I am distracted and distractable and often quite distracting. Clincally diagnosed so. Left to my own devices, I am a mess. My mind wonders and rushes and between idea to idea. Sometimes they rush by too quickly to ever be made manifest into meaningful communication. Sometimes they come like an attack, inescapable and unrelenting. A certain midnight blog post, for example. But distraction’s unrelenting power is a pragmatic hassle at best, and a life-, or at least making-a-living-, threatening risk at worst.
I forget deadlines. I fail to file paperwork. I lose things. I inadvertantly break laws (usually related to hithertofore mentioned paperwork and deadlines). I stall my own life’s progress in innumerable petty ways. I lose more things. A woman who I fancy, could meet, date, get engaged to, marry, and have their first child with someone else while “Tell her how you feel” is number 35 on a to-do list. I mean, hypothetically… Ahem, anyway, uhhh, where we were?
I’d like to say it is all under control. What I can more honestly say is I have it under careful supervision. But I also have to finish all my 2016 taxes some time this year, and do it without my prescription glasses, missing since the spring. But but, both those issues are on my to-do list app on my phone. I have not done them yet. I have not forgotten them.
- Mrs. Landingham: You missed a spot.
- Jed: I didn’t miss it. I just haven’t gotten to it yet.
- Mrs. Landingham: Okay.
- Jed: You have a habit of doing that, you know?
- Mrs. Landingham: What’s that?
- Jed: Telling me I’m doing something wrong before I’ve had a chance to do it at all.
But I’m not all a mess. The vast majority of days, I wake up, eat food, pray, study, respond to emails, plan events, sustain the lives of two children and two cats and most remarkably myself, show up to my appointments and meetings, prepare lessons and sermons, and do it all with a modicum of presentability, living in a home that is general sanitary, with a bank account that is most of the time not overdrafted.
And I despite ridiculously severe adult ADHD, and some possibly related anxiety struggles, I am doing it without medicine.
Full disclosure: it is nobody’s business. Fuller disclosure: I disclose anyway because I believe people who are in a position where they can be honest without risking their livelihood ought to be, because that makes the stigma go away for anyone. Fullest disclosure: I met with a social worker months ago to get a referral for an appointment with a clinical psychatrist. I now await Québec’s famed speedy services for non-emergency care. Don’t diss Québec. While I lived in the United States, I simply never could even get that referring appointment. The point being, I am not opposed to medication for mental health issues, but I do recognise it is not always the best choice and is not always an option at all.
The doomsday prophets and technophones and self-appointed manners gurus of the new age won’t like it:
I owe my job to my smartphone. I owe my hygiene to my smartphone. I owe my spiritual life to my smartphone. Between a phone and a laptop, every day that I have woken up on time, every day I have said my prayers or read my Bible or put on clean clothes or did a complete dental hygiene routine or shown up on time to a meeting or remembered “I’m preaching this Sunday!” or paid a bill, I owe to my phone.
One little social norm I find fascinating is that for all the wrongful stigma around medication for mental health, when someone at a meeting pulls out some pills and takes them with some water–something with chronic migraines I do quite often–it is treated rightfully unremarkable. But non-medicinal managment with a cell phone app still risks being judged unprofessional.
Wunderlist is why I do anything. Nothing it too small for me to put it on my Wunderlist. It reminds me. It hassles me. It shames me. It does not forget. It does not relent. Do I really put routine basic human functions like “floss” or “get a haircut” or “have fun at least one evening a month” on a to-do list as if I’d forget without it? Yes, because I would.
Google Calendar and its apocalyptic and stalkerish synchronisation with Google Maps is why I know where to be, why I know when to leave, why I get there on time.
Google Sheets is why I know my finances months in advance and know not just how much money do I have now, but what is the least I will have at any moment in the next few months.
Colour-coded folders and documents synchronised across devices are why I remember anything from any meeting ever.
I say daily prayers and read the Bible–both big deals in my line of work–because my phone tells me to.
Being able to glance at my phone and know that my neither my children nor whoever is with them in my absence has tried to contact me is the only way my anxious mind can leave them at all. With my phone in my hand, the anxiety goes as quickly as it came. When manners or battery charge preclude me from looking, that is precisely when I am not paying attention the world or people around me.
My ability to function charted from high school to today has a definite high R-value increasing correlation to increasing capability and social tolerance of technology.
When it comes to most moralistically derided realm of the smartphone, social media, I resist the claim it is not real relationships. I have extremely real and intimate and honest and life-giving relationships primarily through Facebook messages. Maybe you are a bubbly extravert who’d rather meet up in person. This may be more the INFP than the ADHD talking, but as for me, I am very active on social media, but without it, my friendship would come in the form of “I have moved to an isolated island and live alone with some cats and books. You can visit, if you find us, I guess.”
Even in conversations, in Face-to-Face interactions, I am jotting notes in my phone, immediately noting something I said I would do in my calendar or to-do list app without any delay, checking a fact on my phone, or–and this is common living in a land of my second language–looking up words that people have just said to me or searching for the word I need next.
Technophobia, at least its most over generalised and moralistic tones does not merely say, “No cell phones.” It says, “F– off, JD, and your kind.” And I don’t appreciate it. Because that hurts.
(I find it most perplexing that in our society we insist that the phone checkers and doodlers and fidgeters are the ones who have attention deficits, not the people who struggle to focus in our presence, but that is a very different rant for another time. The ADHD made me make this tangent. My formal education told me to at least use some darn parentheses. #ThanksExpos20)
I do not want to convert the smartphone skeptical into phone-lovers. But I do want your empathy. I want you to resist the snap judgments of your personality, or your neurotypicality, or your cultural biases about etiquette. And while I speak only from my experience, as a professional confidant of many younger-than-me folk, I know I am not alone in these experiences. Maybe not the majority, but not alone.
There are many of us for whom the choices are not between being on our damn phone and “living in the moment” or “being with you.” There are many of us for whom the only reason we are managing to be with you at all, whether it is remembering the meeting, finding our way there, remembering what we want to say, or feeling enough peace to give you our fullest attention, is because of the phone.
If a phone distracts you, if it stops you from living in the moment, put it away. Do what is right for you. But please don’t generalise. Or moralise. Because, if you are ever happy to see me, with brushed teeth, in clean clothes, on time, please say, “Thanks, Google,” to my phone.