful as one can be in helping the reader understand what is going on in the mind of a child who, at various points throughout history, might have been institutionalized, imprisoned or otherwise segregated, corporeally punished, and called repressed, hyperkenetic, or minimally brain damaged.  One early thinker, we learn, might have even threatened him with execution.

Denevi takes no hostages, and calls out those who helped and hurt him along the way– an act that also reveals how crucial  good mentors and friendships were to him and to those whose growth and development are similarly tumultuous.   His parents, though they struggled alongside him, were ultimately his biggest advocates and supporters as he went from being Goomba to Timmy to Tim. His psychologists were trustworthy and nonjudgmental, and a teacher’s cooperation, understanding, or lack thereof was highly correlative to the degree of academic and social success that Denevi would achieve throughout his years in school.

The nearly 120-year-old history of ADHD as described by Denevi, and the development of associated treatments and medications, does not exactly parallel Denevi’s experiences. However, the information in the book is well researched and interesting in it’s own right. Along the way, we encounter the jerky and meandering trajectory of research, and the confluence of psychology, educational philosophy, and pharmacy which have brought us to today’s standard of diagnosis and care for people with ADHD.

As a mother, what struck me the most as I read this book was how much time energy Tim’s mom devoted to the wellbeing of her eldest.  While, on one hand, devotion and motherhood tend to go hand in hand,  I can tell you, based on my own experience, that Mrs. Denevi’s standard of care went above and beyond. Perhaps it’s the ADD in me talking, but the commitment to weekly psychiatry sessions and teacher correspondence, monitoring, and medicating, not to mention her perseverance through some of Timothy’s more rueful behavior as a young adult, on top of the usual homework and extracurricular duties and taking care of her other two children, working a full time job, and keeping house, is an amazing accomplishment.  Even when suffering from her own newly diagnosed and debilitating arthritis while Timothy is in middle school, Mrs. Denevi is a pillar and a guide to her child.  Denevi also describes his father as being supportive and loving throughout the challenges they faced as a family.

Of course, the degree to which it was necessary for Denevi’s parents to persist in advocating for him also reinforces the degree to which Denevi is affected by ADHD, and how severe his condition was. One shudders to think what happens to children whose parents or teachers do not have the resources to deal with the disorder,  especially in a form as extreme as Denevi seems to have experienced.

I also felt connected to Denevi for the fact that he and I are just about the same age.  Although I did not seek a diagnosis until adulthood, I was aware of my differences in the same way as Denevi describes. I remember the growing awareness of ADD in the school system from the time I first became conscious of it and until today when at least half the families I know are affected by it.  As an educator, I have learned so much about it.  I hope that books such as Hyper will help policymakers, educators, parents, and society at large understand Attention Deficit Disorder and develop strategies to maximize the potential of those with ADHD while minimizing the detrimental effects it can have.

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The Med Factor: Dinner Is Served

We do a lot of hosting at our house, and that means a lot of cooking for me.  I don’t particularly like cooking, but apparently I’m not half bad at it. Rather, I am half bad at it but the half that’s not completely burnt, over-boiled, or otherwise wasted due to negligence usually tastes pretty good, I’m told.

I always joke that most husbands, when they get in the door, call out ‘Honey, I”m home!’ My husband will walk in and automatically call out “Babe, what’s burning?”

Actually, that’s not a joke at all. He says that every single time he comes in the house.  Of course, with the fire alarm blasting (mine speaks English and French: FIRE! FEU! BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. FIRE! FEU! BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. And sometimes CARBON MONOXIDE! MONOXYDE DE CARBONE! BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.) and the kids fighting over the chance to stand on a chair with the broomstick (which we keep against the wall for this exact purpose) and stab the darn thing into silence on it’s elusive sweet spot (HUSH MODE ACTIVATEDMODE HUSH ACTIVÉ), there is no denying what I’ve been up to. Here’s another joke, but not: How do you know when it’s dinner time at my house? 

dinner_will_be_ready
Too obvious?

