2019, October 17

Mental Wellness Challenge

Let’s check in with my challenge from last week.

I had challenged you to be kind. Intentionally, sincerely, purposefully kind.

I also challenged you to take some time to reflect on how your kindness to others affected you and the way your day was going. I also challenged you to be kind to yourself. I sincerely hope that you were able to “get behind” my challenge and that you were able to recognize the benefits of being kind both to yourself and to those you interact with. Perhaps being kind should be an ongoing challenge in our lives….

This week I am going to get into sharing a bit about what it’s like for me to live with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD for short.

Like so many other mental health disorders, describing them tends to fall to analogy. Its important to keep in mind that this is MY experience. The experience of another may be totally different, may be similar but different or perhaps even congruent with mine…. but their experiences are theirs alone.

For you to get a picture of what it is like for me to live with my ADHD, you need to know a bit about my world. I’ll try to share some of that with you here. To start, I’ll share some of what I have learned from my journals and from my interactions with others.

These are some of the words that I have heard that have been used, usually by others, to describe me. Mostly while I was growing up, but some are even used in my current situation. I share these with you so that you get a bit of an idea what it was/is like from an others perspective and what it was like a little from my perspective in dealing with my ADHD.

Idea guy.

Not a great finisher.

Predictably unreliable.

Touchy – emotional.

“Stick to it ive” – tenacious – stubborn

Hot headed, impatient.

Day dreamer.

Doesn’t follow through.

Doesn’t work to his true potential.

Intelligent, smart.

Witty – odd (really) sense of humor.

Strong

Stubborn

Empathetic

Dedicated

Detail oriented

Picky – perfectionist

Lazy

Organized

Messy

Caring

Unpredictable – moody

There are more for sure… but that’s a good enough start. I was diagnosed with ADHD – Combined type, when I was 55. 55… So, I’ve spent most of my life not knowing the “why” to a pile of questions. I spent those years coping with the “negatives” of the disorder thinking that I was – maybe a bit (at times a lot) broken or twisted or… I don’t know a word that really describes it… maybe it is broken.

I spent (spend) so much energy building systems to deal with the way my brain worked (works) differently than everyone else’s. I hid (hide) the real me as best I can because the real me has a brain that pings and pongs from stimulus to stimulus. I would (do) forget things, I would (do) have a difficult time prioritizing tasks, I’d get lost in time (do) if I was doing something that really interested me… and I’d have to hide all of that (do) from the world outside because my brain and the outside world work on two different sets of rules. I hid (hide) all of that because I had (have) to… its expected… Society 100% expects certain norms and my brain doesn’t work within those norms. I know it’s expected because growing up, I was told over and over and over again that the way I was doing things was wrong. School teachers told me I was wrong or bad or that my behaviour was “unacceptable”. Employers when I was a young man told me I was wrong or too different… so I changed the outside. I sincerely can’t change the inside – believe me – I would if I could, but I can’t. I put on a mask – I put up a wall or a façade and I interface with my world through the very guarded openings and ports in it.

Through all of that – I developed a pervasive sense of feeling that I was an imposter. I think/feel this “imposter” sense comes from knowing that I have to do things differently than my brain naturally flows. There’s a sense that the real me “Is not enough.” That the real me – the one that day dreams, comes up with ideas, is emotionally sensitive, etc isn’t, well that those are traits that don’t work in the “real world”. This not being enough has had a profound influence on my life for as long as I can remember.

Depression and anxiety disorders are very commonly comorbid (co-occuring) with ADHD and I have to wonder if its not a chicken and egg kind of thing. I know, from treatment, support groups, discussion with folks I know that have ADHD, that this idea of “the real me isn’t good enough for society and the wheels that drive it” is a common thread and that the actual “imposter” piece is super common in folks with the disorder.

I have to continually remind myself that I have done pretty well for the challenges I have faced. I have developed fairly effective methods of dealing with a number of my “deficiencies”. I have developed little habits, like using a bucket to keep my keys, pocket stuff, etc in. I use routines and patterns to keep myself on track. While I don’t really “feel time”, I have clocks and watches everywhere so that I don’t lose track. There are lots of other pieces that still trip me up.

I don’t take criticism very well – AT ALL. I think that because of my experiences as a child, youth, young adult and even now, that I’ve become super sensitive to criticism. I work really hard in adult settings to try to make sure that this sensitivity to critique doesn’t get in the way of social interactions. That said, I know criticism hits me hard. The part that I have to figure out in my own space is that once I have been criticized, I turn on myself. Instead of taking well intentioned critique as a means of looking for areas that I can improve on – I sharpen those comments up and then I turn them inward. I tend to “inflate” the criticism to a point where I begin to tear myself apart. This can happen over the simplest of comments. My counsellors have assured me that this is a part of my ADHD and that with practice, I can tone this “over-reaction” down. This is a piece that I definitely work on, on pretty much a day to day basis.

I lose track of the inner moderator… of making sure the “responsible adult in my head” that regulates what I let out of my mouth is present before the “inattentive kid in my head” blurts something more or less inappropriate out. This kind of goes hand in hand with another piece that I am ever mindful of… and that piece is social awkwardness. I have a lacking in that filter that others have. I have to be on the ready with the “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.” in meetings, social settings etc. I think these pieces tie into a need for me to “fit in”, to be accepted, to be part of the story. I recognize that growing up I was a loner, in some part because I was so socially awkward.

