His gremlinlike, jowly smile flecked with drool, Chaplin the Boston terrier's unblinking eyes focus like lasers on a half-eaten spinach roll that Mike absent-mindedly waves as he talks.
Mike — he prefers his last name remain unknown to his employer — takes no notice while he tells a rambling, sometimes troubling life story of diagnosis, failed treatment and eventual redemption to a group of about 10 people seated on folding chairs in a loose circle.
“Once you learn how to cope, it gets much better,” he says of his diagnosis 20 years ago with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — ADHD for short. Years of reliance on the powerful doctor-prescribed amphetamine Ritalin leave a haze over vast swaths of his early memory, he says: “I don't remember my childhood.”
As Mike talks, it's clear that Chaplin may be the only living thing in this room without ADHD. Mike's fellow group members listen, but also carry on conversations with each other. One wanders to the buffet table for a bite to eat. Mike takes no offense — and certainly none is intended by his audience.
This is the regular third-Tuesday-of-the-month meeting of Adventures in ADD (www.meetup.com/adventures-in-ADD-HD), a fellowship and support group founded in April by Tom Robinson, a local entrepreneur and developer whose hyperactive tendencies and boundless energy have long been duly noted. While Mike talks, Robinson scrolls through his Blackberry.
“Starting this group has taught me a lot,” says Robinson, who's never been formally diagnosed with the disorder, but says he's long battled with all of the syndrome's hallmark characteristics.
Robinson says he formed the support group first as an online forum after realizing that many of the most dynamic people he's worked with through the years shared common characteristics, all of which happened to be well described in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Mike's story is among the more disturbing ones related, but ADHD is not all bad news.
Jan Davis, who creates designer kitchens and baths, credits ADHD as part of her creative side, even if sometimes her ideas don't necessarily benefit from follow-through: “I drive my family crazy,” she says, laughing at a trail of unfinished hobby projects that she says litters her house.
“Shermae” channeled her personal experience with ADHD into a career as a public school teacher working with youth who have the same disorder.
Creative outlooks are common among those diagnosed with ADHD and similar disorders, says Dr. John Sears, a local clinical psychologist who has both personal experience and 20 years of experience treating others with ADHD.
Though he has yet to attend, Sears says he's pleased to see the formation of a support group. “I think it's great,” he says. “It's the same principle as people who suffer from a similar illness sharing support.”