“Everyone has ADHD. It’s the internet and smart phones.”
“These days everyone has ADD.”
“Yeah, everyone thinks they have it. Just try harder.”
Uh… No! Sorry, friend, but the whole world is NOT suddenly suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. When someone snorts, “Everyone has ADHD these days,” ask them 3 questions:
- Do you know what percentage of adults actually qualify as having ADHD?
- What percentage of them have actually been properly diagnosed?
- And, do you know what percentage of diagnosed adults are actually doing something about it? As in, any kind of treatment.
To which they will answer, “Uh… No.”
It Seems Like Everyone Has ADHD
So why do so many people believe there’s a sudden epidemic of ADHD? It certainly seems that more and more people are exhibiting ADHD symptoms:
Problems focusing, feeling overwhelmed, restless, struggling to follow through on tasks, or finish thoughts, or manage emotions. Nothing feels routine or simple…
The world is a whirlwind of change, coming at an ever accelerating pace. And there is more and more pressure to keep up to that pace – “I have to get the iPhone-38-Q!”
The media has long since given up on providing information and facts, to focus on the next ‘breaking story.’ We are bombarded by aggrieved pundits spewing innuendo and frightening, but groundless extrapolations, “If ‘x’ happens, our entire nation will implode!” Wages haven’t kept up with inflation, so we’re all working harder and longer. Spare a thought for people who have been designated as ‘essential workers’ but are earning a pittance.
So, yes, most folks are multitasking, they are ‘under the gun’, have too much to do, too much to manage, too much to to remember. Being stressed, struggling, rushing around, falling behind… they get a sense of what it’s like to have ADHD.
How Common Is ADHD?
Those of us who actually have ADHD cannot ‘escape’ the constant feeling of it all being too much. The 3 to 4 % of adults who are struggling with a lifetime of restlessness, uneven attention, and impulsivity to the point that it’s sabotaging us, perhaps fatally, may envy those who only experience it for a few months. And if the COVID pandemic has given neuro-typical people a sense of what it’s like to have ADHD, imagine what it’s like for those of us who do! It’s like a double dose.
For example, although I haven’t had a 9-to-5 job in decades, I usually took weekends off. Yet, last Friday I was convinced it was Tuesday and I worked right through Saturday and Sunday.
My routine of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… has given way to Numbday Snoozeday, When-is-today, Blursday Fried-day, Sat-there-day, and my day of rest, Stun-day
There’s No Vacation From Our Overwhelm
With ADHD, this overwhelm can be constant. Even when lying on a beach, drink in hand. By all appearances at peace. Our mind is still racing, worrying, planning, fretting, wanting to do something. Restless, jumpy, bored, lost in spirals of thought…It never fully goes away. But it is not all bad news either.
Like many folks with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I credit it for some of my strong suits and successes. Especially once I knew what was going on.
Knowing Makes a Difference
A proper diagnosis is a gift. Finally understanding the cause, and finding the right tools to reduce your particular challenges. For me, that involved new habits. Changes in diet, practicing yoga, exercising, mindfulness, organizing tools, and at times, medication. Far more effective than paying a lot of money to fret under a tropical umbrella with a cold drink.
The Catch 22 is that building new habits takes time. Try sticking to anything that’s demands long-term commitment when you have ADHD!
“ADHD Is Not Real“
I have made progress when someone says ADHD isn’t real. For example, with great practice I have mastered the ability to smile and nod at an ‘Amateur Expert’. I don’t defend or attack.
In the early days, I would offer a thoughtful ‘Hmmmm,’ which hid the sound of me grinding my teeth. While I’m grinding my teeth, they might continue, ‘Everyone has bad days. Even I lose my keys.’ I then ask the person my three questions
Amateur Experts will admit that they have no idea what the rates of ADHD are, or if they are in fact rising. It’s especially confronting when I follow up with questions about the 18 core symptoms of ADHD, or the main subtypes.
I will explain that yes, the number of adults being diagnosed is rising. But it’s still far less than the estimated 25% of adults who actually have this disorder.
And what makes it a disorder? When it’s negatively affecting someone’s life. Sabotaging goals, relationships, career, finances, parenting. This puts us at a much higher risk of Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, and high-risk behaviours.
