Q&A: Living with ADHD, An Adult Perspective.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Update! If you need some groundwork knowledge of ADHD, please see my brief overview in the comments section (response to the first comment). 

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Everyone! I am so excited to share this post with you today.
A dear person of mine agreed to let me ask her a few questions and share her answers with you. She was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult; as a result, she has a unique perspective on living with the condition. I've always joked about self-diagnosing myself with ADHD, and have always been interested in learning more about it... but even I was kind of shocked at how she described herself growing up: I could TOTALLY relate!
Let me introduce you to my friend, Sarah. That's not her real name... but I promised her anonymity from the start in exchange for her beautiful honesty. She delivered! I hope her lovely and thoughtful answers add a little light to your understanding of ADHD, as they totally did for me. Enjoy!


Essaie: Tell us a little about yourself.
Sarah: I love my husband, kids, and people in general.  I am a University graduate, an extrovert and a constant learner. Every day I’m busy, engaged, challenging myself and usually cooking up a storm. 
E: When I was working on my special education minor, we discussed in class how we all have our quirks…and wondered where the line is drawn as far as something that is “diagnose-able” or not. Our professor suggested that perhaps it’s when those things start to interfere with our daily lives, making it difficult to carry out regular, daily tasks.
 What was that point for you? When did you realize that there was something more going on than just “personality quirks?”
S: A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a pediatrician’s office with one of my children, discussing my child’s distractedness.  As ADHD is hereditary, she asked me about my history and my husband’s, beginning with school.  I brushed it off, telling her there were no problems, and we were both University graduates.  As she pressed more with specific questions, I examined my recollections, and remembered more of the challenges I faced in throughout my life. 
Looking back, I saw school in a different light.  As a general rule, the less structure I was given in a course, the more challenging it was.  Most papers were written in the final hours of being due.  At the start of a course I’d be gung-ho but would often not finish the required reading.  Though I excelled in some courses, there were a few I barely scraped by in, which surprised me. 
In one of my jobs, I remember once when I was told that I could be more productive.  This was confusing, as I felt busy all the time.
I remember hearing in my late twenties that growing up, I was considered the disorganized child while my sister was the organized one.  Until then, I was oblivious to that notion.  As an adult, my tendency to pile papers and clutter flat surfaces was very hard for my husband who grew up in a neat-as-a-pin house.  He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just “clean up”.  Though seemingly small, this was a big stress in our home.    
The more the pediatrician and I spoke, it felt as if windows were being opened, like lights were turning on, as if puzzle pieces were falling into place.  I’d never tried to find a pattern in my challenges, but as I did, I was seeing my life from a different perspective, and things were making sense!   It was all very exciting to me. 
After I spoke with my own physician about my concerns and completed testing, we made a plan, which included medication and participating in an adult ADHD learning group.  Finally I felt validated and happy to move forward.   
If you had to describe living with ADHD to someone who had never heard of it, how would you explain it?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder. Like many others, I incorrectly assumed that ADHD meant you were outwardly wild and hyper.  The truth is that some ADHD is manifested in outward high-energy, while some is manifested through inattentiveness.  The latter is more a misnomer as the person actually has very good attention, just applied to many things, or the wrong things.

On the outside, I don’t look like a hyper person.  But for me, ADHD makes me feel scattered and hyper inside, in regards to my thoughts and intentions for the day.  Sometimes it feels like there are a dozen ping-pong balls ricocheting around inside me.  A bad day, when I’m not diligently conscientious, might look something like this: I have great ideas and many thoughts, but often no concrete plans of how to accomplish those things.  I start on – or commit myself to – a myriad of tasks, but often lack the planning portion to properly assess the steps needed and time needed to accomplish them.  This often results in crisis living: only the things that are shouting or on “fire” get my attention, while I leave a hurricane of half-done projects in my path.  On days like these, I feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel, or stuck in the spin cycle in the washing machine; never progressing or accomplishing, but feeling worn out and frustrated!
What are some strategies that you find especially effective for managing your ADHD in your daily life? Do you have some areas that are more of a struggle than others?
Every day I practise many strategies.  Routines and schedules are very helpful.  I use a 15-minute timer to keep me on task.  Writing down tasks and prioritizing them in the morning helps me organize.  I try to pace myself and not start too many projects.  I use a calendar to keep dates and commitments in order.  When I’m doing housework, I put on my shoes and apron, signaling to my brain that it’s time to work!  Along with these external strategies, I have found that a low-dose of medicine helps me.  It brings me down to a level where my feet touch the ground and I'm able to work with more focus, clarity and common sense.  Before, I used to believe that ADHD drugs numbed people.  This is not true.  Medication helps my brain to work properly.  It helps my brain to get messages across that are otherwise a bizarre array of intermittent fireworks… bright and beautiful ideas that are exciting, but not prolonged enough to succeed. 
Do you find you meet with a lot of compassion and understanding from others about ADHD? Or do you find the opposite? How do you deal with the positive/negative feedback?
I have shared my experience about ADHD with my close family members and a handful of good friends. Very few provide the support I desire.  Some try to negate my ADHD saying “but you are successful”.  Some water it down and apply it to everyone telling me that “everyone procrastinates”.  Some tell me I can be healed through prayer and study alone.  Some just don’t believe it exists.  I realize that these answers come from well meaning people, who don’t know a lot about ADHD and who have most of the preconceived prejudices that I also had.
We talk a lot about the struggles with living with ADHD…but there are strengths, too! What do you think your strengths are as a result of having ADHD?
I make things happen! I am great at seizing the day and creating memories.  It is easy for me to see opportunities and possibilities.  I often do my best work under stress.  (The trick I’m still practicing is to create enough positive stress on my own to accomplish projects.)  I am great at serving others and love to volunteer.  I’m able to connect with my kids and leave the laundry unfolded.
If a friend came to you and asked how they could best help you, what would be one thing you would want to tell them, one thing that would help more than anything else?

