Everyone is always asking me what is it like to be ADHD.
It’s a very difficult question for number of reasons. Professionally, I have worked with those diagnosed with ADHD for the last 20+ years and, personally, I have been diagnosed with ADHD and have dealt with the symptoms all my life. I’ve never known what it’s like to not have ADHD, so I don’t have a basis of comparison.
So, let’s start with the basics.
The first mention of ADHD in the professional literature was in 1902 and it was diagnosed as kinesthetic brain disorder of youth. It focused on those children who were more hyper than other same age peers. Although many children and adults can have symptoms of the disorder based on dietary factors, environmental factors and life stresses, those who have ADHD can see symptoms worsening. Once those factors are remediated, they are still ADHD J.
Another confounding variable to the disorder is it frequently runs hand-in-hand with other related disorders, including oppositional defiance, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. For those who have a more inattentive form, it is entirely possible that they come to the attention of a mental health professional for one of the previously mentioned comorbid disorders and the underlying ADHD may be overlooked.
It has been proven to be neurobiological with minute differences noticed in the brain chemistry of those affected and differences have been found in the production of certain neurotransmitters. Unfortunately, none of the literature points to one main identification marker and so diagnosis is often very difficult and, unfortunately, frequently accomplished through a checklist that is completed without ruling out any of those confounding variables.
Although the United States treats ADHD differently than other industrialized nations, statistically we have the same amount of children who are diagnosed as those in other countries, including France, Japan and Germany. Some people may ‘grow out’ of the disorder but that may be due to being incorrectly diagnosed and, once the factors that caused the symptoms are addressed, they suddenly no longer appear to have the disorder. How impairing the disorder is affected by how bad the symptoms are, a person’s coping skills, their environment, and the type of support that they have.
Consistently, there appears to be a hypersensitivity toward criticism, which may account for why there are higher rates of Oppositional Defiance Disorder in this population, and a tendency toward emotional flooding. Unlike a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder that is marked by emotional extremes, a person with ADHD will experience emotional fluctuations that will sometimes be overwhelming to them and those around them. The closest comparison would be like being in the middle of a tornado and expecting a person to act rationally!! Women, more so than males diagnosed with this disorder, tend to have the highest rates of depression and anxiety and often experience more negative life outcomes.
So, what is it like?
The best description I have ever heard applied has been consistently inconsistent.Although I can only write about my own perceptions of having ADHD because everyone manifests different variations of the symptoms, have different coping skills, goal directed behaviors and environmental supports (or lack of them). There is an inherent sense that you function differently, that your motor is calibrated in a unique way and that you do not fit.
“Why don’t you”, “try and focus more”, “can’t you just stop doing that” are all innocuous sentences that can be demoralizing to a person with ADHD, especially if they are already floundering with life events. You have to understand, we ARE trying with everything that we have and sometimes we fall short. Research has shown that we do not learn from our mistakes and may find ourselves making the same mistake again and again.
Every day of my life I attempt to maintain a rigid control of my motor level, my language and my emotions because I know how exhausting I can be for other people. Some days I am spot on and can stay on track doing the things I am supposed to. Other days, I get distracted by the simplest of things and it takes forever to complete the most basic of tasks. I always try to educate those around me about ADHD, not to make an excuse for my behavior or to get out of being accountable for actions, but because my behaviors often are related to this disorder, which is a fundamental part of me.
Though there are times I wish I was more neuro-typical, being ADHD has allowed me to develop grace about people and extend forgiveness to others. It has allowed me to see the person, not the behaviors, and that has allowed me to meet people where they are at and help them move, which is pretty good considering what I do!
Dr. Christie Rogers-Larke