But I digress…

It’s not entirely accurate that I don’t like cooking. It’s true that I’d rather be…  dunno… writing, reading, hiking, not cooking etc. but I like cooking better than, say, washing dishes or bringing the trash cans in from the curb. Cooking is a chore but not the worst chore. The part I really don’t like is cleaning.  Cooking means cleaning;  it’s inevitable. And when you cook in a mad, hyperfocused frenzy like I do, the mess gets bigger and bigger throughout the process until it almost takes over the counter entirely., and sometimes the floor.  Peelings, wrappers, dirty dishes… I hate them all.  I can cook a four course meal (soup, sides, salads– yes, all plural–  and main) in under two hours but the kitchen is positively ravaged when I’m done.

12_Messy Kitchen
Not my kitchen, but close.

I never make desert, though.  Guests are responsible for bringing desert, or else I cut up fruit after I serve the main course when things have calmed down a bit.  I almost never bake. I hate it, and I am terrible at it. When you bake you need to be so careful about measuring and having just the right ingredient  and other dull and unnecessarily uptight details.  And it makes so much more mess.  Not worth it.

When I cook it’s a largely spontaneous experience and always experimental, like an art piece.  I know roughly what I’m making because I shopped for it that morning and it’s in the fridge waiting. But I never know exactly whether the ground beef is going to be meatballs, patties, bolognaise sauce, or lasagna until I start cooking. Herbed? Sweet n’ sour?  You just never know. I might consult a recipe for inspiration, but then I always revert to whatever I think is more fitting or (let’s be honest) whatever method will result in fewer dirty pans.  I have a lot of spices, and I’ve developed a feel for how to make them my own, and how much I can tweak a recipe before it turns the corner from home or exciting  to meh.

Last week I was on the meds while cooking. I’d had a lot to do that day and cooking was just one of the items on the agenda, albeit a large item.  I started cooking earlier than I normally would, which is maybe evidence of the medication serving it’s intended purpose. The meds were still in full effect and my appetite was pretty suppressed.

All of a sudden I realized that I had no idea what spices to use in the dish I was making.  I scanned my spice rack, waiting for the right ones to pop out at me as they usually do, but they all looked the same– bland.  I had to really stop and think about it in a logical fashion; What might taste good in this meat? Cinnamon? No that’s Middle Eastern and not what I’m going for. Garlic? Well yes, obviously but… oregano? Yes, that sounds Italian..  I think I’m going for ‘Italian’…

It may not sound like a big deal, but the experience was  it was kind of freaky and unsettling for me.   I didn’t have any precedent for this kind of feeling, and I was unsure of how to handle it at first.  Imagine trying to paint a ladybug,  looking at a palette of paint colours and not having any point of reference for which puddle to dip your brush into.  You know it should be obvious, but the answer is somehow eluding you, like in a dream.

Well, I’ve been cooking dinners for over a decade now and my inference, if not my instinct, kicked in.  I know ladybugs are red, and so I dipped my  brush into the puddle labeled ‘red’.  I made the food. It wasn’t artistic, but it was good, they tell me.  Essentially, it was formulaic, like baking.

What an unexpected side effect for ADD / ADHD medication;  Regular function might be impaired due to lack of appetite.  More accurately, it was a side effect of a side effect.  I wonder what other side of side effects I’m experiencing that I haven’t yet noticed.  Sometimes I wonder if there are any effects at all.

Before I sign off, I want to include another story about food and my husband, just to redeem his reputation in case you think, based on this post, that he is overly harsh or critical.

When we were engaged, and this was way back before I became the gourmet chef that I am today, it was pumpkin season, and I was taken with the notion of making pumpkin soup.  Working from my gut, I brought the pumpkin home, baked it, peeled it, pureed it, and spiced it, and then served it to my fiancee and a friend of mine for dinner that night. The soup was horrible and not at all what I’d intended.  I couldn’t eat it and neither could my friend. But my darling man tasted it, said “It’s not that bad, maybe I’ll just put some humus in it.” Yes, he ate the whole bowl with humus in it. And that is why I love him.

Notice: No ladybugs were harmed or ingested in the writing of this blog post or ever, really, by the author, to the best of her knowledge.

Drive Inspired

I had a phone call the other day from what I guess I’d call a friend-once-removed (an FOR), by which I mean she is a person who is friends with another friend of mine, and who, consequently,  I see several times a year but don’t really have anything else to do with. I like her fine.  I’m just not particularly close with her. An FOR.

