This year I got diagnosed with adult ADHD

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I have always been acutely aware of time – my first experience of it dragging was from the ticking clock on 60 Minutes. For a kid, 60 Minutes is the world's most boring show. I was annoyed to learn there are sixty minutes in an hour and that yes, the adults' show would be going for another 59 circuits of the second hand and no, I could not change the channel. Why couldn't they just say all their boring things faster?

At swimming training I would nag my friend to tell me the time at regular intervals, and calculate the minutes until the two-hour session of following the black line would end. This friend had a waterproof watch and six cabbage patch dolls at home. It was the 1980s and both those things were valued commodities. I hoped that swimming faster would help the time pass more quickly. It didn't, but I became a regional breastroke champion.

I started to noticed that my problem paying attention was more than slight interference, while watching The Daily Show. The 23-minute episodes are highly engaging, but sitting – simply sitting and watching it with my boyfriend, without interruption was like ignoring a swarm of ants in my pants. In conversations or meetings, I would constantly pre-empt people – anticipating their train of thought and talking over them (with varying degrees of success). I found myself interrupting, jumping in, and being boisterous in cutting to the proverbial chase. There was no chase, except me chasing time.

My attention span had whittled down to about the length of time it took to read Danny Katz' Modern Guru column in the Good Weekend. I wanted to read the way I had as a 13 year old, but found myself skimming over words and pages, needing to 'use the force' to actually attend to things in any depth. It was irritating me, I was frustrated with myself – there were piles of books stacking up that I could never get beyond the first few pages of. I made a new rule – no more buying books until I read at least one.

I started questioning, then googling what this thing was. I knew what kids with ADHD looked like. As a school counsellor I watched their parents march them off to the paediatrician and back again, usually on medication. I even knew all about the impacts of technology overuse and a new phenomenon starting to get the fear mongerers talking called Internet Addiction. I wasn't like those fidgety fiddly naughty kids who get bored with everything… or a teenager engrossed in a massive online realm more dynamic than reality. Oh wait.

At school I wasn't dumb, but I didn't work that hard. I was a bit forthright and challenging. Especially in Religious Education in year 9, where I was a 'smart mouth', called out and interrupted lessons on with questions regarding King Missile's song Jesus was Way Cool. At uni, I joined Theatre Sports (a great way to throw ideas around and embody thoughts) and spent stacks of time with the Hare Krishnas (where I first tried chanting meditation and yoga). I had no idea what I wanted to do 'with my life'. I wasn't good at anything. I worked in call centres, delighted by the thrill of never knowing who would be on the phone when I answered it. There was always someone new to talk with, solve their problem, answer their question and then farewell. I especially loved angry callers and people seeking conflict - the buzz of the fleeting exchange.

I have always been supremely organised – this has masked my attentional hiccups nicely as it's the complete opposite of the stereotype of someone with ADD. Everything has a place, or a folder, or a box to live in. I love sorting things. So much so, when I was eight, I wanted to be a butcher – because they got to keep all the meat in nice neat sections all sorted in 'likes'. Sounding like more OCD than ADD you're thinking? Being tidy kept things in order, in some kind of balance. A balance that didn't exist inside my head, where distracting thoughts would ambush me like random arrows fired across my consciousness. And where everything was interesting, exciting – yes, even shiny.

I used to think I was anxious. But I realised that the content of the thoughts were not worrisome – there were just lots of thoughts. All of the time. From the moment my synapses starting firing to when I finally fell asleep. If my thoughts were milk, they could make butter. Technology and the Internet fuelled my thoughts and questions, and pandered to them – providing quick answers and immediate feedback. The thoughts could be immediately gratified via Social Media, especially Twitter, which became a way to externalise the thoughts and give them a space to exist that was beyond my internal psychic world where ideas would arise and then trail off like wisps of smoke.

To wrangle these thoughts, I write lists and make notes. In meetings or seminars I have to have paper and pen to disguise my listlessness, capture the thoughts and ideas and line them up in categories – lest they continue to intrude, and tempt me totally off task. The three days I spent doing the Landmark Forum, where note taking is banned, is the closest I'll ever come to doing Vipassana (the 10 day silent retreat that I used to pretend I wanted to do).

It's seem de rigueur to joke about being 'totally addicted' to technology/devices that you enjoy using or 'soooo ADD' when you just mean busy and excitable. I made these comments and mostly people joked along – until one person didn't. He was a colleague and child psychiatrist who gently suggested I was doing a pretty good job at disguising the issues with my coping techniques, but the cracks were starting to show. He was right. The strategies themselves were becoming the distraction. I warily took every online test I could find, read lots of information about adults with ADD and eventually got a referral to a psychiatrist with a specialisation in adults with ADD. I walked out of my first appointment with a script for Dexamphetamine.

Lana Del Rey got in my ears with her lyrics 'now my life is sweet like cinnamon, like a fucking dream on Ritalin' and several times I stood in the staffroom kitchen with a student's bottle of medication staring at me on the shelf, wondering if that was the answer.

