4 Annoying Misconceptions About Adults With ADHD
If I ask you to picture somebody with ADHD, you'll likely imagine a little kid -- probably a boy -- frantically bouncing around a room and trying to turn every object he can find into a hat. You're probably not imagining a depressed adult woman staring blankly at a screen for hours on end.
That is exactly what it looks like for people like me. And there are lots of us out there. Maybe you're one of them, and don't even know because what you have doesn't fit the stereotype. So let's shoot down some misconceptions about ADHD.
"This Is Just A Label For Energetic Kids!"
Many people think that ADHD is the psychological equivalent of a bumper sticker that parents slap on their elementary schoolers when they can't get them to be quiet. However, I didn't get diagnosed until college, and that was only after I learned about the symptoms in a psychology class. So that I didn't freak myself out with WebMD telling me that I had ADHD and 15 surprise kinds of cancer, I went to two separate psychiatrists and learned that I had I had Type 2: Inattentive ADHD. Yes, there are multiple types.
Type 1: Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive
Type 2: Predominantly Inattentive
Type 3: Combination
Type 1 is a classic, and everybody knows it and loves it. But no one really cares about Type 2, which affects more women than men, and is referred to as an invisible disability for women because it usually doesn't manifest itself in someone bouncing off the walls. In fact, the symptoms include stuff like severe daydreaming, memory loss, auditory processing issues, and listlessness. If you didn't know that there are multiple types, you wouldn't guess ADHD at all. You'd probably just think that the person is either laidback or lazy, depending on how judgmental you're feeling.
Here's a typical example of my brain in action: Once, when I was a little kid, I decided to pray about something bad I'd done, which was probably either stealing my sibling's toy or taking our lord's name (Sailor Moon) in vain. But one sentence in, I got distracted thinking about something funny someone at school said, which made me think about school and how cute one of my boys in my class was, and how if we got married, his dumbass friends wouldn't be invited to the wedding. It was like a late-night Wikipedia trip where you start by looking up the history of Saturday Night Live in the '80s, and an hour later you end up trying to find out what the largest prehistoric mammal was.
I kept trying to go back to the prayer, and by the time I was finished, I was actually mentally exhausted. And weirdly enough, the reverse has happened as well. Once I was reading an article, and didn't stop until I heard yelling. I looked up and realized that the room was filling with smoke -- my sister had gone for a walk and asked me to watch the chicken she was cooking. Not only did I forget to check on it, but I had been so focused on the article that I didn't notice anything else, even when the room was about to burn down around me.
This is because of something called "hyperfocus." People who suffer from ADHD are known specifically for their lack of focus, but there's also a problem with getting incredibly locked in at other times, seemingly at random. There's no middle ground; when my brain feels like finally focusing on something, someone could shout in my face and I'd take in none of it. When my brain doesn't feel like focusing on something, I can spend hours reading a page over and over, gathering no information other than "Yes, this is a page."
"So What If You Have Trouble Paying Attention To Stuff? Everybody Does!"
College wasn't a great time for me. I was trying to act in a pleasant buddy comedy with my ADHD, when suddenly depression decided to crash on my couch in a guest star role that no one asked for. This is because with ADHD, risk of comorbidity (having two or more diagnosable conditions at the same time) is super high, even with conditions you wouldn't think were connected. This is the other part everyone misses if they think ADHD just means "Can't pay attention to boring things."
One of my symptoms was poor impulse control, with addiction being a constant risk for adults with ADHD (for a bunch of different reasons). But addiction doesn't just involve narcotics. I know I have a tendency to do certain things obsessively when I'm feeling overwhelmed and need a "fix" to relax. This includes things like watching a TV show to the extent that the people around start to grow alarmed.
I did that with Gravity Falls; during a particularly rough patch in my life, I started watching it every night while falling asleep, and every morning while getting ready for work. I'd watch it while eating dinner and when my boyfriend was over. He was at first delighted (because he was the one who introduced me to it, and it's a great show), then concerned. When we broke up (for other reasons, I promise), I watched it even more because it reminded me of him.
