The 3 Eternal Truths About ADHD

By Rick Green, 

Recently diagnosed with ADHD?  I want to offer three ‘truths’ you should know.  Had I been told these things 17 years ago, when I was first diagnosed, I would have avoided a lot of upset and frustration.  And I’m big on avoiding upset and frustration.

Here are the truths for the Newly Diagnosed:

  1. It gets better.
  2. But not steadily better.
  3. There’s a danger you may not notice.

If you’re not a newbie, if you are a grizzled veteran like I am and have been at this a while, here are three truths that you must always remember:

  1. It gets better.
  2. But not steadily better.
  3. There’s a danger you may not notice.

I’m 17 years into my ADHD journey, and I still have to remind myself of these things.  If I forget these truths I inevitably find myself in the place I’m big on avoiding: ‘Upset and Frustration.’

Why are these three still true?  It’s the nature of this disorder.  Unlike ‘travelling to Paris to see the Louvre’, or ‘Raising kids and sending them out into the world,’ living with your ADHD has no clear ‘end.’ Unlike a cold or a pregnancy, it tends to be a life-long challenge.

You don’t check “Get My ADHD Handled” off your To-Do list. Or your Bucket List.

I’ve discovered that no matter how much my ability to focus improves, or how many strategies I use to I bend my world to suit my ADHD, it figures out new ways to sabotage me.  This Disorder is a subtle, shape-shifting Devil that keeps popping up when I least expect it.  And when I think I’ve overcome it.

Life with ADHD feels like an endless game of ‘Whack-A-Mole.’

It’s kinda like ‘raising kids, sending them out into the world…. and then having them move back home again every year or two.’

So, whether you’re newly diagnosed, or a battle-scarred veteran who has spent years building your arsenal of strategies, I believe these three ‘truths’ remain true.  Starting with…

#1 It Get’s Better

A few years back Karen Gordon, a radio producer invited me on a phone-in show called ‘Fresh Air, to talk about ADHD.  As I shared my experiences with host Mary Ito, Karen realized my symptoms and struggles sounded awfully familiar.  After the show she asked me some questions, then went to this website, learned more, and then sought and got a proper diagnosis.  She later told me, ‘The relief was major.  With proper medication life got much better.’

Read our Forums. Watch our videos.  It’s clear: being diagnosed in adulthood can be life-changing.

The power of the diagnosis is perfectly captured in the first popular book ever published about Adult ADHD, You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?

How can that realization not have a huge impact?  At any age.

Discovering you’re short of certain neurotransmitters, rather than a bad person who is overflowing with moral failings or character flaws, is profound.  You realize there’s real hope: ‘There’s so much I can do now that I know what is sabotaging me.’

Relief! But Also Anger…

… and regret.  Sadness.  Confusion.  ‘If only I’d known sooner. How would my life have unfolded?’  There’ a lifetime of negativity to distinguish and discard.

Thus, the title of our video, Now You Tell Me!: The Emotional Tornado of an ADHD Diagnosis.’

Imagine if Peter Parker was 80 years old before he discovered he could shoot spider webs out of his hands, fly around the city, fight crime, and impress girls in his Spiderman outfit!  ‘Oh great.  Now the spandex just emphasizes my saggy butt!’

The good news feels like bad news.  It can be particularly upsetting when you try medication and it works!  I was stunned to discover I could sit and do my taxes.  I didn’t like doing it.  But I could do it.

But for me, those early days, when things started changing, were heady times.

Until I learned Truth #2.

# 2. Better.  But not steadily better.

The ‘solution’ to ADHD is to build habits, creating supports and structures, ones that work for you.  Which is not a strength of ours.  After a lifetime of struggling it’s easy to backslide.  (I still have days where I wish I had a tree fort in the woods where I could go and hide from life.)

Things get better.  Sometimes in a big way.  For example, medication was a part of my holistic ‘treatment’ plan.  (I hate the word treatment… I’m not sick!)

Though I was skeptical, worried, and doubtful, I quickly discovered medication allowed me sit down and finally finish a year’s worth of back taxes.  In one day!  I could not have been more surprised if I’d suddenly discovered I could shoot spider webs out of my hands and fly around the city fighting crime.

