Aren’t we all a little ADHD? And why it’s important to know if you are more than a “little”.

Have you wondered about your struggle to get work done? Have you felt behind folks your age? Other people are more advanced in their careers? Seem to have their shit together? Do you feel lacking or that you are working twice as hard to do the same amount of work? Maybe it’s ADHD? After all, we are all a little ADHD anyway, right?  Well, here is the thing, while all of us may display ADHD like traits at times there is a bit more to the diagnosis than just squirreling out occasionally, or not being able to focus.

Here are the main differences between ADHD and having a little ADHD.

Main Points, no filter:

✅  ADHD brains are physically different.

✅  ADHD symptoms are present consistently throughout your lifetime.

✅  The symptoms have been severe enough to have an impact on multiple domains of your life.

✅  (A working theory) ADHD is not the same as living in an overstimulating society that is intentionally distracting us.

A more detailed explanation of the differences in ADHD and a little ADHD:

1. Brain scans will show a difference in a brain with ADHD and a neurotypical brain. There are differences in the volume and activation of the regions in the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for executive functions. There are studies that support this. See one of them here.   

2. ADHD symptoms are consistently present throughout your lifetime. The symptoms may present differently as you get older, but they are always there. It is important to note that if you are depressed or anxious, you may have ADHD like symptoms, but once the anxiety or depression resolve the symptoms are no longer present. Bipolar disorder and ADHD also have some overlap of symptoms that can often be misunderstood by a provider who is not trained to see the difference.

Example:  Lack of motivation is a symptom of depression and a symptom of ADHD. In depression, sometimes that symptom is because of loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy, an overall feeling of hopelessness or helplessness, or problems with sleep that results in low energy. It’s like lacking the “gumption” to do something. In ADHD the motivation has more to do with ability to prioritize tasks or see the value in a task that is not immediately rewarding. Sometimes the lack of motivation has to do with too many options and deciding what to do is paralyzing.

3. People with ADHD have noticed a marked impact on their life due to the symptoms.

This just isn’t in one domain like school or work. ADHD impacts every aspect of your life. It has an impact on your relationships, your career, your finances, and your emotional well-being. Literally everything.

4. Something else to consider, but I haven’t quite found the data to back this up yet. I am sure it’s there. As a society,  we are bombarded constantly with things that pull our attention and distract us. There are technology companies that make their money by figuring out how to make things irresistible. Anyone seen The Social Dilemma? So, while we may find ourselves easily distracted or find it difficult to focus, it might be because there are things that are designed specifically to do that.

Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, why do we need to be diagnosed?

Main Points, no filter:

✅.  A person with untreated ADHD has a lifespan, on average, 7 years shorter than their neurotypical peers.

✅.  ADHD is treatable and can be a superpower.

✅.  ADHD is genetic, if you have it, then it is likely that one of your children or siblings have it.

✅.  There is a book called You Mean I am Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?  Understanding your diagnosis can help you treat yourself with some compassion.

A more detailed explanation on why, if you experience ADHD like symptoms, it might be worth seeking a diagnosis.

1. Studies have shown that people with untreated ADHD have a shorter lifespan. There are several reasons why this happens. A common symptom of ADHD is impulsivity. This could lead to the tendency of not looking before you leap, which leads to more accidental deaths. The ADHD brain is constantly searching for dopamine. This is readily available by engaging in addictive behaviors like substance or alcohol misuse. Addiction can lead directly to death by overdose or injury by accident while under the influence. There is also the element of behavioral addictions like gambling, sex, and food. These behavioral addictions can also lead to health issues that decrease the lifespan. Another symptom of ADHD is struggle in prioritizing tasks that are important but not readily rewarding. Like scheduling and attending routine health visits. There are several other correlations to consider, Russell Barkley has all sorts of data on this.

2. Of all the mental health conditions, ADHD is the most treatable. It is well studied and the medication for treatment is among the safest of the psychiatric drugs. There are also non-medication treatments, such as exercise, therapy, and meditation that can help increase activity in your pre-frontal cortex. There is a book called Hyperfocus, that outlines ways to feel more accomplished in the things that are meaningful to you and weed out the distractions that are really just time wasters. Instead of struggling to stay on par with your peers, you can find that hyperfocus and do some amazing things.

3. There have been several studies that outline the genetics of ADHD. There is some debate about the gene itself and the environment that turns the gene on.  The book Scattered by Gabor Mate looks into this. It is on my list to read, I haven’t started it yet. Regardless, there are families that have multiple people diagnosed with ADHD. It can be either the blind leading the blind or a powerful resource. The more YOU understand ADHD, the more you can support others in your family. We can improve our relationships and understand our children more if we have a better grasp on the diagnosis and how it has an impact on you and others.

4. On average, the neurodivergent child hears 10,000 more negative messages before they reach adulthood than their neurotypical peers. Imagine the impact on your self-esteem if you grow up hearing that you aren’t good enough, you need to apply yourself more, you are being lazy, or you are stupid because you can’t remember things the way other folks can. This article in ADDitude Magazine dives deeper into the book I mentioned. If you learn and embrace the idea that your brain is different and operates differently, you can start to treat yourself with kindness. You can stop trying to fit in with everyone and learn how to navigate the world in a way that is meaningful and works for you.

Okay, I have been diagnosed with ADHD, what now?

Main Points, no filter:

✅  Make peace with your diagnosis.

✅  Commit to growth.

✅   The right way to do things is the way they get done.

A more detailed explanation about what to do if you have ADHD.

1. When we talk about making peace with your diagnosis. We are talking about acceptance. ADHD is how you are in the world. It is not an excuse. It does not give you permission to hurt yourself or others. I think of it as other diagnoses or conditions. Let’s say you have diabetes. Given that diagnosis there are certain protocols to follow with your lifestyle. Your body just doesn’t handle insulin the way other bodies do and so you must make adjustments. It is important to recognize that there is no blame here. We can take responsibility for how things are without blaming. Consider this, when was the last time blame, shame, or guilt motivated you in a positive way?  What about responsibility? Responsibility comes with a sense of ownership and agency. We are responsible for our children and our pets. As we get older we were given more responsibilities like driving, later curfews, or having a job. Responsibility is acceptance and working with what we’ve got without resentment. (To the best of our ability).

2. Commit to growth. ADHD is sometimes described as having a race car brain with bicycle brakes. There is nothing wrong with your brain, it’s the brakes that need some strengthening. When we commit to growth, we are making peace with the race car brain and using our energy to work on the brakes.

3. This world has created a lot of arbitrary rules about how things should be. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. If we can’t do things the right way, then you are a failure or are in some way flawed. I am here to say that the right way to do things is the way they get done. If you struggle with being places on time, set up a system of reminders or accountability to help you meet deadlines to do things that are meaningful and important. If you have been known to leave wet laundry in the washer for a week, set an alarm (or two, or three) to remind you to put them in the dryer. If you REALLY struggle – maybe enlist some support or delegate the task out to someone who has a real passion for laundry.

If you are ready to talk more about ADHD, would like to understand about options for treatment, or just need a place to sort some shit out. Schedule a consult with me. We might be a good fit. I can hook you up with some resources and knowledge. I also offer individual and group therapy just for folks with ADHD. It is a plan to help fine tune your executive skills and get shit done (that you want to get done).