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Whats it like to have ADHD?

Well, its not the same for everyone – there are different forms and they are experienced differently by different people. (For ADHDers, I am the combined form.)

DISCLAIMER: None of this should be construed as medical advice, suggestion, or source. Please consult a medical practitioner with any questions or concerns. This is my experience, and is not recommended for anyone else – don’t do anything stupid or impulsive, as hard as that may be for fellow ADHDers, this is just my version of my story.

The best three descriptions of my experience of ADHD are:

– Feeling like you are being run by a motor (there is a constant chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga-choo-choo! inside), so there is a need to keep going, keep doing, keep chugging

– The mind is like a fuzzy radio signal,with the thought getting interrupted constantly by static, other voices, and bits of random songs

– Difficultly controlled periods of inability to focus interupted by difficult to control periods of hyperfocus

But right off the bat, let’s get two things straight:

1)Everyone has periods of inattentiveness, everyone has trouble focusing sometimes, everyone has times of excess energy.  THATS NOT WHAT ADHD IS!  Please do not tell an ADHDer that “I do that too, I must have ADHD!” It feels like you are belittling of what is a daily struggle for us. We do not have moments or days like this, we live like this, everyday… we have moments of focus, moments of quiet, and they are few and far between. [If you wanna know whats thats like, my dad suggests you try to go through your day with earphones in, playing a constant recording of different voices talking, interrupting each other, of disconnected thoughts, half-thoughts, random monologues. Some voices you recognize, some you don’t. Some topics that really interest you, some you really wish you could get rid of. Some really fast exclamations, some droning. Some repeating over and coming back randoming to repeat in the middle of other things, some that come once and you really want to remember what they said or know what they meant but can’t go back to hear it again or hear more. Throw in a couple lines from a song you can’t quite remember, have a commercial jingle playing in the background on and off, throw in an entire song you like every once in a while, and have rhythms in the background pretty well all the time and change every so often, but don’t necessarily match the song playing. All of these should be layered over each other, interupting each other, and coming back at a later time to continue or repeat. Let me know how your conversations, classes, work and family time go. Oh – and keep the earphones in while you are trying to get to sleep!] This is part of the fun of ADHD – theres always something going on! But that something is often now what you need to do, are supposed to do, or what the rest of the world is doing, or what the rest of the world things is going on, so when you exclaim in response to the voices and everyone goes quiet and looks at you – you know you have repsonded to a voice in your head and not one of the people around you – smile and apologize, and try harder to distinguish next time…

2) I firmly believe ADHD is a label for difference, and nothing more. Ours is a history of making difference into disability – skin colour, mode of production, religion, etc, have all been historically used as indicators of inferiority. I don’t like the word disability, or that ADHD is considered one: I think ADHD is a superpower! (more below). I think differently. Everyone needs help with some things, everyone excels at some things… ADHD is a label assigned to a difference. I don’t need medication to function, I use medication to work in an educational and business environment that is not yet ready to accept me. And it took me a long time to find a medication that did not make me feel like I was losing my personality. Meds have side effects, and are not the end of ADHD. I think our society needs to grow, adapt and accept difference. Just like different personalities, different ways of functioning need to be accepted.

I was diagnosed when I was 20, as I saw my grades dropping in university. It was when I handed in a reading response with a thorough deconstruction of the author’s argument, and the prof asked me to redo it:  I realized that I wasn’t reading properly when apparently I was arguing the exact same thing as the author, but I had only absorbed the beginnings of paragraphs where she outlined the theory she was rebutting. How did I miss that?!  I didn’t realize at the time that my mind was not paying attention to what I was reading – while my eyes were going over the words, I was thinking about other things – no, I didn’t stop reading, I didn’t know I was doing it. That was the clincher – I had been struggling, and the only reason I didn’t fail was because I had a wonderful prof who just had me redo the assignment, knowing something was going on.  So I went to my campus clinic. I did the diagnosis process, but from the begining apparently the counsellor thought it was pretty clear that I had ADHD. Something wierd happened about twenty minutes after my first dose of medication – I had a full, complete thought – just one! I remember it was something about the barn beside the highway (we were roadtripping, I was not driving). ONE FULL, SINGLE THOUGHT?!?!  WHOA!?!? and then I read – I got through fifteen pages of my textbook before we stopped for lunch – that was more than I did the entire previous day – and I KNEW WHAT I HAD READ!!! Later, I did a psycho-educational assessment, a series of all kinsd of fun tests that assess short term and long term memory, comprehension, expression, speed, etc. Basically, I came out a certified genius, and got some really great pointers on how to harnass my abilities to benefit from the education system. 