This was a clear cut victory.  I thought the path was clear, the way ahead was wide open and I’d finally race ahead, full speed down life’s highway… Ah, silly, naïve boy…

After a few collisions, crashes, wrong turns, and flat tires, I realized that the road was never going to be smooth and straight.  For one thing my career kept changing—writer, actor, director, producer…  Every day is different.  So whatever strategies I had developed to support what I’d been doing, I needed new supports for what I was doing now.

There will ALWAYS be bad days.  You can’t prevent them.  Instead, accept them.  Don’t waste time and energy on, ‘This shouldn’t be happening to me!’

Hey, Stuff Happens

Things will go wrong.  They’re gonna.  Even people who don’t have ADHD misplace their phone, wallet, purse, or keys.

Mastering my ADHD is never a straight path.  It’s more like an Drunken Square Dance.  “Swing your partner, lose your job, do-sa-do, two steps forward, one step back, and three to the left, kick, and turn, two steps forward, bow to your left, lose your partner, circle bankruptcy, left foot forward, right foot in your mouth, stumble in circles, one steps backward, smack into the wall…”

Don’t get me wrong.  You can make great progress.  Eventually.  But it takes time.  And a Multi-Modal approach.  Holistic Solutions.  (Remember, ADHD sabotages so many areas of life in so many ways.  It’s not just about focus or attention.  There’s problems with procrastination, forgetfulness, restlessness, listening, planning, finishing, distractions and more.)

For example, one year after that memorable day where I caught up on my delinquent taxes, I found myself a year behind in my taxes… again!  I was shocked.  Confused.  And facing more fines and late fees.

My first reaction was, ‘Well, that just proves that never changes.  Why did I even bother?’

‘I’m a hopeless case.’

This happened a lot.

Gradually I realized that, yes, the medication allowed me to focus all day and finish my taxes.  But it didn’t guarantee I would do them in the future.  The pills didn’t open my calendar and schedule days reserved for doing tax installments.  It didn’t set up a place to gather my bills.

I’d been so thrilled about finishing a years worth of taxes in one day, I assumed that I was set for life.  I’d become a super-calculating-form-filling Accountant Wizard!

Nope.

Yes, I had improved my ability to focus and stay on task.  However my next task should have been to create a system, schedule, and place for my finances.  So the second time I fell behind, I did just that.  Eventually my wife convinced me to try a way better solution that was actually cheaper—a bookkeeper. Magic!

But at that moment when I first realized I’d fallen a year behind in my taxes again, I could have thrown in the towel.  It really felt like nothing had changed.

Which brings us to the final truth…

#3. There’s a Danger You May Not Notice

I was lucky.  In those early days I had some clear victories.  Things changed noticeably.  But I still messed up most of the time.  Five years on, I still found myself rushing around the house trying to find my keys.

Today, fifteen years on, losing my keys doesn’t dishearten or infuriate me as it once did, because I understand Truth #2.  I expect setbacks.  And they happen less often.

Equally important, I’ve taken time to pause and notice the improvement.  Or should I say, I have coaches, a doctor, friends, and family who will tell me that I’m much better.

It’s not like they are constantly going, ‘Wow!  Your phone is right where it should be!’  But if I am feeling frustrated and I ask, ‘Has anything really changed?  Have I improved?  Am I more organized?  A better listener?’  they will tell point out my progress.  They remember how I was better than I do.  Plus, they’ll tell me when I’m not any better at listening.  (I think they will.  I dunno.  Someone said something about it at Christmas.)

Sometimes the Transformation is Dramatic.

I still recall the sense of astonishment I felt that day when I blasted through a year’s worth of tax forms and paperwork.  It was stunning to accomplish in one day what I hadn’t been able to even start for a year!  What was equally surprising was that I wasn’t exhausted.  It hadn’t reduced me to a blubbering idiot.  (Which was my usual state of mind around paperwork.)

I’ll never forget that day.  I’ve had a few more since.  Days where everything changed, where I became unstoppable, able to finish a dreaded task that had always been a draining, numbing chore… I wish there were more days like that.

Mostly things get better bit by bit.  Incrementally.

Which is why Truth #3 is a warning that you may not notice the improvement.  In fact, as it says, ‘There’s a DANGER You Might Not Notice’ that you’re making progress.

And if you don’t notice that you are losing things less, losing your temper less, or losing your train of thought less, you may lose something else…  the commitment to keep working on your ADHD.