Emotionally, I can go from zero to infinity in a heartbeat. This is that moody piece. This piece ties into the previous comments somewhat. Emotional dysregulation is a “thing” for ADHD brains. I can sometimes overreact, or react at an inappropriate intensity (There’s those societal norms again) over, well over sometimes insignificant issues. This can be incredibly destructive in relationships, let alone incredibly embarrassing as an adult. Emotional dysregulation is chunk I am getting better at, but haven’t learned to control.

(As I am writing all these paragraphs, I see that I am commenting primarily about the drawbacks of the disorder as it exists in my life. I also note/recognize that all these things really are parts and pieces of the bricks and mortar that make up the façade/wall that I have constructed around myself to “protect” myself. This is a great piece of learning for me.)

“Always being behind in the game, never feeling caught up”. I tend to procrastinate. Folks with ADHD, and others too, do that. In the interest of space and reading time I won’t go into my understanding of my procrastination and hesitation on certain tasks.

Sensory overload! Certain smells, sounds, like – can be incredibly difficult for me. An simple example is someone crunching carrots or snapping gum or slurping food. Those sounds are a trigger for me. I just can’t do it. Common smells that get me is bad garbage, or turning milk… now no one likes the smell of trash or the smell of rotten milk, I get that. My reaction is almost one of panic. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the truth. I have misophonia. (From WebMD – Misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. Those who have misophonia might describe it as when a sound “drives you crazy.” Their reactions can range from anger and annoyance to panic and the need to flee.) It’s a thing – a real thing… I had no idea until my specialist explained it to me. Its very commonly comorbid with ADD/ADHD.

I have a perpetual sense of failure, of not measuring up, of not being enough. Imagine an irrational sense of being “the reason for all that’s bad in the world”. Even to the point of feeling like being responsible for the weather… I know this sounds crazy eh. It’s a truth for me. My belief is that this the result of living with undiagnosed, untreated ADHD and being repeatedly told that I was wrong, or bad, or lazy or dumb. I know that I’m none of those things. Well, not all of the time anyway.

A really common piece for adults with ADHD and one that I have/share with them is being always on edge, anxious, a sense of paranoia. Again, I believe that this boils out to living inside my walls and interfacing with the world out there…

Inability to focus on some tasks is a big piece. If I’m into a task or a project, I can focus – hyper-focus. This hyper-focus is for me the only benefit (if there is one) to my disorder. I can work and work and focus and toil and struggle with something that I’m into for hours, days… if it’s a more mundane task, I have an incredibly hard time focusing on it. This is a part of my procrastination piece. If the pressure of a deadline is there – that added pressure can be a motivator…. I can be motivated by the deadline to get the task done, but the doing of the task can be excruciatingly difficult because I just can’t get my brain to narrow in. Any little thing… the ticking of a clock, a reflection in a window from a car driving by… any little thing will drag my attention away from that task.

My ADHD is being super easily distracted. That’s the inattentive part. For me as an adult, the hyperactive component is the fact that my brain NEVER EVER SHUTS OFF. This can be and is exhausting.

Impulsivity is a problem for me. Impulse control happens in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. ADHD is a disorder of the workings of that part of the brain. I do my very best to make sure the “responsible adult” that exists in my brain is “ON”. I can’t just run on autopilot all the time. Impulse control for me is getting better for sure – there are times though, especially when I am tired or run down that its an issue. And that can be problematic. I’ll maybe share more about this specific piece sometime later.

There’s a statement on the bottom of one of the ADHD support columns that I go to from time to time that says something like… “Living with a person with ADHD is to realize there’s no one on earth who would put that much effort into failing…”

Living with ADHD is tough. I’m not suggesting that anyone have pity or sympathy for me or anyone that lives with the disorder. For me, the diagnosis was a place of beginning for an understanding of the complexities of problems with executive function, emotional dysregulation, a brain that won’t shut off, issues with impulse control.

I really hope that this little piece has provided a glimpse into my world. I’ve kind of opened the shutters a bit to let you see inside my space. I sincerely encourage you to do a little more research on ADD/ADHD and grow a working understanding of the disorder… even just a little.

Next week, I want to share a little of what my wife has experience with living with someone for 30+ years that had undiagnosed ADHD. I think that its an important part of my story to share her perspective. I’ve asked her to jot down some points that come to her mind about and she’s done that for me…. So that will be next week.

This week’s mental wellness challenge.

  • This week’s challenge has two parts.

Part 1. Learn something about the operation of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. Maybe look up definitions/explanations for/of “executive function”, “emotional dysregulation” and “ADHD Impulse control”. NO, there won’t be a test but you could share what you learn with a friend, co-worker and a loved one.

Part 2. Hug someone. Give someone a caring hug. Now, be mindful of social expectations and don’t just go randomly hugging folks. ASK THEM IF IT’S OK IF YOU GIVE THEM A HUG! If they say yes, then give them a caring hug. I challenge you to do this because I firmly believe that we, as a society, are becoming so disconnected from one another that we are forgetting that we are social creatures. We are so concerned with personal space – we are becoming islands. Humans can’t exist as islands folks… That’s a truth. So, maybe start close to home… give your spouse a purposeful hug, or maybe your teenager, or a friend. Who knows… your hug might be just what that person needed.

That’s it!

I challenge you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *