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ADD and Invertebrate Anatomy:
Coping Styles in ADD Adults

Carol E. Watkins, M.D.


Whenever I go hiking in the State Park near my home, I am struck by the variety and tenacity of the forms of life around me. There are the familiar denizens, such as the white-tailed deer, the fox and the box turtle. Often, though I am most fascinated by the smaller plants and animals that have found a tiny, unique niche suited to their own particular needs and vulnerabilities. The creatures that live under a rock or at the mouth of a small cave have often worked hard to establish and defend their special place.

One sunny afternoon, after looking under a particularly interesting rock, I began thinking about coping skills. Many of us, like these invertebrates, have developed creative and clever ways of coping with a harsh environment.

The vertebrates are an order of animals that have an internal skeleton (endoskeleton) and a central vertebral column. Vertebrates include reptiles, mammals and others. Invertebrates are all the other animals. The larger invertebrates have had to develop an external armor of find another means of support and defense.

Most individuals have the internalized ability to focus and stay organized. This ability is like the internal skeleton of the vertebrates. The internal skeleton is invisible and grows as the individual grows. It prevents the soft parts of the body from collapsing and allows the body to move smoothly through the environment.

Those with the disorganization and impulsivity of ADD are the invertebrates. Lacking the vertebrates' endoskeleton, they devise different types of coping. See if you recognize yourself:

The Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun): The blue crab protects itself with a rigid outer shell and with its sharp claws. The shell cannot grow with the crab, so it must periodically molt. It is vulnerable until it grows a new, hard shell. Those who go crabbing know the other time of vulnerability. To the casual observer, the Blue crab person often does not appear to have ADD. This is because she has set up an elaborate and rigid structure around herself. The car is always parked in the same place so she will not lose it. She hires extra office staff who, on pain of her extreme displeasure, keep things running exactly on time. She becomes annoyed and a little anxious if her schedule is altered. A job or family change is akin to molting. She is quite disorganized and vulnerable in such times, and may resort to the equivalent of hiding in the mud. Eventually she grows a new shell to fit her new situation.

The Jellyfish (Polyorchus pencillatus) In most cases, this creature does not develop a rigid covering. Instead, it allows the ocean tides to carry it along. Although its movements are passive, it has formidable stingers. In its own element, the jellyfish is breathtakingly beautiful. If the tides happen to wash it up on shore, it is helpless and loses its beauty. These charming people tend to "move with the changing tides." In many ways, they are the opposite of the blue crab people. While some might label them as insincere, they have actually just lost sight of the previous topic and moved on to another situation. Their capacity for verbal stingers is only used defensively. When they are washed out of their element, they can become helpless unless an external force helps them get back into their element.

The Earthworm (Lumbricus terrestis): These creatures spend much of their time underground. While they may not appear glamorous, they perform the useful task of enriching the soil and breaking garbage down into rich compost. Many predators value worms as a food source, so the earthworm has become adept at feeling the vibrations made by predators. Over the years, these individuals have internalized others' negative views. They have learned to flee criticism and aggression. They may be performing valuable functions as a mother or in a job, but do not seek proper credit for this.

The Cricket (Orthoptera: Gryllidae) These small creatures have compound eyes that allow them a wide range of vision. Although they sometimes eat plants, they can also be hunters. They are able to jump rapidly in different directions. This ability for unexpected, rapid movement helps them hunt and helps them get away from their own predators. This type of person takes advantage of her high activity level and ability to think flexibly. However, the lack of stingers or hard, external armor makes her vulnerable to certain predators.

I am in awe of the kingdom of nature. So many living organisms have found their own unique ways to thrive in often forbidding niches. In the same way, I am humbled when I see how people have found creative ways of coping with difficult situations. As with these animals, when one looks deeper, one often finds that the sharp or unattractive parts are there for a reason. A person's coping style is often unique. Some people decide that their coping style has become too rigid or no longer fits their situation. One should not try to jettison all defenses without first attempting to understand why they are in place to begin with. At this point, an individual can begin to actively choose both internal and external structuring techniques.

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Northern County Psychiatric Associates
Offices in Monkton and Lutherville, Maryland

Contact Us:
Fax: 410-343-1272
Postal address: We have two locations in Baltimore County
      Monkton Office16829 York Road/PO Box 544/Monkton, MD 21111
      Lutherville Office: 2360 West Joppa Road Suite 223/ Lutherville, MD
Email: [email protected]
Please use telephone for appointments or medical questions.

Carol Watkins, M.D.
Glenn Brynes, Ph.D., M.D.

Copyright 2001  Northern County Psychiatric Associates
Last modified: July 04, 2007
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