Thursday, April 7, 2011

Q & A on Adult ADHD: What Is Personality, What Are Symptoms?

Continuing with last month's theme of sharing questions and answers from my Ask the Expert chat, here is a two-part question from a reader named Matt. I welcome your responses to both Matt's questions and my answers. -- Gina Pera

1. How do you separate ADHD from the person? Because it is neurological, it just doesn't seem possible. It would be like separating sexual orientation from a person.

Hi Matt,
Boy, that’s a question for the philosophers! But I’ll give it a try. It’s true that, especially with late-diagnosis adult ADHD, you often hear comments such as “I don’t know if I have ADHD or if I am ADHD.
A 30-something man with ADHD recently told me that his personality is the Life of the Party. But, I asked him, is that really his personality? Or, could it be a behavior developed many years ago because he was unable to follow the many conversational threads at a party? 
Did an innate gregariousness and sense of humor lead to his love of joke-telling and being the center of attention? Or, was it simply a survival skill, a way of maintaining interest? When I put it that way, it gave him pause. “My friends don’t like it when I take medication,” he said, “because then I’m not as entertaining.” Personally, I’d have to wonder about such friends’ interest in him as a person. Maybe he should wonder, too.
Yes, the world needs Life of the Party types, and maybe that truly is a part of this man’s personality. But what if this behavior isn’t really his authentic personal expression but an unconscious biological imperative (that is, long-unrecognized ADHD)? More importantly, what if it thwarts his desire to connect more intimately with other people instead of simply being an entertainment source kept at arm's length?
The exciting thing about pursuing ADHD treatment, in my opinion, is that you get a chance to see what are personality issues and what are ADHD symptoms. Knowing that a troublesome habit is really a common symptom can go a long way towards helping you to be more self-accepting and less anxious or defensive. Otherwise, when you judge yourself harshly for constantly losing things (for example), never knowing that this is a typical untreated ADHD trait, it can chip away at your happiness and distort your self-perception. Your better qualities can get so buried in shame, you lose sight of them completely.
So, the bottom line: Yes, I think you can distinguish the person from symptoms that frustrate them and sabotage their true personalities. I’ve seen it happen and heard the stories too often to doubt it. People say they were
acting in ways they didn’t intend to, so it doesn’t seem like "personality" to me.  
Will the newly diagnosed person often need help, though, in making the transition from an old way of being in the world? Absolutely. That’s what cognitive-behavioral therapy for ADHD is all about: changing the way one views the world and oneself, given the new abilities and insights of ADHD diagnosis and medication.
Now for Matt’s next question:
2. How do you know when to give up and move on? I have struggled for many years with my marriage to an ADHD person. There are just so many issues.

Yes, indeed. There can be many issues, and they vary for each couple. Again, this is a big question that, ultimately, only you and your spouse can answer. 
In general, the ability of ADHD-affected couples to improve their relationship depends on many factors, including both partners’ capacity as cooperative problem-solvers, the severity of ADHD symptoms and comorbidities and how long they have affected the relationship, and respective expectations of marriage. To name only a few.
Only one thing seems for sure: If your ADHD partner has not fully pursued ADHD education and treatment and if you have not educated yourself thoroughly about ADHD and tried to meet your partner halfway, you’ll never know how much better life can be.
What do you think? I welcome your answers to Matt's questions.

42 comments:

  1. For me it is time to move on. I was diagnosed with ADD several months ago at age 60+. My wife does not buy this ADD thing, it is a lame excuse for my inappropriate humor and behavior.
    I am more aware of my behavior and I refrain from any humor at home, my coworkers however think I should try stand up comedy.
    After 40 years my spouse just does not want any more humor of any sort.
    Moving on is difficult for financial reasons. I have made a good living over the years but "no where near my true potential" and there is not enough money to setup two separate households. So I guess I will remain trapped in an unfullfilling life.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm sorry to hear this.

    You say your wife "doesn't buy this ADD thing," and I certainly have heard that before, unfortunately.

    You also say you were diagnosed several months ago, but you don't mention the steps you are taking to address challenges that interfere with your relationship (or perhaps your finances). Other than "refraining from any humor."

    Could it be that your wife isn't "buying it" because your behavior really hasn't changed? For many, it takes more than a diagnosis and awareness. It takes concrete strategies.

