June 19, 2018

10 Things I wish people knew about my ADHD (from a therapist) – Part 2

My feelings are big for a reason.

One of the common traits of ADHD that isn’t in the DSM-V is emotional hyperarousal.  That basically means that I tend to feel emotions more intensely than others.  I don’t just get a little mad, I get a LOT mad.  I’m not just a little happy, I’m over the moon giddy. It’s overwhelming.  It’s not just my own feelings that I’m sensitive to, but also the feelings of others.  What others are feeling tends to hit me harder.  This helps to make me a better therapist, but it can make the world “emotionally loud.”  It’s nothing that I’m choosing to do as it is a by-product of how my brain is wired.

Kids with ADHD struggle much more with emotional regulation and need a lot more support in this area.  So, parents, your kids aren’t out of control necessarily, but they need some understanding and support in learning how to calm down.  That’s why I find that yelling and punishment strategies tend to be less effective with these kids.  They stir up too many big emotions and impair the child’s ability to think clearly and stay calm.

For those of you struggling with hyperarousal, practicing meditation, mindfulness and other self-control techniques is crucial.  Learning to cool that hot temper makes life easier.

I need to do things differently sometimes, different isn’t always bad.

Here are some of my quirks:  I must always have a tv or radio going.  The background noise actually helps my focus.  I tend to have multiple projects going on at once.  As I wrote this article, I’ve got a book I’m reading at hand, my Rubik’s cube I’m learning to solve right here, and I’m listening to music.  I bounce from activity to activity.  I tend to like having things out where I can see them so I remember to use them.  I organize in piles.  I’m pretty much the only person that understands my organization, but it works for me.  This stuff drives people around me nuts at times.  They don’t get it.  They can’t work like that (the noise is distracting, the piles and things out in the open are like clutter, they can only do one thing at a time).

Here’s the thing.  Each and every one of those potentially annoying quirks represents a coping mechanism that Maximizes the characteristics of my unique neurology.  Bottom line is doing these things allows me to get stuff done…and that is the goal isn’t it?

If you love someone with ADHD, try to be understanding of their coping quirks.  Just because these things would never ever work for you doesn’t mean they are wrong.  If it’s your child, help her find her unique coping strategies that will let her succeed.  If you’re a partner or spouse, try to have some patience and make room for what helps your loved one work.  Perhaps talk non-judgmentally about the various coping needs and find ways to compromise around them so they are perhaps less intrusive.

If you have ADHD, be patient with those around you.  It’s hard for people to fathom how we think.  It is also important that we respect the needs and space of others if we want them to respect our needs.  So, try to make sure your quirks don’t overly impact or interfere with the daily living of those around you.  Instead of piles of organization all over the house, maybe agree on a specific place where you can keep things how you want.  If you need constant noise like me, wear headphones to not disturb others when they need quiet.  Those are just some examples, the important point is be willing to be flexible and compromise even though that may be a challenge.

I can’t “just pay attention”.

There is a saying I see on social media from time to time.  It is attributed to Albert Einstein (though I’m not sure how true that is).  It goes something like “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by Its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  What does this have to do with my paying attention?  Simple, “Pay attention” is one of the most common things I’ve been told to do my whole life.  My inability to do this seemingly simple thing has quite literally driven me nuts.  It was like I was a fish being commanded to climb a tree.

At the end of the day, I can’t just “pay attention” as that’s not how my brain works.  If I could do it, I wouldn’t have ADHD.  My lack of focus isn’t some moral failing.  It’s not rudeness or stupidity.  Furthermore, more discipline, spanking, punishment won’t suddenly rewire my brain to be more attentive.  The same goes for your ADHD loved ones.  What does work is understanding how my brain works.  For those of you in the tribe, understanding yourself and letting go the self-judgements is key.  Learning how to create motivation to enhance focus, developing the discipline to let go distractors when necessary, make life a joy to live.  ADHD doesn’t go away.  It’s there got life, but it isn’t a life sentence.

Lots of little failures everyday leave deep hurts.