The ‘Amateur Experts’ never admit outright, ‘I have no idea.’ When asked to back up their ‘knowledge’ with some actual facts and figures, they deflect, ‘Well, everyone knows, I mean, just look around you’, at which point I look around me, and seeing nothing, shrug, and offer the facts… A veritable flood of them. Which, I used to believe, naively, would make a difference. Oh, what a fool I was.
Statistics! Facts! The Truth About ADHD!
You would have been proud of me expounding, ‘Actually, the rates of ADHD have stayed the same for decades. Even as we’ve added more sugar in our diet, and started playing video games, the rate is the same as it was before the internet. It’s actually the same in societies that have almost no internet, no video games, and no mobile devices…’
They grow silent. They nod. They look thoughtful.
‘Aha!’ I think, ‘They are pondering my facts. My vast knowledge has opened their minds. They are reassessing the nonsense they believed and now realize how misinformed they were.’
Fat chance, Rick!
They were actually thinking, ‘What does he know? He’s probably being paid by some drug company. He’s a comedian for cripes sake! How do I get away from him?’
That is why I don’t go into my information spewing mode any more. I explain my much better strategy in our video, Facing The World, but basically, I now respond with, ‘That is EXACTLY what I used to think! But then I learned….’ After sharing a surprising fact or two, I wait for them to ask questions. Which they almost inevitably do.
Asking them questions helps them recognize that they don’t have all the answers.
Understanding ADHD is Critical
It’s difficult to stifle the surge of outrage when I hear people spouting the same old nonsense, but then I bought into those myths before I was diagnosed. Being positive and inclusive, ‘That is EXACTLY what I used to think! ’ has proven to be a very effective response.
It is not easy to stay calm. People are dying from undiagnosed and untreated ADHD… From car accidents, self-medicating with drugs and booze, or by suicide from feeling like nothing but a failure.
You could argue that people who casually announce that ADHD is not real are partly responsible for those deaths. Because of these perpetuated myths and lies, millions of people who could be getting help are left feeling unsure. They wonder if maybe it really is just a character flaw – ‘Maybe I am stupid, lazy, week, broken, irresponsible, uncaring, looking for an excuse…’ ARRRGGHHH!!!!!
Sorry. It makes me angry.
We All Struggle With These Issues – Sometimes
No doubt many well-meaning people who quip, ‘Everyone has ADHD these days,’ mean that we are all dealing with increasing levels of stress. We’re all coping with more and more, and struggling to manage our commitments. Many folks think that’s what people with ADHD are experiencing.
No. Not really.
Adults and kids with ADHD are NOT coping. Rarely have been. That’s what makes it a disorder.
People with ADHD are NOT managing their schedules.
We are NOT approaching the point of overwhelm. We are already overwhelmed.
Even sprawled on that beach vacation, we can feel overwhelmed. We’re sipping the Pina Colada, but not really tasting it. Lost in thought about what we’ve left undone, what’s awaiting us, how far behind we are…
I know, I know, I’m generalizing. Obviously, this isn’t the case for everyone with ADHD.
My ADHD Is Not Your ADHD
There’s a spectrum, from very severe to mild. I’ve been told I’m not severe. The term is High-Functioning. As well, many of us have the Restlessness / Hyperactivity and Impulsivity, some do not.
I have done a lot of work to manage my mind since getting the diagnosis. And that has made it far less of a problem for me.
For example, medication used to be a deal-breaker for me. But without it, I struggled. For a while, I relied mostly on caffeine. I only took a pill on the most hectic days, when I had a lot scheduled. A bit like my son with his Asthma Inhaler: Use As Needed.
When it felt like what the world is throwing at me was too much, I started taking medication again. The fact that my wife and I weaned ourselves off caffeine a few months ago was a factor in choosing to start medication again. If I am going to use a stimulant, I want a specific dose, the minimum I need. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary wildly.
So, is there a Pandemic of ADHD? No, but a LOT of people are struggling.
ADHD isn’t something you catch, or develop, or fall into. This is driven by our genes. But with everyone’s lives crammed with more to do, manage, and fret about, many people are experiencing the kind of overwhelm, confusion, forgetfulness, that those of us with ADHD live with 24/7.
P.S. – Wondering if you actually have ADHD? Try our quiz, it’s a great place to start.