    Maybe your wife has sealed her ears shut. If she has, that is unfortunate, because it often takes two to get helpful strategies in place.

    good luck,
    Gina

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've been reading this blog for over a year now and it's one of the things that got me to seek out professional help.
    I've "known" I had ADHD since puberty, but now it's diagnosed and I'm getting help. The first meeting was this week and already I'm being a better wife and a better mom (though that is mostly cause I understand my daughter better).
    Now to get my husband to get help as well and life will be soooo much better!

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. "I think you can distinguish the person from symptoms that frustrate them and sabotage their true personalities." - This is the key to separating your personality from your ADHD. If you find that there are things you need to do but simply don't do it (even though you know you should) and/or if you find that there are things you LOVE to do but find that you have trouble doing it, such as a hobby that you enjoy, THAT is your ADHD getting in the way of your personality.

    To put it another way, if you feel that you have spent years on "self-improvement" programs and nothing improves(or nothing improves for more than a few weeks or months) then it's not you...it's your ADHD getting in the way.

    ReplyDelete
  5. On the one hand, people with ADHD need to be aware of the things they do that annoy people. And we need to work on strategies for making our interactions with others more smooth, or more productive for all. On the other hand, I've found that I'm much happier surrounding myself with people who don't find me annoying :) For years I picked controlling people who made my environment seem more in control in ways that I could not.

    The line between ADHD and my personality is very clear to me at times. Especially in those "stupidest smart girl in the world" moments where my response does not reflect my intelligence, at least not in a conventional way. (In my case this is not me acting stupid out of a lack of confidence...my mouth just gets ahead of my brain and as I think out loud I look like a wing-ding.)

    There are also times where I see where I have adapted my behavior to hide the ADHD, to my detriment. In school, you're not supposed to daydream and look like you're not busy. I was always having teachers point out that I was not getting my work done fast enough because I was not focused or 'busy-looking'. As an adult, I have repeatedly picked jobs that are far below my intellectual capabilities because 1) I am much more comfortable "in motion" and 2) I am afraid to not "look busy" so I would rather be stuffing envelopes than have a job that requires a lot of "thinking time" where I "might get in trouble for not working".

    It's not always symptoms that obscure out personalities, sometimes it's the coping adaptations that we've unconsciously made.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Question #2 Starts with: "How do you know when to give up and move on?" Then Gina ends the answer to question #1 with: "Will the newly diagnosed person often need help, though, in making the transition from an old way of being in the world? Absolutely. That’s what cognitive-behavioral therapy for ADHD is all about: changing the way one views the world and oneself, given the new abilities and insights of ADHD diagnosis and medication."

    I think one of the most important(maybe even the very most important)thing(s) any relationship must have is a willingness to communicate. Ask each other how you each view the world and yourselves. Are you both willing to change and seek help via. advise and/or counseling before you give up and move on?

    I think the time is now to ask these questions... and best of luck to you both!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great question, some good comments; I can relate to all these. I too was only recently diagnosed w/ ADHD, & I'll be 50 next month. Having grown up w/ symptoms, in hindsight, that seemed inescapable & begging for attn, I got shame instead.
    In the 5 mos. since learning I have ADHD, I'm finding & making use of resources & learning strategies, tools & re-tooling my view of myself, others & life.
    For me, the diff betw me / ADHD is usually some comment, action or behavior of mine that is odd, offensive, counterproductive; something I can change & realize I want to change, vs. it being about who I am.
    Becoming aware of my patterns is huge. I am learning to focus, to take notes, etc., & these help. It's key for me to remember that, contrary to adult voices in my childhood, there's nothing "wrong" with me. I am not defective or off in the head somehow. We all have limitations & issues. Some, like mine, are more visible, & can be mitigated & worked with.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Where do I begin? The question of what is personality and what are symptoms is really a deeper metaphysical question going way beyond the confines of ADHD. More and more we are finding out that the mind is a chemical and neurological expression variable over time. Sometimes that expression can change rather rapidly as when the mind is under the influence of exogenous chemicals. Every action we engage in, and every thought we have is a product of a chemical process. This is disturbing to most people because we want to believe that we have a fundamental unalterable self somewhere inside of us, but the science doesn't support this. Joe Campbell once said "The Mystic swims in waters that would drown another man", getting used to the idea that there is no true self requires a tectonic shift in consciousness.

