Me & ADHD – Going Steady For 17 Years

By Rick Green 

I used to suffer from ADHD.

Because I didn’t know that’s what it was.

Hard to win a wrestling match against an invisible opponent, if you don’t even realize you are in a wrestling match.

So I just suffered.  Mostly in silence.  Cause people got tired of hearing my problems, my excuses, my apologies.

17 years ago everything changed.  That’s when the doctor suggested that my son has ADHD.  As a worried parent, I did the due diligence.  The reading and research.

What I learned was that I actually have ADHD.

Or, as I told myself at the time, I ‘qualified’ as ADHD.  Checking off a list of symptoms, my heart sank. ADHD?! “My brain is broken?”

I took a couple of tests, and scored well over the threshold.  Not off the charts, but definitely part of the club.

OH GOD! NO! NOT ME!

At first I was terrified.  I read about all the ways it manifests and impairs.  Some were not me.  But so many fit.  Like a glove.  My life made sense.

The more I read, the more the fear turned to interest.  Curiosity.  Growing excitement.  As so many of you have told me, “It was like I finally found myself.  This is me!  They’re talking about me!”

Some impairments were obvious.  Distractible.  Restless.  Impulsive.  Many were a surprise.  Sleep Issues?  Clutter?  Completing Tasks?

Gradually, I realized a whole bunch of my beliefs about myself, 90% of them negative, were not moral failings.  They were not weaknesses or failures.  They were simply symptoms.

AM I A COLLECTION OF ‘SYMPTOMS’?

But that didn’t feel right to me.  Aren’t symptoms part of an illness?  This isn’t an illness.  It’s not a disease.  You don’t catch it, though it can be caused by a head injury.

The doctors called them symptoms.  I saw them as behaviours, misbehaviours, failings, weaknesses even.  We all have weaknesses.  I’m lousy at basketball.  I’m cool with that.

While some symptoms or tendencies worked for me as a comedian, many undermined my best intentions.

And they had undermined me in ways I’d never appreciated or noticed, any more, I suppose, than a fish notices the sea.

I’D FOUND MYSELF!  BUT, IT SEEMED TOO EASY

ADHD genes, ADHD DNA, ADHD inherited, ADHD in my familyAs I moved forward, part of me backtracked, doubting that such complex issues could simply be a deficit of certain neuro-chemicals.  It explained so much.  Too much.

Was I just looking for an explanation?  A justification for my failures?  A smug, neat and tidy excuse for the areas of life where I was shut down, or far behind in delivering?

But then I started ‘treatment’ and things shifted.  Rapidly.

‘Treatment?’  Hmm.  Not the best word for it.  Most of what I did involved strategies; structures and habits.  It was holistic—mind and body.

Exercise.  Therapy.  Creating routines.

Medication worked for me.  Despite huge reluctance and resistance.  It was a revelation.  “So this is what it’s like for everyone else?  Lucky bastards!”

THE TIPPING POINT TO A NEW LIFE

Suddenly I had a fighting chance to build the habits and develop the structures.  The impairments decreased, like a saw tooth, with successes and setbacks.

Things I’d always found difficult were easier.  Tasks that I dreaded and avoided were now doable… if I approached them using the techniques I’d learned: breaking things into steps; short intense bursts; frequent rewards; clear deadlines; lots of feedback; reporting progress; handing things off to others. Productivity rose.  Stress dropped.

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE BACK, FIVE SIDEWAYS…

Of course I kept getting sidetracked, or falling into, “If only I’d known sooner…”

We all do at least once.  The writer in me imagined all kinds of scenarios about how rich and famous I could have been, “If only someone had told me about this…”

And assuming I’d been willing to listen.

“If only…” got me nowhere, and left me disheartened.

This tornado of emotions is an insidious trap.  I found it so damaging, I created the video,  Now You Tell Me?! which highlights how easily we can be thrown off our game by regret, anger, doubt, and sadness. Or worse, by one casual comment from a friend.  As the experts explain, understanding what’s going on can save your life.

Eventually I dropped the drama and fantasy.  I couldn’t win an argument with reality.  I was here, at this point, with this new knowledge.  Better to save my energy for dealing with it.

