Sunday, October 5, 2014

10 things someone with ADHD wishes you knew.

I am very open about the fact that I have ADHD. Openness about mental health and mental disorders is the only way we can break the stigma around them. Through the open sharing about my struggles related to the disorder I've come to the realization; the majority of people really have NO clue exactly what goes through the mind of someone with ADHD. This really bothers me. Recently someone asked "If you feel like people don't understand, what do you want people to know about it?"

I've thought long and hard about it. I've talked to others and I've done research. Most of all I've looked over my life, all of the things that frustrate me about ADHD, the things I'm embarrassed about, and the things I wish teachers, parents or friends knew. If I want people to understand, I have to be willing to tell them.

Without further ado; 10 things someone with ADHD wishes you knew. 

ADHD is an actual thing. 
To be more formal, ADHD is a diagnosable medical condition which inhibits the part of the brain that regulates the executive functions. (I'm not a doctor- so that may not be 100% accurate doctor talk, go with it.) The executive functions are organizing, prioritizing, focusing, sustaining attention and shifting attention, estimating time, regulating alertness, processing speed, managing frustration, modulating emotions (frustrations, worry, anger) utilizing working memory, accessing recall, monitoring and self-regulation to name a few. You know, all of the stuff necessary to succeed in school, work and life in general. ADHD is not an excuse to be lazy or something that can be fixed with a good dose of hard work and discipline. Every single one of these skills are utilized every day, with almost every task. It is a real disorder and it impacts daily life. 

It's not that I can't pay attention, I can't pay attention to the right things. 

I do not possess the ability to filter my thoughts. When a thought pops into my head it races front and center and pushes whatever I was just doing out of the spotlight. This new thought interrupts activities such as listening in class, reading, talking to a friend, or even thinking through ANOTHER thought. This 'spotlight stealing' of thoughts happens all day, everyday. I once heard it described similar to standing in the TV aisle of an electronics store. Picture the whole wall of TVs, all with the sound on. There are so many things to hear, it can be difficult to turn your attention to just one and more importantly, stay on that one. I hate the misconception that I just lose focus and drift off in my thoughts. It is incredibly exhausting to grab your thoughts as they run away thousands of times a day and bring them back to what you were doing. Recognize this and have patience with me when I need to reign myself back in. 

I do things differently than everyone else.

Sometimes I have to ask a lot of questions, write things down or repeat them back to you. Since my brain is moving through a million thoughts at once, I ask a lot of questions to make sure I did not miss something in my black hole of thoughts. Often I will stop someone who is giving me a list or something to remember and I'll write it down. Additionally, I will often repeat tasks out loud  or instructions to ensure I didn't forget a step. For some reason- this annoys the crap out of people. No, I can’t remember the five things you told me to get at the store, so I’ll pause you right there and write them down. Yes, I know I’ve been to your house 5 times but I do not remember the directions. It may be annoying to adjust to a system you don't deem necessary. Just remember, as much you don't know what it is like to have ADHD, I don't know what it's like to NOT have ADHD. I only know I'm a lot different than most people. Be patient and be flexible. If you want me to complete something right- let me do it my way.

Sometimes I feel stupid.
I know how to spell a word, but I cannot always remember how to spell it when you ask me. I have so many words and thoughts floating around in my head, but sometimes it takes me a lot longer than you to formulate my response. My homework takes me longer and sometimes I need extensions on tests. This doesn't mean that I am dumb.  It has nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with how I store, organize and recall information.

Sometimes I wish I had a physical disability so people would treat it as such.
Imagine someone with ADHD has an injury that effects the part of their brain that controls their legs thus making it difficult to walk, but they still have to walk, every day, everywhere. Are you going to tell them to, “quit being lazy,” or to “Just try HARDER,” or express annoyance at their slow pace? It is the same thing with ADHD. If someone was blind, would you expect them to be tested in the same way a child who can see it tested? Just because you cannot see it, doesn't mean it’s not there.

