I really didn’t want to make this blog about my shiny-brain problem per-se… but after reconnecting with a dear friend this weekend who read my post regarding my diagnosis with ADHD and who had a few questions for me, I remembered that so very many of us have this issue! And yet it is so unbelievably misunderstood by the average neurotypical population. I find it to be unendingly fascinating that so few people know anything other than hearsay regarding ADHD. Why don’t they make all parents watch a video before leaving the hospital? 1 in 10 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with it.
And then I remembered that there are plenty of videos- (Like the one on Netflix called “Take Your Pills” which is exactly the type of thing that causes the great ADHD Stigma! Plenty of ADHD advocates and bloggers are responding to it. A very succinct, and accurate response is by my favorite “How To ADHD” girl Jessica McCabe I love her!! Watch!! .)
But with so many people dealing with busy brains- I am coming to realize that just as many people would genuinely like to know more. In my journey thus far I have encountered a lot of curious people who are honest seekers of information. As more and more friends had questions for me, I realized maybe I should elaborate more on this subject. For the cause of eliminating the stigma.
So, here’s to you my fellow honest seekers of truth! (Truth according to Kathryn anyway) And to you who already know most of this! Cheers!
QUESTION: “I sometimes wonder if a loved one, or even if I, might have ADHD. But I dismiss it. Life is hard for everyone.”
STIGMA: I shouldn’t have ADHD. I should just be better at life.
Hi friend! Well, I am no expert- but I can tell you a few things that might hint at the possibility of you having ADHD. Do you wonder if you might have ADHD? (And if you’re like me, do you then dismiss it as being ridiculous?) Well if you do- maybe you should look into it? It wouldn’t hurt. This is my favorite all-in-good-fun adult ADHD test. It won’t actually tell you anything- but it does give an excellent idea of what ADHD can look like- the grown-up version. Don’t’ go running to the doctor if you rack up too many points.. but if you find yourself screaming inwardly – “THIS IS MY TRIBE” well then hey- *shrug* maybe it is?
Also: If you are an adult- carefully consider your childhood. How was school for you? How was friend-making? Did you feel like you were always in trouble but never knew why? Or that everyone else knew some social secret that you didn’t? Do you change jobs often? Or not hold one down very well? Impulsive spending? Dangerous driving? (Do you drive “better” when you drive faster?) Impulsive/binge eating? Or forgetting to eat at all? How are your relationships? Have they always been a struggle? Hyper-sexual? Or Hypo-sexual? (“Yes! It’s all I think about!” or “Meh, I can’t really focus on it… kinda tortures me to try to care…” ). What about tasks? How many can you complete in a non-urgent setting? You can finish mundane things, oh yeah! Just only when you absolutely must, amiright?
Oh, here’s a really big one- How sensitive are you to rejection? (How long did it take you to recover from that break-up?) How much do you “not care” about making friends because that way, you don’t have to deal with being overlooked? How much physical pain do you experience when someone/something you care about rejects you somehow? Job loss? A loved one taking someone else’s side? Is it debilitating? Like- can’t sleep for weeks- cried tears for years kind of thing? “Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria” is an ADHD thing. Feel free to google it. It’s PAINFUL too. Yowza! It is still, to this day, the fiercest and most painful pain I have ever experienced. Yes worse than childbirth! No comparison. Childbirth doesn’t last for months/years…. it doesn’t feel like someone placed a shard of ice inside your heart. When I am in the throes of cold hard rejection (perceived or real- usually perceived maybe? Usually real maybe?) It feels as if I have sprained my heart somehow.
Oh, and hey! How is your self-care looking? Do you floss? (Have you ever???) How about teeth brushing and deodorant etc. Only when you absolutely must? Do you often accidentally forget? Or do you avoid it as long as possible? How does an average shower go? You wash your hair twice but forget to wash your body? Do you stand blissfully under the hot water for 25 minutes and only begin to wash when you realize you’re going to be late and that super helpful adrenaline rush hits you??
Oh! and how many times have you tried to change all of the above?? How many innovative attempts have you invented to stop yourself from impulsively buying things? How many times have you tried some new diet to keep from impulsively eating? How many alarms are set on your phone to remind you to eat? How many times did you try a new plan- some big fantastic system to keep your bills organized? Or to keep your home clean? Or your laundry done? How many new systems have you dreamed up to help heavy sleepers get out of bed in the morning? And help those who are perpetually late FINALLY be early to work? Or how many amazing business ideas have you come up with in order to avoid doing the work that ALREADY pays you? Or have you simply stopped caring about being on time/paying bills/being fit and healthy/budgeting because- to be honest- you just can’t emotionally handle failing at things anymore. It’s easier not to care- than to care and fail. and fail. and fail. and fail. and fail.
