My 8 year old daughter has ADHD, but very few people believe me. Everyone has the same reaction, which is to lecture me about how I just need to be a better disciplinarian. After all, my child’s inability to focus, impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity must be due to my shortcomings as a mother. Look how good their little Bethany is at sitting quietly. Oh, and she also gets straight A’s. Her teacher was just saying how the sky is the limit for Bethany. Maybe, if I did exactly what they did and learned by their shining example, my kid would be as perfectly calm and unquestioning of authority as their sweet little Bethany.
Bethany’s parents may seem obnoxious, but they’re the norm. Parents seem to have an almost perverse need to put themselves and their parenting abilities on a pedestal while simultaneously deriding other parents’ abilities. They want to take credit for all their kids’ achievements while blaming their kids’ failings on literally anyone else, including but not limited to, other kids, teachers, video games, or violence on TV. And they have plenty of ammunition to blame the symptoms of ADHD on the parents. The media absolutely loves to demonize the diagnosis as an attempt by parents and/or teachers to sedate kids and rid them of their normal, but undesirable, behaviors. It’s the lazy parents easy way out.
Meanwhile, there are very few articles on how ADHD affects the sufferer’s life. You can find articles on what ADHD is. You can learn that there are three types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-compulsive, and combination. You can find a list of symptoms. What you don’t find is an article setting forth how ADHD affects the average sufferer’s life. You don’t learn how debilitating it is. After all, that doesn’t get clicks.
I know firsthand just how difficult it can be to live with ADHD and it’s not just because my daughter has it. I also have it. I hate to give Bethany’s parents credit in any respect, but they were right when they blamed me for my daughter’s problems, just not for the reason they cited. I’m not a failed disciplinarian. I’m the carrier of the ADHD gene and have passed the ADHD gift onto my daughter. I’m sure she’ll yell at me for that when she’s a teenager.
Because I have it, I can accurately describe the day-to-day struggles rarely discussed in any of the sensationalized articles or news broadcasts focusing on demon doctors over-prescribing Ritilan. I think it might be helpful to take a glimpse into my life to get a better understanding of exactly what ADHD is and how it affects the sufferer’s life. What follows is a summary of some of the biggest ways ADHD impacts my life.
I have to get up at the crack of dawn to get ready for work, because my lack of focus makes it hard to get through all the steps to get ready.
My morning starts off at somewhere between 5:30 and 6. I don’t have to leave the house until around 8:20, but it generally takes me forever to perform the steps to get myself and my two kids ready. My mind is constantly thinking two or three steps ahead, so it’s hard for me to focus on what I am actually doing. I will forget whether I conditioned my hair while showering or whether I already put on deodorant. Plus, there are certain things I know that I need to do while I’m thinking of it, like getting out field trip money for my daughter, or I’ll forget to do it. If I’m in the middle of doing my makeup and I remember I have to pay for the field trip, I’ll stop what I’m doing and get the money out right away.
There is also a great deal of wrangling of the kids. Because my oldest child has ADHD, there are a lot of repeated requests for her to do every single task. If she sees literally anything slightly distracting while on her way to perform said task, she will forget to do it. I generally will turn off the TV, because that’s too much of a distraction for her. The two year old will also generally throw at least one tantrum. Eventually, we get out the door and I get to work
I’m better able to focus in the morning and/or if something absolutely needs to get done.
Once I’m at work, things start to improve. I rebound and can somewhat focus. There’s generally something that has to be done right away, that I put off doing the night before, and I hunker down and do it.
But if I’m under a lot of stress, I’m extremely likely to mess something up.
If I’m under a lot of stress, have deadlines looming, and am struggling to get everything done, I’m likely to mess something up. Emails are the worst, because a lot of them require an immediate response and they will distract me from the task at hand. If I’m getting emails coming in simultaneously from two different cases, I’m highly likely to mix the cases up.
My day is a constant struggle to focus long enough to read and digest anything of any kind of length and complete anything that requires any depth of analysis.
It is exceedingly difficult for me to focus long enough to read a long email without switching to doing something else. I often skim emails and respond with a question or comment that is addressed in the original email. I am famous for the “Sorry, I missed that” email sent within ten minutes of sending my first response. Anyone with a neurotypical brain will ever realize how damn difficult it is for me to read every single word of an email.
I can’t help but pick up my phone.
I check my phone at least 200 times a day. It’s necessary to look at my phone about twice a day for important texts. It’s never necessary to check social media, etc. and yet I do compulsively, all day long.
And then there’s all those important things I need to do outside of work that I can’t stop thinking about.
If I have to go to the store after work, then all day long, I keep adding to a list of things I have to buy as I remember the item. It’s really the only way I’ll remember what to buy when I get there. Of course, I’ll generally remember each item as I’m doing something else.
Talking to coworkers about work projects can be difficult, because it’s so hard to focus on the conversation.
