Let’s talk ADHD! I have it and chances are you or someone you know has it too. Real quick: ADD/ADHD is a chronic neurological disorder that affects millions of people from childhood to adulthood. ADHD symptoms include difficulty sustaining attention due to a lack of self-control, hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and impaired working memory. It’s more than just goofing off or not being able to focus; it’s a struggle and the struggle is real.
It’s not that people with ADHD can’t concentrate; it’s that we can’t control what exactly we’re concentrating on. Sometimes we’re focused on everything at once, even if it looks like we’re just being easily distracted. Or we’re focused too much on one thing. That’s called hyperfocus and I experience it a lot! One time my friend recommended I download the game Zen Koi and I ended up playing it for five hours straight without realizing how much time was passing. I ended up being late for dinner with a friend.
And ADHD doesn’t just affect your school; it impacts every part of your life, from relationships to friends to your health. What sucks is that it’s not something you can magically grow out of. Kids who had trouble remembering their notes or homework end up struggling with adult tasks when they’re older, like paying bills on time or making it to dentist appointments. (Thank god for auto-pay!) It even impacts how we communicate. Often, I forget to answer texts because I read them as soon as I get them and can’t always answer right away. Then I get distracted. Even in real time conversations I have with friends, I’ve been known to stop in the middle of my sentence to start talking about something else.
While ADHD affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex where decision making, focusing, and task management happens, it can present differently with everyone. Some people are a little spacey and forgetful, and some people have difficulty filtering their thoughts and blurt things out a mile a minute (that’s me).
Many of us end up suffering from overstimulation because we can’t control our focus. Some people with ADHD will shut down or turn inward from overstimulation and can often become anxious. Other people with ADHD act their frustration outwardly and can become loud or irritated. Overstimulation can come from too many people, too much noise, heat, or even just having a lot of stuff on your plate.
ADHD also impacts how we perceive time. For me, I’m bad at estimating how long something will take and I end up being late a lot. You might hear people say things like, “If it’s important, the person won’t be late.” I’m here to say that’s not true for people with ADHD. A lot of us lose track of time or find it hard to start getting ready. Or sometimes we do start getting ready, but we’re worried about forgetting something so we get swept up in making sure we’re getting ready exactly right and before we know it, we have to be at our appointment or meeting in ten minutes.
Medication can be helpful, but to be clear, all it does is level the playing field for us. It’s not a magic cure-all that suddenly gives us the ability to accomplish everything perfectly. We’re just finally able to focus the way people who don’t have ADHD can focus. It might seem like a boost if you’re used to us being scattered, but trust me when I say it’s not. We still have to work hard on focusing and following through on tasks, and with medication, we just have to put out the same effort you do instead of the incredible amount we usually put out that leaves us feeling drained.
It’s also important to know that, as frustrating as it might be for you (whether as a parent or a teacher or a friend or romantic partner) to deal with our ADHD, it’s just as frustrating for us! Plus, we’re also usually worried that it’s too frustrating for you, so a little reassurance every now and then is really encouraging.
Obviously, none of this is an excuse for the broken promises or forgotten projects or interrupted conversations. It’s an explanation; it’s context. It’s important to end the stigma surrounding ADHD and open up the conversation so people without ADHD can understand and people with ADHD can talk about their problems freely.
Feel free to hit me up on Twitter if you want to talk about ADHD!