I recently read Claudia Kalb’s new book, Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities. It’s one of those books in which the author rounds up a bunch of famous people and diagnoses their mental illnesses post-mortem. Kalb uses each historical figure as a starting point from which to explore each of several disorders, including autism, borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and addiction.
The chapter about George Gershwin goes so far as to explicitly question whether he would have composed Rhapsody in Blue if not for his ADHD. This got me thinking about the creative gifts that come with the condition, which then led me to realize that my own writing has suffered since going on Adderall.These profiles can be divided into two basic groups (though this was not the author’s organizing principle): individuals who achieved greatness in spite of their mental illnesses, and those who achieved greatness because of them. Charles Darwin pushed through his own crippling anxiety to conduct the research and thinking which led to The Origin of Species. Albert Einstein, on the other hand, made his discoveries because his mind was better optimized for math than for social interaction.
Adderall has helped me in numerous ways – this year for the first time I was able to plan activities in advance, and I can unload a dishwasher without being distracted by whatever shiny notion pops into my head – but my creative ideas have atrophied. I can sit down to focus on writing, but if no good ideas come out, there’s little point to the exercise. I’ve also grown adept at focusing on unimportant things, like computer games, instead of on getting up and doing things.
So I’m experimenting with taking a break from the drugs. Today was my third day in a row Adderall-free, and I feel flighty but energized, inspired yet fidgety. Remarkably I’ve gotten through more of my to-do list than I have in weeks, including a bit of creative writing and very grown-up things like making doctor appointments.
I feel good knowing I still have access to the meds as a tool, but I’m enjoying exploring what it feels like to be an adult with ADHD, conscious of both my inborn deficits and the unique insights that may come along with the package.
I’ll still never be George Gershwin, but then again, how many people can be?