Workplace social interactions can be tough. I can zone out as someone is talking to me within a couple of minutes of the start of the conversation. When I’m speaking, I often completely lose my train of thought and struggle to remember what I was saying. If I’m talking to someone and I catch another conversation happening somewhere behind me, I become distracted by that conversation. I will stop mid-sentence to listen. I snap out of it when I see the person I was talking to looking at me strangely. Then, I’m embarrassed for awhile.
Everything I need to do in life is on my synced work and personal calendar, so I don’t forget anything important.
I live and die by calendar entries. I record when things are due and events I have to go to. I set reminders at sufficient intervals ahead of time so I don’t get surprised by an event or deadline I forgot. I also set calendar reminders for things I have to do when I get home. If I need to remember to hang pullups on the front door so I remember to take them to daycare the next day or if I need to ask my husband if he paid a parking ticket, it goes on the calendar.
My ability to concentrate at all expires long before my 9 hour work day is over.
By the afternoon, work becomes almost impossible. It’s as if I only have so much concentration and I’ve used it all for the day. The less I like to do something, the harder it is to concentrate on it. The last couple of hours of the day are torture. It is only when I absolutely need to get something done that I can finish the day strong.
Tasks that involve a lot of steps, such as cleaning the house or packing for a trip, stress me out and can seem impossible to complete.
A dirty house overwhelms me. What to do first? Clean the toy room? Do the dishes? Cleaning can seem like a mountain too high to climb. This is because I can’t concentrate on one thing at a time. I’m too easily distracted. It’ll take me forever to do the dishes, because I’m thinking of other things that need to be done. If I’m cleaning and remember I have to pay a certain bill, I pay the bill, because I might forget later. I’m generally cleaning three things at once, because I’m too distracted by the other things that need to be cleaned to complete one task. Eventually, it does get done. It just doesn’t get done in an orderly, timely manner.
That overwhelmed feeling can lead to irritability.
My latest bout of irritability stemmed from trying to get my family out of the house for an overnight trip. No one was taking my time table seriously. There was no reason on god’s green earth that they couldn’t have been ready by 3:00 pm so we could get on the road before rush hour traffic. I was ignored and we didn’t leave until rush hour traffic was in full swing. On second thought, maybe that verbal lashing was deserved.
I can hyperfocus on things I really like to do and annoy everyone around me while I’m doing it.
By hyperfocus, I mean obsess. I absolutely must finish this research. Kids, husband, and other obligations are impediments and aggravate the hell out of me. Why can’t they just understand that I need to finish this?
My mind is always somewhere else.
My mind is always working, so I can rarely focus long enough to do anything. I’m thinking about how I should invite someone out for drinks or what we should do for dinner as I am walking into a room to grab something. You know that feeling when you walk into a room and can’t remember what you’re looking for? That’s me, all day long, every day.
ADHD affects my moods.
I spent many years misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. I saw a prescription writer doctor who only saw me every three months and ignored me when I said I had trouble concentrating. He misdiagnosed me with bipolar disorder after my first visit with him. I then tried to conform my symptoms with symptoms of bipolar disorder. I mistook hyperactivity as mania, which is not too much of a stretch given the fact that when I’m hyper and happy, I seem a little bit like someone who is high on drugs.
I’ve seen ADHD described as feeling things more acutely than other people, which is extremely accurate in my case. My highs are higher, my lows lower. I, like many others, am highly sensitive to any perceived rejections. But I can change moods very quickly depending on my circumstances. I’ve learned that this is the big difference between bipolar disorder and ADHD. Bipolar disorder moods do not change as rapidly and they are independent of the sufferer’s circumstances.
Despite all of the wonderful problems described herein, I have managed to become a successful person.
I’m 39. I was diagnosed with ADHD six months ago. I had been seeing my current therapist every other week for a year and a half before I was diagnosed. He often commented on how fidgety I was or how much I played with my phone during our visits and he knew my daughter had been diagnosed with ADHD, but still, he didn’t diagnose me with ADHD until I began crying one day over hard it was for me to concentrate at work. He prescribed medication and I was amazed at the effect. I thought, “Is the way normal minds work? This is so much easier!”
Even though I’ve managed to be successful without the aid of medication, that doesn’t mean my daughter should have to go without it. I’m not going to make her suffer unnecessarily to please all the naysayers, to earn bragging rights when she manages to do well without it, make her stronger, or for any other garbage reason. I’m actually a little resentful that I had to go so long without a proper diagnosis and without the aid of medication.
It’s this resentment, this everyday struggle that I know first hand, that makes me hate parents like Bethany’s so much. I hope that I’ve changed a few minds, but I know it’s an uphill battle. Other parents so want to believe that they are the good parents and that I suck. Well, I’m a lawyer and I’m sure my daughter will be successful too. Other parents would do good to remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint, and being a rock star in the 3rd grade doesn’t mean their kids will be rock star adults. My hyperactive, impulsive, distractible child may be the success story.