If you are staring at the screen right now dumbfounded because you didn’t know people’s lives were this messed up- you probably don’t have ADHD. If you can relate to a few things – or if you think “hey that could be me. I kinda do that too!” well then you probably don’t have ADHD. But.. if you are jaw-on-the-floor gobsmacked and maybe a little traumatized- because you didn’t know that a complete stranger could know you so intimately- “HOW DOES SHE KNOW THIS ABOUT ME???” or “Wow this is just bizarre. It’s crazy that she pinpointed me so well..” Well, then my friend, I would look into it. I could go on for MILES by the way- I’m missing a lot of things. And of course no two people are the same.. so I’m just doing my best here. But ADHD looks a lot different in adults than it does in children. It looks a lot like LAZY, MOODY, ON-THE-PHONE-ALL-THE-TIME, GOOD-FOR-NOTHING, KNOW-IT-ALL etc. And it’s killer on the ego. (But that’s okay because a lot of us have more ego than normal to compensate! p.s. it’s not really okay. It’s terrible. It was a figure of speech.)
Now, on a much simpler note: if the person you are concerned might have ADHD is a child- If you are very intelligent little loved one struggles in school- or seems emotionally deflated with friendships. If they are socially missing something- but you can’t pinpoint what it is? If they can blow a fuse or meltdown better than Mount Vesuvius, If you ask them to get dressed and it takes them 4 hours, Or if you are shocked sometimes to find them doing things that are entirely inappropriate; Well, I have something for you. This is the diagnostic test my son’s pediatrician asked me to take – it is also the same test my psychiatrist gave me regarding another child. You can take it and grade it- so if you wonder if a child has ADHD- (ADHD, Anxiety, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, or etc..) give it a go. It might help you get some answers. There is no single “test” to diagnose ADHD… so just try a bunch of them? If your child ends up on the shinier side of things more often then not.. it might be worth looking into? (Unfortunately- so many extra side notes like Depression, Anxiety, BiPolar disorder and so on and so forth often go hand in hand with ADHD. Le sigh).
Side note: So do sleeping problems! Up to 50% of children with ADHD have sleeping problems… I’m not sure why we don’t talk about this more often but this is real for me. I have had to literally “bore” myself to sleep all of my life.
Not to mention the insurmountable task of actually putting myself to bed. Changing tasks can be so tricky. (It’s called Executive Function Disorder and people with ADHD deal with it all day long. An example in my life is that, regardless of how well rested/how tired I am, going to bed is nearly impossible unless something/someone helps me along. And getting out of bed is also nearly impossible unless something/someone helps me along. I am not sure but I think binge eating/under-eating goes right along with this too.). My great (ahem) executive function is the exact reason I have started this blog to begin with! Lets finish a task!!! (Or at least find out if I can… more on that particular task later.) You see? I could go on and on and on.
Oh, just look into it you say? Just hand my kid some diagnosis so that I can get off the hook for parenting them poorly, is that what you are asking me to do? Just get myself some disorder so that I can have an excuse for being a lazy good-for-nothing-grump-head-who-is-fun-at-parties? No thanks. I’m not into “diagnosing away” poor decision-making and poor parenting.
STIGMA: You can teach someone to focus. (AKA: You can teach someone without legs to walk. Someone with poor eyesight to see.)
So what if I have ADHD? Doesn’t everyone nowadays?
STIGMA: We are all the same. Implying that ADHD isn’t real. Think of the Incredibles. “And when everyone is super, Noone will be.”
I would like to begin answering the question of whether or not everyone nowadays has ADHD by validating the fact that you likely have experienced every single symptom of ADHD- even if you don’t have it. You have probably felt busy, washed your hair twice in the shower, been highly affected by emotions, experienced sleeping difficulties, blurted out answers without raising your hand, butted into other people’s conversations, jumped up out of your chair at the end of a long meeting, been inconsolably devastated by rejection, and completely lost focus while someone was speaking directly to you. “I’m so sorry what? I was daydreaming. I didn’t hear you. Even though nobody else is in this room with us- I was still distracted beyond comprehension. Oops.”
