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And Now for Something Completely Different - What I Wish People Understood about Living with ADHD

Living with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is difficult. A lot of folks will scoff at this and say "no, living with children with ADHD is difficult." "Everyone's a little ADHD." Or my personal favorite, "ADHD isn't real. Just try harder." So, what, right? It's not that big of a deal, it's just impulse control. The thing is, if you don't have it, you have no idea how difficult it is to be an adult living with ADHD. I'm always hesitant to talk about myself on this blog, as I generally like to keep it to nerd media. But after two and a half years, I think I've earned one serious post. If you don't have ADHD, congrats, it must be nice. You may think you know about it if you're close to someone who has it. I guarantee you don't, because they're doing everything they can to mask it. Because ADHD is one of those conditions no one really cares about; it's not deadly, it's not in the news, and you only really see it in kids (we'll get to why later). But the truth is living with it has become increasingly difficult over the past decade, and here's what I wish more people understood about people like me. Sources at the bottom for the folks who inevitably think I'm making all this up.

  1. ADHD is real: It's a neurological disorder involving a chemical imbalance in the brain which results in hyperactivity and problems paying attention. There are arguments over exactly what causes ADHD, but it's generally accepted to be genetic. However, those are just the symptoms everyone knows about. The one that truly interferes with my life is how it screws with executive function. You know, that cognitive process in the brain that lets people do simple everyday tasks like plan ahead and keep time? Mine is, I hesitate to say is damaged, but it's certainly running on a different operating system. 1A - This chemical imbalance is tied to depression and anxiety: So I'm inclined towards those issues, and the way the world is not designed for folks with ADHD often exacerbates the problem. 1B - I feel emotions more intensely than normal people: This is called hypersensitivity, it's why kids with ADHD can seem so manic. The average kid often has trouble controlling their emotions, now realize a kid with ADHD is hypersensitive to everything they feel all day everyday. We don't lose that as we get older, we just get better at controlling it. But that just means people don't see it. It generally leads to a lower quality of life for adults. Including "reduced marital status and a higher risk of traffic accidents and arrests."

  2. My brain is always on: I can't count the number of times I've been called scatterbrained, or told I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached. The thing is, the reason for this is because I process information differently than the rest of you. Most people can pick and choose what stimuli to focus on and block out everything else. I can't do that. I experience ALL the stimuli AT ONCE, all day, every day, AND I HAVE NO WAY OF SHUTTING IT OFF. You know how tired you get when you have to process too much information? I call that Tuesday. My senses are always on overload, so I always have a million thoughts going on at once. It's why I get distracted so easily. I'm trying to pick something out of the avalanche of information crashing into me. 2A - I think faster than I can speak: My thoughts will inevitably get ahead of what I'm trying to talk about, which is why I often trip up when I talk. Everyone is discussing problem A, I am trying to join the discussion about A, but my mind is already on problem G. And because my mind works that fast, it's very hard to calm down. This may come as a shock, but I don't get a lot of sleep.

  3. Everyday tasks are difficult for me: The little things that normal people take for granted like time management, remembering all the tasks needed to get through the day, interacting with people, doing that thing you promised to do (you know the thing I'm talking about). For most of you it's no big deal. For me it all piles up, and since it's too much to process (because again, I'm having a stimulus overload 24/7), my memory will get rid of information that isn't relevant to whatever the immediate task is. If it's not in front of me, I'll forget about it, because it doesn't have anything to do with the current task. Example, let's say you have three things to do in a day, A, B and C. There is more than enough time to complete all these things. But A is incredibly important, B is pretty important, and C is important, but not urgent. I'll often forget C because I'm doing everything I can to remember A and B. After which I get in trouble, and usually yelled at, for forgetting about C. 3A - This makes the modern world very difficult to engage with: Almost every job is "fast paced" nowadays, and I can't do fast paced. I'll always make a small mistake that leads to more mistakes until management decides I'm either irresponsible or incompetent. 3B - Holding down a job is becoming nearly impossible: If every job is fast paced, and most are nowadays, people with ADHD are being set up for failure. It doesn't matter how qualified I am, the hyper senses lead to being overwhelmed which leads to screw ups. So, when I do get a job, it tends to be one on the lower end, and that can make having a normal life difficult. I have a Bachelor's Degrees in Paralegal Studies, and I graduated with a decent GPA. I am not a stupid person. But the world of modern law is so fast paced that I couldn't keep up. I stopped counting the number of Law jobs and assignments I was let go from because I couldn't keep up with everything thrown at me. Based on conversations I've had with other adults with ADHD, this seems to be universal. The handful of jobs that ARE high up the ladder which people like me can excel at are excessively difficult to get into. Which itself leads to a host of other problems that compound everything. 3C - Medication doesn't "fix" me or take away ADHD's symptoms. What it does is allow me to function. It balances out the chemicals just enough that I can walk out the door and maybe interact with someone.

  4. I don't understand my own thought process: Don't ask how I come up with my ideas, I don't know. I remember a supervisor once saying to me "Jason, I don't understand your thought process." I remember thinking "Lady, I don't understand my thought process." If you're baffled by how I come to the conclusions that I do, so am I. 4A: This also means you can tell me something, and I'll often hear something else unless you give me exact, precise, instructions. A generalized "do this," will often lead to a misunderstanding.

