I have been dealing with ADHD for my entire life. I don’t have the physically hyperactive, I have the mentally hyperactive variety. It’s called inattentive, meaning that my mind is working overtime to the point that I either can’t focus, or it hyperfocuses when it decides it is really interested in something. The best description I’ve ever heard is somebody has control of the channel selector and can’t decide what to watch until they find something they like and then they lock into the channel and bingewatch.
ADHD is primarily a developmental disorder which affects the executive function part of the brain. As a result executive function which helps us prioritize, make good decisions, etc doesn’t work as well as it does for a neurotypical (the ADHDer term for you Muggles) person. The main thing that helps it is dopamine, which is triggered by a lot of things, most of which involving novelty, which is why ADHDers are attracted to things like video games and action sports. Lots of action! I remember being instantly attracted to anything new and different when I grew up in the 60s and 70s.
Most of the medications for ADHD are stimulants which help restore the brain’s dopamine levels or allow it to make better use of the supply it has. They can be a real godsend. Unfortunately if someone doesn’t have access to medication, they may try to self-medicate with things like drugs, alcohol or risky behavior.
ADHD comes with a whole bunch of comorbidities, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and something called rejection sensitive dysphoria. Suffice it to say, it’s just one big wheeee!
Often ADHD people have trouble in social situations because they miss a lot of social cues that other people seem to read without even thinking about it. They end up getting a lot more corrections than most people, which can destroy their self esteem, and make them feel they can’t do anything right.
One estimate is that the average ADHD child will recieve over 3000 corrections per year. That works out to over 50, 000 negative messages by the time the person turns 18. Those can become internal tapes which play over and over again in their head, which can leave them susceptible to depression and anxiety. Therapy and medications help, but if untreated, this can turn into social anxiety where the person avoids social situations because they don’t want to risk the rejection or criticism they’ve come to expect.
This isn’t helped by the rejection sensitive dysphoria I mentioned earlier, which means they feel rejection and criticism more intensely than people without ADHD. This can lead to them trying to A) be perfect to avoid criticism, or B) people pleasers incapable of saying no.
This can also lead to procrastination because it takes the adrenalin of a deadline to get an ADHD person to focus long enough to work continuously. Concentrating for an extended period of time is really difficult for people with ADHD, their brains just aren’t built that way.
With inattentive type I tend to zone out, lost in my own thoughts. Frequently it looks like I’m staring at something, but the truth is, I’m not seeing it because my brain is busy doing something else. It may look like I’m doing nothing, but in my head I’m really busy. This can cause problems in meetings because my mind goes elsewhere when it should be on the meeting. In other words, I’m not absent minded, I’m just present minded somewhere else.
There are things I like about ADHD. It allows me to make connections that other people don’t see because I’m constantly changing channels and comparing things that may not be obvious to other people. It does sometimes cause problems in conversation as I bounce around from topic to topic. My wife has gotten pretty good at it. She can even follow my mental segues without me telling her what’s coming next, which was kind of frightening the first time it happened.
Talking to me can be exhausting at times, I’m sure. I’ve had people threaten to buy me a t-shirt that says “I’m Talking, and I Can’t Shut Up!” My personal favorite is the one that describes the ADHD thought process exactly. “I tried counting sheep to get to sleep: One sheep, two sheep, cow, turtle, duck, Ol’ McDonald had a farm, Hey Macarena!”
It also has been an endless source of creative energy. It’s one of the reasons I can keep coming up with ideas for these posts multiple times per week. The only problem is that I get distracted sometimes before I finish an idea because I’ve thought of something else and have to work on it right now!
It also has given me a great sense of humor for many of the same reasons. Admittedly my sense of humor is mostly verbal. I like puns a lot because they play on connections between sound and meaning. This is not shared universally, as my coworkers will attest. I also like absurdist humor like Monty Python and old Mel Brooks movies.
Dealing with all of the challenges that go with ADHD has made me much more patient with other people, because I remember my own struggles. I’ve had to work through so many things to just deal with my day to day challenges because I didn’t get my diagnosis until late in life.
There are a lot of people of my generation that never got treatment when they were kids and only discover they have the disorder later on because they go through therapy, or one of their children has it, and they recognize themselves.
The relief of being able to put a name to what you have been living with, sometimes for decades, without understanding, is immense. As one book title refers to it “You Mean I’m Not Stupid, Crazy or Lazy?”
Medication has helped, even though I didn’t try it until just recently. Instead I consumed overdose levels of caffeine to self medicate. At one point between coffee, Mt. Dew and energy drinks, I was getting 400 to 500 mg a day. My caffeine use has gone down to nearly nothing since I started taking medication, though I still have a Diet Coke or a Diet Dew occasionally.
