View Full Version : Coping with ADD as a Professional Actor


MAJJacobs
07-07-11, 11:34 AM
I am a professional actor who was diagnosed with ADD at age 12 after years of unexplained behavior in school. I was never a "behavioral problem" and I was a high achiever when tested, so at the time teachers had trouble quantifying or explaining the behavior. I would hum during class, I was terribly disorganized, would constantly lose things, would distract other students by chatting, and had trouble working in groups. I always had trouble relating to others my own age and often preferred interacting with and entertaining adults who usually found me charming.

At age 12, when diagnosed, I started taking Ritalin, which made me feel deadened, but allowed me to complete my school work. I took Ritalin during school hours until I went away to college in 2001 to study Musical Theatre. I spent one semester without medication and then started taking concerta when I wasn't doing when in my acting classes. My skills started improving immediately and I continued to take the Concerta through college until my prescription was stolen while I was on tour performing. I had recently discovered acupuncture, which has been a life changer for me. It seemed to help with many of my ADD symptoms as well as my problems with anxiety, depression, insomnia and a plethora of other minor issues.

Throughout this time (and currently) I continue to struggle with forming relationships with other people. I just "don't fit in" and have trouble adhering to social norms. I talk excessively and tend to divulge information to people right away that others who don't know me find off putting. I am very sensitive, anxious, conscientious and have a deep need to be liked. I have low self esteem that is often masked by being bossy or pushy. I have trouble waiting my turn or controlling impulses. I am disorganized and since I stopped medication my apartment is messy, I am less careful with my finances, I cook less often, I practice less often and wasn't as motivated to get to auditions- thereby letting my career take me rather than being in control of my career. I understand that my issues are complex and are formed from a combination of environmentally influenced factors based on issues of anxiety and insecurity, but I also recognize many of them are due to the ADHD. In September of 2010 I started exploring treatment options for my ADD again. After taking the DSM diagnosis quiz, I was in tears. I had forgotten how many of the problems I was having were due to my ADD. Many thought that my ADD was a joke because I had developed many coping mechanisms and could usually appear to stay focused during a conversation.

After going to a top ADD psychiatrist it was determined that I should never have been on a stimulant as they make my anxiety much worse (go figure) and have found some success with a combo of Wellbutrin XL and Strattera (150 mg, 10mg respectively at present). They were more effective when I was taking 18 mg or 25mg of strattera but I wasn't sleeping and refuse to add a narcotic medication to counteract. Right now the medication isn't being particularly effective, but during the time it was, I redecorated my apartment, found social situations easier, turned my career around (signed with a new agent, booked new jobs, learned and practiced new material, etc.).

The problems I am having I feel are particularly difficult in my line of work. I have a very strong desire for things to be organized, efficient and scheduled properly. I like routine and feel anxious when my routine is disturbed or plans are changed. In my field, there is no structure besides structure that I create. When I am not performing I teach private voice lessons (which I schedule myself) and my other job is to audition and take class. Most other actors like to fly by the seat of their pants and enjoy the instability this creates. This instability, however, makes my life fall to pieces. I need the structure in order to function. This effects both my career and personal life.

I am gay and the qualities that I have, although admirable in many circles, are not typically valued in the Gay community in NY. I like to schedule, plan in advance, be punctual, and reliable. I have a need for these things in order to manage my other tendencies. I tend to act impulsively when others refuse to adhere to this and people find me rigid and neurotic. I like to go to bed around the same time every night (for fear of disrupting my sleep) at a time that most people my age consider to be early. I tend to see things as being very black and white (good or bad, right or wrong, etc) which makes things challenging as well. I am highly sensitive, emotional and analytical. I seem to be one big paradox and since I have a hard time controlling impulses, I often drive people away before they get to know and love me. This in turn reinforces my rigidity, fears, lack of self worth, etc.

Another coping mechanism that I have is that I live alone (unlike many actors in NY who have roommates to save money). I like to keep to my own schedule, clean up my messes and be in charge of myself. Without someone else there to invade my space, I have an easier time managing. Unfortunately, my job entails going on tour or to regional theaters to do short contracts (between 4 weeks and 6 months), living and working with other actors and being at the behest of management for both the personal and professional. I am regarded as pushy, controlling, antisocial, moody and a stick in the mud due to my desire to be in charge of my life to maintain some order. I will insert myself into conversations at (apparently) inappropriate moments, or if everyone is joking around I will usually be the one to take things "one step too far". I am constantly meeting new people and then being forced to work AND live with them. This causes me lots of anxiety because I have trouble fitting in with people that I don't know well. I can be disruptive during rehearsals when I get distracted and start singing my part, not noticing that someone else is talking. The higher the pressure becomes, the more other people become frustrated with me and if confronted I may react strongly.

I have to add that both of my parents and my younger sister have ADD, although none are currently being treated. We are very close and yet do not get along well. We all have similar, yet conflicting personality traits and it makes for a toxic environment with a lot of conflict and very little support on a day to day level. I also have to say that despite my problems interacting in LARGE group social situations, when I am interacting one on one with a new person, have a close friend with me or have reached a level of discourse with other people that it is appropriate for me to be my fully enthusiastic and warm self, people tend to like me a lot and find me enthusiastic, passionate, empathetic, caring and reliable if a bit quirky when it comes to my desire to go to bed at 10:30 and to plan out an elaborate event for our upcoming weekend plans.

I have a therapist and my best friend is both a professional dancer and CSW, so I do have some outlets, but I find the simple suggestions of friends WITHOUT ADD to be frustrating because to me they seem IMPOSSIBLE and insulting. "Well why don't you try holding back?" "Watch what you say." "When you meet a new person, let them get to know you first before you are your full self." "Why don't you just try being a little bit more flexible with your schedule?"

I really just want to be loved and I want to learn how to get along better with my coworkers. I have always just wanted to be "normal". I don't always want to be the odd man out and yet I have little interest in staying up late and partying. I also fear that without setting SOME sort of structure that my life will fall back into chaos (which it has in the past without staying on top of myself scheduling). What can I do? How do I know if these more mild medications are being effective? My psychiatrist is starting to get frustrated with me at this point, saying that we are running out of options. I know my friends are tired of constantly reassuring me when I enter new work/social situations (because they are one and the same). Help!

Michael