“I couldn’t break through my fog and do what I was asked to do.”
Most of us have lost our train of thought and our keys a time or two. We’ve forgotten exactly where we parked at the mall or the airport. We’ve had an off day when we couldn’t seem to get anything done. We’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time. We’ve faced indecision and confusion as to what our next steps in life should be. We’ve been distracted from the task at hand, or made a dumb move based on impulse. Well, in a nutshell, I’ve just described the day-to-day life of Jane, a 66-year-old grandmother from Texas. Jane has severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While most of us have learned from or easily managed the scenarios described above, Jane lacks the skills to navigate through this common maze of life experience.
According to WEbMD, ADHD is one of the most well-recognized childhood developmental problems. The condition is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. It is now known that these symptoms continue into adulthood for about 60% of children with ADHD. That translates into 4% of the US adult population, or 8 million adults. However, few adults are identified or treated for adult ADHD. Adults with ADHD consistently have problems with interpersonal relationships and employment. The hyperactivity of childhood often becomes restlessness and impulsiveness in adults. They may have difficulty following directions, remembering information, concentrating, organizing tasks or completing work within time limits.
Let’s hear from Jane how this lifelong aberration has affected her. When Jane had trouble focusing on and completing the interview, I worked with her via telephone to get it done. Keeping her focused on the question at hand was a constant struggle. She had the best intentions, and wanted so badly to share her experience with others. In the end, she did a FANTASTIC job!
ADHD affects each individual a bit differently. For me, it’s best described as getting mentally stuck due to a constant, overwhelming influx of stimuli. I can’t move in any direction because there are too many choices. Too much information is coming into my head at once and I can’t sort it out and prioritize; it all seems equally important. A simple example is walking into the kitchen and seeing that I need to do the dishes but I also need to cook and water the plants, etc. I can’t choose and proceed with my life. The inability to prioritize the simplest things impacts my entire life. On some days, my mind is so scattered that it can’t focus on any one thing. ADHD often keeps me in a haze and makes it extremely difficult to get from point A to point B; sequential thinking is nearly impossible. However, some days aren’t too bad.
How did you come to be diagnosed with ADHD?
I didn’t find out I had ADHD until I was 60-years-old. I often knew something was wrong but couldn’t quite pinpoint it. I dared not talk to people about it. I feared they would misunderstand because I couldn’t explain it well. Many people with ADHD become depressed due to all the rejection they feel as a result of their seemingly irresponsible and irrational behaviors. For six years before my diagnosis, I had been seeing a particular psychiatrist for depression. He knew that my son had ADHD. I mentioned to him how terrified I was about taking a new job although I was highly qualified. I’d always had my own business and had been able to somehow manage, but the idea of having to take instructions and follow someone else’s rules and processes was overwhelming. The resulting discussion made him suspect ADHD so we began to explore the possibility. I took the job; I was the most experienced designer among 16 at a top high-end furniture store in Dallas, Texas. Regardless, I was fired within three months. I couldn’t follow directions. I couldn’t break through my fog and do what I was asked to do. As a result of that job experience and ongoing discussions with my psychiatrist, I was finally diagnosed the ADHD.
How has having ADHD shaped your life in general, including your self esteem?
In my personal life, it played a huge part in destroying my first marriage and later alienating my children from me. It has impacted my self esteem negatively although I try to focus on the positives in my life. I’ve learned that ADHD impacts my social skills. I’m aware that my actions may hurt others and so I try to monitor myself. I try to take responsibility for my actions and make sure that I apologize if I make an inappropriate social move. For this reason, I strive to be aware of what’s happening around me as best I can. I work on improving my self esteem every day; it’s an ongoing challenge.
What do you think are the most common misconceptions about ADHD?
People with ADHD are not perceived as having a true medical condition; instead they’re often viewed as being unreliable, poor listeners, too talkative, inappropriate in social settings, etc. When we fail, the people around us don’t always connect that failure with a medical issue. When we try to explain what ADHD is, and how it impacts our behavior, they don’t always accept it. People tend to downplay the explanation, saying, “Oh, everyone forgets things. Everyone has those days. We all get through it, why can’t you?” They don’t understand or accept how debilitating it can be for adults. People tend to associate ADHD with hyperactive children so they don’t accept that it can impact an adult’s actions and personality the way it can. They don’t see it as a disability.
How have you learned to cope with having ADHD?
I’ve learned to be more disciplined on a day to day basis. I do well if I keep a daily schedule that is set up in 15 minute increments. Although I’m a fairly outgoing person, I’ve realized that I need a certain amount of time to myself. I have to have down time from all the stimuli. I hesitate to interact with people on an ongoing daily basis although I have some great friends. I know now that I can do much better at jobs or with a project that allows flexibility and a more relaxed time table. I’ve always been able to laugh at myself, which has served me well.
How does ADHD make you unique? What are the positive aspects that you value and why?
I’ve developed a deep compassion towards others. I don’t judge the motives of others because I understand that people take certain actions for reasons beyond our understanding. I’m highly creative and able to think outside the box, which helped propel my career as an interior designer earlier in my life. In general, people with ADHD, including myself, are great at brainstorming. We can come with all kinds unique, excellent ideas because our brains aren’t tied to one thing within the moment. We can take one thought and explode it much further than the average person, which leads to creative insight. We are often extremely focused on the topics we’re interested in but not focused enough on everything else. This helps us to excel significantly in some areas although it causes issues in others.
I can see the outcome or bottom line for an issue, problem, or situation immediately although I can’t always discern the intermediate steps. I’m a big picture thinker. Many of us are skilled at projecting into the far future regarding outcomes for various scenarios. This has helped me throughout my life in many ways.
Although we may not always respond properly, generally, people with ADHD, including myself, are skilled at reading body language. We make great intuitive decisions based on non-verbal clues.
ADHD runs in your family. Has this helped the situation or does it further complicate matters?
Earlier in life, it complicated our family dynamic although none of us understood what was going on at the time. I believe ADHD has impacted the lives of all three of my siblings, and both of my children in various ways. My youngest brother is the only one who is open about it. He understands me better than almost anyone, and we often talk through issues together. This helps tremendously because I know he understands and loves me just the way I am.
What can we do for someone with ADHD?
1) If you suspect that your child has ADHD, please press for early diagnosis so you can help provide the skills they need to be successful.
2) Be willing to recognize that almost everything we do is connected with our ADHD, and give us a lot of slack. Focusing on the positive is critical!
3) When we’re not performing as you think we should, ask us what our thought process is rather than criticizing our actions right away.
4) Have patience, and give us a lot of love and forgiveness.
5) Don’t take everything we do or say too seriously as we have issues with social interaction. Although we may be extroverted, we are often lacking in standard social skills and tend not to filter our thoughts appropriately.
6) Laugh with us because we do a lot of silly things!