Hi guys, today I want to dedicate a blog to ADHD. Since discovering that I ‘have it’, I’ve learned so much about the illness and about myself. As my site title states, we are NOT the mental illness(es) we struggle with. This however doesn’t negate or diminish the value of understanding the illness and most importantly, understanding its influence within us. In fact I’d go so far as to say that understanding our illness is paramount to not identifying with it.
When we don’t understand the mental illness we’ve been diagnosed with, it’s easy and understandable to feel manipulated by it and out of control; like we’re at its mercy. I’ve felt like that for a long time and still do sometimes. Not knowing what’s going on and why we’re feeling certain things can make us believe that our persona is just different, flawed, jumbled, etc. It becomes a mode of life; simply the way we are and the only way we can be. This definitely isn’t the way to go about living!
Finding Out (and admitting it)
Discovering I have ADHD was like a puzzle coming together and finally making sense. Taking medication for it was like when I started wearing glasses; I didn’t realize how badly I needed it until I felt the difference it made.
So in a large sense finding out I have ADHD made things much clearer but, at the same time, I found it a little difficult to believe. I had fallen prey to stereotypes and therefore never thought ADHD could be ‘my problem’. I never had behavioural complaints in school, I’ve been a fairly high achiever in terms of grades, I’m not super physically hyper and I’m not usually very talkative. How could I have the same illness as a 12 year old boy who doesn’t stop joking around in class, leaves his seat every 2 minutes and scrunches homework pages into his backpack to never be completed or even seen again? That’s not me, so how do I have ADHD?
The answer is simple and important to reiterate; we’re all different and as such, we manifest symptoms in a variety of ways even with the same condition. My ADHD won’t be yours and it won’t be Jeremy the 12-year-olds‘. That doesn’t make it any less real or impactful on my life. Consequently I started looking at my symptoms to identify patterns in hopes of addressing my issues. Only then could I understand myself better in the context of living with ADHD.
With all that out of the way, here are some of my experiences which I’ve grouped into categories.
I have a limited and sporadic pattern of energy and motivation. It moves with the flow of my obsessive concentration which is why I can either sit down and be hyper-focussed on something or, have absolutely zero interest and find a reason to get up every 5 minutes. I go through periods of highly productive time as well as periods of zero inspiration. Muse for me is extremely important; in a way, I depend on it for success.
I come up with lots of ideas but I also have a lot of things that already need to get done. The way my mind gets those things done is usually by working on multiple things at the same time so my life is almost constant multi-tasking. Despite how popular ‘multi-tasking’ is, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be! The more we do at the same time the less attention and focus we can give to each of those things. It’s also draining to run around with your head cut off. (Trust me.) So this is something I’m trying to work on; to dedicate a specific amount of time to ONE task and only move on when the time is up.
Linked to this is my compulsion to rush, which I’ve had since I was a kid. I often feel pressured to do things as quickly as possible to get them done. Why? I’m not always sure. It would be easy if it only happened with things I don’t like, but that’s not the case. It also happens with things I greatly enjoy. It’s even related to my ‘diversity of hobbies’ category which is coming up soon. I’ll explain the connection there.
To give you an idea of what my running around – rushing looks like/results in:
- My stuff isn’t very organized.
- I lose things frequently.
- Quite a few projects are left unfinished.
- I don’t achieve my full potential. (Ex: High grades that frustrate me because I know
I’m capable of even higher if I don’t rush things.)
- Writing the first letter of my next word instead of finishing the word I’m on with the correct letter. (Not super often, 3 times per writing session I’d say and mostly if not always on paper, not when typing. Here’s an example, I think my explanation is confusing:
What I want to write: The full moon.
What I end up writing: The fulm oon or The fulm loon
Diversity of hobbies:
I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a widespread assortment of activities/hobbies/sports. They don’t usually last very long though. A few remain such as arts and crafts and rock/wall climbing, but most fizzle out. The ones that last come in phases too, where I’ll be very focused on that thing alone and then switch. It’s like things have to be fresh and new for me constantly…I never thought I was the type to get bored because I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and yet it seems I still need A LOT of diverse stimulation.
