She shook my hand, “Thank you, so much. Your talk was so informative. Our son has ADHD, and I am pretty sure my husband might. But he refuses to get tested. Or even discuss it”
I nodded, and admitted that, “Guys can be kind of reluctant about admitting that there may be a problem. We think it means we’re damaged. Or defective.” After many seasons writing and performing on The Red Green Show, I felt like I knew a bit about how guys think. Oh, and being a guy helped as well.
I added, “In fact, I only realized what was going on when my son was diagnosed. Since then I’ve learned ADHD is about as heritable as height.”
I’d just finished a presentation at the Tourette Syndrome Foundation Canada conference. Several participants took turns asking questions as I packed up my computer.
The best part of these conversations after a live event happens when people who’ve stuck around to talk start answering each other’s questions and sharing their stories.
The performer in me loves to share what I know, but I’m learning to listen and allow people to connect and contribute. Listening is not a natural strength of mine. (Apparently what I see as ‘enthusiasm’ can come across as overwhelming, numbingly long, or dominating. Yikes!)
Who Invited Me?
You may be wondering why a guy with ADHD would be asked to speak at an event for Tourette Syndrome. I know I was confused when I was invited.
It turns out that about 75% of Tourette kids also qualify as having ADHD. I’d been at this a few years and had no idea.
Three quarters? That’s a big overlap.
But now that ADHD is being described as a problem with ‘Executive Functions’ it makes perfect sense. Executive Functions are what keep everything humming long. Like the Executives in a large organization. A company may have skilled and productive, workers, but if it’s run by lousy executives, it’s going to be chaotic.
With ADHD we may have real strengths and talents, but putting it altogether, coordinating time, focus, priorities, and managing our energy, productivity, goals, focus, is a problem.
It doesn’t make us bad people. It does mean we’re overwhelmed, overcommitted, underproductive. And if your Executive Functions aren’t up to par, it’s going to cause all kinds of problems in many areas of life.
The Labels are Insufficient and the Lines are Blurred
Small wonder that 70% of people with ADHD have at least one other diagnosis. And 2 out of 5 of us have three or more things going on.
These ‘other disorders’ are called ‘comorbidities.’ I’ve been through at least three bouts of Depression in my lifetime. Anxiety has been an issue. I’ve never been tested but I suspect I have a Learning Disorder. And if I look at a list of symptoms for Autism Spectrum Disorder, well, it’s very mild, but I see aspects of myself there too. (Someone once joked that anyone with a degree in engineering or science probably has some A.S.D.)
In fact, a decade or more of genetic research has discovered that many of the genes that show up in folks with Autism also show up in those with ADHD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Learning Disorders, and other, rarer, Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
You can see why diagnosing what’s going on is fraught with peril. Were my bouts of Depression a result of struggling with undiagnosed ADHD?
The symptoms overlap. The lines are blurring. And they were never all that clear to begin with, were they.
The Wrong Depression
That’s why I was invited to speak at the Tourette conference. And then to my surprise and delight, I was invited again the following year. Which is how I found myself chatting with all these people after my talk.
One man shook my hand and thanked me. Another woman admitted, “I found myself laughing at your presentation. That’s healthy, right? I mean, this is a medical disorder….”
“Yes, and I’m a comedian. So it’s fine. There were a lot of people laughing.”
A Lost Decade
Eventually, only one woman was left. As she spoke, she was fighting to control her emotion. “Over a decade ago I was diagnosed with Depression. I started on an anti-depressant medication. It helped a bit. I didn’t cry any more. But I didn’t laugh any more either. Then I heard you speak last year and I was stunned. I thought, ‘This sounds so much like me. Maybe I have ADHD, not Depression.”
I nodded, “It’s common. Unless your doctor asks about what you were like as a child, they assume it’s something new. And maybe you had Depression because your ADHD was never diagnosed.”
She nodded, “Exactly! I was always tuned out. Always disorganized. Always feeling like I wasn’t enough.”
She Was Depressed. By Undiagnosed ADHD.
Her eyes were moistening, and she had to pause and breathe, “But with the kids grown, and less to do, it’s gotten worse. So I went to my doctor and he listened to my thoughts on ADHD. It’s been a year and now…”
People were filing in for the next presentation. We stepped to one side and she continued, “…I’m off Depression medication for the first time in 12 years and I can feel things fully again. I’ve started taking ADHD medication and now my house is tidy, paperwork is done and I’m finally finishing my degree. My children aren’t ashamed to come over. I get to see my grandchildren…”
I beamed. “Wow, that is…” She cut me off and swept me into her arms.
When she finally let me go, she continued, explaining how angry she had been about struggling for so long with the wrong diagnosis. The reaction, “Now you tell me?” is pretty universal. As is the Emotional Tornado that an ADHD diagnosis can trigger in adults.
I agreed, “It’s this unseen saboteur. The whirlwind of emotion is normal. Relief that there’s a better explanation than, ‘I’m stupid, weak-willed or lazy’. Then regret over lost opportunities. ‘Why didn’t someone spot this sooner?’”
She talked about how the Forums on our website, TotallyADD.com, made her realize that thousands of adults are on the same journey. Through the site, she learned that a holistic treatment plan can quickly turn things around. It’s exhilarating. We hugged again and she headed off to the next workshop. I was beaming, knowing she’d found help.
ADHD overlaps many other disorders. Even on it’s own it undermines relationships, careers, finances, families, parenting, and leads to all kinds of destructive behaviors—addiction, substance abuse, gambling, risk taking, and more.
ADHD is Insidious
That is why, I would venture to say, for me, this is a Holistic Disorder.
Many doctors will tell you, and any adult who’s been at this awhile will agree, managing this mindset requires a Holistic approach.
Multiple strategies. That mutually support each other.
What’s called a ‘Multi-Modal Approach.
In the early days medication made such a difference for me, I thought that would be enough. Nope. Gradually, I was forced to admit that while medication leveled the playing field, I still had to go out on that playing field and play the game. And play to win. I needed a tools. Strategies. Supports to manage and in some areas actually master my mind.
If you’re new to this disorder, or if what you’re doing to manage your symptoms isn’t enough, we produced a comprehensive video on Holistic Solutions to ADHD. There are a lot of possible tools and strategies here. They key is to understand they work together, and are mutually supportive.
Holistic Means Mind & Body – The Whole
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not simple, it’s not the same from person to person, and it’s complex in how it shows up in your life.
Eventually I admitted that medication alone wasn’t enough for me. I started using other strategies, creating a Holistic array of practices. Not only did things improve dramatically, one strategy supported another.
Medication made it easier to sit still and do Mindfulness practices. Those practices created enough calm for me to start and actually finish a yoga routine every morning. The Yoga gave me the energy to take on a slew of ADHD strategies, especially around organizing my schedule and my stuff. Which freed up time to do Mindfulness practices…
You could say the strategies became comorbidities, one leading to the next. And none of them sustainable on their own.
But knowing what’s really going on, getting a proper diagnosis, as this woman at the conference had, is life changing.
“Thank you so much. Take care…”
We chatted a bit more, and then she was off to another session.
Lost in the moment, I didn’t see yet another woman waiting by the door as I was leaving. She stepped forward, a bit tentative, “Hello, I hope you don’t mind, but I heard you speak last year, and I had this feeling that I’m not depressed, even though I’d been on anti-depressants for 9 years….”
Similar story. I’ve heard it many times since.
If you know someone who is struggling with depression, and has been for a long time, suggest the possibility of ADHD. Or, if that feels like it may not be well received, simply forward them the link to this blog.
You could end years of suffering, transform a life, and be on the receiving end of a lot of hugs.
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