And yet I didn't realize how bad it was getting until the website I watched it on crashed for the night and I became physically itchy. Overwhelmingly itchy. And tense, and restless, and even upset.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I've never tried really hard drugs. If a cartoon would do that to me, imagine what itchy doors heroin would open. I'm not trying to live that life.
"People Just Use It As An Excuse To Get Adderrall!"
There's a lot of controversy surrounding ADHD treatment, partly because one of the most effective medications is kind of, um, meth. It is also HELL convincing your insurance to pay for medication that potent (though trying to get it without insurance can cost you up to about $500 a month). There's more red tape and hoops when it comes time to get a prescription renewed. So no, people who saw a news report about ADHD that one time, we are not whimsically cramming pills down the gullet of every youth who forgets their homework.
I've had a lot of different jobs in my life, with various kinds of medical insurance (if I was lucky enough to have a job that even offered me that). So every time I got new insurance or just started seeing a new doctor, I had to start the whole process of getting ADHD treatment over again. Go over my diagnosis, fight insurance on medication brand and potency, plead my case on why they should pay for it, bare-knuckle fist-fight the pharmacist, etc.
And if you get through that entire process and somehow lose your whole bottle, sucks to be you, because trying to get new meds when it's not time to renew your prescription makes you look like a drug addict and will get you cut the fuck off. Once, due to a typo on a prescription, a pharmacy refused to give me my meds until they got confirmation back from the insurance company, and the back and forth on that literally took two weeks. To put that in perspective, I could've watched every episode of Gravity Falls 21 times before I got those pills.
I'm currently not on any meds. I've decided the hassle and risks outweighed the benefits, and Adderall is the only thing that has ever worked for me. Recently I've been wondering if I should give it another shot, and by "another shot" I mean track down alllllll of my medical records and original diagnosis paperwork (have I mentioned I've moved around a lot, too?) and give it to my current doctor, have her refer me to a psychiatrist covered by my insurance (if there is one), have the psychiatrist agree to write me a new prescription, and beg my insurance company to agree with the prescription brand and dosage strength, which will have the meds actually in my hands in as soon as ... a month? At the earliest?
"You'll Grow Out Of It!"
ADHD happens because, basically, your brain's frontal lobes keep taking sick days. They're in charge of stuff like organization, problem-solving, and motivation, and when you have ADHD, you're forced to rely on stuff like therapy and medication to be their personal trainers. And the older you get, the harder it is for your brain to adapt to all of the things that you're trying to do to wake it up. You're screaming "WE HAVE AN APPOINTMENT AT EVERY TIME O'CLOCK," but your brain remains in bed, begging for just five more minutes.
People who were diagnosed as adults have also spent their whole lives knowing that certain basic things were inexplicably harder for them than other people, and the only explanation available (especially if they were Type 2) was that they were lazy and slow. My parents were immigrants who had no idea that this disorder existed, and I grew up in the type of neighborhood where nobody even thought to bring it to their attention. Saying "Well, that kid just sucks" is way easier than sitting parents down for a full-scale diagnosis.
To everyone around me, I was a confusing kid, what with my high school reading level in elementary school and my inability to remember my way home from said school despite the fact that I went the same way every day. So when you're written off as lazy, you internalize it a lot and figure that you need to work twice as hard as everyone else and drink nine times as much coffee.
This is no doubt one of the reasons that you so rarely hear about adults seeking treatment for ADHD. If you've been deemed an idiot your whole life, it seems easier to just go with that flow rather than ask a doctor what the hell is wrong with you.
That is really the point of all this. People argued for years that we were over-diagnosing our kids with ADHD, but I'm betting that we're not diagnosing ADHD adults enough. If any of this sounds like you, ask your doctor. A bunch of things in your past might start making a whole lot more sense.
For more on adult ADHD, check out The Mindfulness Prescription For Adult ADHD.
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