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I’m Glad I Know I Have ADHD. Not Glad I Have ADHD.

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Sometimes I think it would have been easier to carry on as it was

A few months ago I blogged about those dark moments, when things would overwhelm me, and I wished I’d never been diagnosed.  “It would have been better to just carry on like I was.”

That despair engulfed me when my best efforts, latest strategy, or brilliant new tool, would fail.  One step forward, 37 steps back. (Warning: Steps may be exaggerated for dramatic effect.) Gradually, the idea that ‘ignorance is bliss’ has faded. Completely. 

Today, I am nothing but grateful that I know how my brain works.  Or doesn’t work as I’d like it to, sometimes.  I love knowing. I wish everyone knew about ADHD

In fact, that desire to tell people what this is and how much can be done to transform it was the driving force behind ADD & Loving It?! and especially the sequel, ADD & Mastering It! 

The first film told the world: This is what ADHD actually is.  And there is hope. The second laid out the way forward.  As in, “Here’s what you can do to reduce the downside and focus on your strengths.”

Knowing changes everything

Most of the world still denies or dismisses ADHD.  We hear from people around the world who cannot find any resources, any expertise, or any understanding of what they are struggling with in their lives.

Have you ever had someone suggest that ADHD was a recent invention?  Or that it didn’t exist before video games.  “There was no ADHD before the internet.”  Or before fast food came along or TV or Rock and Roll.  Or before aliens started bombarding us with weird mind-altering negativity beams. (Which sounds hard to believe, but is equally hard to disprove.)

“No one had ADHD when I was a kid.” True.  And no one suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder either.  A doctor ‘invented’ that diagnosis around 1980. 

So, are we to assume that before President Reagan took office, soldiers who fought in wars, killing and living with the constant fear of death, never had any problems after they were discharged?  Every veteran returned to their families feeling chipper and eager to get on with life? And then some Doctor invented a problem…

As the son of a combat veteran, let me assure you PTSD was around back then.  But sufferers were diagnosed with ‘Combat Fatigue.’  Before that, ‘Shell Shock.’  Before that, ‘Lack of Moral Fibre.’  Or ‘Cowardice.’  And the treatment was punishment: shame, dishonourable discharge, or execution.

Notice that the farther you go back, the more it’s seen as a failing, a lack, a weakness.  Rather than the natural outcome of seeing and doing and enduring terrible things. I should be clear, my dad eventually found a way to live with memories of combat, but some of his buddies never did recover.

A Character Flaw or A Neurological Challenge?

Today, PTSD isn’t just the collateral damage from combat.  We now understand it can show up in anyone who’s endured trauma—be it a huge natural disaster, or something personal–rape, torture, or an abusive relationship.

So, yes, in your day no one was diagnosed with PTSD.  No label.  No name.  No understanding. No appreciation or insight into the neurology behind it.

And yes, in your day there was no ADHD. But, that doesn’t mean every kid was fine back then. And kids were just fine to be who they were. I know. I was there! And I have the report cards to prove it wasn’t OK.

Like PTSD, ADHD has moved from a moral failing to a neurological challenge. In my talks I often mention Dr. George Sill.  In 1902 he described what we now call ADHD as, “…a defect of moral consciousness which cannot be accounted for by any fault of environment”.

Neurology Trumps Morality

Here’s the thing, the neurology of ADHD is complex, partly because everyone’s neurology is complex. But a key factor in ADHD seems to be a neurotransmitter named Dopamine.

As signals rocket around your brain telling you to sit up, sit down, or do the Harlem Shake, the messages switch from electrical to chemical, and then back to electrical.  And one of the chemicals created to carry the message is Dopamine.

If the amount is too low, or isn’t there long enough, the message is never delivered.  It’s lost in the noise. It’s not that I forgot we had guests coming over this Saturday.  Honestly.  It’s that I never really made the memory in the first place.  That’s what makes ADHD so frustrating.  You can’t forget what you’ve never remembered.

“But I Already Told You! TWICE!”

Sure, you told me twice. You could tell me a 100 times.  If I ain’t got the brain juice … If there’s a gap in the wiring… one bridge out on the highway… well, then it goes in one ear and out the other. 

Actually, it doesn’t even get that far.  It fades to nothing en route.  It’s a radio wave at the wrong frequency, and I’m tuned out.

The worst part is, I can look like I’m listening and really taking it in.  But do not be fooled, that furrowed brow is me concentrating, but on a dozen other things. It’s the one skill I did learn in school—pretending I’m hearing. 

It takes practice to nod, and grunt, “Yeah, Okay,” while mentally building a mock up of a space capsule, or writing a comedy skit, or dreaming about Jennifer who sat two rows up, one seat over in class.

The impact of ADHD can be infuriating.  For me.  For others.  For loved ones.  For people I’m working with… who may not want to work with me after a while.  (Hopefully they’re ADHD and they’ll forget that I forgot…)

Those were the moments when I’d sink down, defeated yet again, convinced nothing had changed nor ever would, and sob, “I wish I’d never been diagnosed.  I wish I never knew there was hope, because clearly, I can’t find it.  Nothing’s changed.  Nothing’s getting better!” Of course, that wasn’t true.  Lots has changed.  Things are better. 

But at that moment, one thing had thrown me for a loop, and that one thing became everything.  I couldn’t see anything else.  I couldn’t sense anything other than what was right there, turning to crap in my hands.

