ADHD Awareness Month is a great time to learn more about ADHD and how it affects adults.
There are many myths about ADHD, so let’s take the time to learn the facts this month. ADHD is a real, diagnosable neurological condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s not just “a phase” or something that kids outgrow. And it’s not just about being hyperactive or having trouble paying attention. ADHD can affect every area of our lives, from work and school to relationships and our mental health.
So, before we get into it, I have ADHD and was diagnosed at 14 years old (now 30), and here’s an overview of what I’ve learned so far.
The three types of ADHD:
1. ADHD, predominantly inattentive type:
This type is characterised by difficulty sustaining attention, easy distractibility, and problems with organisation. Adults with this type of ADHD may have trouble finishing tasks, following through on commitments, or keeping track of their belongings. They may also be easily sidetracked or forgetful.
2. ADHD, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive type:
This type is characterised by excessive activity levels and problems with impulsivity. Adults with this type of ADHD may be constantly on the go, have trouble sitting still for long periods, or be impulsive in their actions and words. They may also have difficulty waiting their turn, interrupting others, or controlling their emotions.
3. ADHD, combined type:
This type is characterised by inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms. Adults with this type of ADHD may have trouble sustaining attention, be easily distracted, and have problems with organisation. They may also be constantly on the go, have difficulty sitting still, or be impulsive in their actions and words.
Adults with ADHD often have trouble keeping up with work demands. Because of this, we may be seen as disorganised, forgetful, or, the worst, “lazy”. ADHD can also lead to problems with time management, as we process time differently. As a result, we may have trouble prioritising tasks or completing projects before deadlines. School can be incredibly challenging for adults with ADHD, as we may have difficulty focusing on long lectures and taking notes. ADHD can also lead to problems with test-taking, as we may have trouble recalling on the spot, processing information quickly, or retaining information for long periods.
Our brains don’t allow us to thrive in these circumstances, but that doesn’t mean we’re not good enough. On the contrary, it’s our society that is failing us. But, like flowers, with the right conditions, we bloom beautifully.
How ADHD Can Affect Relationships:
We often have difficulty maintaining close relationships due to impulsivity, disorganisation, and forgetfulness. We may blurt out things without thinking, interrupt others out of fear of forgetting what we want to say or be unable to keep promises, despite our best intentions.
I’d say that much of this stems from struggling with object permanence and perception of time. Logically, I know things are there when I can’t see them, but that doesn’t prevent them from slipping to the back of my mind without constant visual stimuli.
No, it’s not because I don’t care. I might spend weeks or months trying to pick out the perfect gift for someone, only to completely forget to order it or give it to them on time. It feels like you can see an object hurtling towards you in the distance, but you don’t realise how close it is until it hits you in the face.
Boom. Too late. Damn it.
Object permanence is the ability to understand that objects continue to exist even when they are out of sight. For adults with ADHD, object permanence can be a challenge. We may have trouble keeping track of our belongings or misplace things often. For example, I must have my medication at eye level when I wake up. The same goes for skincare, vitamins, and that sort of thing. To others, having everything out is horribly messy, and I’d agree, but it’s genuinely an accessibility need for me. The second it’s put away, it’s game over. I’ll forget it exists for a month until I accidentally stumble upon it again.
How ADHD Can Affect Mental Health:
Adults with ADHD often experience higher rates of anxiety and depression due to the challenges associated with the condition.
The Link Between ADHD and Low Dopamine:
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in ADHD. Low dopamine levels are associated with low or bad moods, depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, tiredness, low sex drive, short-term memory problems, disturbed sleep, and restlessness.
ADHD medications increase dopamine levels in the brain, which can reduce symptoms.
Dopamine Seeking Behaviours:
Adults with ADHD often seek out activities that increase dopamine levels. Unfortunately, this can lead to “quick fix” instant gratification behaviours such as gambling, excessive or impulsive spending, substance abuse or eating disorders.
The constant pursuit of something that can keep us engaged and make us feel good can take over our lives and makes us vulnerable to addiction. I’ve struggled with a binge eating disorder for most of my life, and impulsive spending is always alluring. I can manage much more effectively while on medication, but it never completely disappears.
ADHD and Depression
Depression is common in adults with ADHD, as the challenges of the condition can lead to feelings of frustration, failure, and low self-esteem. And that’s on top of the previously mentioned naturally lower dopamine levels. ADHD can also cause problems with energy levels, sleep, and concentration, which can worsen symptoms of depression.
What Is Executive Dysfunction?:
Executive dysfunction is a common symptom of ADHD that can affect every aspect of our lives. Executive dysfunction refers to problems with executive functioning, which are the cognitive skills that help us plan, organise, and complete tasks. Due to executive dysfunction, people with ADHD often have trouble with time management, task prioritisation, and goal-setting.
Ever Heard of Rejection-Sensitive Dysphoria?
Rejection-sensitive dysphoria is a common symptom of ADHD that can make us hypersensitive to rejection or criticism. We may experience physical pain, intense shame, inadequacy, and worthlessness in response to perceived or actual criticism. RSD can lead to social anxiety, avoidance, depression, and other mental health problems.
Things to remember when you have rejection-sensitive dysphoria:
-RSD is a common symptom of ADHD, and it is not your fault.
-You are not alone in feeling this way.
-Your intrusive thoughts are not reality.
-People don’t secretly hate you.
-No one is scrutinising your every move.
-You are not a burden to others.
-You are worthy of love and belonging.
-There are ways to manage RSD, such as therapy, medication, and self-care.
-RSD does not have to define you or your life.
What Are Some ADHD Treatments?:
There is no one-size-fits-all ADHD treatment, as every individual experiences the condition differently. However, there are many effective treatments available that can help manage ADHD symptoms. Some common ADHD treatments include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes, and it’s worth trialling a series of combinations to find out what works for you.
Since starting medication, I have been able to implement all of the above more reliably, and there is a marked improvement in my ability to manage my symptoms.
Apps That Can Help:
There are many apps available that can help adults with ADHD to manage their symptoms. Some of my favourites include:
–Tiimo: A visual ADHD management app that helps with time management, goal setting, and task prioritisation. I used this a lot before I got Finch.
–Finch: Finch is an adorable virtual pet that grows when you complete your chosen tasks. It’s a lot like Tiimo in that you can plug in your self-care and daily goals, but it’s far more engaging with more features. There’s space to get reflective, breathing exercises, quizzes, and acts of kindness. In addition, you get a frickin’ cute little buddy that you get to name, dress and look after, which is a great motivator.
ADHD can feel like living life in hard mode. We learn differently and thrive in conditions that aren’t the norm, and it can be tough to find that space, but it does exist. It’s out there. We can hyper-focus on our interests and offer a unique perspective. Many of us with ADHD are creative, outgoing, enthusiastic, and determined. We need to find the right tools and strategies to help us harness our ADHD powers. Then, with the proper support, we’re unstoppable.
If you or someone you know has ADHD, know you’re not alone. Help is available to manage your symptoms and live your best life, so please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Together we can raise awareness and understanding about ADHD this month and every month.
Reddit: ADHD Subreddit
ADHD UK has a comprehensive list of resources available here: https://adhduk.co.uk/adhd-useful-resources/