Although I was initially surprised to hear from her, her motives became clear as soon as she said the words ‘hoping you can help me with a little venture I’m working on.’ My suspicions were confirmed when her schpiel ended with ‘can I meet you for coffee?’

I asked:

“Is this Arbonne?”

It was.

Who has a great skin care routine? THIS GUY!
Aaaay. Who has a great skin care routine? THIS GUY!

Arbonne is a line of products whose marketing scheme is word-of-mouth and rhymes with “Fonzie.”

“I’m not buying anything– you should know.” I didn’t want to mislead her, though clearly she was trying to mislead me  by making it sound like she cared for my actual companionship.

It’s fine, she told me. Even if I didn’t buy anything I’d still be helping her firm up her pitch and it would be good practice. I was being asked to help. I was flattered. We made a date.

I don’t necessarily disrespect people who choose to chase the dream and make ‘a little money in their spare time,’  as it were.  In fact, I was totally impressed by FOR’s verve , get-go, drive, or whatever you want to call it.  It takes some serious cajones to call people out of the blue when you barely know them and try to get them to open their hearts, schedules, and wallets to you.  Of course, it makes it easier if you’ve already destroyed relationships with all your original friends, but it’s all worth it, I think, when the Arbonne people show up at your door with a thank-you gift in the form of a white Mercedes. No, really, they promise you a Benz if you sell enough body lotion and shampoo.  Whooooa. Happy days!

I was trying to avoid sarcasm in this post and now look at me.  I blame the Fonz but the Fonz doesn’t care. Aaaaay!

So I met with this FOR at one afternoon at a popular coffee place which I will not name but rhymes with Spar… Bucks…  and I brought my Little One, who happened to have a day off.  He was excited for the hot chocolate aspect of the meeting, and I was excited to do my friend of a friend a good turn as she began her journey to purported financial freedom.

I should mention that I’ve already been accosted by friends in the past who got on the Arbonne train. In fact, I’d won an entire gift basket worth of merchandise from a trade show and through some internal political hierarchies having to do with geography and/or nepotism, the person assigned to my followup telephone call was a girl not-removed from me, but an actual friend. An actual friend that I had to listen to as she rambled on about the products for fifty minutes until I managed to find some reason to excuse myself from the conversation.  So I know a little bit about Arbonne. I’m still friends with that girl, by the way, but we’ve never ever spoken about what I’ve come to think of as The Horrible Arbonne Incident.

I scheduled FOR’s coffee date for the end of the school day just in case it… uh… didn’t have a natural end.  I figured 45 minutes was enough time for her to practice her shpiel, drink a coffee, try some products, and get out.  To make a long story short, I learned about Arbonne all over again, even though I told her, in nicer terms, about my previous education in the same department.  I had the complete presentation including power point, demo booklet, and a little trial kit of toiletries — six products!! — that I was meant to use daily and return to her after three days. Six products? I feel proud if I have the energy to brush my teeth at the end of the day!  I can’t even remember to take my ADD meds three day in a row!

Of course, I ended up taking it all home in a tote bag embossed with enormous company logos. I somehow followed the skincare routine for three full days (though I used up the little squirt of night cream on DD’s dry hands when we couldn’t find her regular lotion).  I even met her on the morning of day 4, though I forgot the tote bag which I’ll have to get to her at a later date.  I did not remember to take my pills during this time.

To add insult to injury, turns out the FOR is not new to Arbonne. She did not need to practice her pitch on me because she has been doing it for over two years. My efforts at do-goodism were for naught.  I’m such a sucker.

But I digress.

Seeing FOR in action, even though the action was being taken against me, in a way, was somehow inspiring.  The girl has a goal: to supplement her income (which I would describe as steady but limited). She has a means: The Fonz. She has a market: Other FOR. She has a modus operandi: Call, cajole, coffee, call again. And she does it. It sounds easy, but know how difficult it can be to tear oneself away from a good game of candy crush and make even a single sales call.  I know it’s hard to put oneself out there and present oneself with confidence, even if you believe that the rewards are great and have optional seat warmers.

So even though I don’t think I’ll be peddling beauty products anytime soon, I can take a lesson from my FOR and push myself to write one more blog post or send out that promo package.

Because as she, and so many zombie-like and  glowy-cheeked Benz hopefuls before her remind us:  Don’t think “what if it doesn’t work?” Think “what if it does?”