What is it Like to Have ADHD?
By Mike Jacquart
What is it like to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - better known as ADHD? I would say sometimes it's actually good, sometimes it's bad, and everything in between. (ADHD is the official name used by the American Psychiatry Association for this condition, regardless of whether it is present with, or without, hyperactivity.) In my particular case, it's definitely "without."
I don't really care for the term "disorder" however, and Edward Hallowell, a noted author and authority on this subject, would agree. "In my opinion, ADHD is a terrible term," states Dr. Hallowell on his blog, www.drhallowell.com/add-adhd/.
"As I see it," he adds, "ADHD is neither a disorder, nor is there a deficit of attention. I see ADHD as a trait, not a disability."
But when I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2002, I wasn't so sure. Like the Chinese girl pictured in this post, I was clearly not the hyperactive, always-on-the-go kid more typically associated with this condition. Rather, I was more like this girl staring out into space, in my own little world at times. In those days, teachers only knew how to scold you for "daydreaming," and they assumed you were doing so on purpose - not realizing back then that this wasn't the case at all - we often couldn't help it.
"But ADHD?" I recalled after learning this diagnosis, "don't you have to be hyperactive? That's not me at all." "No," I was told. That's when I had that "aha!" moment in which I felt confident this condition explained a lot of the struggles I'd had off and on, both at school and especially, later on in the working world.
It was helpful to gain insights into ADHD, rather than blame people in my past for many of my problems - after all, they didn't know I had this condition! However, I also knew it wasn't a good idea to throw a pity party about it either - especially as an adult! "When it is managed properly, it can become a huge asset in one's life," Dr. Hallowell says.
An ASSET? ADHD? Really? But it turns out he was right. First, it's true that when you have ADHD, it can be difficult to follow a long conversation, speech, or presentation. Your brain can only focus for so long, and then, often when you're bored, you just start tuning this person out. "Oh, I've done that," you might say. But I would tune them out even when I DIDN'T want to! I can be listening to someone talk, nodding my head, but with no clue what this person is saying. If this occurs when a boss is giving you instructions, you can see where ADHD might not be a good thing at work!
So, where is ADHD "good"? “As I like to describe it, having ADHD is like having a powerful race car for a brain, but with bicycle brakes," notes Hallowell, who has ADHD and dyslexia himself. "Treating ADHD is like strengthening your brakes–so you start to win races in your life." That is what medication, the PROPER medication, can do.
Before that, it is not fun when your thoughts are racing around like a gerbil in a cage, or as Dr. Hallowell puts it, "like listening to a radio station with a lot of static and you have to strain to hear what’s going on."
That's the bad part. But, as noted, with the proper treatment, you can now "slow down" and really focus. In fact, when you have ADHD you can even "hyper-focus," that is, concentrate so much that you have little clue what is going on around you. That can be both good and bad, but in my case as a writer and editor, it’s usually a good thing.
Uniqueness. talents. That was sure a more positive way of looking at ADHD than as a "disorder," something I incorrectly thought I should be "ashamed" of having. Rather, ADHD was simply part of what made me, ME. Properly treated, you can own your ADHD, your ADHD doesn't have to own you!
Dr. Edward Hallowell is considered to be one of the foremost experts on the topic of ADHD. In 2005, Drs. Hallowell and John Ratey released their book on ADHD, Delivered from Distraction. The book, Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive was published in 2015.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Editor's note: The author will go into greater detail on this and other aspects of growing up with mental health challenges, and later coping and often overcoming them as an adult, in his upcoming book, "Climbing Out of the Darkness."