It wasn’t until our oldest child was diagnosed with ADHD about 2 or 3 years ago that I realized I might have it. I anticipate that I will use this space to talk about living with ADHD, so today I wanted to give you some background.
As part of the diagnosis process for our oldest child, we had to fill out a questionnaire as the parent. As I was starting to fill out the questionnaire, I realized that several of the questions seemed to describe me. When our child received the diagnosis, I asked the psychiatrist if ADHD was hereditary, and when he said yes, something clicked inside.
I started researching ADHD, and as I did so, I became sure that I had it. I visited my family doctor and received a referral to a psychiatrist for a formal diagnosis. I met with a psychiatrist a little over a year ago, but because I couldn’t provide any evidence that I had symptoms as a child and because I was using tools to manage what seemed to be symptoms to me (such as email, to-do lists, reminders, etc), he said he couldn’t diagnose me and wasn’t even confident I had it.
I gave up. I stopped pursuing it and just resigned myself to being bored and forgetful. But then, for some reason, a few months ago, I started doing more research into it—much more comprehensive research—and I started to realize how many symptoms I actually had. I even started to recognize behaviour from when I was a child that seemed to be ADHD symptoms.
One of my favourite resources during my research was the YouTube channel “How to ADHD”. I was turned onto Jessica’s channel through a TED Talk she did.
Her YouTube channel is pretty cool. You should check it out.
I also began to see the same symptoms in most of our children and even in my spouse. Our second oldest met with our doctor late last year, and while we were there, I asked for another referral for me, too.
I met with the psychiatrist yesterday. It was a much different experience, probably partially because I was better prepared. He diagnosed me on the spot. And it was so validating.
So, why do I think I have ADHD? Well, let’s discuss how the common ADHD symptoms manifest in my life.
This is something I’ve noticed only recently. Until I realized I might have ADHD, I just assumed my memory issues were due to aging. I have a hard time remembering names. I struggle with words sometimes, which is ironic since I’m a professional copywriter. But struggling with words is why I either need to write out my remarks for public speaking engagements or—if the address is short—rehearse it in my head dozens of times.
It goes beyond names and words though. I constantly forget tasks and events. If it wasn’t for the systems I’ve put in place to remind myself, I’d forget deadlines, events, and even my children’s extracurricular classes. As it is, I still forget things. I forgot to include the chocolate chips in the chocolate pancakes I made this morning. I forgot to put on my long johns and an extra pair of socks before taking my dog for a walk this frigid morning. Twice in the past week or so, I forgot to turn on the washing machine, even though I had filled it with clothes, put soap in, and set the dials. A week ago, I forgot to close the back hatch of our minivan, and it remained open in the parking lot during the entire hour and a half we were in ballet class. This sort of thing happens all the time.
Even so, I often will end up in a room or in an empty browser tab and forgot why I ended up there.
This probably isn’t as much of an issue for me as it is for others. It manifests for me in two ways: touching others and purchases.
I have conditioned myself to touch no one else but my family. But I still have urges to fix the shirt collar of the person sitting in front of me in church or to pick off the hair from the person’s sweater who sits in front of me on the bus. I’ve learned to just wait for the urges to pass. For family, it’s mostly just tickling.
Purchases have been the most damaging impulsive actions and have cost us considerable debt. From purchasing a collection of 100 comics from a friend when I was in high school to a brand new set of encyclopedias. Signing up for a yearly gym membership; signing up for a year’s supply of groceries (delivered all at once), including a deep freeze; signing up for an ICS computer course; taking out a $40,000 business loan for a business we didn’t properly research; and so on.
For that matter, we impulsively moved to Lethbridge, and nearly impulsively moved to Duck Lake, SK; Ponteix, SK; and St. John’s, NL.
Having a detailed family budget (broken down by months and weeks) has helped us deal with this for the most part. It helps us keep our spending in check.
Poor emotion regulation
I’ve had a temper for as long as I can remember. I was impatient as a teenager, and my girlfriend and I fought often. I get easily frustrated and lose my temper when it happens. Anyone who has seen me try to repair or build something that takes too long and isn’t working properly has seen me lose control. I lost it on Mary during our honeymoon while we were setting up our tent.
I’ve been able to deal with my regulation problems mostly through mindfulness. I try to be aware of things that annoy and frustrate me and try to sit with them. Deep breaths and pausing help, too.