Do not tell me I need to “work harder” 
I have to work harder that 90% of the population every single day of my life in almost every capacity that involves attention, organization, time regulation, etc. Typically, hard work is equated with results. Research shows that the part of the brain that ADHD effects works more, harder AND less efficiently than in a neurotypical brain. I may be working just as hard, if not harder but the results are not going to be the same. Imagine you were given a load of laundry to fold BUT you could only use one hand. You will be working just as hard but will take twice as long or only get half as much folded when compared to someone folding laundry with two hands. I don't need to try harder to get results, I need to try differently.

Unless I ask, your opinion on my choice to use medication is not welcomed.

I do not really care if your best friend's neighbor's daughter started a gluten free diet and suddenly is healed. I do not want to know that your cousin's son started using essential oils and now they are the best behaved child in school, has straight A's and gives lessons on organization to the kids who's parents still give them Ritalin. Right now, in this phase of life I am choosing to medicate myself. There may be periods of time where I decide it is no longer the right choice for me. I do not need to know why you feel it is wrong. It's my body, it's my mind, it's my education. I've made my decision and I do not owe an explanation for that.

It's hard to ask for help and I don’t like telling you all of this. 
Even the most open and accepting people are sometimes surprised to hear some of these things. That is because it is not fun to talk about. As a child, you have nothing to draw on but your own experience. Your world is not big enough to realize other people’s mind do not work like yours. You just know that you are somehow radically different and for the most part assume that you are bad, lazy, stupid and obnoxious. As an adult, it’s just embarrassing. Can you imagine being a full grown adult and having to admit that a task is left undone because, “I forgot.” OR you have to ask your professor or boss to clarify something and your only excuse it, “I wasn’t paying attention.” Asking for help is not only hard, it is also treated like an inconvenience in many regards. Although people accept that you have ADHD, normally it’s rejected when it involves someone else having to accommodate you. Most of the time I suffer or struggle in silence because it is hard to talk about. 

Yeah, sometimes having ADHD sucks.
If you know and love someone with ADHD and you know what I'm talking about. You've seen all the negative and hard truths about the disorder. You've seen them spend hours on homework that take other kids their age maybe 30 minutes. You've watched as they search through piles of wrinkled, unorganized pieces of paper in their backpacks. You're there as they come home, their head hung low with yet another note from the teacher. Saying that they just could not sit still. Or could not stop talking. Or said something inappropriate. Again. and Again. and Again. You've seen them fall behind in school and in their social groups. You've stood by and watched them struggle to adapt to a society that was not built for their magnificent but different minds.

There are really good parts about having ADHD too.  It's part of who we are.
Sometimes I have a hard time seeing the good in myself, but when I see others with ADHD, I see something beautiful. Like I said, if you know someone with ADHD you know all of the negative aspects but if you know them well enough you know the good side too. You know they are the life of the party, when they walk in a room it brightens up. And you know they are hilarious. They are quick witted and come up with a sarcastic comment before you can blink your eyes. Some of them are wildly creative and artistic. The things that create amaze you and just blow your mind. They float through life like they are on a cloud. They don't fit the rules of society. Sometimes that can be aggravating and annoying but they have a way of making life fun.They are outgoing and imaginative. They inspire you in ways that a methodical and quiet spirit could not. They are incredibly resilient and bounce back after countless failures. They have a tendency to see to the heart of something, while others see past it or do not have the time to think about the world in the way that an ADHD mind does. They are carefree, they are feisty and they hold a lot of characteristics that others wish they could embrace in themselves.

They're impulsive so they're the doers.

They're spacey and they're imaginative so they are the dreamers.

They have their downfalls and they have their kryptonite.

But if you know and love someone with ADHD you know that you would not ever want to know and love them without their ADHD.

It's apart of who we are. Embrace it. 

P.S. That "look a squirrel!!" joke is NOT freaking funny anymore.