6/10/2007

An Early ADDeRabbi?

I was not officially diagnosed with ADD until I was in my late 20s. Until then, I had unconsciously developed particular coping mechanism and forms of self-medication in order to get by. Until that point, I had been a student virtually all my life. Because of my ADD, I was never much one for lectures and shiurim, and to this day consider myself primarily an autodidact. I can read for extended periods of time, though I will inevitably need to switch what I’m reading in order to maintain interest and keep focus. Teachers rarely enjoyed having me in their classes, because inevitably I could not keep my mouth shut, and what made it worse was that I generally knew what I was talking about.

From the time I graduated high school, when I really began to study intensively, I developed a method of self-medication which I later found out is very typical of folks with undiagnosed ADD: caffeine. The ADD mind responds well to stimulants. ADD, the way I understand it, basically means that the part of the brain which decides which stimuli to respond to (deep limbic/prefrontal cortex) is underactive, which means that the brain allows too many stimuli through, pulling the person’s attention in many different directions and increasing impulsivity (and the more stimuli bombarding the brain, the greater the impulsivity). Stimulants help by allowing the brain to process the various stimuli more rapidly, decreasing the risk of impulsive reactions, irritability, and allowing the decision-making hub to prioritize tasks (there is a definite upside to ADD as well, which seems to go hand-in-hand with the downside, ve-acamo”l - see here).

For me, the preferred form of caffeine is carbonated cola beverages. I’ve been a Coke addict (Coca-cola, that is) – including other colas, Dr. Pepper, etc. – for almost 15 years. I’ve recently switched to diet (and dropped 15 lbs.), and have tried to cut back at times, with varying degrees of success.

Imagine my delight, then, when the ADDeRebbetzin showed be a paragraph from a book she’s reading called “Judaism and Drugs”, written by Rabbi Leo Landman and published in the early 1970s. He writes the following:

Rabbi Jacob Emden, an 18th Century sage, was known to drink tea as an anti-depressant. Emden was an unstable, highly explosive individual with deep-rooted physical and psychological problems. He seemed born to controversy and his psychological difficulties brought him to what he called “melancholy”. He searched for ease and resorted to the use of tea.

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