Fighting the Waves of ADD


I almost died and still – I just didn’t get it. I guess wake- up calls don’t always resonate the loudest rings.

Thirteen years ago, I was caught in a rip tide off the Eastern Coast of Australia, near a lovely little seaside resort called Byron Bay. Being from a landlocked Canadian prairie province, I was a virgin when it came to coastal aquatics. I leaped in to cool off in the effervescent waves, drunk on the beauty of the sea and alight with the energy of the glorious Australian sun. I was oblivious to the rip and its intent for me.

Thanks to my lack of attention, it took some time for me to realize I was in trouble. It wasn’t until I looked up and noticed my traveling partner half a mile down the beach from me, flailing her arms in desperate exhaustion, that I twigged to the fact that something wasn’t right. I started swimming mightily for the shoreline, getting nowhere but further out to sea. My dear friend remembers it as the most frightening experience of her life. I only remember intense frustration and the incredible urge to bitch-slap mother nature in the face.

Thankfully, after an eternal fifteen minutes or so, a couple of surfers showed up and rescued us like knights in shining board gear.

I later learned that rips have a tendency to suck swimmers further and further out, but never actually pull them under. The unfamiliar swimmer, if not rescued, drowns from exhaustion. What you are meant to do is to let the rip pull you out a bit, then swim casually across, perpendicular to the shore, until you find the spot where the rip ceases. And then swim in.

I had no idea.

Swimming straight to the shore, even though faced with a fierce rip, seemed intuitively right. I didn’t know what I was up against. And yet my determination to fight against the waves is the very thing that would have killed me had it not been for a nearby surf school.

I wish that incident had awoken me to the preciousness of life and the need to soak up every moment of it, knowing that at any minute it could be ripped away. It didn’t. I’m not always an apt pupil of life’s lessons. I never could pay attention in class, regardless of the teacher. At best, my near-death drowning experience became a good anecdote to share once and awhile when the beer was flowing and there was nothing else to brag about.

I had no idea what a metaphor for my life that moment had been. I fought those waves for several minutes, but I had been fighting against who I am for a lifetime. I wonder if this kind of fight sounds at all familiar to you?

Years later, a light bulb went off and I made a deliberate decision to stop swimming against my ADD. The light bulb was a lot subtler than the oppressive waves, yet hit me with much greater impact. I simply listened – and observed – as an ADD expert talked to a group of people about the challenges of ADD, and how the ethos of brokenness keeps them stuck. As I listened, I suddenly realized this man knew more about my angst than anyone else in the world, and he had never met me. And it got me thinking – what was this thing I had been fighting against all my life? And more importantly – where was this fight getting me? Maybe, this thing and I didn’t have to be enemies anymore. Maybe, letting this wave take me out a bit could lead me to calmer waters.

The fight against my ADD self was exhausting me and it never worked – the harder I fought it, the further I got from where I wanted to be. So I gave up the fight; I gave in. I let the rip of ADD take me. I accepted that it is a part of who I am and that the things I was fighting so hard against would always be with me. It didn’t happen overnight, but when I finally accepted ADD as a part of me instead of trying to “will it away”, my self-concept, and subsequently self-worth, started changing rapidly-  for the better.

Things started to shift. I had a clearer picture of what it was I was dealing with. I could accept my flaws as part of my brain-wiring, rather than berating myself for not trying hard enough. I could find a way to live with those flaws, but manage them better. That part, of course, is still a work in progress. But the most disastrous part of my ADD is no longer an issue – I don’t beat myself up for it. I am swimming across the rip and making my way to shore.

For what it’s worth, I consider it an endurance swim for leisure, not a race.

I don’t know where you are in relation to your ADD – it may be somewhere completely different than where I am. Or, we may be on the same course. What I do know is that as ADDers, our greatest opportunity for growth and learning is from each other, as we are all part of the same tribe. I would love for you to share your experience of the ADD path in the comments below, and let us know how you have (or haven’t yet) come to terms with it, so that we all benefit from your insight!

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13 comments on “Fighting the Waves of ADD

  1. just saw this. we are grateful to have you here. When I get a big, sobering “lesson” -and I have had a few- I think I should learn to Cherish Every Moment or Never Waste Time being Negative or some such permanent enlightenment.
    I have enough other people who are convinced I am somehow just thinking wrong in some way or I’d have it all together. . An older, generally intelligent person asked what I meant when I said I had ADD, then thought she would help me by asking “do you have this ADD thing or does IT HAVE YOU? then staring at me while I tried to get my head around the question. This kind of thing often feels helpful at the time and later I can’t quite access the helpfulness- often feel like people think I could be fixed and dammit, they will be the one to give me that much needed push. I like it at the time cause it’s concern for my life, but there’s frustration later. I think folks would like me to be famous but SO WOULD I…I think…. Is it ADD or fear or both?… Now being pulled out to sea, that’s fear. Suddenly noticing the solid dry couch I sit on. AAAhhh. Mindfulness.

    1. I shall forever think of my couch as a mindfulness anchor now. Thanks for giving me that visual! Is it fear, ADD, or both? I can’t say what’s true for you, but I’ve noticed in my life that when I’m feeling held back, its often an effect of me putting too much importance on fear and ADD. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”, but a good sequel could be “Be ADD and do it anyway…”.

  2. I’ll appreciate that you email me directly with pointers. Thank you very much Andrea.
    I’ll keep in touch.

  3. Andrea, I really don’t know were to begin, I’ m 60 years old and I was just diagnosed with ADD less than one year ago. You might imagine how many problems it has caused to me all my life and I didn’t know what was happening.
    I’m from Mexico and living in Calgary, married to a Canadian and this situation has been very difficult for both. I would like to talk with someone who understands ADD. I’ve heard that there are some support groups. Do you know something about it? I will appreciate the information and I would like to keep in touch with you.
    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. Cecilia

    1. I am so glad that you have found this blog Cecilia and hope that you find other resources that will help you. I know it must very overwhelming right now, but please remember that the diagnosis doesn`t change anything, it just explains a lot. Now you`ve got a stepping stone to start from. Thank you so much for sharing – I would love to hear more from you in future posts – your perspective is so valuable here. Regarding getting help, I will email you directly with some pointers.

  4. I came across your blog during my research into ADD. I have not been diagnosed but am seeing my physician this week. My path is not yet know but I have related to so much that I am reading about ADD. I feel like I’m not alone, that I’m not crazy. I have hope and am going to continue my journey. Thank you.

    1. I am so glad that all you are reading is giving you hope Amy, because you are definitely not alone and you are absolutely not crazy! Welcome to the tribe, I hope that your trip to the physician goes well for you.

  5. Wow Andrea, the same thing happened to me and my son while swimming in Puerto Rico. We tried to swim up the shore and out of the rip but it was too big and powerful and we were too tired by that point.

    Some surfers also rescued us and I thank them to this day and I was so glad I was out there with my son as he was determined to fight it and might not be here today.

    Powerful story and great analogy.

    1. Thanks Brian. Its amazing how dangerous rips can be only because you don’t know how they work. Thank goodness for surfers! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience.

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