Photo: Courtesy of Blake Taylor
AOL Health: The
activities you describe doing as a child, like building rockets and
creating elaborate art projects, require a great deal of concentration.
How did you focus on these things?
Taylor: When I feel distraction, I feel as though I'm watching a TV whose channels are constantly changing without my control. Hyper-focus is when the TV stays on one channel. Not only does the TV stay on one channel, I am able to completely involve myself. My mind goes to a different world. I'm on autopilot, and I can concentrate for hours at a time. I can think deeply, critically. For example, I'll be at a café with friends and thinking, "I really don't want to write this essay on poetry." But once I read the poem a few times, I tune out everything and I hyper-focus. In that way, I think ADHD is a good thing because you can channel excess energy into your work.
AOL Health: What are the "tics" you get, and how do you control them?
Taylor: I used to have big tics in fourth and fifth grade. I'd flail in circles and do all sorts of weird stuff. I think my tics become less prevalent as I get older. Now I might have a small tic, like eye blinking. Maybe the Strattera [an ADHD medication ] helps, or maybe it's a placebo effect. I really don't know, but I'm happy with Strattera, [which] I have been taking since 2003. It does help me out. I'd say it gives me the opportunity to dive deep into my work. If I didn't have medication, I wouldn't have that opportunity. My medicine doesn't create hyper-focus; it creates a pathway for me to get to hyper-focus.
AOL Health: Aside from medication, what treatments have you used?
Taylor: I took resource classes that helped me organize. I was in social skills classes to learn how to behave socially. My mom put me in the social skills class in sixth and seventh grade. I learned how to eat dinner at a table, how to dance, how to shake hands. Going to the gym and exercising help me focus a lot. I think eating a high protein diet is good for people with ADHD. Sleep is very important too. I need eight or nine hours a night. I'm pre-med, but despite what people say, it's possible to get eight or nine hours. Just manage your time. In general, I've learned a bunch of different ways to harness my condition.
AOL Health: Has it been any easier in college?
Taylor: By the end of high school, I had people who liked me, but they still remembered the past. I wanted to use college as clean slate, start myself new, and I did. There are around 5,000 new Berkeley freshmen each year, which [meant there were] 5,000 new people to meet and befriend.
AOL Health: What about the stresses of college life -- are you able to cope?
Taylor: Because I had so much self discipline in high school, I'm able to study at college. I don't procrastinate at all. I've studied on a Saturday night, and when my frat is having a party, I go somewhere else to study. I plan out a schedule and estimate how long it will take. Constructing a time table each day helps. When I'm bored, I can't focus, so I switch [study] venues because a place gets boring after two or three hours.
AOL Health: Are there any advantages to living with ADHD?
Taylor: I would say the number one advantage is hyper-focus, because you can put more energy into work than other people can. Unfortunately, you can also get distracted if you don't know how to manage it. I know for a fact that there are lots of famous people with ADHD. Historians believe that people like Mozart, General Patton and Walt Disney had ADHD. I think it sort of gives you an extra jolt of energy to do things in your career. Another advantage is thinking outside of the box. I think that results from distraction. When people with ADHD are distracted, their minds are flitting from object to object. When they're able to harness that, they have a bunch of ideas. It's impulsive to think outside of the box.
AOL Health: Why did you decide to write this book?
Taylor: When I was in eighth grade, I applied to private high schools, and one of the questions asked you to talk about something you've dealt with, and I decided to talk about ADHD. I wrote a 1,500-word paper, and afterward I thought, "Maybe I can grow this story." I expanded it after I handed in the essay and showed it to my family and friends. I wrote another chapter, and then decided I would write a book. When I was 14 or 15, I didn't know anything about publishing, so my mom handled the business aspect.