Liturgical worship and ADD

When I was in my 50’s, it was suggested that I be tested for ADHD. My diagnosis with the inattentive, non-hyperactive type of attention deficit disorder did not take my older kids by surprise; they told me that they could have spared me the money and the ordeal of undergoing four hours of rigorous testing and screening. (“Seriously, Mama? You really didn’t know you have ADD? Everyone else knows.”)

The diagnosis, and the reading and research that I did as a result, was one of those wonderful AHA experiences: I wasn’t stupid, after all! I wasn’t being purposefully careless, or willfully disobedient, or “just lazy”, or trying to drive people crazy! And wasn’t crazy either!

The psychologist who tested me told my husband something along the lines of, “You have no idea how much effort it takes for your wife to do the things that you think should come easily.” He actually said that I tried so hard to do well on the tests that it was “painful to watch”.

For about a year, I was on wonderful ADD meds. I actually felt smart! I was waaaaaay less distracted. Reading, which I’d always enjoyed, became ridiculously easy, and I could even remember most of what I read. I could think in a linear fashion. Conversations were so much easier to follow. I didn’t get lost watching movies with multiple characters and complex plots. I could teach karate without misspeaking, without my words becoming a weird jumble. (No more did my students stare at me in bewilderment after I said, “Put your feet out over your knees” only to have me ask them, “What did I just say?”) I managed to organize the chaos and disorder of our upstairs room without dissolving into tears of frustration. It was amazing!!!

But…

The medication that worked best for me was expensive. In order to keep costs down, I supplemented the wonder med with a cheaper med, but the monthly medical bills, paid out-of-pocket, still mounted up. And, in order to be able to sleep at night, I had to make sure that the meds wore off in the evening, which meant that I appeared my same old self to my husband. I suspect he had hoped that the meds would turn me into a different person, someone who was actually efficient and productive. The psychologist had warned us not to expect a dramatic transformation: meds wouldn’t make me “normal”, but would make it easier for me to learn how to do things that were too difficult before. Life would no longer require such exhausting effort on my part. (One of the most amazing things is that I finally figured out how to cook and clean up the kitchen…sort of…at the same time, instead of cooking and leaving a disaster area behind.) Since my husband wasn’t inside my brain, he wasn’t impressed with my enthusiastic claims of, “But I feel so smart now!!” and “Everything isn’t so hard any more!”  The wonder drug may have been wonderful to me but, from his perspective, the cost-benefit ratio was disppointing.

As if that wasn’t discouraging enough, my already high heart rate started getting scary high, and it seemed that I had no choice but to go off my beloved ADD meds. I felt almost like Charlie in Flowers for Algernon. Once again, I was the dreamy, disorganized, forgetful, clueless space cadet who bumbled her way through life. Once again, I found the most ordinary of tasks to be dauntingly exhausting. (But I can still wash dishes and wipe a counter even while cooking food on the stove — without disaster or calamity. Though my husband might disagree, since he was actually paying for the expensive meds and doctor visits, I think that alone makes all the money well spent!)

I grew up in church, with my father as a pastor. When I was a kid, it was our family tradition to have a really nice Sunday dinner after church, during which we inevitably discussed my father’s sermon. The two of us kids would sometimes be quizzed to see if we had really been paying attention. My older brother had the amazing ability to be able to listen to one thing, even if he was reading another thing at the same time, and he could remember the Scripture references, the three main points, and the illustrations. Despite desperate attempts to pay attention, I was lucky if I could remember even an illustration. (So I started cheating: after the service, I’d sneak a look at the outline in my father’s sermon notebook, and manage to quickly memorize at least a point or two.)

My mind still wanders during sermons, and it takes a great deal of effort to rein in my errant thoughts. To add to my difficulty, far too many churches these days are so obnoxiously visually distracting to me — I end up thinking about wires and amps and keyboards and drum sets and movie theaters and weird lighting and bare walls and ugly architecture and why people hate pews so much that they replace them with chairs, etc. If you’ve been in the typical modern evangelical church, you probably get the picture. Then I leave and wonder what if anything can be done with someone like me. Church services are so hard.

At least that’s how it used to be.

Once again, the Historic Church holds the answer for me. For centuries her liturgy has been so conducive to worship that it seems almost custom designed for people with ADD. In my Anglican church, my entire being is involved — spirit, mind, body, and all five senses. I smell the incense. I kneel, I stand, I bow, I cross myself. I feel the prayer-book and the hymnal in my hands. I sing. I read. I pray out loud. I move forward for the Eucharist. I taste. I am fully engaged, rather than a passive observer. It matters that I am there, taking part with my brothers and sisters alongside me, and with the global church throughout history.

There are no long, drawn out sermons with humorous anecdotes, lengthy illustrations, Power Point presentations, and clever alliterations to distract me. The homilies are relatively brief, Scripture-based, devoid of fluff and filler, and well worth my attention. But even if my mind does wander, what I see — the altar, the crucifix, the icons — draws my mind to my Savior and to the wonderful mysteries of the faith, rather than to mundane thoughts. My soul is fed by beauty in an environment designed for worship rather than vexed by ugly, distracting things scattered across what looks like a concert stage. Everything I do and see and smell and taste has profound meaning and brings me back into acknowledging the very Presence of God.

When we gather on Sundays, everything works to point me — even the most easily distractible me — to Him. Isn’t that the very purpose of the Church?

2 thoughts on “Liturgical worship and ADD

  1. Beautiful. My mom has been on (and off) ADHD meds at least since the 90s. (I thought it wasn’t until the 2000s) We were talking last year and she said, “Oh, I always knew you had ADHD!”

    Now, is this revisionist history? Or was she aware at the time, and overall we were functioning “well enough” to just keep going? I don’t know. She did a great job with all of the various issues in our lives, but though I know she observed some mental health issues, she was never pushy. (Or, maybe that is my revisionist history? And I was just super resistant?)

    Anyway, we’re facing another international move. And a lot is going on. I still have to get our tax paperwork to the accountant (and for last year, too.) Talked to my doc, and he’s resisting me trialing meds right now because of other things. So. Just keep struggling through it. At least I recognize and give myself credit for how hard I work to keep things together, chaotic though it is.

    And, yes, yes, yes on church and liturgy. . . Even now, there are times I am relieved that I have to “take care of the baby” so I can get up or be distracted by her.

    Like

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