(I preface this by saying that this is my story, and I am not making light of the suffering encountered by many people. See a doctor for a proper assessment and treatment options that are viable for YOU. -CD)
A friend said that recently and I thought, who the heck loves having ADHD?
I get distracted; I have a gazillion great ideas that I’ve never started or finished, I get impatient, I interrupt or cut people off while they’re speaking, I feel like everything has to be done NOW, I have piles of stuff everywhere trying to be organized. How could I possibly love that?
I was diagnosed with ADHD in my early thirties and never believed it to be true. It was a kid’s condition. I brushed it off as a result of video games, music videos, a work culture that valued multitasking and a never-ending to-do list. I never pursued it, focusing rather on treating the also-diagnosed depression. I love neuroscience and everything to do with the brain, but I never educated myself on the comorbidity, the co-existence of the two, which is a common occurrence. Until recently. (Thank you Covid for the time to explore!)
I have the combined type of ADHD; a bit of the “AD”, a bit of the “H”.
This brings me to my first point:
Don’t let a label define you!
I’m not always distracted. Sometimes I’m hyper-focused, like a dog with a bone. Put in the same situations, my responses vary. Getting diagnosed is an opportunity to be aware and make changes and get help; it is not a reason or rationale or an excuse. “Oh I can’t do x, y, z because I have ADHD.” I used the behaviours that are typically associated with ADHD as a justification for so much in my life instead of learning more about it, learning about neurodivergence. I LOVE the inclusivity of that term which allows for the vast diversity of humans and refers to the equality of all possible mental states without labelling our differently wired brains as lesser or disabled or abnormal. We are released from the heavy burden of “suffering from/with” to living with. And just maybe they don’t need to be corrected as much as better understood and adapted to. I read somewhere recently that we don’t have an attention deficit but rather an attention abundance that just needs to be controlled. That is an empowering notion!
Which leads to my second point:
ADHD has its perks!
I’m not going to lie to you. It can suck when I want to work on something and can’t focus, when there are so many stimuli that I can’t process anything, and my brain feels like a pinball machine with noises and flashing lights and so much activity that I’m not sure where to start. But I am grateful for traits often correlated with ADHD like resilience, compassion, being a good conversationalist, sharp-witted, always providing a different perspective and a willingness to fight for what I believe in. A lot of creatives and athletes have ADHD: Howie Mandel, Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps have all been open about this and how the hyper-focusing aspect of ADHD is the “zone” that we often aspire getting into for peak performance.
And lastly, point number three:
We need to talk openly about Mental Health
Having a discussion around mental health and any struggles is still not commonplace. For those who are living with challenges, it is hard to reach out when you’re in the middle of the storm. I’m hoping the more we share our stories and have these conversations over coffee, on a beach, after spin class, in blog posts, that it becomes just another thing we chat about rather than being elevated to a big, scary topic; something as casually spoken about as what movie we should go see or our most recent eye exam and the great glasses we picked up!
When I was diagnosed in the 90s, ADD was just becoming known. Mistakes were made with misdiagnoses, over-medication and many other problematic responses. It has come a long way since then. There are great resources out there for self-education around the VASTness (VAST is an acronym that is being suggested as a replacement for the term ADHD and stands for Variable Attention Stimulus Trait) of ADHD. It’s not a one size fits all sort of thing, and it morphs and changes depending on a variety of factors. Strategies from medications to aromatherapy, the foods we eat, music and art therapy and getting regular exercise all play major roles in living with ADHD. (Again, please seek professional assistance for diagnoses and treatments.)
So, on the days that my brain is alight with ideas, I grab a paper and pen and jot them down. Sometimes the ideas can lead to a post like this. I hope sharing my story helps others realize that they are not alone or helps people look at their mental health challenges with curiosity and an openness and willingness to delve deeper and not be ashamed or embarrassed.
I’m not quite as far along as my friend on the path of acceptance; I can’t say I love my ADHD but I’m getting there! One of my challenges is finishing tasks. So I’ll finish here, a little open-ended so that you can sit with this quietly and so can I. Maybe I’ll write more about it, maybe you’ll think about it, and maybe we can chat about this some more in future. Till then, be safe, be kind, be well.