My name is Jessica Rising, and I have Adult Attention Defect Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
There tends to be an overall attitude towards ADHD that it doesn’t exist, and/or that people use it as an excuse to be flighty and lazy. Because I am also a published author, mother of five, and a Master’s level college professor on top of my ADHD, I think maybe I am in a unique situation to shed a little light on the fallacy of these beliefs.
To start, however, I want to acknowledge the reasons behind this social attitude about ADHD.
I grew up in the 1980′s. This was a time when ADHD was a buzzword among medical professionals, schools, and the news. It seemed that every child with a sugar high was being diagnosed with ADD, Hyperactivity, or both (ADHD). These children are now grown, and have taken that experience with them into the “real world”. With it has come an assumption that nobody actually has ADHD because so many diagnosed at the time didn’t.
Yet I am one who did… and still does.
Another reason for the societal attitude against ADHD is its symptoms. According to WebMD, some symptoms of adult ADHD are:
- Difficulty Getting Organized
- Extreme Distractibility
- Poor Listening Skills
- Restlessness, Difficulty Relaxing
- Difficulty Starting a Task
- Chronic Lateness
- Angry Outbursts
- Prioritizing Issues
If you have ADHD or ADD, you may be nodding your head in agreement with these. Yet if you don’t, your initial reaction could be something like, “That’s just people. Everyone has those issues!” and/or “Well, there’s an excuse to be flighty and lazy!” It’s true, many mental issues are far easier to see than ADHD. I have a friend who suffers from a physical disease that can’t be seen on the outside. She looks perfectly healthy, so people tend to think that her need to stay home because she hurts is an excuse to be a snob, unsociable, or rude. ADHD is like that, only mental instead of physical.
So I want to show you what those symptoms translate into on a day-to-day basis for someone like me so that maybe some can see why this is a very real disease, with very real consequences for those who suffer from it. I am going to split it up into three separate subjects to keep things as organized as possible, and perhaps make this a more interesting read overall:
As I stated above, I am a married mother of five. I love my family more than anything on this planet, but there are some things I am very bad at doing for them:
- Helping with Homework:
I’m a teacher. I should be able to help my kids with their homework. Should be. When my kids get home from school, oftentimes I’m still busy with something I was doing while they were at school. Many parents can put down what they’re doing and turn to the kids to say hi, give them a snack, ask if they have homework, etc. An ADHD parent has a far harder time with this normally simple thing, because of what I like to call “the zone”. It takes someone with ADHD at least an hour of deep concentration on one subject to get into “the zone” and actually be productive with whatever they’re doing, be it housework, work work, or even a fun project. Because of this when we are IN “the zone”, the very last thing we want to do is get out of it, even for a second. It’s akin to working on a project for hours, then losing it all when your computer dies. Getting BACK into “the zone” after a distraction is even harder, and sometimes impossible until at least the next day. So I’m usually too distracted by what I’m needing to finish to even ask my kids if they have homework at all, let alone help them with it. Once I am out of “the zone”, (usually by being finished with the project I’m on) I will kiss them and welcome them home and all that, but oftentimes I forget to ask if they have homework still, because my mind is then on how I have to get dinner finished before bedtime… for once.
- Enforcing Rules:
Like most parents, my husband and I have rules for our children. Most are pretty simple: don’t run in the house, don’t eat snacks before dinner, don’t use the Kureg if your age doesn’t end in “teen”, etc. Sometimes I remember to enforce these rules, but often I’m so busy trying to focus on one subject while my brain scatters into a million directions of everything I need to do, that if one of the kids asks me something I’d normally say no to, (like using the Kureg) or does something right in front of me that I should be telling them to stop, (like thumping all over the house in dirty boots) I just let it go because can’t use any more energy on focusing attention on them at that exact moment. It takes massive amounts of energy to focus on anything for more than a second at a time if an ADHD person is not in “the zone”. This means that in order to regularly enforce the rules I’d have to continually be focused on JUST that, which anyone can see is an impossibility. My husband doesn’t have ADHD, and can get understandably frustrated with this at times, (though he’s very patient with me) because then he’s the bad guy for enforcing rules we agreed on together but I usually don’t enforce. It’s also difficult on the kids, because they get mixed signals.
- Keeping a schedule:
My kids have a regular schedule… because of school. I am able to wake them up in the morning and get them off to school but that’s about it. Of course, their teachers have great schedules for them at school, but when they get home there’s no telling what will be going on. I could be asleep because of a long night concentrating on something while it’s nice and quiet and distraction-free, I could be making dinner and cleaning because it was a good energy day, or I could be sitting on the couch zoned out and depressed because I couldn’t focus enough to get anything done. I could remember to ask them to do their chores and homework, or I could be so stressed out or tired that I let them do whatever, as long as they don’t bother me. The same goes for their bedtimes. Sometimes I’m totally on it, and get them to bed at 8 or 9. Other times I’m in “the zone” or unreasonably tired, so that I forget to tuck them in until 10 or later. Keeping a regular schedule is SO important for kids, and it would be wonderful for me to do so, but after seventeen years of trying under my own willpower and failing miserably, I know for a fact that ADHD is not just an excuse.
