Adult ADD - My Story
Let me preface this with the fact that I am not a medical professional, and do not provide any diagnosis. That is for professionals to do. This article is meant to present a few things I have learned, and show what ADD and its recent diagnosis have done to change my life.
For many years, I have suspected that I may suffer from some form of ADD, but it was a self-diagnosis based on minimal information received when my eldest daughter was first diagnosed with the condition. My extreme forgetfulness for things that were important, coupled with difficulty paying attention at times, led me to believe that I had long been suffering from this affliction. But I had never, to my knowledge, been diagnosed with it, and really, I was the one who needed to do more to correct these issues. I couldn't blame my actions on a condition that I only suspected I might have.
In recent years, I have had a number of things happen that made me feel as though I was simply unambitious, and unable to maintain the focus and drive necessary to have a normal life. Like others, I started to think I was lazy and that my impulsive actions were going to destroy me. I forgot important dates and appointments, was frequently late for things, including work, could not seem to remember to pay bills or keep track of money, made impulsive and reckless decisions, and could never seem to organize my time to prioritize tasks appropriately.
Of my last four jobs, I have been fired from 3 for various reasons. It was becoming a pattern, and one that I drastically needed to fix, right away!
My most recent job was one that I thoroughly enjoyed, that combined my love for helping people, with technical aspects, and a company culture that rewards innovation, creativity and going above and beyond to achieve amazing results for their customers. It was what I had been looking for ever since I discovered my patience in teaching others, and my technical knowledge could be combined into a career.
Unfortunately, in an act that most would call stupid and irresponsible, I lost this job; fired, with cause, for breach of company rules. I wasn't unaware of the rule, and I understood why they decided to fire me. But it was another in a long line of good jobs that I had lost over the course of the past 15 or so years, and the third of four jobs in the last 4 years.
So what was it that was contributing to my seeming impetuousness and impulsiveness that was on course to derail my life and lose all of the things that were most important to me? My home, my friends, my partner, my daughters?? I was on track to lose it all!!!
My girlfriend was, understandably, upset with me. She had been supportive and understanding the last time I had been fired, but this was becoming too much! She wondered if I simply didn't want to be happy, or if I had some sort of stroke or aneurysm that would explain my improper behavior. I couldn't answer, so I went to my doctor to ask for help! A pattern of destructive behavior was forming, and I needed to put a stop to it!
I went to my doctor and explained the situation, and that this most recent firing had made me feel very despondent and ashamed of myself for my actions that I felt I could not control. She decided that there was merit to be assessed and sent me to a psychiatrist who suggested that I had signs of Adult ADHD. I had been unaware that this was a possibility, so I started looking into it more to see what I could discover.
What is ADD?
ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. Similarly, ADHD is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In most cases, nowadays, the two terms are meant to signify the same affliction in those who have it - an inability to focus on tasks, and at times, the inability to remain sitting still. Some people have labelled those with ADD/ADHD as simply disruptive and not well behaved, but the truth is far from being that simple.
In boys, the rambunctious and overactive child who can't sit still is the typical poster child for ADD, but less well known are the dreamy types who also suffer from ADD. They aren't the typically disruptive ones who everyone sees. These are the people who are told that they have potential, but are not living up to it, or are wasting the "God-given talents" that they have been given. They will daydream and seem far away at times, appearing uninterested in what is going on around them. They are noticed less frequently because of the fact that they are not drawing attention to themselves.
Scientifically, there is still much to be learned about what causes ADD/ADHD, and many believe that there are chemicals in the brain that are working differently in those with the disorder than in the majority of the populace. Where most people are able to keep their attention on a task, those with ADD have a greater degree of difficulty doing so.
In many things I have read, people with ADD/ADHD have many things all running through their heads at the same time, and so jump from thought to thought and task to task. It is like a constant barrage of information and thoughts all trying to be heard and seen at the same time.
In myself, it feels like there is a crowd of people all around me who are all talking to me at the same time and trying to get my attention. I could think of a song, hear words from a movie, see the face of a clown, have an odd sentence go through my head at random intervals, but always with the same inflection, and be trying to think of the seven different things I would want to accomplish the next day - few of which I would actually accomplish - all while trying to pay attention to my girlfriend talk to me, and attempt to block out the sounds of the TV and the four kids. There was so much going on inside and outside, there was often nothing I cold do to keep my focus properly on what was right in front of me. Since realizing what was going on was not the norm, I have started to call this my "chaos".
When treated for the disorder many patients are actually given stimulant medications. Where this would normally cause someone to become more restless and active, it will often have the opposite affect on those with ADD/ADHD, and allow them to focus, pay attention and stay on task. The first stimulant medication I was prescribed by my doctor actually made my chaos stop for a while. It was like my brain was able to reset, take a break, and actually focus on a single item at a time! It was a wonderful awakening!
ADD in my life
I was told recently that I had been diagnosed with ADD when I was a child, and I had been prescribed Ritalin to combat the affects of the disorder. I don't remember using any medication when I was a child, but my mother claims that the drug changed my personality, which she did not like, so she took me off of the prescription. Through the next 30+ years, unbeknownst to me, ADD then had a great effect on various aspects of my life.