I WASN’T SURE THINGS WERE IMPROVING…

Then came unexpected moments of calm.   I would notice I was motor mouthing and learned to stop.   The spotlight could shift from me and I was okay with it.  Even relieved.  When I actually listened, I heard wonderful things from my wife, my children, and my friends.

Who knew?!

I could sit back and relax and let life unfold.

And then, one day, a sudden realization…

“I used to suffer from ADHD.  Now I just have it.”

 

10 Replies to “Me & ADHD – Going Steady For 17 Years”

  1. Hello, my name is Paul, or Pappy. I suffer from severe ADD. I was diagnosed at the age of 6 of having ADHD, due to being hyperactive, however, today I have been diagnosed with ADD. I was diagnosed 3 years ago with having ADD, so I have gone 48 years with being undiagnosed. At the time of being 6, in the 70s there was nothing anyone could do to help me. They had a new med called “Ritalin” which they did prescribe to me, however, it did not work, so they took me off of Ritalin. At that point everyone just kinda sorta gave up on me and swept it under the rug. Well here I am, 48 years later and nothing has really changed. Loss of jobs, going from job, to job, either quitting or getting fired. loss of memory, forgetting things, no focus, loss of concentration, blurting out, not completing projects, starting on one thing, losing focus and moving onto something else not remembering what I started doing in the first place..ect. Another issue I need to mention, I am a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Been clean and sober 30 years, but still going through the same issues as I did when I was 6. You need to understand this, when I was in active addition, I had the same issues I have now, KNOWING it was the substances I was using, that were causing them. Then when I got clean and sober and still doing the same things as I am today, I did not realize it was ADD this whole time until now. Using substances COMPOUNDS the symptoms of ADD, it causes more in depth issues, the same issues, just more in depth. And I always thought the that all the incidents I experienced were all to do with drinking and drugging, when it had to do with ADD also. All the substances did was compound all the issues I faced and dealt with. Plus Using substances, as I did, gave me the excuse to continue using them due to also having undiagnosed ADD. Being sober has brought my ADD issues and symptoms to the fore front. I needed to get clean and sober to realize the severity of ADD symptoms and issues.

    1. Getting clean and sober takes something, so I congratulate you. I’ve had people close to me manage to get a substance abuse handled, and I have a sense of what’s involved.
      So often we do things to cope with our undiagnosed or untreated ADHD that turn out to be counter productive. Sometimes they buy us a bit of time, but mostly they cloud our judgement and we can fool ourselves into thinking it’s working because it feels like we’re calmer, clearer, or more productive.
      For example I used to always have 9 projects on the go at once. I thought it made me more productive and capitalized on a brain that jumped around a LOT.
      But it just meant I spent a great deal of time going, “Where was I?”
      Which is why in our video, ADD & Mastering It!, we talk about limiting the amount of multi-tasking. It just doesn’t work.
      By the way, there are other medications around these days, if that’s an option for you.

  2. Dear Rick,

    Putting into words what I feel is such a service. Helping me to laugh about it rather than cry is another. Now I know that identifying with the characters is why I was a Red Green fan for so many years before I ever seriously suspected I had ADD (thanks to ADD and Mastering It, which was part of the local PBS fund raising.) Red Green was a comfort, merely because I knew that somewhere out there, well, up there, was a writer who was saying I wasn’t the only one, and actors who seemed to get it, too.

    But in addition to your art, taking the huge step from hiding behind characters to saying it in non-fiction form, that goes way beyond altruism to heroism. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE VULNERABILITY of speaking for yourself with your mouth, and with your body language in the public arena. (Almost every time I do that, I regret it, big time.)

    Maybe it is super selfish to say that I am glad you have spent your career writing what you have written instead of that book you often talk about. I am a voracious reader, but it is highly unlikely I’d have stumbled onto it, in the way that Red Green made me feel less like a freak, and the way ADD and Mastering It led me to getting a diagnosis and treatment from a psychiatrist.

    About everything you write puts my feelings and questions into words. Words are great.

    I know thousands upon thousands of people feel the same.

