ADHD, what is it? and how does it affect me?

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(it captures the ADHD experience well)

TLDR: Life can be challenging for a person with ADHD; there are hidden struggles that no one else can see and our ADHD brains work a little differently.

Firstly, I apologise if this doesn’t make sense or read very well, but I wanted to try and put down in words how ADHD affects me. Writing about myself and how I feel is soooooooo far out of my comfort zone, but it’s a challenge I’ve set myself (probably the only time in my life where I will have the guts do something like this), and it’s taken longer than I expected, If this helps someone else, I’m glad it was of some use. Anyway, I digress.

For the ADHD amongst you, I apologise for the wall of text, but read it in chunks or just this bit 😉
The abridged version is: “I struggle to focus, sometimes have loads of thoughts, sometimes none at all. I forget things unless there is a visual/external prompt to remind me, and I get frustrated/over-emotional at times at insignificant things. I would really struggle without music to control my mind and mood and block out external distractions.”

What is ADHD?

ADHD is not just an “I can’t sit still” thing. It’s so much more complicated than that. It’s genetic, passed down from a parent and is tightly linked with Executive Function Disorders. It comes in 3 flavours, if you will, ADHD Inattentive, ADHD Hyperactive or ADHD combined which is a mixture of the previous two. To understand ADHD, you have to know how your brain works. ADHD is a cognitive disorder and a developmental impairment of executive functions, the “self-management system” of the mind if you prefer. We, as humans, use “executive functions” all the time without even knowing it, these functions are:

  • Self-Awareness: commanding self-directed attention
  • Self-Restraint: inhibiting yourself
  • Non-Verbal Working Memory: holding things in your mind to guide behaviour
  • Verbal Working Memory: retaining internal speech
  • Emotional: using words and images along with self-awareness to alter how you feel about things
  • Self-Motivation: motivating yourself to do something when no outside consequences exist
  • Planning and Problem Solving: finding new approaches and solutions

I have ADHD combined and thus problems with bits of all of them. Personally, it’s the non-verbal working memory, emotional regulation and self-motivation that cause more problems for me than the others. With that said, ADHD is more than “just” an executive function disorder; the ADHD brain differs chemically and physically from the non-ADHD brain. But what does that actually mean I hear you think. Well, it means I process information slightly differently. This doesn’t mean I am stupid; on the contrary, I am (here’s the bit I don’t like, talking about myself) highly intelligent, friendly, funny, kind, relatively normal :), very good at my job and enjoy doing it. I say this because these are the qualities that have made diagnosing ADHD so tricky.

So, How does ADHD actually affect me?

Ok, well with all of that learning out of the way let’s move on to me. 

After my child was diagnosed with ADHD, I started to do some research into what it actually is and how I can help him. I quickly realised that I might also suffer from it. Looking over the information, it explained some of the difficulties I had been experiencing since childhood.

I had a history of anxiety and depression when I was younger in my teens. Depression, Anxiety and ADHD are linked. Up to 30% to 60% of people with ADHD will also suffer from at least one other mental illness at some point in their lives, and this is why doctors sometimes call them comorbid or coexisting conditions, meaning you can have both at the same time.

I’ll start with the big-ticket items. I over analyse the shit out of everything, am always thinking of all of the possible scenarios, worry about everything, hyperfocus on things, forget about things, struggle to focus, get bored quickly, get frustrated, get over emotional and at times there are a billion things that I want to say or are floating around in my brain while I try and figure out the answer and at others times, my mind is a total blank, like, tumbleweed blank. 

Moving on to the smaller issues, the little nuances that annoy me or just don’t sit easily, no, don’t sit comfortably with me. Now I know this sounds strange as it is me who has written this, but when my brain sees a chunk of text this large it immediately fires off an alarm saying “wow, a massive chunk of text, can’t be bothered to read it, let’s find something more to the point!” So me being me, you will find I try to break it into smaller paragraphs, rather than one massive chunk of text, that seems to help me digest it.