So schedule time to celebrate your success.  In ADD & Mastering It?! one of the strategies that Patrick McKenna reveals is key to his success is journaling.  Every day he spends 10 minutes writing down what he did before.  He has decades of his life, his accomplishments, that he can review to remind himself that he’s has made progress, which is crucial on those days when it feels like you are right back where you started, and nothing has changed.

But remember, we have lousy memories.  We forget how bad it was.  We forget how frequently things went Kablooey.

You are NOT back where you started.

The belief that ‘Nothing has changed.  What a waste of time.  I’m hopeless.  Why bother?’ is natural.  And it’s nonsense.  You are NOT the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even when you started reading this blog.

You grow every day.

Whether you appreciate it or not, you have a different perspective.  A better perspective.

I suspect you have a better perspective just from learning these three truths.  I hope it gives you more resilience when stuff does go Kablooey.  Because stuff will.

The only way to avoid having stuff go Kablooey?  Don’t do anything new or challenging.

And who wants to live like that?

Best,

 

 

7 Replies to “The 3 Eternal Truths About ADHD”

  1. Thanks for the advice Rick,
    As a newbie just beginning the journey I have already had negative thoughts like “I’m not strong enough”. Reading this blog has made me take a deep breath and realise that I have a lot of work ahead of me but not to lose heart if every day isn’t perfect. I seem to be getting most of my motivation these days from reading the experiences of others and I really appreciate your candour.

  2. I am so happy to have found this blog. Even if no one ever reads my post, I already feel better just by attempting to get this out of my system.
    My best friend – also a neighbor – has ADHD which manifests in a variety of ways. He’s bubbly, funny, intelligent, street smart and cunning. He is also deeply unattentive, rude and self centered. Or so it appears to me. He literally talks for hours about himself, never displays any interest in my life or well being, interrupts when I occasionally get the chance to have a say. And when I do, he not only interrupts all the time, but also sets out to correct me regarding to how to tell a story without him loosing interest. It is deeply upsetting and hurtful, but I have lived with that for years on end because the positive traits in his character overshadows the negative. However, things have got out of (my) control. The point of departure here is that I wrote him a poem, which I myself found amusing and funny. It has to be said that we usualy share the same sense of houmour, but I must have missed the point this time. First of all, he couldnt be bothered to read it. It went unnoticed for 4 days, before he confirmed having read it. He was not happy about it and every detail in the poem was being scrutinized in a very negative and insulting way. That stings! I have endured loads of insulting behaviour, but for some reason this incident really hurt me. And worse, it highlighted our differences in a strange way. Yesterday I tried to talk with him about it and his response was that in case I didn’t like the smell in the bakery, I could p*** off. I have the feeling thatif he didn’t see me or other friends ever again, he couldn’t care less. Out of sight, out of mind. To be around people who make you feel bad about yourself is probably not the best recipe for a sustainable friendship.
    When I go on holiday, he never shows any interest. When I have survived a crucial exam, he doesn’t ask how it went. I dont think he even know that I study, because he doesn’t listen to me. I apologize – this is getting a lot longer than I thougt it to be. My main concern is how do I get out of a friendship with an otherwise fantastic person primarily because I cant handle the symptoms of a person with ADHD? And how do one handle the process of disconnection, when the person involved lives two doors away from you? I feel lost. It is as if all the social rules that I know of doesn’t apply to this situation.

  3. Weena39 I suppose there is no chance you would like to move away is there?
    There is no easy way to do this but for your own sake and his it will be better if you do. I leave it to others to describe how….

    Rick you have reminded me of so much in our trip through life with this ..and I only felt that relief three years ago when the diagnosis was confirmed and journey of enlightenment began. Looking back now , backsliding is not so terrible an outcome. It took so much energy to keep pushing myself to do all those routines FIRST that were dreadfully boring or uninteresting or too complicated. Maintaining focus and lifes important self care and socially important interest in others took everything i had and 15 cups of coffee a day. Feeling like i was the only adult in the room and responsible for the livlihood of my own family and others I employed was exhausting. Retirement is new and different and not so terribly better as the structure of 60 hour weeks is replaced by creating systems for those who kept you on time ,on task ,and organized.. But it is better.
    Knowing the world wont come to an end if you skip vacuuming this week or as just reminds me, leave a Dishwasher still packed in the middle of your kitchen floor 15 months after you moved in. Actually it makes a great counter top to put my wallet , change, and recycling items to dry off before placing them in the bin.