Now I’ll come back to the link between rushing and hobbies: When I begin something new and it’s become a hyper-focus, goals associated with that new ‘thing’ are given almost top priority. Consequently, my self-worth is partly based on my accomplishment of those new goals. I am a ‘failed perfectionist’, so I establish unrealistic goals and benchmarks that I inevitably fail to attaint. At this point I become discouraged and disheartened. I believe to be no good and soon after, I give up with whatever new thing I was trying. That’s a frequent pattern of mine; rushing, aided and abetted by failed perfectionism, distractibility/impulsiveness regarding the next ‘new thing’, hypomanic interests…..
This term I’ve created deserves its own description, though some of you may remember it from a few older blogs. This is what I call my anxious, desperate need to achieve perfection, or rather, ‘as close to perfection as possible’, combined with my head which tells me I shouldn’t try because I won’t do well enough and that’ll just make me feel worse about myself.
With my need to move around all the time I find it difficult to stay still for too long. That’s why I have a fairly extensive fidget toy collection to keep my hands busy. In school when I was younger I used to kick my foot back and forth and play with my pencil or pen…this would help me concentrate and I still do it now.
My family and I have been impressed with my long-term memory so my short-term memory hasn’t really been focussed on. Now I realize that while I’m really good with the distant past, remembering more recent things like conversations, instructions, etc. are pretty difficult. This is related to me needing reminders for appointments and the like because I would most likely forget. Ask me the name of an old acquaintance though and I’ll probably know, or wait for me to come out with a completely random fact or song lyrics I read 8 years ago. In short, I often remember random trivial things that became stored without good reason.
- Good memory on exams if I’ve been studying each section as we go through the semester.
- I could sing along to a lot of songs (if I wasn’t self-conscious of my voice).
- I remember what I’ve learned for longer.
- It takes me longer to learn new things (but once I do I tend to remember). It takes more repetition.
- I have trouble recounting a recent dialogue, joke or anecdote.
- Walking in and out of rooms having forgotten what I’m doing or looking for happens pretty often.
- Appointments HAVE TO be marked with reminders or else I’ll probably forget!
Out of Sight Out of Mind:
This one is very annoying and can make me feel guilty…that’s because it happens with people! I have this thing where if I don’t see something in my usual environment, I’ll forget it exists. That’s kind of what happens with clothes for example and is why I normally wear about 10% of my wardrobe. If my clothes are put in drawers (where they’re supposed to be), I forget they exist so I only think of and decide to wear what I can see piled on top of my dresser or wherever. Same thing with a closet; if it goes in, it likely won’t come out for a while.
Now let me explain how it happens with people: If I see someone all the time I can form a good relationship with them… if however we don’t have much contact and we’re supposed to keep in touch by text or phone, I’m a horrible person. I’ll forget to contact them and even forget to answer for a long time if the message is ‘read’ and the notification is gone. It’s nothing personal but I feel bad about it because it’s difficult to explain. “Hey, sorry I haven’t called or texted, it’s nothing personal I just forgot you existed because of my ADHD.” See what I mean?
I get overwhelmed way too easily which sucks both for practicality and self-esteem because it always feels like I’m struggling with things others don’t have a problem managing. But, that’s my issue and it doesn’t have to stop me. Bite-sized chunks are the way to go and if humans have adapted to survive what we have, I can adapt to ‘survive’ what I have. Ex: Notes for me would be super hard to focus on, read again and use in the context of assignments and exams. A chunk of black text is like info overload so my extensive collection of coloured pens are perfect and necessary for breaking things down into less visually intimidating segments. It’s also more ‘fun’ somehow which seems to be of great importance. It’s unfortunate that working this way takes me so much more time but it’s tried and true so I’m not complaining too much.
Anxiety is my Best Frenemy:
This one is particularly interesting. If you’ve been with me a while you probably don’t need to hear how much anxiety affects my life. I feel anxious over the past, anxious about lots of things in the present and of course a disproportionate TON of things in the future. This goes back a long time which you’ll see with a few examples: (Probably not in order.)
- I cried on my first day of kindergarten; I was afraid of strangers and being away from my parents. It seemed like all the other kids were excited and had friends.
- I thought I would never be able to adjust the taps in the shower without help. (Yup, freezing cold or scalding hot for me!)
- Oral presentations have been a nightmare since the first rudimentary ones I had to do with posters in Elementary school.
