How Living with Undiagnosed ADD was Detrimental to My Life

Health & Wellness on 01.24.13
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Photo Credit:  Life Mental Health/Creative Commons 

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a misnomer, and as a result of it's misleading name and paradoxical symptoms it's one of the reasons I went undiagnosed and untreated for the better part of my life.  

I write this for those who may also suffer but have never before considered it as the possible root to what ails them. If you suffer from chronic fatigue, malaise, depression, moments of brilliance followed by moments of sheer incapacity- you may want to read on. 

I should begin with the admission that I was completely ignorant and thought that the term "Attention Deficit" meant exactly what it implied:  that a person who has ADD is incapable of sustained focus or concentration. Herein lies the foundational flaw of naming, rather it should really be called: The Disorder Of Paradoxes. ADD is not a deficit in attention but instead an attention allocation issue.  Those with the disorder are not able to allocate focused attention consistently on subjects they might wish to due to a neurological difference in how their brain makes it’s connections and how it receives and processes information. 

I consider myself to be bright, articulate, creative, and accomplished, and yet have always felt that I have been unable to live to my full potential. For years, my professional life felt like a super-ball bounce- all bouncy in the beginning and then, all over the place. I was always able to think big, problem solve, and strategize, and yet my execution was never sustainable.  I'd run out of steam, become overwhelmed, or make impulsive decisions about my business that kept me at arms length from achieving my goals or seeing a "big idea" through to fruition.  

Here are some of the questions I grappled with daily:

  1. Why am I so tired all the time? 
  2. I know I'm very bright, so why is it that I constantly forget my train of thought, and why am I so forgetful of silly things that should be so easy to remember? Birthdays, appointments, phone numbers, directions are just a few examples of the details I could never keep track of. 
  3. Why do I feel so overwhelmed at doing ordinary tasks like grocery shopping, following a recipe, or going to the post office when other people seem to do these activities effortlessly? 
  4. Why can't I just sit and play a game with my kids or read them a book without getting impatient or restless? 
  5. Why is it that some days I can accomplish so much, and then other days I don't even seem to be able to get out of bed?

Here are a few things that might be helpful to know about ADD.

  1. ADD is a disorder that makes filtering information or stimuli almost impossible. The non-ADD brain can choose what things it wants to focus on while the ADD brain has to take it all in regardless of the priority in attention they might want to give.   It's this reason why people with ADD are tired all the time.  As they age, they get less tolerant of this hallmark symptom, and can become very sensitive to their surroundings especially if they are loud, bright, or busy. This constant feeling of being bombarded by their surroundings can also cause feelings of isolation and depression over time. 
  2. People with ADD can hyper focus or super focus on things that they are stimulated by physically, intellectually or emotionally.  When people with ADD are faced with less interesting or stimulating situations they are unable to remain engaged due to a neurological issue that makes them seem distracted, forgetful, or impulsive.  Paradoxically as well, when an individual with ADD is exerting effort to pay attention, they can become very restless; and have been known to exhibit the "fidget for focus" phenomena.
  3. Most people with the disorder are engaging, intelligent, kind, and highly creative. It is very helpful to know that some of the most famous thinkers and celebrities are also challenged with ADD. 
  4. Individuals with ADD often develop "coping mechanisms" that help them manage the symptoms of ADD. Many have a tendency to self medicate with "stimulants" or other substances such as alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and many different drugs as an unconscious way of helping them feel better, or think more clearly. 
  5. ADD is way more common than people think and data suggests that 3-5% (some as high as 8%) of the population has the disorder although a large percentage of suspected adults are as yet undiagnosed.

As a forty-two year old mother of two, I find myself feeling a wellspring of gratitude for finally having a name for the way I have felt all these years. Inside, I have always known that I was different from many of my peers, and yet like them, I desperately wanted to excel in my studies, please my parents, and go on to have a successful career and family.  I can honestly say that I have had many achievements in my life regardless of the disorder;  however, I also know that I am one of the lucky ones and that many adults who remain undiagnosed continue to experience job loss, marital issues and divorce, substance abuse, depression, and worse.   I also realize how important it is that the medical community, teachers, parents and other individuals become informed about the disorder so that those who need an evaluation and possible treatment can be helped in ways that support, enrich, and validate their experience so that they can go on to have deeply fulfilling lives.

If you, are someone you know is suspected of having ADD/ADHD please give them the gift of awareness. 

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