I confided 'my diagnosis' in a few close friends, people who had seen me go through a handful of challenging life events. I stopped that after their ad hoc analysis of me as highly anxious and needing anti-depressants (coming from someone with bi-polar disorder) or as having OCD because I'm ordered (coming from someone who is not only incredibly intelligent, but phenomenally messy and a hoarder) were laden with judgement that I'd have expected from scientologists.

Suddenly I felt more stigma about being 'labelled' ADD than if I had been medicated for depression. Maybe I was just lazy and lacking self discipline, maybe I should just work harder (if that was even possible), ignore sensory inputs, be 'in the moment' more, throw out my wifi modem, throw out my iPhone, exercise more, eat less sugar, meditate, do yoga, grow up. I'd tried all these things already. Was I throwing my angels out with my demons by choosing to take dexies?

No, it seems not. After my initial resistance, I accepted that on most days, taking medication is very effective for supporting me get to through my work, and my life. I can work with more direction and purpose, my task completion has skyrocketed, the work I do is generally more well-rounded, considered and better quality. Immediately I felt like I listened more authentically to people, I relate better and more deeply. I am not a zombie, nor a speedhead. I haven't dropped five kilograms or lost my appetite. I still write lists and use software to block social media, but I can take a hot bath for longer than seven minutes. I can lie still in sivasana at the end of yoga and not be planning what to cook for dinner or how to solve the problems of teenagers in the south western suburbs.

People who know me laugh when I say that I don't feel like I have achieved much. It's true, that's what I feel. Yes, I have done some stuff – teach full-time while studying and running one of the biggest debating programs in Australia, produce eight theatre shows in the last five years, write a thesis on the emerging phenomenon of Internet Addiction and start a research group on adolescent digital wellbeing, complete psychology registration, go overseas seven times, and then start whole new career. But I don't have a huge sense of accomplishment. It's just stuff that I've done, and only a fraction of the stuff I want to do and the things I think up. No biggie. I don't really look back and go 'wow – I did that stuff'. I look forward and get excited by what's next. I get very excited. But now, it's a different kind of excitement - the kind I feel like I can sustain. Now I am the turtle, not the hare.

Follow Jocelyn on Twitter: @jocelynbrewer

 

37 comments

  • Thanks for writing this, it was good to hear the story of another person diagnosed with ADD as an adult. I think there are a few of us now.

    I also don't tell people about the diagnosis or the dex. However I do have a nephew who has been diagnosed and is taking Ritalin. I told him I had the same thing and new what it was like. That he wasn't a bad kid. I hope it helps, because adults aren't the only ones who are pre-emptively judged for having ADD.

    Anyway, I liked the story and appreciate the candour. Best of luck.

    Commenter
    BBB
    Date and time
    October 23, 2012, 8:45AM
    • I'm feeling a bit worried right now, because this could have been written by me. Yes, obviously, the attention span issues and not being able to read without distractions like I did as a kid, but also the diagnoses of OCD and anxiety, the supreme organisation, the yoga (my brain still races in the final savasana, and I'm always the first up once we've namaste-d), the churning thoughts, the obsessive list making. I've cut out sugar. I was researching Vipassana last week.

      Is there a way out of this that doesn't involve medication? Anyone got any success stories, or the slightest glimmer of hope for me? Because I want my focus back, but preferably not Bart Simpson-style with Focus-In...

      Commenter
      lola
      Location
      behind you
      Date and time
      October 23, 2012, 8:53AM
      • I was diagnosed as having ADHD as an adult and dyslexia as a child. I have never taken medication for it and I have still being sucessful in my career. If you can manage ADHD then you can acheive great things, hence Riding the Dragon.
        I don't like to see it as an illness, just your brain works in a different way. Having structure or a rountine helps and in particular patience, some things can be done quickly but accepting others cannot will bring a lot of peace of mind and reduce frustration. Easier said than done, but slowing down will often speed up getting the results you want. Progress will always be slow in your mind. The challenge is a shift of thinking about progress, in time you will see more accomplished and satisfaction comes from this.

        Commenter
        Riding the Dragon
        Location
        NSW
        Date and time
        October 23, 2012, 10:19AM
      • Lola, I agree with what Riding the Dragon says but I would also like to add, being the mother and wife of adhd, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depressed and anxious people there are very effective treatments available that don't require medication OR scientology. Google pyroluria and under/over methylation. Sometimes all it is a nutirional deficiency that is easily rectified. Modern processed food depletes our bodies (therefore our brains) of nutrients needed.

        All four of my beautiful people reacted badly to meds hence our journey into nutritional supplements and better food. The only downside is that the PBS doesn't recognise this so Ritalin may well be cheaper for you.

        Good luck.