I have always been forgetful, and this was explained as a family trait - my grandmother was forgetful, as was my father. With the research I have done, I know now that ADD/ADHD is often hereditary, so it is likely that the two of them were/are afflicted with it as well. I am not a medical professional trained in this field, however, so this is simply a guess based on observation.
Throughout school I was told how intelligent I was, and that I was capable of great things if I put my mind to them. I would try, but I could not stay focused in class long enough to learn what I was supposed to, and I often left projects to the last minute, or forgot them altogether. I was good at absorbing information, however, so on tests I would often do well in spite of missing all or most of the classwork. What I heard, even when not paying attention, stuck with me, so I got by and passed each grade. I was in a "gifted" class for a while, based on the results of an I.Q. test administered in 5th grade, but I had to drop out of it in 8th grade based on my inability to follow through on project work and general school work.
I was often told that I was wasting my potential, and at one point in 10th grade, was even accused of doing drugs! I was appalled that it was even suggested, at the time, as I did not even smoke, or drink, and had certainly never used any form of illicit drug. But my behaviour did seem to fit the pattern - unable to stay focused, missing classes, late all the time, homework not getting done, daydreaming and seeming like I was in another world. Yet I would pass the tests, and was able to think outside of the box at times, so they knew I wasn't learning disabled, just seemingly unambitious and lazy!
Throughout my high school years I also stole from people within my house - we lived in a large, open concept house that had several different people renting rooms. Not really a boarding house, but in some ways it probably seemed that way. I had a tendency to break into people's rooms and look through their stuff for various things - often it was pornography or sex related books that I looked for, and found, and then stole. I was caught, may times, and punished in many different ways, but for some reason I kept doing it. I KNEW it was wrong, but I never seemed to be able to control myself and felt bad afterwards, and thought I must be stupid for having done it in spite of knowing the potential consequences.
Again, this is another of the signs that are often connected to people with ADD/ADHD. Risky behaviours and impulsive decisions, followed by remorse and self-reproach for having done it. People would call you stupid, so then you would start to believe it and say it to yourself as well.
Finally, I entered the working world and started my career as a computer programmer. Early in my career, I was ear-marked to become a database administrator, mentored by one of the best in the industry in my city. However, after my productivity dropped, I started arriving consistently late for work, and in spite of great work that I could and often did accomplish, my rise to fame quickly plateaued and then declined. I was able to find work in the U.S. at much higher rates of pay based on my knowledge and ability as a programmer - and the Y2K rush - but again, lack of follow-through, tardiness, and great aspirations that ended as dismal near failures led to the end of my career as a programmer/analyst.
More recently, with a few successful ventures with some companies as a telephone technical support agent, I have also had failures in which I have been my own worst enemy, creating the circumstances that led to being dismissed. In some cases, my personal life and extremely stressful situations helped lead me there, but in some cases it was simply bad judgement and inappropriate workplace behaviour.
This pattern is repeated throughout my life, and the lives of many people who don't know that they have this disorder. While my story is not the same for everyone, many people with ADD/ADHD will see some parts of my story in themselves as well, and I in theirs, undoubtedly.
Treatment for ADD/ADHD
While medications are a possible start, at least for some people, for the treatment of ADD/ADHD, it is not the only part of treatment. Medication can provide some relief of symptoms, but a full treatment plan must consist of a number of steps; medication can only do so much for the treatment.
As well as getting the "chaos" to lessen, the patient with ADD/ADHD must learn to cope with the other issues associated with their disorder such as:
- poor ability to deal with frustration;
- forgetfulness (did I say that already?)
One thing that the ADD/ADHD afflicted must learn is how to make sure things get done. Lists are an important part of this, and learning to check this list is also an important step. I have often tried to use lists to organize myself, through my life, but often forgot to make them, or to check them once made. This is a skill I am still learning, but it has made a vast improvement in what I am able to get done in a day.
One book that I am reading called "Driven to Distraction" mentioned a mechanism to cope with incoming mail is to employ the OHIO method: Only Hold It Once! This a great method to ensure that mail is dealt with immediately and not forgotten - the mess of piles that is the ADD-ers desk will lose that bill payment and not find it until the car has been repossessed and the phone has been turned off!
Disorganized desks are an eyesore, to be sure, and are the bane of anyone, including the person with ADD who created the disorganization in the first place! While we often "know" where something is and in which pile, we will discover when looking for it, that it is not there. Creating an organized space is crucial, and will lead to greater benefits in the long run.
Finally, no athlete can ever achieve greatness without a great coach! So it is with those with ADD/ADHD. Whether it is a psychiatrist or doctor, or good friend who is there to help you organize, stay focused, and help you learn to deal with the hand you were given, the coach is vital to your treatment plan and road to recovery. For now, my doctor is the starting point, but my partner, Sarie, has been a life-saver, helping me remember what I need to, helping me organize and stay focused, helping me feel like I am not the loser so many people made me feel I was, and coaching me in how to beat the disorder instead of letting the disorder beat me down.
If this helps even one person feel as if they are not alone, and they can begin to understand who they are, or it gives them the understanding to speak with their medical professional to get the diagnosis and treatment to make their life better, then this article has been well worth the writing!