ADHD Awareness Month

October is #ADHDAwarenessMonth. As someone who was diagnosed with this neurodevelopmental disorder only recently, having lived with it unknowingly for over 50 years my life, it is now a very stark reality to me that the public understanding of this condition is woefully lacking and laced with misconceptions and false “facts”.

I know this because even after I was diagnosed, the information provided was scant at best and it was only after I made a conscious effort - not easy with ADHD as you will learn - did I start to have merely a basic understanding of how so much of my life has been dictated by this condition.

Here’s a quick fact to start: ADHD affects around 8% of the global population. Some kids have it but grow out of it. For the rest of us, it is a cradle-to-grave condition.

I will be writing more throughout the month about my personal struggles with this disorder, and how it impacts not only those of us with it, but also everyone around us; from loved ones and family, to friends and colleagues. I will talk about how medication helps - to a degree - but how the health system (in the US at least) fails us on so many levels, making receiving even the barest minimum of treatment a constant struggle.

And I will write about how society doesn’t take ADHD seriously, seeing it more as a character flaw or failure of upbringing; which leads to anxiety, insecurity and depression…which society also sees as character flaws and failures of upbringing. These issues are exaggerated in those of us not diagnosed until adulthood and for those of us yet to be diagnosed.

I hope that you will follow along and gain a better understanding of this condition. Those of you who know me, may well get a better understanding of me, too. There may well be some of you who - like me - have been navigating life in a world not designed for those of us whose brains function differently, and have gone undiagnosed for whatever reason.

If you do nothing else, please just take away this: it is real and we can’t help it.

But I urge you to do at least a couple more things. Please read, like and share these posts. And please watch this 17-minute Ted Talk from Jessica Mccabe who, despite being diagnosed and treated from childhood, “failed at normal” but found her place in a society not built for her.

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Thanks for writing this Limey. And as a fellow “diagnosed in adulthood” ADHD individual, let me say: In before “my ADHD wouldn’t let me finish this”.

I do have to say that one of the perfect, unplanned moments in my life was when we were at breakfast, explaining to my son what ADHD meant and how it might affect him: during the middle of the conversation, he literally interrupted me to point out the window and say “Look! A squirrel!”

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My youngest has ADHD.

He is a bright, sweet kid. He has done well in school but not without some struggles along the way.

No doubt he benefited from the fact that his older brother is disabled and my wife and I (mostly her) were well versed in being an advocates. We were also fortunate that his pediatrician took our concerns seriously.

I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experience.

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Thanks, MM! Were you diagnosed because your son was diagnosed and you saw yourself in him? I hear that’s quite common.

Thanks AFIBD! Just like any other condition, early diagnosis is vital to avoiding greater damage in the long term. He is lucky to have great advocates in his parents. I hope that medical science and better pubic understanding will be beneficial for him as he navigates life.

Bingo.

As my therapist is fond of saying, “kids are sent to make us deal with our own shit”

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Don’t get me started on the medical community’s lack of coordination and advocacy.

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I have a whole section on that written already.

Excellent!
TY for this resource and this thread.

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Her YouTube channel is my bible for this.

My son being diagnosed with ADHD completely changed my perception about the condition and treatment for it. Putting him on meds (methylphenidate) helped to suppress his worst impulses and allowed the best parts of his personality to come out. Within a week of starting the meds his grades had improved and seven kids that used to avoid him wanted to be his friend.

My wife has since been diagnosed with it too.

I will fiercely advocate for anyone getting treatment for it, whatever that form may take.

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Similar story in my family. My son’s diagnosis led to my wife’s. Unfortunately, it took us until nearly the end of high school to catch on, after anxiety had become an issue. Also made me realize how unfair and unkind I had been to them both, particularly as I am by nature and training on the more compulsive end of the spectrum.

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Don’t beat yourself up too much about that. A common dipole is for two people with ADHD or one with and one with some of those attributes to find each other. And then immediately start measuring undiagnosed outcomes against each other. Of course, that’s directly extensible to their kids. Awareness is the first step towards better relational outcomes.

2. Growing Up Unknowingly with ADHD

I was not diagnosed as having ADHD until I was in my early 50s, and even then it was a completely random situation. No one had ever suggested that I get tested, because I don’t present as overtly hyperactive (hyperactivity can be internal as well as external).

Also, I am smart; I rank as “gifted” (IQ above 130). As a student, this gift was recognized by my teachers from an early age. As a primary/elementary school kid, I would demolish books and I was great at maths. As I moved onto secondary school (the equivalent of Middle/High school in the US), I found I had language skills as I became fluent in French, German and (I’m not kidding) Latin. I got into computer science, and could hack the binary code of the machines in our computer lab.

I was able to get into a private school that not only had excellent academic facilities but a wealth of extracurricular activities. The school has very strong ties to the theater, having been founded by a renown Shakespearean actor (although I found that theater wasn’t my thing). We had three full orchestras (one each for the lower, middle and upper schools), and I played trumpet as well as sang in a production at the Royal College of Music.

I played sports: including soccer, hockey, swimming, water polo, tennis, basketball, cricket, rugby and fives (look it up). I joined the school’s cadet corps, opting for the Air Force because I wanted to fly, but I also went on the Army division’s camps because I enjoyed the running around and shooting. I represented the school on our shooting team. I was promoted up through the cadet ranks and was in charge of a “flight” of 30 kids, who I had to lead, mentor and educate.

I was awarded a Royal Air Force scholarship to learn to fly, but at the time I was still too young to fly solo in a powered aircraft, so they sent me first to gliding school. I was the first cadet on my course to be sent solo - aged 16. When I turned 17, I completed my flying scholarship, cruising through all the flying and ground tests so quickly that I did not yet have the minimum amount of flight time to qualify formally for the license. So they would send me off just to fly around on my own until I’d logged enough hours. The RAF wanted to fast-track me into pilot training.

