Frequently I get asked what it is like to have ADHD/ADD, or how I have coped with having it.
I was diagnosed at 23, and have been taking Adderall since then.
First, because of the misconceptions out there about medication for ADHD, I will address how medication has helped me. First, I have the same personality on or off medication. I am an optimist, I like talking with people, I am a hard worker – all of that is the same. What the medication does is give me those few seconds to help me retain a thought in my head instead of interrupting because the thought might go away; I am more aware of my surroundings when driving; I can read through something once and know what it says instead of reading it over and over again. I now have the extra seconds to determine if a decision is really in my best interest. I can actually listen and comprehend to an entire lecture or a long conversation. My anxiety level has gone down because now I know I can reach my potential – I don’t stay awake nights wondering how I’m going to get a bunch of reading assignments done because I can’t focus.
I am a firm believer in the genetics of ADHD. Luckily, my family has excellent geneological/historical records, and impulsive behavior/ADHD symptoms in my family can be traced back as far as the 1600s. One of my ancestors was extradited from Massachusetts to London, where he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for his impulsive behaviors. His intentions were good, but he probably could have fine-tuned his way of delivering the message. Let’s just say Paul Revere did the same thing a few years later in a more organized fashion! Interestingly, accounts from people in my ancestor’s town said that although they knew he had some impulsivity issues, they thought he was a great guy who was very helpful to others in the community, and they wanted him released back to the U.S. as soon as possible.
Back to my history…..I was naturally disorganized. Sure, you could show me how to organize something, but it didn’t stay that way. In school, I had to work 5 times as hard as everyone else, but only got half the amount of work done. I was hyperactive as a child – and it turns into “inner restlessness” now that I’m older. People with ADHD will know what I mean by “inner restlessness”. My report cards said things like “Does not work to potential”, “Disorganized”, “Messy handwriting”. In elementary school, my 2nd grade teacher pointed out my messy desk to everyone in class. I still can clearly recall my feelings of embarrassment and shame – I’m sure other people with ADHD can relate.
In college, I couldn’t figure out how my friends could study for 3 hours at a time while I wandered through the rows of books in the library. I always felt like I was “out of sync” with other people. There was something different about how I functioned in the world, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Here is one of my favorite analogies of having ADHD. Having ADHD is like trying to climb to the top of a mountain with a backpack full of rocks. You are ready to make the climb, but a little anxious because you’ve been told that you just aren’t cut out for mountain climbing, that maybe you shouldn’t even bother. But you know you can do it. And then you realize there are people that are just zipping up to the top of that mountain ahead of you. You tell yourself, “But I did all my prep work! I am smart! So why can’t I move as fast as everyone else?” Then you find ways to get some of those rocks out of your backpack. Medication takes out some of the rocks, learning coping mechanisms takes out some of the rocks. You still have some rocks left in the backpack, but you find you can scale that mountain much easier now. You aren’t giving up, you aren’t having to stop for hours to convince yourself into getting moving again. And then you make it to the top of the mountain.
How do I manage things now? Medication has helped a great deal. I also went to counseling for a while, which was helpful. I hired an assistant to help me stay organized. I have used trial and error to find a method of organizing and living that works for me. Luckily, I have a career that I love, which has also helped me focus – actually hyperfocus, which is another sign of ADHD. I can sit at the laptop and write for 8 hours straight. That’s the thing about ADHD – when you love to do something, you get completely engrossed in it – to the exception of everything else.
So life has always been good, and getting diagnosed and treated for ADHD (and helping others that have it) has made it even more enjoyable. It’s important to remember that even if you do have ADHD, there is treatment available.