Let me tell you, I spend quite a bit of time rephrasing things that I say to avoid using the word ‘feel’ to describe my state of mind. Because emotions usually do not ever solve a problem. Hell, they are typically the cause of them! And emotions are the most under researched element of ADHD.
You mention the acronym ADHD and everyone comes to the same conclusion.
These are the traits most associated with the disorder, and they’re not wrong. Who of us hasn’t been distracted (constantly) or lose focus (every moment) or fidgets constantly (I’ll be speaking on this in another post as I sit here rocking like I’m inflating a car tire). We also forget things (like, moments after we hear them!), act impulsively and even have a habit of interrupting or get impatient. But how many of us actually realize our emotional state is affected by ADHD?
Not too long ago I was in line to see a movie with a friend. I don’t remember the movie (I’m surprised I remember the friend!) but I remember how excitable I was and the encounter we had while waiting in line. An older woman seemed to notice my level of excitement and took it upon herself to speak to me about it.
Her: “Are you okay?”
Me: “Uh, yep.”
Her: “You’re rather jumpy. You sure there’s nothing wrong?”
Me: (Seeing where this was going and getting annoyed) “Not yet.”
Apparently she felt responsible for letting me know what she was thinking. After a brief pause,
Her: “You know, you might want to get seen or something. You may have, like, ADD or something.”
Yes, I actually said Duh. Because, well, Duh.
Of course, after my initial response, it was my immediate impulse to harangue this intrusive busy body with a barrage of overly wordy insults that target how rude and inappropriate she was being, and maybe take a swing at her hair style just to make her feel a bit sorry she opened her mouth. Luckily, this time I didn’t do that.
I have to pay special attention to how I react to things that affect me. The reason being, I have ADHD. And ADHD has more attached to it than the list above. It has an emotional component that, as I stated earlier, is largely overlooked. I was actually surprised when I found out that most of my emotional issues were due to ADHD. And, in looking at the physiology, I now know why.
Research found from the ADHD Institute (we have our own institute. Now that’s progress!) shows that there are significant activation reductions in the frontal cortex, thalamus and basal ganglia of the brain as well as thinner white matter.
Tell me that confused you too.
In English, for those not caught up on their advanced physiology and anatomy (I’d raise my hand. And I used to be a medic), it all boils down to a simple fact. Here’s a simpler breakdown.
The area of our brain that affects the ability to hold our attention in one place, manage our impulses and give us restraint is not pumping out the chemical balances that we need in order to function as expected. But that section of the brain, the limbic system (Part of the basal ganglia, as shown in the picture below) also controls our emotions. Since this area is devoid of what is needed, I’ve been refererring to it as a ‘Dry Spot’. These Dry Spots are basically why we have ADHD. If you really want to be surprised, take a look at Dr. Hollowell’s ‘characteristics for appropriate diagnosis’ located in the link below. That’s a lot for one section of the brain to manage. And our brains aren’t managing them.
In that list of 20 characteristics, half of them are emotionally based. From self-esteem issues to straight up depression, the gambit is all right there.
I remember a few years ago, while going through a particularly rough patch, I was diagnosed as bipolar. Man, that was not a good day. I was just labeled with a pretty serious mental illness and if you include the ADHD, then add in my rather embarrassing ignorance on the topic, I immediately jumped to conclusions. I spent the next 3 years labeling myself as crazy! The depressions were really bad and all I could do was hate myself because I wasn’t the father my children deserved or the man I should be. Then, less than a year ago, I got a new job and immediately knew I had to get my ADHD under control. So, I went to a doctor and got me some meds! (What, doesn’t everyone get excited for the meds? I mean come on!) While speaking with the shrink, I told her of my ‘other diagnosis’. I cannot assume she didn’t sense the overwhelming shame I portrayed. She told me I should do some research, because I’m not Bipolar. I was stunned. Years of self torture and shame washed away with a single comment. I could have kissed that woman full on the mouth. (I didn’t! Impulse control!) She told me many of us with ADHD are misdiagnosed. So, I did the research. And not only did I discover everything I always knew was wrong but could never figure out was actually my ADHD, I also learned that I had no right to be judgmental to those with Bipolar. It’s an emotional based illness. And don’t I know how that feels! I’ve been around many with Bipolar and they have the same impulse control and inability to handle their emotions as I do. And what’s worse, theirs fluctuates so drastically they can go from super depressed to super happy to super agitated in a span of hours . I don’t envy that, but I definitely empathize.
Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was downplay the situation. I wasn’t Bipolar, so I should be much better. I just needed to research the ever loving crap out of ADHD and get all the tools I could gather in order to defeat it. I was like a caveman that just found fire! Gotta learn all I can about this obviously uncontrollable element so I can control it and finally take back my life!
Are you laughing at me yet? You should be.
Now, studying and researching everything I can about my disorder is all well and good. But nothing is a better teacher than direct experience. And sometimes it takes a real juicy moment to wake you up and rattle your cage. I had such a moment not too long ago, and unfortunately, it was directly at my manager.
Yeah. I yelled at my boss.
And the whole thing was, I wasn’t even angry at her. Just the situation we had found ourselves. I am usually pretty good about controlling outbursts, but this day I lost the reins of that raging beast and it came galloping out of my mouth with a fury that only a mother in labor for her 30th hour would feel towards that son-of-a-bitch that knocked her up!
Humility is such a wonderful thing. And, to my managers credit, she handled me much better than I deserved. I won’t say she was super pleasant most of the day, but nothing came flying at my head, so I count my blessings. And the worst thing was, I didn’t even realize I did it. It wasn’t until they had a ‘meeting’ with me did I realize I had an outburst. And this incident exposed me to the true nature of the emotional aspect of ADHD. When we feel, we feel more than any other person. I know for me, when I become happy, you can expect to see me talking to myself like I’m having a party with a voice in my head. When I’m sad, it becomes a depression very quickly, so I had better find a way out of it rapidly before it takes over for several days. And, when I get angry, it takes me 3 times longer to get over it than those around me. I also have a habit of letting them know in very indirect (and rather direct at times) ways. I think that’s called passive-aggressive, but I’m not one to label….
So, now I have to pay special attention to my emotional state. Sure it’s difficult. It’s frustrating, exhausting and sometimes consuming. But it’s the way things are with those like me. And, to be honest, I am kind of proud of us all.
“Um, proud, Will? You’re proud of us having ADHD and having to suffer as we do?” Hell yes. Because we’re strong. I guarantee you most of these ‘normal’ people couldn’t last a day in our shoes. When someone asks me how did I get through childhood being so out of control, I look at them and think, “You wouldn’t even be able to comprehend the amount of scathing self esteem issues, constant sense of impending doom and debilitating insecurity I’ve lived with back then and still today.” What I usually reply is, “I’m not sure I ever left childhood. Wanna play with my silly putty?”
That’s the most disengaging I can be. And that’s really for their benefit. They don’t actually want to know what it’s like. It would depress them to know just how much of a struggle it is to manage my life while my brain is playing Romper Room up there. With the way everyone wants to downplay the disorder to begin with, it’s obvious we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. And we cannot expect to have any understanding to what we deal with. But that’s another argument altogether.
So, I have to accept this is who I am. And, despite the ADHD, I am responsible for my actions and reactions. That lady in that movie line certainly deserved to meet the business end of my sass. But once you get that train rolling, well, you know the story. You have one too.
Here is the link to Dr. Hollowell’s research:
And, just for fun….