Despite hating the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety, pressure and stress can work quite favourably for me. I thrive under pressure and arguably do my best work that way. When there’s a sense of urgency my brain goes into hyperdrive and it’s like anything is possible. It’s why I (and many other with ADHD), can be incredibly effective procrastinators even though it’s not a good habit. If we have to or we really want to, hand it over and the sky is the limit! I’m quite serious. It’s why I can rewrite an entire essay the night or 2 nights before it’s due and get a 90%-95%. Imagine if I’d had more time! (This goes back to my failed perfectionism.) Similarly, rushes at work where I have to bounce between the cash, advising clients, grabbing things in the back-store, restocking, etc. end up being the conditions under which I thrive.
What’s Helping Me:
- Obviously the stimulant I was prescribed…Vyvanse made a huge difference in a surprisingly short time-frame. (Especially compared to antidepressants!) It’s hard to explain what it changed precisely, but I can confidently say that my concentrative powers have increased, the intrusive constant running ‘dialogue’ in my mind is quieter/easier to ignore, I can sit still longer, more of what I read sticks, there’s greater clarity, etc. Oh and I’m significantly less impulsive which is extremely helpful!
2. If interest is what drives me to concentrate, slow down and stick with things, I’m going to choose what I do in consequence. It’s good for everyone to care about what they do but for me it seems quintessential. Ex:
- My work has to be fully engaging…check!
- I have to be interested in the subject of my classes…check!
- A task like organizing, cleaning or doing the washing needs to be made fun and/or turned into a challenge of sorts…check! (I can be productive on roller blades.)
- Tedious tasks need to be rendered more interesting…check! (I take neat, colour-coded notes.)
There’s someone I follow on TikTok (connordewolfe) who posts about ADHD and his videos have helped me tremendously. I’d like to share something he said that really rings true with me about optimizing the ‘ADHD brain’: The acronym INCUP.
Something that combines most of or all of these elements works very well for me! (It’s related to stress/anxiety being my frenemy.)
3. Reminders, calendars, notes…everything that can be taken out of my racing brain and safely stored somewhere else MUST BE! It also has to be a place I’ll look, because of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ effect.
4. Reminding myself that I’m not stupid or slow! This is SO very important. Since my diagnosis I’ve been doing my due diligence on ADHD and it’s saddening to think of all the kids (and the adults they become) who feel less than, due to their illness. We aren’t slow, less intelligent, lazy, etc. I’d go so far as to say that our minds actually move too quickly and it’s the disparity between our inner life and the exterior world that causes so much of a disturbance.
Many kids feel bad about themselves because of the comments they receive from teachers, peers and even parents. (I’m not going into intent right now, just the fact that comments can leave a serious mark.) Lots of kids with ADHD grow up through school feeling stupid, inferior, slow, incapable…and this can result in them giving up entirely. It’s a super toxic paradigm that has to change.
I was lucky, I didn’t feel stupid…at least not academically and I think a large part of that is because my teachers never really suspected I had ADHD and I was a shy, quiet kid which hid some symptoms. I guess I was also highly functioning and it certainly appears that my ADHD worsened as I got older rather than improved. Thankfully that’s changing again! My lower confidence was associated with feeling incapable outside of school rather than within it. My theory is that when I was young I unconsciously did exactly what was necessary to succeed in spite of AND due to my ADHD: I viewed school as an interesting game within which I could win and compete with myself. Voila – I was using the INCUP strategy without knowing it!
I really hope you found this personal exploration interesting and helpful to you in some related way. As always, I’m promoting self-awareness and analysis as a means of improving ones’ condition whatever it may be. It doesn’t do to leave our understanding at a DSM-5 level. We must interpret through the context and experience of our lives to find solutions that work for us as individuals. I’ll leave you today with one last personal realization along with the qualifier that I’m not in any way glamourizing mental illness.
I don’t think that I would give up my ADHD and any other diagnosed or undiagnosed condition I might have if it meant losing my deepened appreciation for the human condition, vivid imagination, intense empathy and flow of ideas. I do think they’re related and I’m certain that I wouldn’t have many of the parts of myself I finally appreciate if it weren’t for the past 6 years – as crappy as much of it was.