ADHD, also known As Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, has been a significant topic in mental health for the last quarter of a century. The CDC and the APA have estimated that somewhere between 5-11% of children suffer from the neurodevelopmental disorder. There has been an increasing emphasis on developing effective treatment to ADHD in children from different scopes of practice; however, ADHD in adulthood brings its own set of challenges that span from career to relationship struggles. Though I usually try to tackle certain topics in my monthly posts through peer reviewed literature coupled with professional experience, I decided to try something different.
I came in contact with a young entrepreneur who, to this day, struggles with ADHD and asked him some questions:
What is ADHD to you?
ADHD is a core element of my personality and something I have to constantly understand/deal with on a daily basis. Its expression keeps changing on me as do my strategies for dealing with it.
How long have you known about your ADHD?
Since I was around 10 or 11 years old.
What was it like growing up with ADHD?
Varied completely. It's obvious, at least from my perspective, that where you are developmentally will have an impact on the nature of force of your ADHD. Sometimes it was an inability to stick with one task for an extended period, sometimes it was forgetting things, sometimes it made it hard to interact socially.
Many people who suffer from ADHD have a less-than-positive outlook on treatment, practices, perception, etc. What has been your perception of this neurodevelopmental disorder?
From what I understand, once it started to be better identified/treatments started to emerge and become more well-known, there was a wave of kids receiving medical treatment in the 90's and 2000's. This seems to have led to a perception of over-medication or parents that “can't possibly believe their kid isn't perfect in class.” I really can't comment on how accurate those claims are, but I distinctly remember there being somewhat of a social stigma (which still persists).
What were/are your daily, unique struggles with ADHD?
Memory is a constant issue. I forget little things constantly because I get “off track.” I have to write things down a ton, even simple tasks that should be easy to remember to do such as taking out the garbage or calling someone important. I also have to be acutely aware of how fast I am talking and how much I am talking about what I care about. It takes a lot of effort to slow down and defer to the other person. I am genuinely interested in other people and genuinely want to hear what they are doing/care about, but everything leads to some connection in my head (“Oh you like cars? My buddy is a big fan as well and...”) and I end up having a strong compulsion to share it *right then*.
What skills/coping strategies/tools/ways of thinking have you employed to combat these struggles?
Exercise, a dutifully updated calendar, and just really actively listening (mixed results). I also take a low dosage of medication on and off as needed. Every day I start by thinking about my day and determining the best way to “treat myself” for the day. Maybe coffee is the right move, maybe it's jumping in right this second because my work drive is really high, maybe it's taking medication to keep me on track and complete several tasks. It's really a day to day thing.
What are some unhealthy ways in which you have coped with your ADHD?
Self-medicating with coffee too frequently. That's how I identified it might be time to take real medication after being off it for almost 10 years. The problem with coffee is it can be super hit or miss depending on how I am that day. Some days it helps me stay really even-keeled and focused, some days it makes me an anxious mess who paces around the room.
What role has medication played in your treatment?
As mentioned above, it's definitely part of the equation. Some weeks I'll take it every day, other times I'll go weeks without it. It's super case by case but there is no doubt it has improved my life in many ways. I am grateful to have a combination of medication and “coping strategies” to go with it.
What, if any, ways has ADHD contributed positively to your life?
I think it allows me to handle typically overwhelming situations better than most. I find many people around me can get very anxious and overwhelmed (sometimes my fault!) and I am totally in control. It takes a hell of a lot to overwhelm me – though when it happens, I'm not good at handling it.
What is it like to have ADHD in adulthood?
Honestly it's kind of interesting. It can be frustrating at times, but I enjoy learning about how my brain works and learning how to build a work/life that works well for me mentally. It's a shame that insurances by and large (if not all) basically don't acknowledge and cover adult ADHD.
How has ADHD impacted your relationships?
Most people either “figure it out” (though I do not like the idea that “ADHD = Hyper” to many people. It's more complicated than that for many of us) or I tell them in conversation. I've become more open about it as I've learned more. I don't run around wearing it on my sleeve, but it can help people better understand me I think.
Many, but not enough, adults are diagnosed with ADHD in their adulthood. What effect do you feel being diagnosed with ADHD in your earlier years had on you, rather than having been diagnosed later on in life?
It gave me time to process it, decide to go off medication on my own, then come back on my own. This is not necessarily for everyone, it's just how my trajectory went. I was also lucky to have a support network that didn't judge me or reject my claims that maybe I needed help. ADHD can be very embarrassing under certain circumstances and I am happy to say I never felt like I couldn't explore the subject and options.
Though it could be argued that we live in a world where ADHD is being more normalized, there are still many misconceptions floating around regarding ADHD. What are the biggest misconceptions in your opinion?
As I mentioned earlier, “ADHD = Hyper.” In addition the old “Plastic bag!” joke where basically anyone with ADHD acts like a dog who just saw a squirrel. ADHD has many forms and for some people it is absolutely crippling – I am lucky to have what some would consider a light to moderate case. I distinctly remember in undergrad someone telling me that ADHD was completely nonsense – and mind you, this was someone I seriously respected and considered informed – and it hurt a lot. They were completely incapable of seeing how it can be compared to anxiety, depression, etc. Many children and adults suffer from it. Some learn to cope, some work fine with it, others are lost and confused as to what's happening to them every day. It's not a national crisis that needs everyone to stop what they're doing and pay attention to, but people need to stop viewing it as unimportant or completely fabricated.
Is there any advice or recommendations that you would give to someone who is, or may be suffering with, ADHD?
Don't be afraid to explore medication – going on or off of it with the help of a licensed expert – and find good practices that can supplement or replace it. I know a lot of people have had success with daily meditation, exercise, and more. Everyone has different needs, so don't be afraid to talk to your doctor about what can work best for you. You owe it to yourself to be at your best.
Are fidget spinners really that big of a freaking deal?
I used to move a pencil between my fingers in high school constantly to keep my mind more focused. I would have loved one as a kid, no lie. People are just being annoying and joining the easy hate train.
Many thanks to this person who had the courage to share his experiences with such a debilitating and misunderstood obstacle such as ADHD. If you have any additional questions you would like to ask my interviewee or myself, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!