    ReplyDelete
  9. As an adult with treated ADD that comes from an untreated family and has a son with treated ADD and two untreated daughters.....life is all about being a better person. It helps to know why you do and think like you do. Information about ADHD helps but you have to make of it what you will. Medication and therapy can help a person deal with negative behaviors but it's important to not let descriptions of these behaviors define who you are. What's described as negative can actually be a positive. The world needs creative thinkers, problem solvers, inventors, leaders and people that just can't force themselves to follow the herd.

    ReplyDelete
  10. How about the undiagnosed adult who has, in some regard, embraced the idea of his ADHD but has since started using it as an excuse for his bad behavior? He believes it is who he is, and has no intention of changing anything about himself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see you posted this a couple years ago, but it mirrors my life, so I'm responding and hope it's helpful to someone.
      It sounds like your friend has some more growing up to do. I say that because it applies to myself as well. I am an adult and grew up knowing about my diagnosis. Teachers, counselors, and my parents would excuse some of my behaviors because they understood the causes, which was fine when I was younger. However, as I have gotten older, I have continued to excuse my own negative behaviors because they are so hard to change, even when they hurt me and disrespect others. Specifically, being late and not following through with things I need to do or promise to do (then lying to cover myself) have caused me to fail out of college and struggle upon returning, to have a bad reputation with professors and employers, and to have serious rifts in valuable relationships. I loved my happy-go-lucky artistic personality, but the lack of treatment for the ADHD left me with few good things in life. It was no one else's fault. I felt that I was powerless to change. So I just continued to excuse my behaviors because changing was either daunting or impossible. Plus, I didn't want to have to be some stick-in-the-mud who had a hyper-organized life (I still don't like it- but it works better).
      Counseling (and becoming a Christian- but I'll leave that aside) has saved my life. I was able to be honest about all the shitty parts of myself and mourn some of the free-spirit that had to be controlled. I could work on changing how I thought of myself and my abilities with someone who I knew wouldn't leave me or hate me after a while. At some point, I decided that I could either keep going in the same patterns or I could be a blessing to myself and others. If I truly wanted to be a good friend, student, teacher (my job), daughter, and someday a good wife and mother, some things would have to change. Becoming the person I want to be has been my motivation and it hasn't taken away any of the core things I love about myself.
      I am now able to forgive myself when I screw up, while still paying attention to aspects of myself that need changing. I have surrounded with people who I know truly love me because they always forgive my mistakes without ignoring them. I am now a better version of myself than I could have ever imagined before I started addressing the reality of my ADHD in counseling. This is not to say that now I'm 'fixed' or that it was fast. It has been an 8 year journey and will continue for the rest of my life. This is a daily choice and a daily struggle.

      If you want to help your friend, you may consider trying to be there for the person you love even when he inflicts his 'bad behaviors' on you and others. Point out hurts/behaviors with kindness, gentleness, and a genuine desire to see him improve. Encourage him to get treatment, the kind that will cause him to evaluate who he is and who he wants to be. Encourage him to go for just two or three sessions if he is reluctant. Adults can change. It is so possible for your friend to make changes to himself while still holding on to the core of who he is. There is so much hope for this person.

      Delete
    2. Hi caitica,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write such an eloquent and candid response. Wise advice indeed.

      Best,
      Gina Pera

      Delete
  11. I was diagnosed with ADHD a little over a year ago at age 40. Like many adults, this amazingly positive, eye openening and life changing revelation came at the hands of a severely damaged marriage and on the heels of my wife's infidelity.

    On one hand, I was overjoyed to finally figure out who I am. No longer the square peg, my self esteem skyrocketed and I absolutely salavated for any and all ADHD-related information and similar stories. I thought with my new found knowledge, increased self worth and medically improved ability to focus, my marriage stood a very good chance at surviving.

    Well, the other hand can be cruel. The elation I felt in my diagnosis was not shared by my wife. I spent countless hours trying to analyze her less than enthusiastic response. In our first therapy session after my official diagnosis, I said something along the lines of, "It is hard for me to equate my ADHD behavior with your actions but, if we can agree that we both need to work hard at making each other happy, I am comfident we can have an even better and more loving marriage. I went on to promise to attack my symptoms to become the best husband and father I can be.

