Starting new things – that’s what we ADHD types are best at. New beginnings are awesome. Keeping it all going after the initial buzz of starting a new project, however, can be tough. So if I post twice a day for the first week and then once a fortnight if you’re lucky after that, I apologise in advance. It wasn’t anything you did…it just means I got sidetracked by another new thing, or lost the ‘oomph’ for a while. But, no matter how long the gaps between posts may be, my aim is always to come back eventually. So please be patient with me!
I called this blog ‘Shiny Things’ because the stereotype of the ADHD person is that we’re constantly being distracted by anything that reflects light. “I’m ADHD…oooh, shiny!” is the running joke, I’ve noticed. It is true, in a sense, although what appears ‘shiny’ to an ADHD person is not always shiny in the conventional sense. The thing in question could be colourful, unusual, or just something that resonates with us at that particular second in time. You’d be surprised at the things that generate the ‘ooh, shiny’ type of reaction. The first time I saw the place-name Peacehaven, my ‘shiny-ometer’ went off because it struck me as a lovely, harmonious-sounding word. However, I have also been known to succumb to the charms of a stray thread on the cuff of my jumper (resulting in a much longer stray thread and a partially unravelled jumper). It really doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is. You could show me the biggest glitter ball in the universe, but if my brain’s caught on to a a slightly wonky painted line on the road it’s likely I won’t even register its existence.
Anyway, I’d like to tell you a bit about me and about my condition. I’m an English woman in my 20s, with two young home-educated kids and a lovely husband who is probably far more patient with me than I deserve. I work full-time at a job, tutor a dyslexic student in English once a week, and I’m studying towards a degree from home too. I’ve written a novel – as yet unpublished – about a young woman with mental illness, and I write other bits and pieces too. I’m also massively into board gaming; our collection stands at over 50 games. I first started to suspect that I had ADHD around 3 years ago, and finally got my diagnosis and methylphenidate prescription in November 2010. And I’ve just changed (as in literally today) from standard methylphenidate (perhaps better known to you as Ritalin) to Concerta, the slow-release, once-a-day version (far easier to remember one pill than two). So watch this space for how that works out.
So how on earth did I, an adult woman, start thinking I had ADHD? Well, ironically it was a tangent I went down whilst reading up on depression. One of the articles I read mentioned that adult ADHD can be the cause of recurrent depression, a problem I’d had nearly all my life.
“Adult ADHD?” I thought. “How intriguing.” Like many other people I’d always thought that ADHD only applied to hyperactive little boys. So off my mind went on a new quest, and after some extensive reading (which turned out to be like reading my life story!) I found an online ADHD screening quiz. A score of over 70 on this quiz indicates a high likelihood of adult ADHD.
I scored 108.
After some more reading, buying of books and joining of online support groups and the like, I felt that I’d found the answer to why I had struggled so much my entire life – with relationships, with money and with generally getting on in life. So then it was a case of finding a doctor who (a) would take me seriously, and (b) was actually qualified to diagnose me. I was put on a succession of antidepressants and mood stabilisers, one of which brought me out in hives and several of which made me suicidal. Finally, after many frustrating hours explaining my findings to sceptical medical professionals and trying to make head or tail of the highly bureaucratic system of NHS mental health team referrals, I found Dr K, who very matter-of-factly said that if I felt I had ADHD I should try ADHD medication and see how it worked out. And let me tell you, now that I’ve had medication I can see how badly I was struggling, and can appreciate exactly how strong I must have been to get through it at all, never mind in one piece and free of a criminal record as I have.
You will find a lot of info on the internet about what ADHD is and how it affects people. Here is my version, GCSE essay-style (but maybe a bit more informal):
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a disorder believed to be neurological and/or hormonal in origin. Contrary to the beliefs of many doctors and patients alike, it affects both males and females and we do not magically outgrow it on our 18th birthdays. In fact, for many who have managed to ‘coast’ through the education system due to a high native intelligence, adulthood is where the problems really begin. Increased responsibility, less structure imposed by authority figures and moves towards independence can all place great strain on we ADHD sufferers and make previously mild symptoms much worse.
Symptoms fall under three main headings: hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Hyperactivity is often associated with ‘climbing the walls’ style behaviour, but actually it can encompass habits such as fidgeting, toe-tapping, constant humming or whistling, pacing, hair twirling and even nail biting. Even many ADHD people who don’t display it outwardly say that our thoughts are hyperactive – they race around and bounce off one another and generally cause mental chaos and confusion. Impulsivity is the tendency to act on ideas without thinking them through fully enough – for example, reckless spending on a credit card or having unprotected sex with a stranger. It can also involve more ‘everyday’ behaviours such as blurting out inappropriate thoughts or butting in on conversations. Inattention can mean that our minds cannot stay focused on one thing for long – but it also has a flip-side, often referred to as ‘hyperfocus’, where we become very zoned in on something and cannot tear our attention away. In fact, I would argue that ‘misplaced attention’ is probably a better way of describing what goes on in an ADHD mind. We are people who need to be hooked into something instantly – if the initial attraction isn’t there, it can be downright impossible ever to fully appreciate that thing again.
“But everyone has these symptoms to some degree,” I hear you think. Well, yes – but not everyone has them to such a degree that their day-to-day lives are seriously, negatively impacted by them. That, boys and girls, is the difference between a personality quirk and a diagnosable disorder. And if that sounded patronising, then feel free to have a whinge about it in the comments…I welcome all feedback (except of the severely trollish kind).
As you can imagine, these problems impact every area of our lives. ADHD can wreck educational achievement, romances, friendships and careers. It costs money (in under-earning, sick leave for mental distress – and often in late fees!) and time (setting out super-early to allow for getting lost is a prime example). It makes us appear lazy, careless and unmotivated. It can cause low self-esteem, depression and a host of unhealthy coping strategies such as drug abuse, risky sexual behaviour, comfort eating and self-harm. It’s not all bad news, though. ADHD people are frequently dynamic (when we’re not burnt out), optimistic, creative, spontaneous, generous and take chances that others might not. We see things differently and often come up with surprising solutions to problems. We are most definitely not boring. We have a huge variety of interests and a wealth of esoteric knowledge. And when we’re hyperfocusing, we can outstrip ‘normal’ folk for dedication, efficiency and productivity.
So there you have it – me and my ADHD. In posts to come you can expect to read a number of rants and philosophical meanderings on various topics, as well as some entertaining (hopefully) and amusing (in hindsight) ADHD anecdotes. You may laugh, you might even cry…and with any luck you’ll put my blog in your Favourites lists or subscribe to it or whatever, and keep coming back to read and respond to what I have to say. Thanks for staying with me this far, and may you have a truly shiny day!