Organization is for people with organized brains. Someone with ADHD does not have an organized brain. There have been many times I’ve come up with some wonderful ideas to organize my home and family, like labeling coat pegs or putting clipboards on the wall to check homework or designating a playroom so the kids’ toys don’t mess up their bedrooms. Every one of these ideas has failed, not because I didn’t set them up well — every one of those ideas I spent hours implementing perfectly, (while in “the zone”) — but because I couldn’t maintain them. The coat pegs got entirely messed up because the kids kept putting coats and sweaters and backpacks and toys and hats and hoodies and… all over the place, and I didn’t pay any attention to it because I was on to my next “zone”. The clipboards are only being used now by my youngest, because the others were taken down by the older kids to draw with, and I was happy to let them so I could concentrate on whatever I was in “the zone” about at the time. The toys are all over the playroom AND the bedrooms because I’d remember to tell them to put them back in the playroom, but NOT to tell them they weren’t allowed in their bedrooms in the first place. These are examples. There are… plenty more.
- Marital Bliss:
My husband is very patient with me. I forget to enforce rules, as I said, but that’s not the whole of it when it comes to how I can frustrate him. I stay up all hours of the night, going to bed with him on time maybe once a week. I began this staying up when I was in my twenties and my teenagers were little, because I couldn’t concentrate on watching them and cleaning the house at the same time. I got overwhelmed and the messes started piling up. When I stayed up all night and the kids were asleep, I could get into “the zone” with housekeeping without worrying about them, and get the house perfectly clean. Unfortunately, I would also sleep in, and they’d make a big mess before I woke up. It was a viscous cycle that I still haven’t gotten out of, though the kids are older now and make less of a mess. Over the years, I’ve acclimated myself to a night schedule, so that I don’t go to bed with my husband most the time, even if I’m tired, because I’ve convinced myself I have something I need to do during the quiet hours when I can finally get in “the zone” and be productive. My husband is sweet and says he’ll just fall asleep anyway, but I know he’d rather I was sleeping next to him most nights.
I burn food. All the time. Like most things, when you cook food, you have to pay some attention to it. The term “set it and forget it” is all too real for ADHD people. Unless a meal takes less than five minutes to prepare, such as cooking eggs or making a sandwich, or all day such as a crock pot roast, it will be forgotten until the smoke reminds me to check on it… in which case, it’s already too late.
Career / School
As a college professor, tutor and writer, most people think I have my career pretty much in the bag. The fact is, I struggle with it every day:
- Memory Issues:
My students are very important to me. However, sometimes I’m sure they don’t feel that way. I have a very difficult time remembering their names unless they talk to me on a regular basis every day. I also forget due dates unless they’re on my phone to remind me the day before AND ten minutes before, special homework circumstances that I arrange with students who have full time jobs and other responsibilities, where I put assignments unless I’m VERY careful about when they are given to me, and the days and times of every tutoring session unless my phone reminds me twice. I am very good at grading, knowing the grammar and research rules because I have personally written a LOT for over two decades. I can give a GREAT lecture, as long as I’m entirely prepared with every bullet point ready, and everything I’m going to say organized. But I have to do this with every lesson, every day, even those I’ve done before, because I have forgotten where the previous outline is, and/or the previous outline doesn’t work with my current state of mind. Because of this, my workload is usually double what most people have to do, just to keep up with everything I can’t remember and/or keep organized.
- The “Zone” and Work:
For someone with ADHD, we exist in one of two states: manic chaos or singular focus. It may seem that ADHD people are great at multitasking, but this is only a surface image based on our manic chaos state. In reality we’re trying to do ten things at once, and end up actually doing absolutely nothing because we can’t focus on anything to actually finish it. On the other hand when we’re focused, we can do one thing AMAZINGLY well. For someone with ADHD, when we’re in that focused “zone”, we work very hard on one thing until we’re finished, and for us, “finished” usually translates into “until it’s as absolutely perfect as we can possibly make it”. Our own expectations for ourselves are exceptionally higher than most people expect of us (which is why we tend to have pretty large self-esteem issues no matter how much everyone else thinks we do), but we’re not always in the “zone”, so we work very hard when we can get into it, and absolutely hate being forced out before we’re finished. One reason for this is the fact that we see and think of everything at once — every possible angle to a subject or problem — and always feel the need to include all of it in whatever we’re doing. This can, understandably, be frustrating. For this reason, a multitasking job isn’t the best for an ADHD person, but give us any one project that we can focus entirely on for hours, and we’ll do it better than anyone else on the planet. This is why writing is a great career for me — I can focus on a novel for ages.
