ADD & Depression

Both George and Jeremy linked to the recent New York Times Magazine article about depression. I’d filed it away to read later, so coming across both of their links my evening blog reading inspired me to take a look at it.

I spent nearly all my teenage years being depressed. Depression consumed a good deal of my college years—causing a complete shutdown in my sophomore year, when it took me hours just to get out of bed in the morning—the rest being concerned with getting treatment for depression. No treatment ever seemed to work entirely, or help fix the other problems I was having. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure that, though I was depressed, that it was a misdiagnosis. ADD in adults is often diagnosed as depression, precisely because there is depression that stems from the results of living with untreated ADD—repeated failures in work, school, relationships, finances, etc. You name it. When you live it, constantly, it’s bound to depress you. But treating the depression in my case, with therapy in medication, only treated part of the problem.

It’s the ADD connection that interested me once I started reading the article, because the author (Peter Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac) addresses the idealization of depression in our culture. It arises in questions like “What if Prozac had been available in Van Gogh’s time?” The obvious implication being that Van Gough couldn’t have created his magnificent painting had he not been depressed, thus depression much be a part of the “creative temperament,” and even part of the human condition; and thus something that can’t or shouldnt’ be compeltely eradicated. It comes from some lingering belie that there is something heroic and noble in melancholic suffering.

I join Kramer in saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, “horse-hockey.”

What interested me about the ADD connection stems from a book I’m currently reading, and tends to extoll the “gifts of ADD.” I’m witholding judgement until I finish the book, but I find myself being concerned that perhaps the phenomemon of ADD is being lined up for a romantization, similar to depression, as a source of creativity, etc.

From my experience, being depressed didn’t make me more creative. If anything it hampered my creativity, because of the way it saps energy, initiative, and even the desire to do so much as get out of bed. Having untreated ADD didn’t make me any more creative. In fact, it hampered my creativity because of lack of focus, and the side effects it had in the rest of my life. In dealing with issues on the job, in my persona life, with my finances, etc., I was too busy flailing around and trying to keep my head above water to have much time for creativity. In both cases, my creativity increased after treatment.

Jeremy had this to say about depression.

It makes sense that depression isn’t the same thing as being able to tap into that side of the emotional continuum, as being perceptive or sarcastic or deep or thoughtful. And it really isn’t depression that’s interesting and compelling, but those other things.

I could say the same for ADD. It isn’t the same thing as being able to tap into one’s creative side, or to “think outside the box.” The difference is that ADD isn’t totally “treatable.” It doesn’t seem to go away entirely. So the key is to find a balance where the worst of its symptoms can be effectively dealt with. Once that’s done, and life is more managable, creativity and all the other “gifts” remain.

As one whose lived with both depression and ADD, I have to say that people who romanticize such conditions are nearly as frustrating, irritating, and dangerous as people who don’t “believe” in such things in the first place. But that’s a whole different discussion, for another day.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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4 Responses to ADD & Depression

  1. Shaula Evans says:

    (A tangential comment to your post)

    Of *course* you were depressed when you were young. You are a sweet thing now, you must have been then.

    Ever notice how total idiots never get depressed? ;)

    I’m as skeptical as you are about the book, but interested to hear your comments once you’ve read it through.

  2. Matt Hutson says:

    I was hit hard by depression and ADD in my teenage years. At the time I thought depression made me more creative, inspiring all the dark poetry it did. But no. They were mere gothic flights of fancy. Fortunately I caught on quickly and it saved my life.

    I will keep my comment brief and simply point to a sympathetic post on Kramer’s essay:

    http://silverjacket.typepad.com/blog/2005/04/against_depress.html

  3. heather says:

    I have depression and a lot of symtoms of ADD and I don’t see how being depressed can help you write poetry I stuggle with taking a shower.  So I may see things differently.  Like it doesn’t  matter what you wear to a party it is more important to be comfortable because when you are  depressed you feel awful so feeling comfortable in clothes can help more than make up.

  4. Camille says:

    I took a test for ADD when I went through my worst emotional breakdown, and I was told that my lack of focus was likely attributed to being depressed (… a very sound assumption, I believe).

    But now, I haven’t had depression as I knew it but I’m filing for a medical withdrawal from the University of VA because my studying never could pay off. I’ve joined study groups, quit cheerleading for the university, stopped volunteering, started attending office hours, YOGA, psych counseling, journaling, improving my sleeping habits, studying @ the library, a **SUN LAMP** is on my desk to improve mood, and I took a lightened courseload…

    I know this is your blog but I was wondering if you could offer advice on how and where I could get tested for ADD again. I’m inclined to believe that the school is wary of students trying to cheat the system in order to get aderrall prescribed to them.

    *camille*

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