Inattention, disorganization, procrastination, anxiety.  These are some of the things that I struggle wth on an almost daily basis.  They lead to lots of little failures.  Forgetting my homework at home even though I did it.  Only doing one side of the worksheet.  Losing things I need.  Forgetting appointments.  These can happen to me more often than others.  Each one feels horrible when it happens.  As a friend of mine says, “It’s like being pecked to death by a chicken.”  The looks that others give me when I forget.  The teacher comments on the report card…”He can do the work.” Or “he not only marches to the beat of his own drummer, he’s got his own band.”  They leave marks that only I can see.

Folks with ADHD carry these invisible hurts and it leads to poor self-esteem.  Hopelessness and helplessness are not far behind.  This can lead to depression and even more anxiety.  We become hyper sensitive to failure and rejection.  In some cases, we just stop trying…we give up and just focus on anything at all that might make us feel good.  Punishments don’t motivate us because they just reinforce the self-perception of failure and become objective proof that we can’t do what others seem to do easily.

Help us mend the hurts.  Help us to figure out our own coping skills.  Cheer us on.  That’s what we need instead of constant criticism.

I can be scared to fail, but also scared to succeed and that can leave me stuck.

At it’s worst, ADHD can leave me (and those like me) feeling stuck.  We don’t want to fail but keep getting tripped up by our foibles..,so the failure seems inevitable.  We fear the failure.  Ironically, this makes success scary too.  If my failure is inevitable, then success can seem either unattainable or unsustainable.  If I succeed, then there’s farther to fall when I fail.  Quite the catch-22.

The truth is, failure is inevitable.  We all fail at one time or another.  Learning to appreciate the successes when they come and to not get caught up in the failures is key.  Learning to appreciate the good and remember the bad is temporary is the most valuable lesson I’ve received.  It’s such a powerful coping skill.

Parents, teach your kids this.  Help them to stay in the moment and not get caught up in the kind of fear based thinking that paralyzes and leads to avoidance.

I need cheerleaders, not critics.

So all that being said, folks with ADHD need cheerleaders.  They need people in their life who accept them for who they are, the good, the bad and the ugly.  They need to be loved despite the foibles and quirks.  They need people who will celebrate every little win and when things aren’t going well will speak the truth to them, but also say “you can do it!”  Someone who will help put the lie to the belief of powerlessness, hopelessness and helplessness that all the little failures seems to create in us.

We don’t need critics.  Telling how we screwed up is simply preaching to the choir.  We know.  We are painfully aware of when we’ve messed up.  Our emotionality and sensitivity to rejection guarantee it.  Instead of telling us the obvious, help us learn to do better.  Remind us that we CAN do it (because we forget all too often).  Have high expectations, make us strive to be the best…but cheer us to the top of the mountain, don’t shame us away from the bottom.

ADHD is a superpower, not a disability.

Most of this stuff has been, admittedly, really negative and, truth be told, living with ADHD can be really hard at times.  The definition of ADHD is all about the deficits.  Large sections of our society are often not ADHD friendly.  However, I truly believe that ADHD is a super power.  I’ve got crazy energy and drive (thanks hyperactivity!).  Hyper-focus allows me to get more done in the morning than most people get done all day.

We have wonderful creativity.  We are passionate.  We can be a lot of fun (we’re experts at fun).   We’re youthful.  We can multi-task.  We’re great at coming up with big ideas and getting them started.

These are really positive traits that can make for a wonderful life.  All it takes is some self-awareness, some supports, some cheerleading, and some flexibility and ADHD as a disability virtually disappears.

 

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  You can read Part 1 here.  You can read more about ADHD as a superpower here.

©2018 Erik Young Counseling LLC

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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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A DAY IN THE ADHD LIFE: SCENES FROM A JAKE’S WAYBACK BURGER

True confessions time.  I have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  To my friends and family, I am sure this does not come as much of a surprise.  I am 46 and grew up in a place (Texas, then New Jersey) and a time (the 1970’s and 1980’s) where ADHD wasn’t as well-known as it is now.  Basically, I grew up undiagnosed until well into adulthood.  This is why I like working with kids and families dealing with adhd…it’s something with which I’m intimately familiar with.  Today, I describe a recent event in my life where my adhd brain got the better of me.  I’m hoping this will both amuse and educate you guys about what it’s like to live with this condition.