        Commenter
        Sharlene
        Date and time
        October 23, 2012, 10:41AM
      • @RtD: I've been beating myself up for years over my inability to be slow, methodical and above all patient (with myself and others). The search for a method to train myself into better habits has been going on for years, but without any breakthrough as yet. Perhaps I just need to opt-out of the rat race completely - it often feels like modern mainstream society and my brain are a really bad fit :(

        @Sharlene: We're definitely on the same page re diet! Over the past couple of years, after a really unpleasant experience with SSRIs, I've been cleaning out my pantry and my body in the hope that it might stabilise the hormones/inner chemistry. No more processed food, gluten, sugar, dairy, starches, most soy. It's certainly made me feel less sluggish in the body, but the mind is lagging. I'll definitely take a look into the pyroluria and methylation aspects. So many things that have the potential to be off-kilter... It's really disheartening sometimes.

        Commenter
        lola
        Location
        behind you
        Date and time
        October 23, 2012, 11:11AM
      • I am a dyslexic adult AND I have adhd. I could not sit still or concentrate for very long. I did not do well at school but I liked boxing and Martial Arts. I have Perfect Pitch so I am a naturally good musician but I do not play well with others so I am not in a band as any ineptitude frustrates the hell out of me. I want a car like James Bond loaded with machine guns, rocket launcher and the oil slick thingie! That way I can shoot out the tyres of the people who hog the right lane that is meant for overtaking. Yeah and an engine so powerful I can drag off every other car on the street. Well that was in the past.
        I am very calm now AND focused. What helped me? Well, I was working 3.5 years ago and lifted something too heavy and ruptured a disc in my lumbar spine (L4/L5). This has left me in constant pain. The prescription pain killers that are opiate based have slowed down my thought process AND improved my ability to concentrate without getting bored or frustrated by a massive amount. I now read a book from finish till end BEFORE I start reading another book. That is a big deal to me as I love reading but I used to start reading and then start another book until I had 6 books on the go.
        My music ability has improved and I can play for longer on the guitar without distraction (unless there is a dripping tap somewhere in the house-then I go nuts until I find the offending tap and tighten it hard). I now play better with others and I am a better listener. DRUGS ARE THE ANSWER!

        Commenter
        Dyslexic Autodidact
        Location
        The InterWeb
        Date and time
        October 23, 2012, 11:17AM
      • Sharlene, great comment.

        Everyone mentions cutting out sugar when talking about medication alternatives to ADHD. Whilst this is a good idea, in isolation it won't have any where near as much effect as a full dietary analysis / overhaul.

        lola, unfortunately i don't have any definitive success stories, however, i think you might be amazed (maybe you are already aware) as to how many additives are used in modern food production. Something that most people are not aware of, is how many micro nutrients are missing from modern food, even raw food.

        If the soil is lacking in these micro nutrients, so will the food. Many of these micro nutrients are critical for optimum brain function as they are essential for controlling the actions of neuro transmitters.

        Try thinking of food as medicine. Try experimenting with cutting out some of the obvious candidates within your diet (eg any highly processed foods). Whilst experimenting with drugs can be extremely dangerous, not too many people have caused themselves harm by experimenting with food. Good luck.

        Commenter
        p
        Location
        brisbane
        Date and time
        October 23, 2012, 11:58AM
      • @Dyslexic Autodidact You have used exactly the same words as my hubby to explain the effect of oxycontin on him. He was diagnosed with ADHD in his 30s, but found Ritalin amped up his anxiety, so we got him off that. But oxycontin was like a miracle drug. Too good though, it wouldn't last long enough and then he'd have withdrawals. Not so bad on methadone but it sedates him too much. Hope you are having a better run with your painkillers.

        Commenter
        sapphyre
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        October 23, 2012, 1:28PM
      • Saphhyre- I am using Norspan patches. They are modified morphine that release slowly into the blood stream via the skin and last about 7 days. They are addictive though and will only be prescribed for pain, however, a Psychiatrist in the USA was allowed to treat anxiety and depression with patients who were unresponsive to conventional anti-depressants. The experiments worked a treat! With the downside of addiction though. See, some of us ADD/Dyslexics are aggressive when left untreated and stimulants make us worse. Opiods have the benefits of pain relief but the side benefits are relaxation and better focus. These benefits could be achieved by acupuncture and exercise which will raise endorphin levels and they have the same effect as opiates. I use opiates because they are prescribed AND I cannot exercise due to disability. I am only 44.

        Commenter
        Autodidact
        Date and time
        October 23, 2012, 2:08PM
    • Great article.
      "Ignore sensory inputs, be 'in the moment' more, throw out my wifi modem, throw out my iPhone, exercise more, eat less sugar, meditate, do yoga, grow up. I'd tried all these things already" - you've clearly done your research! Have you read Dr. Mark Hyman's 'Ultramind Solution'? It's worth a read, very interesting look at how the body and mind interacts in both positive and negative ways, ADHD is mentioned and you might be surprised what his take is on it!
      Wish you all the best :)

      Commenter
      Kate
      Location
      Surfcoast
      Date and time
      October 23, 2012, 9:06AM

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