    She didn't "buy in" to my ADHD and believed it to be my crutch. I am of the opinion that my behavior is actually her crutch and excuse for her own damaging conscious choices. If she were to separate the person from the ADHD, it may become more difficult to live with her own actions.

    For the record, I have completely forgiven her infidelity. After about 15 months, I don't sense her complete forgiveness. I would have also hoped that we would be attacking my symptoms in a more team-like effort. But, there are signs of improvement. It's easy for me to minimize her six years of frustration. I am trying to understand. In case you weren't aware, despite my forgiveness, I am still hurt. More therapy awaits.

    I didn't paint a very promising picture. But, to answer question #2, until you can look in the mirror or in the eyes of your children and honestly say we tried everything possible to stay together, it's not time to give up.

    Damn. I guarantee my children will not spend 40 years struggling to find out who they are. No one should. Thank you for this blog and opportunity to share.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow. Thanks to everyone for your *thought-full* responses. You're providing a wonderful service to the reading public.

    Gina

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm struggling to know when enough is enough as I type this. My partner was diagnosed with ADD almost a year ago. I've been told all my life I'm ADHD (when I was a kid, I was just hyper, what I wouldn't give now for a little of that energy!). But I guess I'm the hyper-focused, anxious kind because I'm the one who has been keeping up the full+ job, rushing home to help take care of our four special-needs (adopted) kids, doing the dishes, and worried sick (literally) over the fact that we don't have enough money to pay the bills and she can't look or get a job because she has ADD. So I'm exhausted and frustrated and confused and angry. I buy the disorder, I even have it myself. I just don't buy that medications and chocolate are the only treatments I can ask of her while I run myself ragged waiting for her to figure herself out. So I'm accused of not being patient or understanding. When is it time to say enough is enough, it's time for EACH of us to be a fully participating adult in this life we've created? I've already been hospitalized once for stress. Who will take care of the kids and pay the bills if I collapse completely? Yet, if we split, she doesn't have a job and she tells me she can't get one (even looking is completely overwhelming). So do I throw her out and just don't watch? Or just hope that she actually does bounce? And what do I tell our kids? But I just can't stay on the treadmill any longer :^(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To Anonymous stressed and anxious:

      Gina's right about the anxiety and stress! It's a by-product of ADHD. Concentrate on treating yourself, because good time management and planning reduces stress.

      I used to be anxious all the time over the issues created by my ADHD. So by solving the ADHD the issues and anxiety both disappeared.

      Now im more relaxed than I ever imagined!

      Delete
  14. Hi Anonymous,

    I hear you! And I'm sorry to hear of your stressful situation. The exhaustion. The frustration.

    You say you have ADHD. Are YOU receiving treatment? Yes, your wife might still need to work on closing her end of the gap. But if you have all this responsibility on your shoulders, it might behoove you to get help for yourself, especially if that's all you can control right now.

    Your treatment might help you to be more efficient at work, for example, so you don't have to exhaust yourself. It might help to lessen your anxiety. And it might help you to get your wife on a better path so that eventually she can share more of the load.

    I've seen many "dual-ADHD" couples flail around in frustration and adrenaline. What breaks the impasse if ONE of them becoming stronger in the Executives Functions Department. Then they can better target problems and develop do-able solutions.

    Good luck!
    Gina

    ReplyDelete
  15. sorry for typo;; I meant to write "What breaks the impasse IS....(not IF)."

