We live in a time of unprecedented wealth and comfort: you and me and everyone we know. We’ve never had it so good. Just a few generations ago, our ancestors suffered from terrible circumstances which today we have eliminated from our lives: rickets, scurvy, polio and hundreds more maladies were still commonplace at the end of the 19th century. Millions of people died of the flu in 1919, a condition which today is very rarely fatal. Childbirth was until recently a potentially fatal experience, for both mother and baby. If you had the misfortune to suffer from a a mental illness, like anxiety, depression, or a more serious condition like schizophrenia, you could have been subjected to electric shock treatments and confinement for life in an asylum. Many of the terrible afflictions that only quite recently plagued humanity are gone. We live in a paradise hardly dreamed possible by our great grandparents.
Despite so much progress in medicine and technology, we still suffer, don’t we? Teenagers today in particular suffer, and perhaps the greatest sources of that suffering, for affluent people in the Western world today, often goes hardly recognized and is frequently misdiagnosed. It is the inability to be able to hold attention.
If you have ever suffered from an inability to focus, whether in a full-blown form with a diagnosis as ADHD, or in a milder version which afflicts so so many people, you probably know the depth of anxiety and shame which so often accompanies this condition. Ironically it is a condition which affects some of the most creative, brilliant and innovative minds in today’s world.
Maybe you know what it’s like when you have a deadline to keep and you have every good intention of not disappointing people. You sit down at your computer or workplace to “get on with it.” And then it starts. Facebook, email, checking on the laundry, getting a snack, the latest update on CNN, texts, tweets, you find yourself lost in a seemingly unavoidable string of distractions, until you finally slink off to bed in defeat at the end of the day, with almost no real progress made. One of the great difficulties with the inability to pay attention is that it is not widely recognized as an affliction at all. People might call you “flaky” or “irresponsible,”or think you don’t care about them. Ironically the more behind you get, the more stressed you feel, and that stress itself makes it harder and harder to focus.
Not only the people close to you cease to trust you, it is even more devastating than that. You cease to trust yourself. If you suffer from the inability to hold attention, you could sit down to do your taxes, or to file a report, or to work on your great contribution to the world, already knowing full well at the start the day that you will not get very far. The inability to hold attention can be the most reliable way to erode self-esteem, and to give up on yourself and your dreams.
I can tell you about these things with some degree of familiarity, and compassion, because I suffered from attention deficit disorder, albeit in its milder and now manageable version, most of my life. I know full well what it’s like to let people down on deadlines, despite my best intentions. I know what its like to start off with enthusiasm to get things done, and to collapse in defeat a few hours later. As this book will point out, because ADHD is so determined by brain chemistry, which is in turn highly determined by genetics, it is very often passed on from one generation to the other. ADHD parents are likely to have ADHD children. And so it was painful to watch my younger son sit down time after time with his teachers, and make fresh promises about getting caught up with his schoolwork, and then fail to keep his word. I watched helplessly, almost like seeing an accident happen in slow motion, as his grades went down semester after semester. Homework got late or lost, despite my best intentions to be the homework police. I saw him slowly give up, not only on school work, but also on himself and his own future. He got used to being thought of as a flaky guy.
I was very lucky at that period in my life to be in a men’s group with John Gray, who I have known for 35 years. He told me about some of the most simple remedies, natural substances from plants and real food, that are highly effective alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs like Ritalin, and that have no negative side effects. I started to use his mineral oretates, his shake with undenaturalized whey protein, and vitamin C taken together with grape seed extract. I followed his advice to eat eggs for breakfast. I made changes in diet, and exercised more regularly. All of this was delightfully inexpensive, and easy to integrate into my life. I noticed dramatic and immediate changes in the way my own brain was functioning. As a result, I was able to finish a book in three months, where previously it had taken me years. Since making simple adjustments to my diet and lifestyle, I’ve been able to serve so many more people, and give my gift more easily.
But even more important, and an even greater relief to me, was that my son also adopted some of the same changes. He was able to graduate high school with honor, and is now doing what he really loves. At 18 he is as ski coach at one of America’s most prestigious ski resorts, and he coached kids to compete in national championships. For sure, he didn’t suddenly miraculously get into Berkeley with straight A’s, but he is living his dream life and making good money doing what he loves, which at 18 nothing short of a miracle. My son came very close to a dangerously steep and slippery downhill slope of being diagnosed as having a “condition,” then needing medication prescribed by an expert, and then potentially spiraling out of control as a permanent misfit and failure. This happened to several of his peers at school. It happens to millions of kids every year. The diagnosis of ADHD and the inability of allopathic medicine to do anything about it is our modern tragedy. It is the 21st century’s version of rickets, or polio, or scurvy. My son narrowly escaped that fate, not by being cured by the system, but through our good fortune of having a friend who questions the very foundation on which the system is built.
This is a brilliant book by a very brilliant man who has the compassion, the intelligence, and the courage to take on a predicament that is possibly the greatest source of suffering left for our culture to deal with: our inability to hold attention.