I try to be patien as my ADHD children take longer than normal to stutter through something they want to tell me. I try to remind myself that my ADHD children aren’t purposefully trying to annoy me by not doing their chores properly. When someone does something that would normally annoy me, I try to engage with them on it; rather than react immediately, I try to ask them questions to get them to open up about their emotions and thought process.
Today, my fidgeting is generally restricted to tapping my fingers (either on a surface or on each other) and chewing the inside of my cheek or my lips. However, I also lick my lips, and will take apart pens or phone cases as a way to fidget.
When I was younger, I would bounce my leg a lot, and I also would chew pen lids and the ends of pens. I don’t typically do these anymore.
One thing that people with ADHD seek is dopamine. One source of dopamine is the newness of relationships, which can cause fidelity issues and short relationships. For me, however, particularly when I was a teenager, it manifested itself in my becoming infatuated with girls who expressed interest in me, even if it was just to be a close friend. I interpreted their friendliness and closeness as romantic interest, and I would entertain it as such. Most of the time, they’d reciprocate the interest, phoning me, dancing multiple times with me at church dances, writing me notes at school, and so on. But when I went too far (asking them to the prom, suggesting I might buy them flowers and have them delivered to them at school, etc), I’d hear the inevitable, “Uh, actually, I have a boyfriend.”
The two long-term relationships I have had have been with women who didn’t rebuff me when I escalated things. And my current relationship—which has lasted for 24 years—has been able to provide me with enough dopamine to keep me engaged. Mary and I try to keep interest alive in one another, and I still get excited when she walks in the door from school.
Lack of focus
Along with memory, lack of focus is one of my biggest issues. I am easily distracted and easily bored. I don’t do well in lecture-style situations, which makes church meetings challenging, since that’s the typical format. It also made high school and university challenging. Classes that were hands on and interactive were much easier for me.
Being easily distracted can also be a problem with work. Luckily, my current workday is filled with multiple projects for multiple clients, so it mitigates some of my tendency to get distracted. It’s nice to have found a career that can accommodate my ADHD challenges.
This has not been something I’ve struggled with since I was 18. Something clicked when I was 18, and I started keeping my spaces clean and organized. My office is organized, my dresser is organized, my computer desktop is organized, my file folders are organized, and so on. I’ve learned over the years that if I don’t keep organized, I lose control: I lose things, I miss deadlines, I forget events, I don’t pay bills, and so on. I’ve found organization systems that work for me, inspired by Bullet Journal and Getting Things Done.
ADHD manifests in 3 ways for me regarding language: stuttering, interrupting, and finishing others’ sentences.
I first noticed my stuttering when I was 12. It’s not severe, but my tongue often gets tied up when I start thinking faster than I can speak. I just take a moment to pause, and I start again.
I don’t really interrupt anymore, but I used to do this all the time. Studying debating techniques (particularly two debate classes in high school) and being a drama major are what helped me with making sure I wait my turn to speak. I still have to force myself to do this though.
Finishing others’ sentences is sort of related to interrupting, but I generally do it only if the person stops talking partway through their sentence, which my spouse has a tendency to do.
Hyperfocusing has been something I’ve dealt with for longer than I can remember. When I was younger, I’d get so caught up in something that it would be near impossible for my parents to get my attention. I still deal with this.
I have been known to get so focused on things that I skip lunch on Saturdays. I also often end up having to pee really badly because I work until the last possible second on projects.
It comes in handy though. It’s what makes me a decent cook. It helps keep me (and the household) organized. It helps me save money on gas when running errands. It makes for planning fun road trips.
I actually hyperfocused when I thought of writing this blog post. I was only diagnosed yesterday, and since then I’ve thought about sharing my story online (both through the blog and through YouTube), and in the process, I’ve come up with a dozen topics to talk about. Over the next few weeks and months, I hope to publish a weekly blog post and weekly videos covering those topics and probably expounding on some of the topics I touched on today. As an ADHD parent of 6 children (5 of whom likely also have ADHD) and an ADHD spouse of someone who I am confident also has ADHD, I think there will be plenty of content ideas to draw on.
I’m no ADHD expert, but I know what I’ve experienced. And as someone who has spent 45 years with ADHD without realizing it and who inadvertently developed processes that have helped me manage and even harness it, I hope that things I have to say will be useful to someone.
What are your experiences with ADHD? Do you have children with ADHD? A spouse? A co-worker? Do you have ADHD? Tell me more in the comments below.