  3. addeanne, it’s okay to cry. And it’s okay to laugh. I do both.

    I suspect someone could draw up a list of ADHD characters on television and it would be huge. Having met a lot of comedy writers I think I know why.

    I think the title Arrested Development was particularly accurate.

    As for being vulnerable and speaking publicly about ADHD, it’s been more than a bit scary at times. More so than simply doing comedy. But over the past 6 years that I’ve been doing this full-time I’ve seen a real change. Not everyone gets it, not by a long shot, but more and more do. We’ve reached the tipping point I think. At least in North America. Europe, Asia, and elsewhere? Not so much.

  4. Rick,

    “Artistic Temperament”. I’m from a family of writers and actors. Not sure that any of us escaped Grandma’s ADD. I teach. Creative writing. The ADHD looking kids are great writers. Almost invariably. Hard to shut up, but great writers.

    You could have written any characters. Well, you probably did. But the characters you created are kindred spirits. I would line a patio umbrella with Mylar chip bags. Wait a minute… Didn’t I do that once? Have I been plagiarized?

  5. Hello, and thank you for your story. I am a 47 or 48 year old mother or six children, 19, 17,11, 10, 10, and 10. I am 48, I said both numbers to show an example of how my ADHD can affect me. I actually have to stop and think! I know its one of the two always, but which on, not always. Believe it or not, I am actually a fairly intelligent women with an above average IQ. Two letters that I dreaded hearing when I was younger. I was the the youngest out of six. The oldest sibling is has a developmental disability due to an illness and high fever he had at the age of 2. So, the general line was, “if you were your brother, I would understand! You are just being lazy!

    I say that not to throw blame, as ADHD wasn’t really understood or known about, at my small Lutheran grade school and high school. I always started out the semester or classes with A’s and B’s. First and third quarters were always my best. I didn’t understand it either. Then was then, so I will get to some now.

    My oldest son who is a “gifted” (diagnosed) student, was diagnosed with bi- polar in-between his junior and senior year of high school. He is a freshman at a local University, having had to pass on a full scholarship to S& T University, in Rolla, Missouri. He going to college close to home so that he can better learn how to recognize his symptoms and how to best maintain his health. I am his “IT”, person. It is my eyes and ears that are responsible for recognizing when he is “off track”, and try and guide, (not do for) him back off the ledge. My responsibilities as a parent are the most important thing to me.

    My 17 year old son is a junior in high school. He rides the roller coaster in school like I did, but does a much better job at either catching himself before he bombs or gets lead back to the trail by me. He took himself off medicine in 8th grade and did pretty well using his systems. He just forgot that those systems are life systems, not just when needed. No blame, I mean he does have me as an example. Mrs. always trying to figure it out, tomorrow’s a brand new day, one hopeful solution after another.

    My 12 year old is wonderful, although she demonstrates some aspects of ADD, it is really felt that those aspects have to do with her environment (me and my example) versus ADD. Messy, unorganized,….. A good girl, whom I can’t help but wonder if she feels she is even seen sometime. Caring…….. never complains when I am pulled away due to her brothers illness, or some other fire I am putting out.

    The trips! All three girls and all three different. One is in the gifted program and getting ready to loose it due to un-diagnosed ADD and ODD. On the start of that diagnosis now. Unfortunately she will not qualify for Special School District services as her IQ and scores are not affected enough for their standard. So, a title 5 may be the decision. She sees a counselor next month. Smart, good, loving, and loves to challenge others as well as fine loop holes in anyone’s rules, directions……………..

    One has a reading disorder and was given a label of LD at the end of the school year last year. We are still figuring it out, but it seems that it is kind of like dyslexia. If something is read to her, she does wonderful! It affects her spelling of course as well, and she tends to flip her numbers at times too. She is my rule follower for the most part. She is a hard worker and doesn’t give up as easily as she did before diagnosed.

    One is ADHD with a capital H. She is also ADD with a capitol A. She was just diagnosed at the beginning of this school year. Because she is very shy and is not able to communicate her feelings well, her H doesn’t come out as much at school. At the end of last year they thought she had a reading disability like her sister. After starting medicine a couple of months after school started, her reading level went up by 2.5 grade levels in two weeks!! Amazing what you can learn when you are able to focus!!

