Here are some thoughts about having ADHD and how I have related to it over the years. A look into the private world of ADHD.
It is a real condition, but I am not convinced it is an illness. It may just be different than the norm.
There are some positive aspects of ADHD. I wrote a story about that recently and you can read it here if you like. There is a downside too of course, and the biggest one I believe is being misunderstood.
It is real and we do see the world differently than you do. That does not make it bad, and I still don’t like calling it a disorder. It is just that our world is dominated by people who do not share the ADHD trait. Maybe its everyone else that is messed up and the ADHD people are the ones who are normal. As they say, the winners of the war get to write the history. I’m not ready to totally concede anything on this.
People think I am a space cadet at times, or that I have trouble paying attention. They think I am easily distracted, and even worse things. The world is designed for non-ADHD people, and often we feel that we just don’t fit. We don’t fit really. I know there are people who want a black and white world, and I am living in a million shades of grey and am not even sure black and white exist. Do you see how this can be a problem? We don’t even have the same frame of reference for reality.
Trying to cope, not knowing what to call … whatever it was
There were some strange things that happened in school. I still remember in third grade, thinking my history book was so interesting that I stayed up all night reading it. My teacher didn’t believe me when I told her I had read the whole book and had no sleep, and that was why I was sleeping in her class.
I would take books home at times, and I would read the book cover to cover without stopping. I hated being interrupted in those times. But there were other times I would just lose interest and forget to study for a test, and bomb it totally.
The inconsistency I showed baffled most teachers. I might get every question right on a test one week, and the next week, get hardly any right. It was not uncommon for my report card to have A’s and F’s in school. Teachers always wanted to know why, and I had no answers at that time.
A classic example was when we had to write an essay in class. I was good at this. I helped my two buddies get started and I was nearly done. Next thing I know everyone else was done and turning theirs in. I had stopped and never got going again. There were a few teachers here and there who “got” me and let me develop at my own speed and way of dealing with things. Most didn’t and I developed a pretty bad attitude by the time I got to high school.
Some people “get it” but most do not. I really value those that do and I am fiercely loyal to them as friends. Even as an adult who takes medicine, I still have trouble finding people who “get me.”
People with perfectionism think I am crazy. I don’t think highly of them either. I sometimes think perfectionism is the antithesis to ADHD. We are like oil and water. Maybe like gasoline and water. Don’t light a match if we are in the same room.
People with perfectionism think I am crazy. I don’t think highly of them either. Perfectionism is the antithesis to ADHD. We are like oil and water. Maybe like gasoline and water. Don’t light a match if we are in the same room.
It is who I am
I know it is hard to understand. No, I cannot just sit still. I need my phone because I need to fidget with something. Sorry clicking my pen irritates you, but if I stop, I will soon be tapping on the table and that will irritate you worse. I am paying attention as I look around the room, or at my phone, or at whatever is happening out the window.
I will tune you out if you keep going on and on about some trivial matter while I think about 10 ideas at once. I have tried to learn to pay attention, and I am a lot better than I used to be. It really isn’t personal. I still struggle with having to listen to someone about something when my 20 ideas are trying to get my attention.
On the other side, there is “hyperfocus.” It is another side of ADHD that most folks don’t understand. If I get locked in on something, nothing can distract me. I was a reporter for many years and developed the ability to turn hyperfocus on and off at will. It was hard and it does wear me out, but I can focus when I have to.
I was well into my 30s before I realized I had ADHD. I was in counseling for depression. My counselor and the medical doctor agreed that I had the condition. There are tests that can be done, but they are not reliable and whether they are even accurate is still a question doctors are debating. It is like a lot of other mental issues. There are certain traits, and if you have them, then you likely have the condition.
Just for the record. There is a chart of 10 symptoms. I have eight of them. I have one of the other two at times in certain situations.
I battled depression for some years. I self-medicated with tobacco and sex. Alas neither do enough eventually and depression sets in. Depression and ADHD go hand in hand. They are first cousins, or they might even be brothers. The problem is, ADHD makes the world a harder place to live in. Things don’t work as they should. Things are harder than they are for other people. As a result, you can get depressed because people are always upset with you or hardly ever understanding you.
Generally, if you treat one condition you will treat the other. A mild anti-depressant can be just as effective as an ADHD med for example. It also takes time to figure out what the best treatment options are. Some doctors just prescribe the same medicine for everyone and it may or may not work. I was fortunate to have a doctor who was willing to work with me and my counselor to find the right drugs and the right combination.
To medicate or not
The medications are a two-edged sword. They do curb your creativity somewhat as they take the edge off those things that can cause the depression that fuels our creativity. It is not that the medication curbs your creativity, but it does rob your creativity of its fuel — which is often depression.
I don’t have a severe case, so I take a fairly light dosage. It is not a big deal if I miss taking it a day or two here and there, but I can tell a difference after a couple of days. Without it the distractions are much stronger, it is much harder to focus and there is a general spaced out feeling. I can get irritable then too.
When I was younger I would have some pretty extreme mood swings. I might get angry and cuss you out and you not really even know I was upset. Well, I wasn’t upset at you really. It had been building for a few days and whatever it was you said or did, just broke the dam open so to speak.
I might get hyper-focused and work for days with minimal sleep and food, almost nonstop. I also might never be able to get interested.
Like a lot of other ADHD people, I also developed a reputation for not being dependable. That was well before I knew I had it. But I might just decide to head out of town for a week or so and not tell anyone. Irate bosses would fire me and family would worry. I would come back home and not have any idea why people were upset. Did I forget to tell you I was going? You fired me for that??
There is also this thing of staying interested or getting bored. It is a two-edged sword in a sense. On one hand, I do lose interest very quickly. I rarely finish an article on Medium, even though many of them are great. But at the same time, I might get interested in it and read it 10 times, underline things and take notes. I might then get on Google and research it to death, and even write my own article — certainly not copied but at least inspired.
That is something that surprises me too at times. I never know when something will click.
But as I said earlier, I don’t have a severe case and most people around me don’t know I have it. You have to be careful who you tell, and you have to be careful about revealing this at work. I have developed some coping mechanisms and can hide it pretty well. But even then people think I am kind of spacey.
I do forget details, or I might remember details that don’t matter. I might leave one thing undone and do something else, for instance.
I could take stronger medication, but that would drown out my creativity too much and would have other negative side effects. I think I have a good balance there. I have enough medication to calm things down to a level where I can manage. That leaves me able to make use of the advantages of ADHD.