OVERCOMING THE OVERWHELMING
Posted on May 03, 2011 by Mark Julian, One of Thousands of Life Coaches on Noomii.
One in a series of articles based on interviews, with adults in the Washington, D.C. area with ADD/ADHD.
It sounds unfair, if not downright cruel, that someone in the throes of feeling overwhelmed by today’s demanding pace can only find respite by taking on yet another task: that of overcoming the problem of being overwhelmed itself. This means, instead of just ducking in for temporary shelter from the storm of details and demands of modern life, for some, it can feel like having to build a house in the middle of a hurricane! While this metaphor may spawn a commiserate smile from almost anyone trying to keep up with the current pace of life, for people with ADD/ADHD, the description can seem all too literal.ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADD for short, was primarily associated with children when it was introduced in the 1960’s. Since that time, ADD has gone from being a little known and misunderstood condition, to being so commonly regarded as to be used as a metaphor for the Crazybusy demands of 21st century life. Today, ADD is still misunderstood and as with many conditions involving the brain… well, we seem to be of two minds about it. Some still think it’s an insignificant challenge of the will, a lack of discipline and motivation and that ADHD is largely over diagnosed. Others find it to be pervasive, under-diagnosed and when left untreated, can lead to tragic outcomes for individuals, families and society. However controversial or misunderstood, if we accept the consensus of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and World Health Organization, to name only a few, ADHD is real, it’s here to stay and the number of people with ADD/ADHD is growing.
Okay, so what does this really mean? What is it like to have ADHD? Unlike the name implies, ADHD is not a deficit of attention, “but more accurately, it is a difficulty in attention regulation,” says Lidia Zylowska, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in adult ADHD. This regulation difficulty is dramatically illustrated by two conditions that most ADDer’s experience, known as hyper-focus (intense, high focus) and hypo-focus (daydreaming or un-focused attention). In her book, Mindful Solutions for Adult ADD/ADHD, Dr. Zylowska describes that the three ADHD types are classified as inattentive, hyperactive and combined type, but people experience individual intensities’ and combinations of symptoms. In other words, people with ADD experience their own, unique brand of ADD. “Such symptoms appear across a spectrum and I recommend that my patients become Mindful Experts of their own ADHD,” she says. Mindful or Mindfulness, in this context, refers to the objective observation of your own reactions, thoughts and emotions.
In early 2011, I conducted interviews with Washington, D.C. area adults, each whom had received a medical diagnosis of ADHD. This is noteworthy, in that some authorities estimate that over 80% of the current adult ADHD population remains undiagnosed. For my interviews, I met with a cross section of ADDer’s in the area, most of who were willing to share their experience. I have changed their names to protect their identities and honor our confidentiality agreements. Following are some remarks selected from these interviews that describe, in their own words, some of the challenges of their personal ADD experience.
Janice, a successful D.C. attorney in private practice, said that she rarely speaks about her ADD and has not told anyone, outside of her own family that she’s been diagnosed. “People don’t seem to have a clear picture of what ADD is,” she says, “and I feel like there’s a stigma associated with having it, especially for a woman in the African American community.” Even though it has gained recognition, ADD remains widely misunderstood, to the point that some still question its authenticity. Such misunderstanding and lack of education exists throughout the general population and can exacerbate the ADDer’s challenges.
For example, in school Janice was chastised for not working up to her potential and accused of being lazy. “I’m not lazy, but I admit that it can take me longer to accomplish certain things,” she confides. “I start one thing and move on to something else, and then something else without completing what I originally started. I have difficulty meeting deadlines, which is tough for an attorney, so I try to structure my work flow to accommodate that,” she says. “I’ve had low self-esteem issues and some bouts with depression in the past,” says Janice, “and I’ve learned that people with ADD can be susceptible to these.” Studies reveal that people with ADHD are about 60% more likely to experience major depression than the general population.
Janice’s psychiatrist prescribed a leading ADD medication, “but I just didn’t like the way I felt when taking it,” she reported. Most experts suggest talking with your Dr. and experimenting to fine tune the most helpful medications and dosages for you. As for Janice, “Improving my ADD education and self awareness has been the greatest help. It’s also important to be able to talk with others about this. For me, life was always like walking through a carnival with me distracted and looking around.” She adds,”I’m truly grateful for the understanding and clarity that greater awareness has offered me. ”
Paul, a musician and a teacher at a prestigious private school, says his greatest challenges are with impulsivity and lack of concentration. “I notice that I miss important information and details, “he says. “For instance, I have difficulty putting the pieces of a plot together when watching a movie. I’ll notice that the characters are facing a certain situation, and I’ll realize I have no clue as to how they got to that point! When I wonder aloud, I’ll see that it was obvious to my friends, and then they have to bring me up to speed,” Paul exclaims! “It’s embarrassing,” he adds.
“When I get home in the evenings, usually I’ll watch the news, because I feel like I should know what’s going on. Well, unless there’s a specific story that I happen to be very, very interested in, I couldn’t tell you one thing about what I had just watched,” he says.
Tim, who was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago, uses a combination of medication, focus exercises and physical activity as part of his overall ADD management. “I practice martial arts regularly and play basketball two or three days a week,” Tim says. “Not only does it help me stay in shape, but it definitely impacts on my ability to focus,” he says. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter primarily implicated in ADHD, is naturally stimulated through physical activity.
Tim’s most challenging symptoms are being on time, forgetting important dates, factual details and loosing focus, especially during presentations which are routine in his work. “I was really down on myself and was starting to wonder if life would ever get any easier,” he confided. “It was such a relief when I finally learned that I had ADD,” said Tim, who by all appearances is a fit, successful, forty-something entrepreneur. “I’ve finally begun to understand why I’ve had to work so hard. I no longer have to feel bad about myself. The more I’ve learned the more I realize that I’m not incompetent, I’m ADD.”
Unfortunately, people with ADD can be made to feel inadequate, especially if they remain uneducated about ADD and about the specific workings of their own type. Fortunately, they also tend to be creative and often find connections in seemingly unrelated things. These unconventional connections can result in the non-linear innovations that are the out-side-of-the-box thinking that is a hallmark of ADD thinking. “I suppose it helps to have a disorder that’s associated with genius,” Tim says with a smile.
Since being diagnosed, Tim says that he’s grateful to be able to re-experience focus and to re-claim confidence and self respect. “People with ADD don’t think like other people,” he says. “We’re not linear thinkers and we have to work harder to adjust to a linear thinking world. Sometimes you keep missing the little things so much it backs up and starts to seem overwhelming,” Tim sighs. “I can’t change the linear world,” he states, “so I can either give in to my symptoms or work to overcome them. I’ve learned that if I work harder now I’m better prepared to overcome the overwhelming times ahead,” Tim concludes.