These are normal human moments and they happen to everyone on occasion. Especially if you are preoccupied with something very pressing in your life. For example- you could have missed breakfast and been STARVING through that long meeting- which is why you bolted out of your chair. You could have been listening to that blatherer blather on and on and on for weeks and finally had enough- so you blurted out a response. You might be really worried about something, or very stressed, and agitated, which interrupts your sleep. (Not to mention caffeinated..) and so on and so forth.
These things all make perfect sense. It is in our nature, as humans, to experience these things- just like it is in our nature as humans to experience sadness and euphoria. We all experience sadness and euphoria- but we are not all Bipolar. We all get down or even feel depressed at times- but we do not all experience debilitating depression. We all have moments where we are lacking empathy and are consumed with our own needs- but we are not all sociopaths.
For me, that moment when I realized that I’m different was a game changer. I had always believed that everyone deals with these things (because they do!) but they were all just much better at overcoming life’s problems than I was. (Because they were!) It had never occurred to me that “they” were better equipped than I. Which caused me so much shame. And that stigma comes in, hard and heavy, when “they” also don’t realize the possibility that they might be better equipped- opting instead- to also believe that I should be able to do everything they can. It makes sense if you think about it… although it’s fundamentally wrong. But we all see the world that way at times. “If I can do it, so can they. I’m no greater than she.” (Yer darn right you aren’t! But that’s because you can do something she can’t. And she can do something you can’t. Not because you are all the same-abled. Tangent for another day..)
Let me explain it the way I have come to understand it. ADHD is a brain that is 100% focused, all the time, on getting its medication. It is a brain lacking dopamine- (so they think) and anything that causes a dopamine rush is what the ADHD brain is going to be seeking out. Starting an argument? Driving quickly? Running late? Adrenaline is the drug the brain needs. Stuck playing some stupid video game? Hyper-focused on planning some trip that you will likely never take? Or planning a trip and taking it even though you can’t afford it? Well, that’s the dopamine helping you out. Hyper-sexual? Can’t stay in a committed relationship? Love the chase? Tapping feet, moving, dancing, dreaming, imagining literally anything to make life more interesting- it’s all just a brain trying to get it’s much-needed gasoline so that it can start ‘er up.
While most people experience these things at times- (or even often-) the ADHD brain experiences them always- because as soon as the brain gets the juice it needs- well, unfortunately, it runs out again almost immediately. It’s the equivalent of only being able to put .25 gallons of gas in the tank. You fill it up and drive for a second- and then you’re back needing to fill up again. Oh, and the needing to fill it up again part is the WORST!!! Every single noise! Every single movement! Every single sensation- an itch, a hurt feeling, etc.. Every single one of those is a possible source of gasoline as far as the empty-brain is concerned… So your brain zeroes in on it all as if everything is life or death! Just as you would if you were stuck on the side of the road with an empty tank and a child in the car. “Maybe this person will stop to help? Maybe this one? Maybe this one? Maybe this one?” You might as well be slamming us over the head with every sense around us. “Brain-Juice? Brain-Juice? Brain-Juice? Alright, it will have to be home-made then… *shoots hand in the air* “Can I go to the bathroom?” *kicks the trashcan on the way out* “Brain-Juice? Brain-Juice? Brain-Juice?”
I hope I have done an okay job at explaining how ADHD is more extreme than the normal human distraction. And it happens much, much, much more often. In fact, chances are- you know that person around you who has ADHD- because they make you feel as if you have it too! The pencil tapping is hard to ignore- the blurting ruins your concentration, the random loudness makes you lose your train of thought, their frustrating tendencies make you lose your cool in a way that nobody else has ever been able to do, and so on and so forth. (But you also could find that person refreshing! So nice to take your mind off things for a while right? Unless you live with them of course… or work with them… Not to mention their ability to perceive the most subtle things at times- things nobody else has perceived about you so quickly).
Oh: and another take on the “doesn’t everyone?” question: Well it might actually feel like everyone in your family or circle DOES have it- because it’s an inherited trait. So, to me, it actually DOES feel like everyone has it. Until I met my husband and his side of the family anyway. So hey- maybe everyone in your world does? It’s not impossible….
If none of this anecdotal evidence means anything to you- from the “Book of Kathryn” – Well then how about the fact that the brain, as an organ, is literally constructed differently in people with ADHD? Or you might be interested to know that your brain is probably bigger than mine. And how about this interesting tidbit of recent information? It’s all just brain science stuff.