SIDENOTE: I’ve lost count of the number of times I have jumped back and forward adding and editing bits, tweaking, re-wording bits over several weeks while writing this. It’s REALLY hard to put into words how ADHD affects my life in and out of the office as there are so many things all inter-twined together. I’ve not found an eloquent way to put it that makes total sense yet for others to understand unless they have some experience with it. Each time I try, it always feels like I am missing something…turns out I usually have. 

Some people say ADHD is a superpower or a gift. It really isn’t. Don’t listen to them. Sometimes, I “hyperfocus” on things; this means if it’s something I’m really interested in, then time no longer exists to me. I can be working on a task for hours on end, and it feels like 5 minutes, at the detriment of all things around me, they just don’t exist; this can be a blessing and a curse at the same time depending on what is being focused on. For work this can be amazing, I become the SME (subject matter expert) as I dig so far down into the details and inner workings of that task/subject, but if the subject that I am working on or talking about doesn’t interest me at all, then I can end up “zoning” out. It’s not on purpose at all, and sometimes I catch myself doing it and have to do a virtual mind slap to try and keep my attention on what is being spoken about.

Social interaction is not a strong point for me. Not because I hate talking to people, but because sometimes it can be really hard work. What some people don’t understand is that where you might only put nominal effort into socialising I have to put an awful lot more, and be conscious that I’m doing it. This is draining sometimes. I’m very good at reading other people and understanding the flow of conversation, but I’m terrible at reading myself and taking compliments. If I’m engaged in the subject or discussion, and I have something to contribute I just want to rush to get it out there, get what is on my mind said, it’s incredibly hard to hold it in sometimes as I know I will forget the important thing I wanted to say. Alcohol makes an appearance here. It allows me to reduce some of that social anxiety and feel a little more “normal” as I don’t worry as much about analysing things and allows me to “go with the flow” a little more.

Some days I am talking 1000mph about all different things, I have ideas all over the place, needing input to learn, keep busy, finding something interesting to do to keep me engaged, other days I am the total opposite, don’t say much and just keep quiet and try my best to focus on a current task and ignore everything or nothing gets done.

Music. Music has such an enormous impact on my life. I can’t put enough emphasis on how it can make me feel better. It can make me feel so happy, helps me channel my mind into getting focused and for some reason, just connects with me on such an intensely personal level. It’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but it can consume me sometimes. Without music, I am unable to work. If I am in the office and I am trying to focus on work, all I can hear is the four conversations around me, and unintentionally my brain is focusing on all of them at the same time, instead of my work; this is why I wear my headphones all the time.

For me having some deep house or a monotonous beat helps to keep my mind focused on the task at hand during work, just seems to help align my brain somehow?

My instant memory recall is terrible; the data is in there, but I can be slow at retrieving it on-demand or out of the blue unless there is an external stimulus to remind me.  I’ve lost count of the number of times my wife has told me something, and I have forgotten what she said 2 minutes after we just had the conversation; or going to an interview about a job you have been doing for years but can’t answer the basic questions that you clearly know due to the crappy memory recall, it’s annoying and embarrassing!

At work, this is why I love using email so I can use it to look up conversations that were important.  At home, this is why I love photography, my external visual memory bank to stimulate internal memories.

Workplace and Neurodiversity
So this is an interesting area to talk about becuase its very hard for someone people to be sucessful at work due to external factors. By this I mean a company that isnt aware of the neurodiversity in the workforce, and its not just the company it’s the staff. You can have a company that has neurodiversity campaigns etc running but if your manager isn’t onboard with that, or just doesn’t care about neurodiversity then you are potentially in for a world of pain. It’s been a bumpy ride but as long as you can inform everyone that you work with closly and a daily basis and actually sit down and explain what the limiting factors are, where you need some additional time compared to others, how you dont confirm not due to spite but due to the way your brain works, they “generally” understand.
Imagine saying to someone you have to write this letter with your left foot rather than your hand becuase that’s what everyone else is doing and you just have to do it also, rather than play to your strength’s doing it your own way. Sometimes this is simply due to managers wanting to be in control , sometimes its through lack of awareness. Ultimatly if you feel you are not coping well due to neurodiversity, you have to speak up for your own mental health and for your career.

For personal organisation, I need lists, post-it notes, calendar reminders, etc. without them I would be a total mess when it comes to organising and getting things done.