Give me your support, even if you don’t understand or “get” ADHD.  You can do this best by listening to my experiences.  Let me tell you what I’ve been practicing and why almost all days are good and productive now.  But every now and then when a bad scattered day happens, let me tell you about it too.  Let me know if you see positive changes, and praise me.  I know my weaknesses too well; I don’t need to hear those again.  Encourage me to keep practicing, because I can make my weaknesses strengths!
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Thanks again, Sarah, for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences with us!
What are your experiences with ADHD? Do you struggle with it, personally? Know someone close to you who does? Have always been curious about it? Skeptical? What stuck out to you as you read through Sarah's experiences?

4 comments:

  1. I read this through, but afterwards, I'm afraid I didn't feel like I understood what makes these 'symptoms' constitute ADHD. Some of the things 'Sarah' said were her characteristics seem very similar to my own; I quite like a 'messy feel' to the home, I am often jumping from one idea to another, and the art of procrastination is so much a part of me that I wrote a 'famous saying' about it: "There is one philosophy of life that only works if we do it right now… it is the art of procrastination". Perhaps if I was more knowledgable about ADHD, this would ring some bells for me. I guess you'll have to put me in the 'unconvinced' category!

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    1. Thanks for your comment and honesty, Thorby! Let me see if I can give you some background understanding, and shed some light on the subject.

      From my understanding (and Sarah can correct me if her experiences have been different), the chemistry of ADHD was explained to me like this: In a "normal" brain, there's a door that stays open when the brain is stimulated, focusing, and paying attention. This door can also be held open "at will" or on-command when the normal brain understands that something may not be particularly stimulating, but is important. The normal brain can, essentially, put a "door stop" in the door for certain periods of time when priorities say-so.

      In the brain with ADHD, that door keeps swinging closed all. the. time! There is also no "doorstop function" to keep the door open at-will...or it's faulty, so the brain hyper-focuses on random or irrelevant details or tasks; there's no sense of priority or importance to when the brain can keep the door open. As a result of a faulty door, the brain is constantly seeking for stimulation to keep the door open! In someone on the "hyperactive" side, it seeks out physical stimuation (wiggling, fidgeting, struggling to sit still, etc.) and in someone who is more on the "attention" side, the brain is constantly bouncing from new-thing to new-thought to try and keep the door open and the brain stimulated (feeling like "ping-pong ball thoughts" or exciting "fireworks ideas" that peter out quickly in favour of the next new idea). Many cases are a combination of both, which is why we simply refer to everything under the umbrella of ADHD, instead of dividing them into ADHD and ADD.

      This struggle to keep the door open results in outward symptoms like Sarah described: many things started but few finished, crisis-living because of lack of planning, feeling exhausted at the end of the day but with little accomplished (thinking of trying to refocus your thoughts and intentions again and again ALL DAY LONG...talk about exhausting! Like trying to herd cats!).

      People seek out diagnosis when the symptoms are causing enough friction in their lives that they need answers. This is obviously going to be different for everyone! Everyone has a different threshold for "enough is enough" and different life circumstances that might make issues more apparent than someone else. We can see ADHD tendencies in our own lives, but it may not be problematic enough, or may be manageable enough, that we don't feel the need for any other help. It also means that we may never understand how out-of--control someone with moderate/severe ADHD feels, and the relief they feel at finally having a solution and validation...so let's be gentle with each other!

      Treatment is usually a double-edged sword of medication (lowest dose possible; it's what keeps that door open!) and the teaching of strategies for organization and prioritization (skills that can now, finally, be really learned and practiced now that the door is finally staying open long enough to focus on them!).

      Hope that helps!

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  2. This was very interesting. I could relate to some of the things Sarah said. Sometimes I've wondered if I have ADHD and that perhaps I developed my own coping mechanisms (extra vigilant in the organization department). My brain feels very scattered sometimes and I have so much I wish to accomplish but if I don't have a plan of attack or a schedule for the day, I will end up getting absolutely nothing done (and not even know what I frittered my time away doing).

    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I hear you on needing a plan of attack or schedule! Without one, I am ALL over the place! Ha!

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