I don’t want to make this sound like a pity party, what I wanted to share is what’s worked for me to help me get my act together to the extent that I have, even before I learned I had ADHD. The list below has links to some of the products I particularly like. I don’t receive any compensation, I just like them and wanted to share.
To Do Lists are my go to tool. I use a quality notebook (I like Rhodia and Maruman Mnemosine notebooks in A5 or B5 size) and put my to do list at the top of a dated page and my appointments at the bottom. The notes for that day go on the opposite page. I write down everything I have planned for that day and add items as I go along if they aren’t already on the list. That lets me keep track of all the things I’ve gotten accomplished during a given day even if my plan for the day got blown up by something unexpected.
A lot of people use a calendar or to do list on their phone, but I found that gets me back into the rabbit hole of distraction that is the modern smartphone and I would prefer to stay out. I find writing things down by hand also helps compensate for my working memory issues. Any good pen will do, but I’m a fountain pen fan, because it forces me to slow down as I write.
Bullet Journals are another good alternative, but I think they can become a distraction rather than an aid. If you look at some of the example bullet journals out there, they seem like an endless set of things to color, draw and track. I’ve found it’s much much better to keep things simple.
If you don’t enjoy something, do it first, so it’s done. I’ve found doing just this one thing has helped quite a bit with preventing procrastination, at least at work. My wife still has to ask me to change the lightbulb over the back porch for 6 months until I remember it one Saturday and get it done. This is known as a 6 month and 5 minute job.
Another tool I’ve found to be useful for procrastination is the Pomodoro Technique. It’s named after one of those tomato kitchen timers. The idea is to pick something you want or need to work on, set the timer for 20 minutes and then to work uninterrupted for that amount of time. You focus on the one thing. At the end of the 20 minutes, take a 5 minute break and then go back to work. If you are able to go into hyperfocus, you may want to keep going, but it’s better to take the break anyway so you can learn to shift focus without being thrown out of kilter.
Having a fidget toy to fiddle with when you’re trying to think can keep you from clicking a pen, shaking a leg or doing other things that can drive your coworkers crazy. I like the fidget cube, nerf balls or other soft foam toys to squeeze (good for stress too), koosh balls, or Aaron’s Thinking Putty.
Another thing I have found very useful is finding music to listen to while I’m working. I try to pick things in either a language I don’t know (I had a Gregorian Chant habit for a while), or repetitive instrumentals. They basically help get the channel changer to settle down. Mozart’s Requiem is my favorite music to write to. It’s only fair that I compose things to music that Mozart wrote for the decomposing.
Shut off the notifications on your phone apps! Phone notifications to an ADHD person are like booze to an alcoholic. Responding to one is too many, and responding to all of them never ends, because more notifications will pop up while you’re answering the others. Turning off my phone notifications helped my productivity and focus tremendously.
Learn to meditate. Start with becoming aware of your breath. Pay attention to how it feels when you breathe in and out. Your mind will fight you and try to do other things, but stay focused on your breathing. It will get easier over time and you’ll learn to apply the same technique in the rest of your life, being fully aware of what’s going on at any given moment.
This is especially important, because ADHDers are notoriously poor self observers, which can result in issues when their behavior is causing problems with other people. I still struggle with this. Because my mind is busy, I don’t always pay attention to what’s going on around me, which has caused no end of problems. The other day my wife said “You’re not even listening, are you?” and I thought to myself “that’s a weird way to start a conversation.”
There are tons of apps that have guided meditations that you can do, which will help you learn how to meditate and become more mindful. This is one that I like particularly as it has a lot of guided meditations plus music to listen to when I’m trying to go to sleep.
Find a way to self-soothe when you are frustrated or angry. One of the things that goes with ADHD is emotional dysregulation, which means that you can get upset or frustrated more easily than most people and take longer to get back to an equilibrium.
Meditation is one way to handle that, or you can create a glitter bottle to focus on when you are feeling upset. Think of a glitter bottle as a lava lamp that you don’t have to plug in.
The video for the glitter bottle is from a YouTube channel called “How to ADHD” it’s a great resource for you and the people in your life to better understand how ADHD affects your life and help the people in your life understand the effects ADHD has on you on a daily basis. Sometimes them knowing what you are dealing with helps them understand better. It also lets them know that you are actually struggling with challenges, versus having OPD (Obnoxious Personality Disorder). If you get a chance check out this video to better explain what ADHDers deal with.
I’m not going to close with the usual I better let you get back to work, mostly because this post isn’t intended to be funny. ADHD is a different way of being wired, and it can cause some serious challenges for those who have it. If you are someone with ADHD or who works with or loves someone with ADHD, I hope this will help you either overcome or understand.