I get frustrated when I can’t get things done perfectly the first time, end up practising over and over and over until I get it, just to prove that I can, then I will forget about it and forget how to do it (like 1000 hobbies I have started and given up on over the years).

Emotional dysregulation has been a hard one for me to deal with especially unmedicated, as I can get really passionate about things and get worked up because lack of emotional control sometimes. I struggle with being told I’m crap at something or being put down, it really knocks me for 6 and then I have to pull myself out of this pit of emotional shitness while trying to function as a professional worker and parent all the while no one else understanding what is going on or why.

All of the above has been related to me before taking any medication, which I have only recently started and I can say that it does help me focus for sure and feel marginally more confident, but for the tablets and dose I am taking it’s really subtle and I only realise it’s working after I have been doing work for a while. There are some side effects, like increased blood pressure and others so it’s a trade-off of taking the tablet to get work done with an increased strain on the internal body systems or not taking the tablet to give it a break at the detriment of the above-mentioned brain struggles.

Somedays I have loads of ideas about things and no idea where to start. Start projects at home, with great intention of finishing, get distracted and totally forget about it. I get task anxiety sometimes or analysis paralysis, for a thing that is generally simple once started.

When going to bed, my brain seems to decide, now this is the time to troubleshoot all the things we thought about today, and we are not switching off until we got something done and I think, why didn’t you do that during the day when I needed that? huh?

Some days are better than others, some are worse.  I know I am missing so much that is probably important too but it’s taken me so long to try and put this together.

I know I have not covered all of the things I wanted to say, and that bugs me, but this will have to do for now. Please feel free to contact me on Twitter or Telegram.

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Sorry if that didn’t make much sense, but welcome to my brain.

External Resources

Below are some snippets from articles that sort of explain better than I can some aspects of ADHD.

The ADHD nervous system is rarely at rest. It wants to be engaged in something interesting and challenging. Attention is never “deficit.” It is always excessive, constantly occupied with internal battles and engagements.

Recommended YouTube
Dr Russell Barkley <– a very interesting and clever guy

The ADHD mind is a vast and unorganised library. It contains masses of information in snippets, but not whole books. There is no card catalogue, and the “books” are not organised by subject or even alphabetized. It’s just a heap of books in the room. Often the information individuals with ADHD need is in their memory…somewhere. It is just not available on demand.

Recommended ADHD Books
Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, 2nd Edition-Revised and Updated: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized
Thriving with Adult ADHD: Skills to Strengthen Executive Functioning
A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD: Embrace Neurodiversity, Live Boldly, and Break Through Barriers

People with ADHD  tend to be great problem-solvers. They wade into problems that have stumped everyone else and jump to the answer; are affable, likeable people with a sense of humour. They have “relentless determination” when they get hooked on a challenge, they tackle it with one approach after another until they master the problem — and they may lose interest entirely when it is no longer a challenge.

Sometimes don’t know where and how to start, since they can’t find the beginning. They jump into the middle of a task and work in all directions at once.

Each person with ADHD has his or her own brain library and own way of storing that huge amount of material. No wonder the average person with ADHD cannot access the right piece of information at the moment it is needed — there is no reliable mechanism for locating it. Important items (God help us, important to someone else) have no fixed place, and might as well be invisible or missing entirely.

Working memory is the ability to have data available in one’s mind and to be able to manipulate that data to come up with an answer or a plan of action. The mind of a person with ADHD is full of the minutiae of life (“Where are my keys?” “Where did I park the car?”), so there is little room left for new thoughts and memories. Something has to be discarded or forgotten to make room for new information. Often the information individuals with ADHD need is in their memory…somewhere. It is just not available on demand.

People from the ADHD world have little self-awareness. While they can often read other people well, it is hard for the average person with ADHD to know, from moment to moment, how they themselves are doing

Dr Russell Barkley Youtube Video – He is a pioneer/leader in ADHD related research (4 mins long) (3 mins long) <- talking about executive functions of the brain

Good resource

General ADHD article

Some of these replies also hit very close to home from other people with ADHD
This is a good article with good explanations