  5. Controlling executive function is exhausting: A normal person doesn't have to worry about their executive functions, it just comes naturally because yours works properly. I have to expend energy to remember or plan pretty much anything, while also keeping my hypersensitivity under control. Even at my best, it's never enough because I'll screw up something. Usually the time. I have to do this every day.

  6. I experience time differently: This is one most folks are completely unaware of. A normal person experiences time linearly. Past, Present and Future. I don't. I understand the concept of linear time, but it's not how my brain processes it. For me there is only Now, and Not Now. That's why people with ADHD are always being told "you have to learn to be patient." It's not merely impatience or "learning maturity," it's that for most people its a point in the future that you can see, for people like me its "Not Now," with no definitive end date. For example, let's say there's something you've waited a decade for, that career you've been working towards, or maybe that fantasy novel to come out because the TV adaptation got ahead of the books and showrunners botched the finale so royally that it went from unstoppable cultural juggernaut to dead franchise overnight; but I digress. The point is ten years later, it still hasn't happened. You'd probably start to get at least a little impatient right? Now imagine that, but for ten years it's "Not Now," which until it happens is basically "Not Forever." There's effectively no difference for me. So anytime someone tells me "not now isn't not forever," something I've lost count of, that person is basically lying.

  7. I don't understand subtlety or social cues: One of the ways adults with ADHD tend to hide it is by staying quiet. Because the unwritten social norms that everyone else knows innately, I have no understanding of. When I was a kid, I'd often say something I shouldn't have that either got me in trouble, or made other kids mad, and I wouldn't understand why. This is why I don't have a lot of friends; I can't make them easily since most people don't want me around. So, I stay quiet, and keep to myself, which makes it even harder to meet people. Because of this, the few friends I do have, I tend to be extremely loyal to. And again, based on many conversations I've had with other adults with ADHD, I'm pretty sure this is universal. You may have noticed a pattern where a lot of what people have to deal with tends to reinforce itself in loops. Which continually makes it worse. Must be nice not having to deal with that. 7A - Social cues include flirting: I don't know how to flirt, and I have no idea if someone is flirting with me. Literally the only way I will understand if someone is interested in me would be for that person to come up to me and say, "Hey, I'm interested in you." This can be particularly difficult for those in a religious community with certain expectations. Which brings us to…

  8. Religion is a double-edged Sword: There's a part of me that REALLY doesn't want to put this up here, because religion is one of those third rails I try to avoid in polite conversation. And that's exactly why I'm putting this here, because the most difficult truths are often the ones we don't want to talk about. I'm not putting this here to bash religion, I'm putting it here because there's a lot of ways in which religious communities can fail people with ADHD, and end up harming them, as well intentioned as they may be. There are positive things about religion, for a lot of people it adds meaning to their lives, gives them a sense of purpose, and fosters a sense of community. These are good things. However, life is not a one-size-fits-all solution. And at least in my experience, there's too many Churches (at least in American Protestantism) that DO believe that. 8A - You can't pray ADHD away: I'm sure that's blasphemy to some, but you can't. Believe me, a lot of us have tried. It doesn't work. 8B - You can't pray depression away either. 8C - What's expected does not always work for someone with ADHD: As mentioned above, I don't understand social cues, or flirting, or anything like that. So dating is already difficult. For adults with ADHD in a religious community that has expectations about how relationships work, that's a recipe for disaster. It tends to lead to a lot of heartbreak, frustration, and possibly ostracization. 8D - "God's timing," (a favorite among many Pastors) is complete bullshit if you only experience time as Now, and Not Now.

  9. Relationships are difficult: Because of my eccentricities, and habit of saying the wrong thing, as mentioned earlier, it's hard for people like me to make friends. But it's not just friends, family can get frustrated with us, and honestly, sometimes even our friends need a break. Romance is even more difficult. First there's the barrier of not understanding social cues and signals. Then there's finding someone actually willing to put up with us, because despite trying our best, there will be days where it's difficult and we can't help that. Now combine that with certain personality types that already struggle with relationships, like INTJ for example (which I am), a relationship can feel nearly impossible.

  10. Hyperfocus: The one semi-positive aspect of ADHD and the complete opposite of my inability to pay attention. When I'm really engaged with something I find interesting, I will focus on it to the point where I literally block everything else out of my mind. I won't hear anyone else; I won't think of anything else. In my case this usually happens when I'm writing, and it lets me get a lot done. The downside, because of course there's one, is in a work or school environment where I focus so much on the task given that I'd forget about the others.

  11. Half of the time I'm bored out of my mind: This is part of my inability to focus, and why kids with ADHD always seem to be daydreaming and are always getting in trouble for not paying attention. I have to be interested in something to pay attention, again, because I'm experiencing all the stimuli at once. If it's something I don't care about, my brain says, "this is irrelevant," and starts wandering. It's something I can't control, and neither can all the kids constantly catching shit by their teachers for it.

This is my experience living with ADHD, and I know it's similar for many (if not most) others who have to live with it. So please understand, I'm not trying to be rude, or obnoxious, or flaky, or blowing you off when I'm constantly late or forgetting that thing. I'm not trying to forgo friendships or relationships. I'm simply trying to get through the day without falling apart, and that's getting increasingly difficult as society continues to move at a faster and faster pace.


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