Let’s set the wayback machine for two weeks ago.  My fiancée and I were out shopping, running some wedding errands, etc.  Truth be told, I’m not huge shopping fan so my interest level wasn’t at 100% (though getting these errands done was important).  Furthermore, I’d not slept well the night before and was not my best mentally.  I could tell it was a bad adhd day.  My mind was bouncing from thought to thought like an overly eager and friendly Labrador retriever.  What I’m saying is from an attention management perspective, I was nowhere near the top of my game.

During our outing, it occurred to us we should eat food.  We decided to treat ourselves by stopping in a Jake’s Wayback Burger.  For those of you not in the know, this place sells incredibly great burgers and awesome shakes.  They’re a little pricey, but very tasty.  Inside, my labrador mind immediately noticed the cool posters in the place.  Each poster represented a decade (from the 30’s to the 80’s) and I found that I had to put a lot of effort and energy to keep my eyes from wandering from my fiancée (who is a lovely woman) to studying the posters.

To make matters worse, the two guys at the table next to us were having a loud, weird and interesting conversation.  Near as I can tell, one guy was starting some sort go video game start up.  He actually said “we’re going to be the next Nintendo.”  He was selling hard to someone who appeared to be associated with some sort of community access cable channel.  They were talking very loudly and the selling was hard.  My fiancée and I both were giving each other silent looks regarding what we were both hearing. We weren’t sure if it was a business meeting or a date. Anyway, this was another thing drawing my attention away from my fiancée and our conversation.

The proverbial camel breaking straw came partway through our meal when from behind me, someone in the kitchen yelled something to someone else in the kitchen.  I had no idea what they said.  I was caught utterly and completely by surprise.  That it happened behind me in my blind spot didn’t help.  Immediately, my attention was pulled behind me.  The Labrador in my head went “HUH??!?!”  I was powerless to stop it for a good couple of seconds.

The result was that I totally didn’t hear what my fiancée said.  As she is an intelligent and observant woman, she totally noticed my attention shift and knew in that moment I didn’t hear her.  I knew that she knew I wasn’t paying attention.  The Labrador tucked his tail between his legs and started to whimper.  I felt terrible because it was clear her feelings were hurt.  This wedding stuff is important and its important I be a part of it.  In that moment, even though I’m totally invested in the wedding and the planning, that’s not how it looked.  Once again, I let someone I cared about down and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it.  Somedays, this adhd thing really sucks.

She called me out on my lack of attention.  I tried to be cool about it at first, but ultimately had to own up to the fact that I missed some of what she said.  Explaining what happened and apologizing, I did the only thing I could do.  Ask her to repeat herself. As her feelings were hurt, she did not want to at first.

We talked some more about what adhd is like for me.  I suspect many of you have had similar conversations with parents, partners and friends.  The neurotypical folks in our lives don’t understand the struggle of how easily our attention gets split.  They don’t see all the ways we must compensate for adhd mind.  They do, however, see the frequent lapses in attention.  When it gets personalized, they get hurt…we in turn, often get defensive.

If you love someone with adhd, understand these important points:

  • ADHD is forever. Don’t confuse an apparent lack of symptoms for a lack of ADHD.  Your loved one has probably learned to cope better.
  • Coping skills only go so far. Lack of sleep, environmental attention grabbers, etc. impact our ability to attend.  If stressors exceed coping, our attention will go bye bye.   Don’t take that personally.  Not to be cliché, but it’s not you, its us.
  • Know that we really want to pay better attention and most of us are trying really hard to stay engaged and attentive.
  • Help us by calling us out on our lack of attention to get us to re-attend. But do so without judgment or ire.  We may need the help, but the other stuff just gets us resentful and defensive.

For those of you, like me, who have adhd, try the following:

  • Be aware of how good or bad your attention might be. Be honest with your loved ones about when you might be struggling.   Help them understand.  Help them to help you.
  • Be honest with yourself when your attention is weak and try to implement appropriate coping skills.
  • When things go awry, don’t personalize it or get down on yourself. Apologize, reset, refocus.  It’s ok.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We tend to be the kind of people that don’t ask for help or assistance.  We’re often tired of being “failures”.  Failure only happens when you don’t get the support you need.  Doing yourself will ultimately end in the failure you’re trying to avoid.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on dealing with your adhd symptoms or the adhd symptoms of a loved one, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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