am I a dope, or maybe just…dopamine deficient?


I know that this might shock you, but this next video has expletives in it. If you’re sensitive to cuss words or a child, please, don’t watch this.  If you’re neither of those things, then I can’t recommend this enough and express to you how excited I was to see this.

If you REALLY want to know why I’m doing all of this, I suppose that this quick “Southapark” snippet says it all.

So watch.

Unless you’re a child or a person who is sensitive to cuss words.  Then really, don’t watch this:




About a week ago, I was talking to my professor about some of my challenges growing up in respects to schooling and social circumstances.  He asked me a great question about my diagnosis with the executive function deficit generally described as ADHD and about how getting the diagnosis could be seen as such a liberating epiphany for me.  He was curious about how I viewed myself before the diagnosis, as in, how could getting the diagnosis give me such solace. It’s a totally valid question: how did I plug away through 36.5 years of living with a mind that was wired differently?

If I had to make a picture of basically the way I felt on a daily basis, this wouldn’t be too off:

2384966adf2ba1218d632a1c37e12140I’ll tell you:  with a lot of tortured thoughts, self-doubt and cruel internal monologues. It involved a lot of tears, frustration: and a lot of tenacity and fortitude.  It involved the fairly regular  onslaught of,”What’s wrong with me?!” questions about my quality of character and spiritual value.  But a neverending need to, “be good and do right,” kept me trudging along in hopes for some respite. It led to endemic ennui and paralyzing ambivalence: resignation, shame and near daily wishes that I’d never been born.

The diagnosis was solace because it told me that it wasn’t something that *I* chose to do.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I could understand that you might think that a lack of an internal moral compass.  Frankly, I thought this too: I knew that I always tried my best to be a genuinely kind person and to be as helpful and useful as possible.    I truly believed in treating all people with respect as people and that everyone deserves kindness: but my track record dismally displayed a litany of interpersonal and professional failures that found me at 36 with, in my mind, few friends, weak family relations, no record of financial independence, no retirement or social security and loads of utter self-hatred.

This was all exacerbated by the way my brain made sure to remind me that I knew a lot of stuff and had a random set of talents that seemingly were put in the wrong person cause the one they were put in sucked.

Unfortunately, I know that my story is not uncommon.  I mean  it: TRULY this is a TRAVESTY!  Nobody should endure the racing thoughts that constantly chipped away at one’s self-worth: the demeaning thoughts and repercussions of decisions made under poor self-respect, absent forethought and alienating impulsivity.  With the diagnosis of ADHD (and PTSD, depression and maybe a bonus sprinkling of bipolar disorder?), I was told that I was, in my heart and soul, who I always thought I was: a person who just loved.  Loved other people, loved the world, loved the place I was in the moment, loved life and that sometimes it really was just a case of this: I AM MY OWN WORST ENEMY.


So the diagnosis: why was it so liberating?  It helped explain why I seemed to do things that didn’t only hurt the people I care about but myself.  It helped me look at some of my challenges and traumas in my life through a lens that took away “personal volition,”and instead illuminated the  impersonal nature of chemistry.  I went into this some with the Vonnegut essay but now I’m actually going to write about a chemical that affects the brain, a ‘neurotransmitter’ called DOPAMINE.

Dopamine , along with norepinephrin and saratonin are the most prominent players in the mysterious electro-chemical masterpiece that is your brain.  Whenever you feel a shot of accomplishment, pride or satisfaction after compleating a challenge, dopamine is being transmitted between neurons.  That feeling of getting what you want, be it acknowledgement, a high score on a test, the pair of shoes you always wanted or a glance back from that cutie across the room: dopamine.  That feeling you get when that jerk who was tailgating you and speeding past you dangerously gets pulled over and ticketed: dopamine.

Dopamine is pleasure, it’s a really motivating chemical in our brain.  When dopamine is being dispersed and received correctly, we feel happiness, reward and satisfaction.  When we feel those sensations, we are motivated to work towards feeling them again. I liked this image I found, I think it is a very funny/dry/sardonic way of looking at love and happiness: perhaps cold, but in that frigidity: peace and internal solace.


(I don’t want to go into serotonin right now, but here’s a quick definition from wiki: “Serotonin (or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) is a monoamine neurotransmitter. Biochemically derived from tryptophan, serotonin is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), blood platelets, and the central nervous system(CNS) of animals, including humans. It is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.[9]“)

Over the years researchers and doctors have figured out a few common traits of individuals with the appearance of ADHD:  a deficiency in dopamine–or at least how the brain receives it.  When folks with ADHD are understimulated and dissatisfied, there is nothing that will motivate them to do something (grades, punishment, authority works for most): and when your brain makes you inherently feel much more understimulated and dissatisfied as a rule…well, as you can imagine: an individual either seeks out the extremes needed to generate a sweet shot of dopamine or they just give up.

I will add this caveate though:  the dopamine thing is just a mere aspect to a very complicated, multifaceted issue: which is to say,something to do with the brain.  There’s a LOT more at play and modern imaging and medical magic is helping demystify some of the processes that are or are not happening–but either way, folks who are given medicines that are known to boost intake of dopamine in the brain are far more capable of focusing and being motivated.  The ability to be focused and motivated means they are better able to succeed, which in turn…gives them, perhaps ironically, a dose of dopamine.

Another thing that is pretty commonly agreed upon about executive function disorders such as ADHD is that the prefrontal cortext (PFC) is literally different in these individuals: generally it’s smaller, or some parts of it just don’t light up in brain scans the way they do in “typical” noggins.  Don’t be surprised with this picture of how dopamine flows through the brain….don’t be surprised how it digs the PFC….


As you’ve perhaps read already, the PFC is the part of the brain that develops last.  Even in the most typical of brains, this part doesn’t come into fruition until the mid twenties, and if your PFC is compromised: it can take a lot longer.  Maybe even 36.5 years.

Either way, whatever the reason: be it the physical makeup of the brain or the way the network of electrical and chemical impulses stream through the white and grey three pound goo in our skull, the fact is again that it isn’t a choice.

As a parent or teacher, because of our predilictions for self-worth issues, you must remain cognizant of the way you recieve a child’s behaviors and actions.  A child who seems to have a hazardous disregard for physical health isn’t trying to terrorize his mom: he’s trying to feel.  A teenager who just seems disconnected and refuses to try has learned or even do any work is doing so to avoid feeling: a form of dangerous of self-protection that leads to the perpetuation of terrible self-prophecies.  Hopefully, if you, as a person who cares for an individual whose brain is wired differently, can appreciate the fact that some people struggle the same way a squinting man does when he’s broken his glasses, hopefully you can help protect the fragile self esteem.

I’ll go into all of this and more, of course, soon.  I DEFINITELY have to tell you about why protecting the self worth and esteem of children, (ALL OF THEM, dang it) is a PUBLIC HEALTH issue.  Another night.


dopamine (1)






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