June 24, 2018

10 Things I wish people knew about my ADHD (from a therapist) – Part 1

I’m a therapist and I have ADHD

As the heading says, I have ADHD and I’m also a therapist.  I work a lot with special needs families and that means a lot of families struggling in some way with ADHD.  I also know that my family is impacted by my ADHD needs and behaviors.  It can be awesome and fun, and it can also be very frustrating for me and for them.  I’m living in a world built by and for neurotypical people.  Somedays it is hard to adjust to that.  It’s like wearing clothes that are both too big and too small.  There have been many times in my life where I wished others could understand what was up with me.  I couldn’t explain myself because at that time (especially as a child) I didn’t understand myself.  So, that is why I wrote this piece.  To help explain my experience and maybe help others who have or love someone who has ADHD to get along a little better.

I’m not lazy!

This is something I used to hear a lot growing up, and sometimes hear now.  It always hurt and, even more than that, confused me.  If I was so lazy, then why was I always scrambling so much and working so hard?  Sure, I’d get too lost in my hobbies and I often struggled to get boring stuff like homework done.  This was not out of a sense of not wanting to do it, not having the energy or wherewithal.  No.  It was because it was just harder for me to pay attention to all the little details.  To maintain my focus when there were a million other things clamoring and screaming for my attention.  It’s like trying to listen to a song on the radio as you drive through the mountains.  The signal keeps fading in and out, then a competing radio signal breaks in for a second.  It’s frustrating and difficult to follow the song, right?  That’s my brain all the time.  Can you imagine?  If it were you, you’d probably want to dive into something soothing and distracting too.  You might resent having to leave that safe headspace to go back to the frustrating radio station.

It’s not lazy, its coping.  It’s not willful (though it often seems as if it is), its survival.

For those of you who belong to the ADHD tribe, learning how to mindfully and consciously find your brain soothers to calm the frustrations.  Learn to cultivate motivation where it is lacking to get things done.  How to leave the fun stuff and get back to it later.  These are important goals and are skills to be learned.  Never accept the label of lazy.  It doesn’t fit, and you don’t deserve it.

I care deeply.

When I was younger, I was accused often of not caring about things such as chores, homework, others’ feelings and the like.  This hurt deeply because I really did care.  That I couldn’t seem to do the simple things that everyone else did to get through the day was a mystery to me, and then to be blamed for it like I was doing it on purpose really just sucked (to put it mildly).  To this day, I look at people who are organized, never late, always have everything they need to do what they have to do and it just seems like magic.  I can do that stuff too, now, and it takes a lot of effort and coordinated outside structure for me to give the illusion of togetherness.

Back in the day, maybe I didn’t seem to care because I couldn’t get it together.  So, when I was accused of not caring I just stuffed those feelings deep inside so as not to show the hurt.  Also, it’s possible not that I didn’t care but that whatever it is that I was supposed to care about, that thing that everyone else thought was really important, simply didn’t make it onto my radar.  I remember getting chewed out by my boss at work once when I was in my 20’s.  I showed up to work on time, but there was a staff meeting going on.  I had no idea.  I don’t remember being told.  I don’t recall seeing a memo or a note posted anywhere.  Obviously, word got out, because everyone else was there.  I missed it.  Was probably distracted by something or too focused on something for that information to get into my head.  So, it looked like I didn’t care about my job.  I assure you I did.  Just because I struggle at times to keep eye contact (because something shiny moved in my peripheral vision) or because I can’t sit still, just because I forgot something because it was out of my routine or because I don’t attend to the obvious because it was not obvious for me does not mean I don’t care.  I do.  A lot.  I feel awful when I let people down.  I feel awful when I fail.

For those of you who have been through this yourselves, give yourselves permission to not be perfect.  It’s ok to mess up so long as you work to make it right and make it better.  Don’t get caught up in the comparison game where you feel bad about what you do compared to everyone else.  Just do your best.  Show your caring through action.  Don’t let the uninformed opinions of others take up space in your head.

There is NO attention deficit.  ADHD is mislabeled.

Anyone who has seen me for ADHD treatment has heard me get on my soapbox about this.  First, I dislike the diagnostic criteria for ADHD in general.  They are deficit focused, missing out on the things that folks with ADHD can do and are good at.  They are incomplete, missing things such as rejection sensitive dysphoria.  Academic (classroom) oriented and missing aspects of living in the wider world. Secondly, as the title suggest, there is NO attention deficit.

The core “symptom” of ADHD is labeled wrong and thus misunderstood.  It’s not that people with ADHD can’t pay attention.  I know that I can do something I like (make music, play video games, do therapy) for hours.  I lose track of time doing it.  I see my clients having similar issues.  Anyone that can single-mindedly focus on doing anything and do it for hours at a time is not lacking in attention.  I suspect that the very name of the condition leads to the misperception of who we are as people (see the above sections about laziness and not caring).

The attention is there.  Its just that the threshold of stimulation needed to activate that attention seems to be much higher than in neurotypical people.  Basically, those of us with ADHD need a lot more stimulation to feel normal and pay attention than other people.  The world does not provide, so we walk around in a state somewhat like perpetual boredom with our brains going “What’s that!  What’s that!  What’s that!”  trying to find something interesting to make that stimulation happen. When the stimulation we are receiving meets our need for stimulation then we don’t just get focused, and we get this hyper-focus, the super power of ADHD.  It’s amazing when it happens, and it doesn’t often happen easily.

One of the most important skills someone with ADHD has to master is creating motivation where it is lacking and unlocking hyper-focus.  Learning how to pay the toll for focus and make it work.  It can be done.  It simply takes practice and effort.

I hope that you found this article helpful.  Please feel free to share your experiences about living with ADHD (either as the who has it or as someone who loves someone who has it) in the comments below.  If you would like to work on ways to turn ADHD into a super-power, please feel free to reach out to me. Erik@erikyoungcounseling.com Part 2 will be published in a few days.

Read Part 2 here

©2018 Erik Young Counseling LLC

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