I was drawing the absolute maximum from what the school had to offer. I was representing the school in sports, the cadet corps and the arts. I was young, smart and fit. I had lots of friends. I had a girlfriend. Outwardly, I was excelling at seemingly anything to which I put my mind.

But my mind has ADHD. Inwardly, I was chronically depressed and wracked with insecurity. I was very nearly expelled from school. I never joined the RAF. I finished school with acceptable but uninspiring grades. My girlfriend broke up with me.

I was 18, I had no idea what was next, and I was still 35 years away from finding out why I was unable to capitalize on all the advantages I had been given.

3. The “2E” Paradox

ADHD is classed as being on the spectrum. Those of us with ADHD who are also gifted are referred to as “Twice Exceptional”, or “2E” for short. ADHDers who present as hyperactive are more likely to get an early diagnosis, I do not so I did not. And being gifted means that the condition is often masked by your smarts (masking is a whole other topic for another post). There’s also the fact that I went to school in England in the 1970s and early 1980s when I doubt there was anyone even looking for cases.

Going through my school career, I excelled academically. Especially early on when it’s mostly just classwork. But once homework started to creep into the picture, things started going awry. Homework is basically practice - a repetition of what was learned that day - and that is kryptonite to an ADHD brain. Especially my brain, which didn’t need the practice.

I could sit and stare at homework for hours - wasting far more time that it would take to do the actual work - and never get it done. You could’ve shot 10,000 volts through my temples, but nothing was going to make me focus on that simple, mundane task. I know why that is now but, back then, I was “lazy”, “a daydreamer”, “wasting my time”, “wasting everyone else’s time”, “wasting my parents’ money”, “wasting my potential”. Everybody told me so and I had no reason not to believe them.

The ADHD brain doesn’t have an attention “deficit” in reality. We have an inability to regulate attention, because we struggle to produce/process the neurotransmitters - like dopamine - that are part of the brain’s reward system. “Normal” - more correctly “neurotypical” - brains get a dopamine hit when you finish your schoolwork or work-work or make your bed or do your laundry or stroke your pet. ADHD - more correctly “neurodivergent” - brains do not. Or, at least, they get a much reduced dopamine hit.

So my brain doesn’t have a deficit of attention, it’s starved of the reward it needs to be able to settle down. In this state it will flatly ignore any unrewarding job staring it in the face while it searches frantically for something - anything - that will generate a desperately-needed reward response. This is why stimulants work as a treatment, because they increase the baseload of neurotransmitters enough to satisfy the brain and put its owner back in charge.

I took to describing my inability to focus on the task at hand as my brain “changing the channel”. You’re watching something, and then “bzzzt” you’re watching something else. In Jessica McCabe’s Ted Talk (from the previous post), she had heard this “attention deficit” described as your brain cycling through 30 channels looking for something interesting. I know you have all done this in reality; clicking through the channels and finding commercials or crap shows and nothing grabs your interest. The difference is that, for those of us with a neurodivergent brain, the dopamine gremlin has the remote.

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I remember very distinctly our pediatrician’s warning when we were first realizing our youngest’s diagnosis but were hesitant to start medication:

“Smart kids with ADHD who don’t get treated get labeled as lazy.”

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Bingo. It’s no fun, I can tell you.

Or we label ourselves that way. Either way, it’s incredibly damaging.

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4. ADHD: The School Years

By age 13, I had dropped Latin (it was compulsory prior to then) and swapped it for German, to go along with the French I was already learning. The following year, I was forced to drop German by my teacher (the same teacher I had for French which I was allowed to continue) because I had not done any of the homework. I aced the end of year tests, but was still not allowed to continue with that subject; one that I knew would be useful and one that I was good at. Instead, I had to take up history, which is something that interests me but the time periods chosen for the next two years embraced the agricultural revolution in 18th century England and your eyes have already glazed over.

It was during this time that the school called in my parents to tell them I was to be expelled. I wasn’t doing any of the homework for any of my classes and I was an abject failure at history. I was smart and had great potential and yada yada yada, but my study ethic was unacceptable and I had to go. My parents begged for me to be given another chance, and I was very fortunate in that I was allowed to stay. I did not know about this episode until I was in my 40s.

But here is where we see the origins of the anxiety, insecurity and depression that so often accompany ADHD. Every night I would sit and stare at my homework while being paralyzed to do anything about it. Every day I went to school knowing I hadn’t done the work, and would have to explain this away to my teachers. Every day I would be assigned new homework that I knew I wouldn’t do, meaning that tomorrow was going to be just like today, but incrementally worse.

The sports and other extracurricular activities were a lifeline - gobs of instant dopamine and no homework - but being told you suck multiple times a day, every day, is going to grind you down. You’re told you are “lazy”, that you must “try harder” and that you “don’t care”. What you don’t know at the time is that these words will echo throughout your entire life.

In the moment, though, you know that you deserved the criticism, so insecurities…check! And you know you’re going to repeat the behavior, so depression…check! And you know that there is more of this criticism coming so anxiety…check!

And you know that you are unable to change so your self-esteem goes subterranean.

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There’s a lot of this post that resonates with me, Ray, as I can still hear my diminutive Filipino math teacher in 5th grade telling me, “You so smart, but you so lazy.” I just wasn’t interested.

Plus, this graphic is something I resoundingly can relate to, but then again, I’m a perfectionist (many airline pilots are) and I tend to also suffer from over analysis paralysis.

Thanks for sharing all this.

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