This is a topic I have been bouncing around writing about for a while. I’m partially motivated to write about my experience with ADHD because of my friend René’s blog “Black Girl, Lost Keys.” Another motivator was a recent article in Outside Magazine “ADHD Is Fuel for Adventure” by Florence Williams. I thought I would share some of my experiences and how I have coped with my ADHD.
I have been diagnosed with ADHD at least four times, that I can remember. I have been on and off medication for it in both my childhood and adult life. The problem is I have not had the best reactions to the medications. First, I tried Ritalin and Concerta only to find that they made me paranoid. Not in the way where I think helicopters are following me, but instead I constantly thought people’s opinions about me were the worst. I’m sure this was a side effect coupling with the raging hormones of puberty but it was enough for me to want to abandon the medication. Next was the Adderall, my Physician’s Assistant in Afghanistan suggested I try it as I planned to leave the Army and transition into College.
The Adderall worked great in the beginning, I had a 3.9 GPA my first semester at community college. Though I would become so focused on things though sometimes it would be to my detriment, it was more than once that I turned on the PlayStation to play Call of Duty for 20-minutes and found the entire day had passed me by without notice. Then there was the crash, every night around seven I would start to come down and then would be fast asleep by eight. This is not a great thing for a relationship when you and your spouse only have a few hours in the evening together. I also found that the medicine would make me angry at the drop of a hat. So now I was sleeping all the time and angry at the drop of a hat, not a healthy way to live. So after an argument with my wife, we decided that I would try to manage my disorder on my own again.
I am going to try and give you an idea of what I deal with on a regular basis because of my disorder. First off I am extremely impulsive, I respond to stimuli without fully considering all of the ramifications. My brain is characterized by random thoughts and questions as I jump from idea tree to idea tree like a monkey. This leads to me to seem like I am coming out of left field with comments because in my head I am three-steps ahead in the conversation. This also means that I stopped listening after the first sentence, so sometimes my argument is not even relevant.
When something interests me, I become intensely interested in it for about a week. I have a large collection of books that I bought on single topics and then lost interest (some day, I always say). A great example of this is a couple months ago I discovered the music of Watsky. I loved his music, but for me, it’s more than just liking a couple songs. I had to buy every album he had on iTunes, watch every video on YouTube and know all about the artist. I listened to his music for several weeks, and then one day just stopped and moved on to the next thing.
The development of the smartphone has only exacerbated my symptoms. Now I can look up anything I want whenever and wherever I am. This has become the bane of my wife’s existence.
Speaking of my wife she has to deal with all of this, from inattentiveness to extreme interest in a topic that she has no interest in. Fortunately, she understands my condition and has a great deal of patience, which I seem to test on a regular basis.
We always joke that my attention is like that of the dog from the movie “Up,” when I randomly change direction in a conversation my wife and friends yell, “Squirrel!” One time she was answering a question about something important and I became aware of a squirrel outside the window behind her. In my defense, it was not just any squirrel but a mutant squirrel. When she realized that I was no longer involved with the conversation she became quite angry. This is typical because while I intend no malice or ill will, she is left feeling ignored or as if she does not matter.
Though when it comes to planning trips I become very detail oriented. I want to know all the details. My friends had to learn quickly that there is no such thing as just going to an area and figuring out a place to camp. I want to know, I want a schedule and a plan. I want to organize my adventure! While this sounds very anti-adventure, typically once the trip starts I do get into a much more “go with the flow” and “see where the day takes us” attitude.
Another struggle I have is that it is hard for me to start projects in a timely manner. My time to shine is under the pressure of a deadline. This is why I want to work in a deadline-laden, rapidly changing career, so I always have to be on my toes and I cannot get bored.
I find that my ADHD is most manageable when I am able to get outside. During my runs is when I typically start processing and laying out my projects. Often I find myself finding my flow and assembling my wording. Other times I just find inspiration for a project while running. An idea will shake free and start to flow. This blog is a great example of this, as I am required to make two posts a week and sometimes I cannot find something I want to tackle. Then I will go for a run and several ideas will come to me all at once. Heck, this blog post has been percolating for over two weeks.
Another tool I use is music to tune out the world while working on something. I usually put on some pop music mix from Spotify and find myself completely zoned into my work. I am able to ignore all the stimuli around me, such as people walking by or hallway conversations. I find myself falling into the rhythm of the songs and it is almost if I am listening to white noise. I do not know why this works for me, but it does.
My most common tool when I need to rally for a project or an intense day of assignments is to use caffeine. On these days, you will see my downing large cups of coffee or large cans of Red Bull. Some people might ask, ‘why would you use caffeine to treat hyperactivity,’ well the weird thing about this disorder is that we respond uniquely to caffeine. For people with ADHD, it works similar to Ritalin or Adderall, in that it connects the brain synapses that allow us to focus.
Lastly, sometimes I just need to take a break and go for a walk. I find that when my wheels start to spin, it is worth stepping away from the project and getting outside. If the weather does not permit, even just exploring the building allows my brain a chance to reset and then return to the project. I do not think this tip is specifically for those with ADHD, but can be used by everyone as good mental hygiene.
Do you have ADHD? What tactics work for you to manage it? Any other questions or comment please leave them below.