Middle Ground? Perspective? The Big Picture? Nope

If Ava pointed out the positives, I’d dismiss them.  They didn’t matter.  This incident was proof that nothing would ever change. This is the hidden scourge of ADHD.  When something goes wrong, everything is wrong.  All that there is… is this moment, here.  This crappy, frustrating, stupid moment.

And when things are going well, soaring, wonderful… then life is perfect!  Always has been!  Always will be! (No wonder ADHD can be misdiagnosed as BiPolar!)

In Eastern meditation practices the goal is to be in the present moment.   Fully present to right now.  To reality.  The world around us, what is present.

With ADHD, we can be fully trapped in NOW.  Stuck in NOW.  Stuck in this thing!  This damn computer program!  This missing cell phone!  This overdue and unpaid bill!

What’s the Opposite of Zen?  That’s Me

We aren’t at peace, ‘present to this moment, fully in the now.’  Instead, we’re stuck in an limited, tiny, imagined reality.

The past, with it’s lessons and progress, the future with it’s hope and opportunity… they don’t exist.  It’s only now.  We cannot see how far we’ve come.  Only where we’re stuck at this second.

Looking back, I realize that when I was struggling, lost, muttering, “I wish I’d never been diagnosed,” what I really meant was, “I wish I didn’t have ADHD.” Do you know what I mean? Have you been there too?

I’ll explain how I managed to leave that behind in an upcoming blog…


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  1. bjutan August 8, 2016 at 5:31 am

    Rick! I love your work. So often I read your blogs and giggle because they explain me perfectly. Personally, no knowing what makes me different is a blessing. My entire life I have known that there must be a “something”, it just didn’t make sense! I knew I wasn’t stupid but could never do as well as those who, in my opinion, where half as clever as me. I cannot control myself when I feel strongly about situations and I am known for speaking my mind.
    I have a brother with ADD and never behaved the same as him and he has always been treated like he could explode at any moment. I knew that wasn’t me! Then 2 years ago I was chatting to a friend with ADHD and realized that I suffered many of the same symptoms as him. I knew I had dyslexia but have no “official” diagnosis of that either. The label always bugged me.
    I went home after that conversation and researched how ADD presents in young girls and Women and realised that this was the label. The liberating part was knowing. having something to work with, something to fight.
    I am not officially diagnosed, getting a proper assessment at my age in South Africa is nearly impossible (mainly because of the cost). Your blog makes my life better, I thank you for that! I no longer feel alone with this “thing”. I no longer feel like I am going crazy, and I feel more self assured. I am able to say to myself, calm down this is one of those ADD moments, relax and then move forward. It doesn’t always work and in that moment, sometimes my ADD voice tells the other voice to shut up! ;-) but at least I understand why.

  2. danodea August 8, 2016 at 9:03 am

    I know exactly what you mean. We are of roughly the same generation; we probably heard similar comments.
    – You’re just not trying hard enough.
    – You lack a strong work ethic.
    – You’re a bad kid.
    – Why can’t you be like everyone else?
    – You must not care enough.
    And I’m still hearing the same things. Well, OK, maybe not the “bad kid” one, but all of the others.
    Speaking of report cards, each of mine has a particular phrase which should have been a red flag. This phrase appeared at least once on every quarterly report card I had; almost every teacher I had wrote this phrase. And that phrase is –
    “Vacillating attention span”
    Nice turn of phrase, isn’t it?
    But I didn’t come here to complain. I’m looking forward to reading how you left it behind. Thanks, Rick!

  3. dailorn August 8, 2016 at 9:38 am

    This is a great essay… it is so nice to hear someone express what I live with… particularly the issue with remembering… I get very frustrated when I forget things I feel like I should remember (e.g., people’s names). It is exhausting… and as an adult, it is difficult for other adults to realize that this is a REAL problem and not just “made-up”… or something that just affects kids.

  4. Rick August 11, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    I hear you @dailorn.
    Like a lot of people with ADHD I started thinking I had Alzheimer’s when I was in my 20’s. Even then it was an issue. Especially names. A big one for me too.
    And yet, as someone pointed out, I was full of information to the point where when we played Trivial Pursuit it was me against the rest of the family. And I would still win! (Not as often. But hey…)
    And @danodea, I actually kind of like that term ‘Vacillating Attention Span.” Because sometimes, often actually, it’s not a deficit. When I’m interested… I am VERY interested.
    And thanks for the kind words @bjutan. Hopefully the situation will improve in South Africa. If we can help, if what we do helps, if sales of our videos will help people (and keep us alive and thriving) that would be a very good thing.

  5. sheilabridget August 15, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Excellent! I esp like the bit about learning a talent for appearing to be listening in school. I did that in elementary school. Mastered it. Also, I would try, if I could, to sit in a spot where I was mostly ignored and could get on with some good daydreaming. I am serious!

  6. Cate January 20, 2017 at 11:24 am

    I didn’t read this yet. Are you surprised? Grins. I have to post first, then rest because I have the flu. Then I will read it… sometime. Unless I already have and have forgotten.
    I am finally taking the steps towards diagnosis. My medical doctor believes I am/have ADD… and is sending me to a psychiatrist to see if there are any additional conditions. It’s such a relief to hear him say “yes, I believe you hae ADD”. I want to try medications to see if they help me to focus more appropriately, for want of a better word.
    I am excited… Thanks, Rick, for all that you do and have done for us all.

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