I have found that one of the hardest aspects of ADHD in adults is convincing non-ADHD friends that you really do care about them, even if it doesn’t often seem that way…
- Conversational Issues:
In case it’s not obvious by now, ADHD people tend to be somewhat bi-polar. This includes the strength of our interests. We are either extremely interested in something, or entirely disinterested. Our likes sway between utter obsession and utter indifference. This is important to note, because it includes things that interest our friends. In any given conversation between people there is a topic being discussed. Sometimes this topic is interesting to both parties, sometimes only to one, but most of the time both parties know how to pretend they’re interested at the very least. When you have ADHD, this is far more difficult to do. During a conversation that doesn’t keep our interest, an ADHD person will do one of two things . The first is the typical “SQUIRREL!” reaction, where we are constantly looking at something else around us, easily distracted from the conversation. The second is a way of coping with the first, if not the best way. It’s true that many people listen to reply instead of to listen, but ADHD people do it almost exclusively. This is usually because we need to focus on ONE part of the conversation in order to pay attention at all. So, we find a part that we can relate to, and after that we repeat it over in our heads — with our reply — until it’s our turn to speak so we don’t forget it. This, of course, means we miss the rest of what our friends are saying, which often has a very negative impact. Not only that, but our reply almost always consists of our own experience in-relation to the topic, so that it can seem we’re always pulling the conversation back to ourselves when really we’re just trying to relate. When I asked a good friend how I could make this better in myself, she said just to “take the topic as it is”. This concept is very difficult for an ADHD person to grasp, as when the topic disinterests us, we literally have nothing to say about it if we can’t find a relatable personal experience to grab hold of like a safety raft. I am still working on ways to combat this in myself, as I adore my friends and never want them to feel that they mean less than the world to me.
- The Inability to say “No”:
As we have established, an ADHD person often feels like they should be able to take on a lot more than most people. This attitude doesn’t usually extend to others, however; we don’t think everyone should be superhuman. Rather, we often feel like we’re going slower than everyone around us, and can never seem to keep up when everyone else seems to have it together. For us, if we’re not able to do ten things for every one thing everyone else can do, we’re too slow, because that one thing others are doing looks like fifteen to us. It’s a bit more abstract that that, but this is the best way I can think of to explain it. Because of this, if we’re asked to do something by those we love, we want very badly to do it, to show them we can handle it like a “normal” person should, even if we have a million other “irons in the fire”. Inevitably, this leads to failure, and we end up building up a reputation as flighty and unreliable when we can’t follow through on all our promises. This becomes a viscous circle, fueling our need to prove over and over that we can do what we THINK is normal, but what is, in reality, far too much for one person to handle.
When someone with ADHD is young we have extra energy, hence the “hyperactive” part of our nature. Because of this, we grow up being used to that extra energy. When it doesn’t translate through puberty, which is the norm for most ADHD adults, we suddenly feel a regular and crippling exhaustion, even though our energy levels have actually become more “normal”. As teenagers and adults, we go through stages of manic energy and complete lethargy, often with the latter being far more prevalent. During these lethargic states, we have problems cleaning, taking care of our responsibilities, and spending quality time with family and friends. This is only worsened by the fact that doing anything that takes our concentration, which is almost everything in life including socializing, also uses extreme amounts of that already low supply of energy. Those family and friends who believe we have ADHD sometimes assume we’re hyperactive all the time, and can therefore think we’re blowing them off by saying we’re tired when they feel that’s not possible for us. Those who don’t believe it, can assume we’re just being lazy or making excuses not to be social. It can feel to those with ADHD that we can’t win no matter what.
- EgoCentric Assumptions:
Because ADHD people like me are SO focused on our interests, we often have a very difficult time not obsessing over them at all times, even when it’s not exactly appropriate. A perfect example of this is my own grammar obsession. I’m not focused on all grammar rules, (like the overuse of commas in case you didn’t notice; working on that) but there are a few that really get my hackles up, no matter what. These include using apostrophes for plurals, and “there, their, they’re” confusion. It is extremely difficult for me to just ignore these when they come up on Facebook, to the point that sometimes I correct them without thinking about it, which automatically slaps me back in the face when the person who posted inevitably thinks I’m judging their intelligence. I also obsess over literature and mythology, and find myself correcting people when they say Dorothy’s slippers were ruby, or faeries are tiny winged weaklings that sparkle. Again, correcting people this way gives the impression that I am egotistical, when it’s more like an automatic reaction to my overactive obsession with these subjects, and frustration that others don’t share it. I’m working on this.
In conclusion, this post took me three days to write, as I was distracted often. This is a normal part of life for someone with ADHD, as are all those things I mentioned above. Like most around me, I spent most of my life denying my ADHD, but I have decided recently that I can’t allow it to control my life any longer. The first step is acceptance — I have accepted my ADHD as a real burden on my life. Now it’s time to take the steps to eliminate its hold on me. It’s now Saturday; my next doctor’s appointment is Wednesday. That said, my family and friends are worried that treatment may have a negative impact on my personalty overall. I, myself, am concerned about that as well, especially any possible impact against my creativity and ability to write. Therefore I will be trying as many different options as possible before medication.
I hope this was enlightening for those of you who aren’t ADHD, and empowering for those who are. I plan to update as my treatments progress. If you have anything to ask or add, please feel free to comment. I hope this may open a dialogue about ADHD free of the traditional stigmas associated with this confusing, but very real, condition.