    I think socially, my 17 year old and I were simular. Excelled at sports, easy going, very aware of others feelings, knows everyone, lots of friends, however not so much “friends” as in one on one. Generally one of those at a time, which has now switched to “girls”. I was also a lot like the last trip. I had a difficult time putting my finger on exactly what I was feeling sometimes and why.

    So I guess you could say, that I have reached a tipping point. I once thought it was enough to know I had ADHD. Now, as I try to teach my children and guide them for long term success, I find my lack of systems is making it increasingly impossible to keep on top of everything and it is hurting so bad!!!

    People like to tell me how wonderful I am, six kids, I volunteer with their activities, they are well mannered, I assist greatly in the care of my father and my brother who still live together,…….. They say, “I just don’t know how you do it!!” I use to say, “One just does! It’s not a choice,”…..what I really want to say is, “I do better some days than others, and for the most part live each day trying to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.” The problem with this is that I am not getting anywhere for very long. That up the mountain climb while not being able to see the peek.

    At the same time, here I am running around my kids with tidbits of advise (talk not always actions) and all I can wonder, is what am I doing to them. I’ve always been someone who for the most part had good intentions. The end result didn’t always mimic those intentions however.

    I have read so many books on ADD ADHD BIPOLAR, you name it, I reinvent the wheel daily……… I just want to explode and I don’t know what to do. In my younger days I would have just tuned it all out and went out and played. In the 4th grade I can remember sitting at my desk with my protractor, I just felt so much pressure, so I cut my arm with the protractor. I didn’t tell anyone, it was my way of numbing or stopping everything, letting the steam out silently. Little bit older, I would have run out and played as well but include possibly drinking or pot, made impulsive choices.

    Thankfully, life lessons and being a mom, I don’t drink, or smoke pot, or act promiscuous, I can’t, I have kids. So, what do I do, I still act impulsive sometimes when it comes to shopping, it’s just more of the GoodWill variety, so I don’t mess things up more. I read, I gather info, I find resources for my kids,.,,,,,,, I look, look, look, but I haven’t found the answer, and it hurts, and I have to figure it out, so that My kids can be healthy and have full lives and the capabilities to work through and continue to live, even when life gets hard or something happens.

    Everyone knows I have ADHD, I’ve told you if I’ve meet you I’m sure, I know need to know how to manage my life in a healthy forward moving way, A life with less anxiety about the future, the past, and present…..

    I write books don’t I? Any thoughts?

  6. I am a 57 year old with ADD that was undiagnosed until I was in my early 40’s

    At school I was a nightmare and little was known about ADD. I was just a naughty kid and distracting influence on the other kids around me. The class clown!
    I was described as a bright and very intelligent child “who could do better if only he would concentrate more and stop messing around and disturbing others in class”

    Having my diagnosis and gaining an understanding of ADD has had a huge impact on my life as it has allowed me to forgive myself for the things I cannot do and enabled me to excel at what I am good at.

    There are so many benefits to having ADD and it has made me who I am today with all that goes with it.

    My personality and therefore who I am is as a result of ADD. I am loved by family and friends and liked by many others. I have talents that could only belong to someone with ADD.

    Whilst, I know, sometimes, I can frustrate others with my loud, impetus excitable behaviour and my inability to complete tasks or tidy up, people love me for who I am and if I did not have ADD, I would not have the life I have which I am very grateful for.

    1. Lloyddh,
      I am 67. I heard the words , but didn’t understand when my boy was diagnosed in 1990. “It’s hereditary.”
      Read: “It comes from somewhere, Bonehead!” I figured it out only a month ago. It was me. I am now learning about me, and would like to say you describe me well, and I’ve learned that add served me very well when I was in Vietnam Nam, both in the jungle, and being “mentally flexible” enough to maneuver myself into a safer job. I find it a wonderful survival tool from the perspective of a veteran , who has HAD to think about actual survival.
      So: Thanks.
      Harry1

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