    Battling this invisible obstacle for a lifetime left me a very intolerant person, and stepping back and observing how much success was accomplished despite this has lightened my load dramatically. That and laughing with you at the predicaments we find ourselves in and the brilliant creativeness we use to solve them.

    So please look forward to your retirement with greatbanticipation and just a little caution. Removing deadlines is a new and very different way to live.

  4. Rick,
    Thank you for this site and your understanding of this “dysfunction”.
    At 69, I am a newbie. Diagnosed last week. Starting meds soon.
    I had had the common misconceptions about ADD/ADHD until recently when I went through a spurt of misplacing things.
    The internet is marvelous and I hyper-focused on finding out more after looking up scatterbrain and disorganization. I took the idea to my therapist and got an appointment with the psychiatrist.
    I have been in treatment for anxiety/depression for a dozen years.
    It’s been an interesting and adventurous life, so far.
    3 marriages, plus other short-term relationships.
    3 bankruptcies, plus a current financial disaster.
    More jobs, in various fields, than I can remember, plus businesses and blogs started and abandoned.
    Yes. It has felt like laziness, moral failure, madness, and the feeling of falling through life without wings.
    I’m not expecting miracles, only hoping for more stability.
    Thanks again.

    1. I am 56 and was diagnosed with ADHD about a month ago.
      I have struggled with many things in my life and your experience really touched me.
      Me: 3 marriages, 3 financial meltdowns, 2 failed businesses, 3 universities, 3 continents, 4 years behind with accounting and tax returns.
      I have always been very good at ONE single thing. I was the best student in elementary school through high school. Suddenly, university with all its freedom and a part time job in software engineering was too much. Without any conscious decision I chose software engineering and I have been on that track ever since. I am in the process of finally completing my degree:)
      I can be hyper focused on my work, but everything else falls by the wayside: marriages, finances, accounting, taxes, cleaning etc. etc.. All my major life decisions have been very impulsive. I have lived on three continents by just a few minutes of decision making.
      I have made a few million $’s in my lifetime, but my net worth is about negative $200,000.
      I always thought that I was lazy, irresponsible, a bad person, of bad moral character and just no good.
      (some of that may be true outside of ADHD. I’m not using it as an excuse)
      A couple of months ago my sister talked to me about her struggles in life and her research to what might be wrong.
      To skip thousands of words of explanation, I will just tell you the results of lots of the research.
      ADD/ADHD runs in my family through five generations.
      Suddenly everything makes sense. My grandmother, my father, myself, my children, my grand child.
      The effect of the medication is yet to be seen, but just the awareness of the problem helps a lot. I know that I can only focus on one thing, two at best. Knowing that helps me to not take on too many tasks and take some time off work to catch up with accounting and tax returns.
      I am of Strattera which may not be the best medication, but I live in a country where getting caught with any amphetamine based stimulant will make me spend the rest of my life shoveling sand in the Gobi desert:)
      I don’t know if anyone reads this blog. I really wrote this for myself. It helps to put your thoughts on “paper” and reading it back to yourself.
      I was down to a point where I felt like the main character in “The Butterly Effect (director’s cut, not the happy movie theater release)”. He has the opportunity to go back to his mother’s womb and decides that the world would be better if he was never born and strangles himself with the umbilical cord.
      Now I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it is an oncoming train, but I am so exited to see which one it is.
      Just in case that someone read this….. Thank you!

  5. Rick,
    Thank you for this site and your understanding of this “dysfunction”.
    At 69, I am a newbie. Diagnosed last week. Starting meds soon.
    I had had the common misconceptions about ADD/ADHD until recently when I went through a spurt of misplacing things.
    The internet is marvelous and I hyper-focused on finding out more after looking up scatterbrain and disorganization. I took the idea to my therapist and got an appointment with the psychiatrist.
    I have been in treatment for anxiety/depression for a dozen years.
    It’s been an interesting and adventurous life, so far.
    3 marriages, plus other short-term relationships.
    3 bankruptcies, plus a current financial disaster.
    More jobs, in various fields, than I can remember, plus businesses and blogs started and abandoned.
    Yes. It has felt like laziness, moral failure, madness, and the feeling of falling through life without wings.
    I’m not expecting miracles, only hoping for more stability.

  6. Thank you for this. 53 and just figured it out and now in hyper-focus mode learning about it. 150k in back taxes and fines, do you think we can get fines reduced due to our condition?

    I am fearing regrets once on treatment, this blog helps a lot.

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