For the good, and concerned parent who could never give their child Meth!
STIGMA: The medication is worse than the disorder. So the disorder isn’t that serious. It would be better to “get over” the disorder another way.
Okay, friend, your concerns are legitimate. And before I attempt to respond, I need to make it extremely clear that I am not a doctor. (Obviously. I just need you to know that I KNOW this..) I have hyperfocused on this issue so I have some stores of random information in my brain- but I’m no expert. I can tell you what I have read/heard some experts say on this subject- (And I will!) But I want to very clearly iterate that yes, ADHD has some very general similarities across the board. But just like all human faces have general similarities across the board- (Noses, Mouths, Eyes- all recognizable as human faces..) we also all look perfectly unique. And so does our ADHD- and so do our treatment requirements. It’s actually a tricky process figuring out how to “medicate” ADHD. It often takes a lot of trial and error- it often can exacerbate anxiety and works less well on the more anxious types of people. (We are hypersensitive to discomfort after all.. and anxiety is very uncomfortable..) So- I am going to attempt to be as general as possible here- and I am going to attempt to channel my very many friends who are extremely concerned about ADHD medications for children. The following are actual comments from beloved friends. I hear you! If you have similar concerns- I hear you too! But for the sake of being true to myself- I am going to respond to them the same way I actually did, would, and do. I recognize that my way is a good way- but not the only way- to see this subject. Are we good? Endward Ho then.
“All of the kids around me are a bunch of Zombies. People medicating away their personalities.”
I will admit when I heard this comment I was startled. I hadn’t ever thought of it this way! Zombies? Hmm, I wonder what she means? This one happened a long time ago and I can’t recall my exact response- but here’s what I will say today. It can be really scary to see such dramatic changes in people we love. Especially when we have been. through. so. much. with. them. When we have grown to adore the prankster, the noise, and the constant stream of endless chatter (Talking as if propelled by an engine)- it can become eerily quiet when that dies down. Even creepily so. I think I get it.
However- you know what ADHD medications can do to neurotypical types? It can cause endless chatter, hyper-focus, pranks, noise-making and basically… ADHD. So, while you may feel like you have lost something (very temporarily! They will be right back this afternoon!) in the medication- I can say from experience that there is much much more than your child could be gaining from it.
I also want to say that hey- maybe your child does act like a zombie on it. This particular comment was made toward entire generations of children- but if you or your child have scary responses to medication of any kind- I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you to talk to a doctor right?
“I’m just not comfortable with the medicine. It is a controlled substance. It is just so intense. How can I give this to my child?”
Ok, so I have quite a few friends who have either said this to me directly- or who have said it to me without words. These caring and good parents will try everything else in order to avoid this step. Bravo moms and dads. You are great parents! And I know from experience that nothing I say is going to change your path, as well it shouldn’t. You will discover in your own way how to help your own child. However, just some points of information to help you along your journey. 1. This video, and this doctor explain very clearly on a molecular level how ADHD medications work, what is happening in the brain, and all kinds of really important things that parents of kids with ADHD should absolutely know. Pop up a bowl of popcorn and watch it. Bring a pencil and paper and write things down because it’s too full of information to remember it all. Trust me on this- just watch it. If you are looking for information on how to help your child (with and without medication) well- you will be remiss to have skipped out on this one.
Secondly- I have to express to you that, the way I understand it, literally everyone in this world, (aside from the 10% who have ADHD) take ADHD medication on the regular. It is dispensed via intravenous drip to us all- via the brain. All of us- excluding me of course. So while I need to get mine pharmacologically- that is only because I’m not getting my brain-gasoline the standard way- as you likely are. It really helps to know that we all take such heavy substances on a regular basis. It just puts it into perspective for me.
My last point on this matter is simply this; medication is the proven method of treatment. Along with different types of therapies. This will only mean something to you if you trust modern medicine/medical science. If you are very skeptical of it- then this discussion point isn’t going to mean much to you. But ADHD medication has been proven to be effective, safe over the long term, and even resulting in positive effects on the dopamine-deficient brain over time. It can help a young brain develop more normally in the long run than the unmedicated ADHD brain counterparts. here are many different studies that you can read to get some research under your belt if you are the researching type. And offering even harder evidence is the use of MRI machines to map out the physical differences in a brain with ADHD.
