Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gypsy Summers

Me along the CT during the summer of 2001
As I continue to do research on the DRD4-7R gene, I can't help but think about my own adventurous experiences and how they relate to the  characteristics of the gene.  I'm often drawn back to two particular summers filled with adventure, freedom, ability to change plans and go with the flow as needed.  I call these time periods "Gypsy Summers".  During the summers of 1999 and 2001, I wandered, drifted between jobs, moved between states, lived out of my car, lived in a tent, traveled internationally and hiked a good portion of the Colorado Trail (CT) solo.  The name "Gypsy Summer" stems from my father. The three year period between 1999 and 2001 my father often called me his "Gypsy Daughter".  He was so right!

During the summer of 1999, I backpacked through Europe visiting England, Ireland, France, Italy, Sicily, Greece, Turkey and Switzerland.   I started the trip with a good college friend of mine, we decided to explore on our own during the last month of our trip.  While on my own, I met fabulous and influential people, learned the way of local cultures, adapted and learned a lot about myself.  These experiences will be forever be embedded in my brain.  This summer was like a natural high that didn't end for months.

My second Gypsy Summer was during the summer of 2001.  After teaching science at a Colorado Springs Middle School, I threw my simple belongings into a storage and hit the Colorado Trail (CT).  The CT starts just west of Denver, runs 235 miles through the mountains and high country of Colorado, then ends in Durango. The plan was to hike the last 1/3 portion of the CT with a friend from Kansas City, but after the first leg he had pull out in Creede due to severe blisters on his feet.  So, I finished the hike to Durango by myself.  It was an easy decision and I wasn't afraid one bit.  One day while hiking my longest mileage from the Rio Grand River to Silverton, I entered a rain and lightening storm above treeline.  The electricity of the lightening surrounded me so close that I could see the hair stand up on my arms.  My only thought was "if I die, I will die happy doing something I love".  After my trek, I enjoyed bluegrass festivals, camping with my 80 year old grandmother, visiting hot springs, picking mushrooms and driving back and forth between Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the midwest.  What a fabulous summer to remember!

During these summers, I learned more about myself than all my six years combined in college.  Since, I believe everyone should experience a Gypsy Summer, I came up with the TOP 10 REASONS TO EXPERIENCE A GYPSY SUMMER.  Hopefully, this will give you inspiration to plan your own Gypsy Summer.

Friday, July 5, 2013

ADHD and The Adventure Gene

Before the world was introduced to the ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) craze in the 1980's, historians and scientists have been recording ADHD like symptoms in children and adults since the 1770's.  Before the 1980's, these characteristics were thought to be a result from poor parenting skills, brain damage/brain injuries, brain disorders and brain dysfunctions.  It was never really linked to DNA until the 1980's.  It was also during this time when the ADHD "disorder" was divided into two different categories - those lacking focus WITH hyperactivity (ADHD) and those lacking focus WITHOUT being hyperactive (ADD).  Yet, not matter the diagnosis, ADD and ADHD gained a negative stigma and kids were labeled as the "bad kids" and poor classroom students.

ADD/ADHD are linked to a specific gene carried by all humans called the DRD4 gene.  The DRD4 gene has varying degrees of sequences, but the two most common DRD4 sequences linked to ADD and ADHD are the 2R(repeat) and 7R(repeat).  Roughly 20% of humans on earth carry the DRD4-7R gene/adventure gene. There is no concrete statistic on exactly how many humans have ADD/ADHD, but estimates are as high as 30% and as low as 2%.  When it comes down to it, not all people who carry the DRD4-2R or DRD4-7R sequenced genes have ADD or ADHD. Furthermore, the DRD-7R gene is associated more with ADHD because people with the 7R sequence typically engage in more risk taking activities or hyper-activities.

As a mother, former teacher, youth development worker and being diagnosed as "borderline ADD/ADHD" myself, I wish the whole ADD/ADHD label will go away.  It still carries a negative tone and an instant bias is formed when you hear a youth or adult having ADD/ADHD.  Why can't we change the way people look at the diagnosis?  Why can't we adopt the labels "the adventure gene" or "explorer gene"? Think of how awesome it would be to say, "I carry the explorer gene" like Thomas Edison, Michael Phelps, Will Smith, Henry Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt and Ernest Shackleton. To prove my point, read the example below:

Imagine being 11 years old and an adult tells you, "you have a condition called ADHD and now you will need to take medicine every day so you can focus better".  As you start to think about how awful it will be taking medicine FOREVER, the adult reads a list of negative characteristics that they feel describe you.  The list includes:
1) You can't sit still in class like the "good" students
2) You day dream too much
3) You ignore others when they call your name
4) You can't focus on even one thing
5) You annoying  people
6) You have addictive tendencies, which means you might addicted to drugs when you're older.

As a result, your self esteem takes a dive and your mind transfers into your instinctive survival mode - will you fight or flight the situation?

Now image this scenario instead - an adult tells you that you have this amazing gene only held by 20% of the world's population.  It is called the Adventure Gene!  There are many famous and successful people who live or have lived with the gene, such as actors, athletes, explorers, politicians, entrepreneurs and inventors.  Then the adult reads a list of characteristics that proves you can be even more successful than someone else without the gene.  They tell you:
1) You are always on the look out and analyzing situations (critical problem solving skills)  
2) You can adapt to almost any situation or environment
3) You are creative
4) You aren't afraid of failure
5) You focus REALLY WELL and even better than 80% of the population when something interests you
6) You can live a much longer and healthier life than other people

As a result, you feel like super hero, your self esteem rises and you enter adulthood knowing you will find a successful career that will make you happy.  Isn't this a great way to live a strength based life?

(1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.....)
As a primary student, I had difficulties focusing in class.  I recall counting every corner on the ceiling tiles hundreds of times a week and looking out the classroom windows day dreaming about what I would rather be doing outside.  While a college student at Northwest Missouri State University, my friend and co-geoscience major mentioned he had ADHD. He told me about his symptoms and most of them sounded far too familiar.  I decided to get tested for ADHD at the local college counseling office.  My results came back "borderline".  There were many parts of the test that scored me as a typical ADHD client, but a few results came back scoring me with super powers.  For example, one portion of the test involved putting together some sort of puzzle on a computer screen, and I scored the highest score they had ever seen.  I'd like to contribute that score to my super human power of "hyper-focusing".  Today, it is well known that hyper-focusing is a common characteristic of ADD/ADHD - far from the misconception that ADD/ADHD folks can never concentrate. Hyper-focusing usually takes place when something of high interest is the focus and the individual is able to focus without other distractions getting in the way and/or may completely focus on only that particular task for hours at a time. This is a great skill to have while focusing on things such as hiking a mountain, studying for a college test and working in close proximity to other people in an office who are quite chatty.

CALL TO ACTION!!-------------------------------------------------------

If you are a parent, a parent in the making or a far in the future parent, I call you to action! Don't label your kiddo with the ADD/ADHD stigma.  Instead describe their gene as truth be told.  Your child/ren will be future explorers, entrepreneurs, world travelers, actors/actresses, emergency personnel and anything else that will give them the challenge and constant change they need.  Tell your child/ren all the positives of their genetics (listed above) and they will grow up excited to know they are the elite few with an awesome gene passed down through generations.