 As I learned about it, I have been able to recognize when I am not paying attention (I catch myself doing it, I still can’t figure out when my mind actually disconnects from my eyes), and can now go back an re-read the paragraph I missed. However, its not easy: Try this: Read a text, stopping every three minutes, take thirty seconds to breathe, then re-read everything you just read, but still stopping every three minutes… see how much progress you can make in half an hour. Thats why I struggle with school. I love learning, I am great at writing, making connections, my profs love my research… but the weekly reading is hard, depressing and discouraging.

Kate Kelly and Peggy Remundo published a great book, You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!, (Scribner, 2006). That title sums it up – I cried whenever I read a section – its very true. ADHDers often feel these things – lazy, stupid, crazy. So many drop out of school, or don’t go continue to go on to the career they desire because of the schooling required. ADHD adults often feel like they could never do it. Our self-images takes hits all the time because we CAN’T just do it. We can’t force focus, we can’t just sit down and commit to it, we can’t just get over ourselves and try harder.  Often, the harder we try, the harder it is. 

I do stress cycles: Like many people, I need to work to a deadline, or the project does not get done. I need a certain amount of stress of make things happen, a sense of urgency – I think the adrenaline helps me focus. But there is very very fine line between enough stress and too much stress. And when I hit too much, I don’t just need to go for a jog or make a list or make a plan. I need to hide. I curl up in a dark room under a big blanket, and cry, and vent, and feel helpless and stupid and incapable and like I have screwed everything up and theres no way to fix it, and I know better but I suck anyway, and… And I have a wonderful husband who holds me, and stays with me, and then asks “what can I do to help?” And then we clean, so I have an environment I can work in – one that I don’t have to waste energy blocking out. And this release, support, and environment allow me to situate myself in my work.

My husband often acts as my Body Double – and while it is not fair to him to fill this role all the time, sometimes he can, and does: The Body Double helps me get started and holds me accountable. He may not need a clean table, but I do – I need a clean environment, clean surfaces, in order to get started. Something to do with a cluttered work space contributing to a cluttered mind. But organization is not natural, and I do not realize clutter is building until there is TOO MUCH and I don’t know where to start. I don’t mean that is an expressive way, I mean I literally CAN’T start – I am not dumb, remember, my mind just identifies ALL THE CLUTTER and there is no beginning of the list – there are many voices all at once and I can’t make all of the others quiet to respond to a single one. Mister has to start. He provides the foothold, defines a beginning, and I can work from there. With two of us going, I am good. But when he is not here, it doesn’t happen. I AM NOT LAZY! I don’t just want him to serve me and do it for me; my mind shuts down, and I need help defining a start line.

Time? I don’t realize its going by – I know I have a schedule and a list of things to do, and even when I am in a good head space (actually, I think more often when I am ready and capable and can do it myself), I don’t realize time is going by. I catch myself having drifted off, and realize its been fifteen minutes since I thought about what I was supposed to be thinking about. Meanwhile, I could be in a different room altogether, and not know when or how I left the original task. However….

SUPERPOWER: When I get going, I really fly! I can get through more tasks faster, and well done, than anyone I know. I make links faster, and pick up on new concepts and their connections very quickly (which is why I often get bored in classes, and am ever so grateful for a high school that let me tutor peers rather than sit through long teaching sessions after I had learned what we were supposed to learn – It gave me role, a job, a constructive way to use my ADHD to the benefit of the class, which is why I made it through high school and got good grades). I can plan events in minutes, having all the details and important notes in mind. I think faster than most people – its not an insult, its not a superiority thing – its a fact. Everyone has talents, what the world has labelled ADHD is merely my talent – and the education system is not built to handle it. My mother was amazing, my school was great – I was not labelled as a child, not medicated, and I succeeded! While I know some children do require medication, I believe FAR TOO MANY are medicated, and that their ADHD could be managed with alternative education strategies… I am living proof! And seriously, let boys be boys, and don’t ignore that shy girl in the back of the class- labels hurt! they restrict! Our educators need support in providing for different learning styles and different minds.

Social interaction: A natural consequence of this superpower is that sometimes we think you are all slow. Arguments with my husband inevitably are made worse because he needs time to process, and I can’t remember what we were talking about if I manage to keep quiet for the time he needs to process. But we are learning, and having fun along the way – and that is what He Said Purple is all about – our day to day journey, the ups and downs. ADHD is certainly a part of it, but its not all of it. I am not defined by it, but its a name that helps others understand me, like a personality type. It is not meant to restrict me, my abilities, my possibilities. In fact, my personality and the way my mind works are not separate – this often causes confusion between what is ADHD and what is a boisterous personality. This is my chance to share the good that is my experience with my head, of being married, of living, or relationships and realizations, of laughter and love.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonathan Taylor permalink
    November 12, 2011 11:54 am

    Great description!

  2. Kurt permalink
    July 5, 2011 6:29 pm

    Thank you Katy, I really liked that. That’s real good!

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