And finally- your child is not a guinnea pig. Children have been taking amphetamine salts to treat ADHD for around 40 years– a long enough time for scientists to see what the long-term effects of ADHD medication are on a young brain. Please research these things from modern-medical websites as well as the places you might prefer to look while deciding how to help yourself/your young’un. It’s not all black and white. The science itself is very interesting…. if not tedious and boring. Depending on how hefty your hyperfocus is at the time.
Now- on a personal note- the reason I even attempt to talk to people about this (It is their child after all. Why do I care?) is really heavy for me. I discovered my ADHD at the ripe old age of 37. Which means that I lived my entire childhood feeling inadequate, unliked, broken, and wrong. There is something so debasing over time about being the seemingly normal, intelligent young lady who literally never turns in her homework. This just is not a thing that seemingly normal, intelligent, 13-year-old girls do. The first few hundred times that you forget you had any homework (or lie because you just can’t bring yourself to do it) are traumatic enough. But then- when you work all night long on a science project only to leave it at home. When you finish the entire semester-long packet but forget your backpack on the bus. When you lost your coat somewhere during lunch and are the only kid awkwardly freezing during play time. When you are too loud and distracting to the other children- and they resent you for asking the question that was, unbeknownst to you, literally asked and answered immediately before you asked it. When you are too rough, and honestly- way too sensitive- it is murder on a child’s self-esteem. And you know what happened to me? By high school, I stopped caring at all about ANY OF IT. What is the point of doing homework if you are just going to forget it anyway? What is the point of caring about a project or getting good grades if you are just going to fail anyway? What is the point of trying to make friends if you are only going to annoy them anyway? This is why it never occurred to me NOT to try medication for my children. It was just so hard to fail and fail and fail and fail. I am still working on finding my wins- and re-vamping my idea of what a win actually looks like for me.
When I discovered my brain-problem- I spent a long time mourning the loss of my entire childhood. I mourned what could have been- if only I had been able to be inwardly still. That is the only reason I care. It’s my history- which, isn’t that all anyone has to go on?
And treating this issue has been very profoundly life-changing for me. I have always been very perceptive of small things. But taking my medication also showed me that I was missing so many big things! I felt more creative, and (for the first time) I also felt able to create! I felt able to hear a conversation and actually connect with the person speaking instead of bleeping out without realizing it. I could listen to my daughter finish her long sentence for the first time in my life- and it was only startling because I didn’t realize I hadn’t done it- until I did it. I spent my first few weeks on medication doing the same thing I did the first few weeks I had glasses. Just looking at the trees- and seeing all the leaves, and feeling amazed that I had never noticed them before. It felt like being color blind and finally seeing in color. It encompassed everything in my world in small but profound ways- and I am so grateful that it worked so well for me. My family will tell you that it has changed their lives too.
If you are choosing not to medicate your child there are resources out there. I haven’t gotten to that point yet because medications are working really well for now. But that doesn’t mean they will in the future. There are tons and tons of people, plugging along with their tiny brains, (kidding!) and winning their game. I’ll bet a big part of that has to do with lowering expectations. I wouldn’t know, I have never met a realistic expectation I didn’t accidentally shoot through the ceiling.
LASTLY: When ADHD doesn’t apply to you but ADD runs in your family.
Just as an FYI- there is no ADD anymore. It’s all ADHD but with subtypes. ADHD- Hyperactive-Impulsive type, Inattentive Type, and Combined type. So… if your child has ADD they also have ADHD, likely inattentive type. Le Sigh.
In the end, it is the stigma of feeling like other people view you as a bad parent- who can’t teach your child- that keeps people from trying medical ADHD interventions. And that stigma is quite elusive! Many times people won’t even realize there IS a stigma- “Nobody has a problem with ADHD. It’s just the overdiagnosis of it.” – boom. Stigma. “When someone really needs help is one thing, but it’s the parents who just can’t control their kids- and so they medicate them- that is my problem.” boom. Stigma. “Everyone has ADHD. We all do and we all deal with it.” boom. Stigma. These types of comments/thoughts are especially hurtful to someone who has a hypersensitivity to rejection- and you may find them closing right up about their struggles at even the slightest hint of a stigma comment. Nothing has blessed my life more than recognizing my disability for what it is and treating it. I consider it an intervention in my world of divine proportions! But I also know that I was divinely created this way. There is a reason some of us need to be more sensitive to the small things in this world. But how nice to have some peace from all the noise, and some stillness- and “access to my mind” as I like to say.
P.S. No actual friends were harmed in the making of this blog post.