    ReplyDelete
  16. How much chocolate is your wife eating? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  17. I've read/researched/ADHD, and lived with my husband for 27 years, experiencing/witnessing so many scenariors of "ADHD" unique-like, sometimes just "nuts", and highly frustrating situtations it amazes me. I have felt every possible emotion from all the transactions between us from his symptoms and (my emotions) from the outfall. I've had to "treat" and care for my own hurts caused by the symptoms. After 27 years together, a couple years back, I had a Eureka moment. I realized through my own processing/healing, that there is no pill that one can take to cure someone else's problems.
    Imagine that! I realized, I had become like his Mother, wearing many hats: a codependant. I'm a very forgiving, wife; and I love him tons. My faith, positive nature/attitude/sense of humor/perspective/ and self-education, along with my own support system, (a great therapist), has kept myself growing along side my journey with him. It has not been easy. I've thought of leaving him many times. I've been hurt and disappointed too many times to count. For years, I've watched him stumble, fall, blame, redirect, distract himself, avoid, control, be impulsive, become totally frustrated, befuddled and blinded by his own (ADHH) symptoms, which have yet to be "clinically" diagnosed. It is a lonely/sad place at times witnessing a lack of: consistant emotional intelligence, consistant emotional intmacey, and consistant, mature, love-based relating where our full potential (as a couple) should/could be. It is difficult for me to watch this played out in our daily lives. Dr. Amen's book, Change Your Brain Change Your Life was a wake-up call for me, and gave me great insight. My husband resented me reading it; I encouraged and approached him to read about it. This backfired; he's extremely defensive and closed to this whole ADHD thing and all it's manifistations. It seems as if he thinks it does not exsist. And it's funny too, since years back he coined himself a master procrastinator. Sometimes he seems light-hearted about it; of late, however, he's angry and resentful of the idea that I feel the need for him to take responsiblity for what is not helpful in his/our lives and to be open, gentle and mature about it, and check it out. We've been in couples therapy, and I'm working on my "part", yet the missing "link" that keeps rearing it's ungly head is the symptoms of what seems to me, as ADHD. At 58, he becomes very defensive, (more than the usual) over me talking with him about it. I just want him to take stalk in him being 100% accountable; 100% responsible in relationship for his patterns/behaviors that do not create co-creative, productive, and a consistant loving space for us both to discover our best with eachother with love. How do I approach my husband and in what setting, and with whom about the ADHD symtoms in our lives? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm having difficulty finding good, solid coaching and therapy so I can move forward with my life. I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 39. I am now 47 and feel like I have gotten nowhere, especially since I've started into premenopause. First, how does one go about finding good help and second (and most important right now), how does one go about discovering (through separating personality and ADHD) what career path to take and/or what and whom to work with? I am absolutely overwhelmed by a job as a paraeducator working for teachers who are caustic and lack any sort of compassion for their subordinates and what they do (especially if we make a mistake, no matter how minor), and often are fussing at students they think "should know better." I'm experiencing creative block, emotional numbness, no motivation to finish my Educational Technology Master's projects (which I love to do). I dearly want to be successful in something and able to support my family because my husband doesn't work (that is a completely separate and frustrating issue). I also want a modicum of happiness. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi ambgpx,

    How does one go about finding good help, in the form of solid coaching and therapy?

    I think it depends on what kind of help you need. Are you able to pinpoint your major challenges? That would be the first step, I think, because otherwise you might seek the wrong kind of help.

    For example, if your major challenges revolve on organization (of your time, your stuff, etc.), you might first seek help from a professional organizer who has special knowledge of ADHD. There is a directory at the website of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) .http://www.napo.net

    Or, if you have trouble prioritizing tasks at work, writing reports, etc., you might benefit from working with an educational therapist.

    You don't mention if you're taking medication. But it could be that medication will help you to handle this job better as well as sort out your career goals. It might also help you resolve some of the "overwhelm" at work.

    You say that premenopause seems to have exacerbated your challenges. That is another physical component that could be affecting your thinking. Dr. Patricia Quinn has written about the affect of fluctuating hormones on women with ADHD. Her new book is 100 Questions and Answers for Women with ADHD: http://tinyurl.com/3l9oeg3

    You ask "how does one go about discovering (through separating personality and ADHD) what career path to take and/or what and whom to work with?"

    I think that answer is unique for each person. There is no one perfect type of job or career for people with ADHD, in my experience, because they aren't clones! :-)

    People with ADHD possess a range of talents, abilities, and vocational predilections, just like everyone else. The main thing is to address your ADHD-related symptoms so that they don't thwart your natural abilities and work preferences.

    Bottom line:

    1. Identify your main challenges before deciding what kind of help you need. If you need help with that, perhaps an ADHD coach would be helpful.

    2. Look into medication and other health strategies to fortify your brain and the rest of your body. If you're already taking medication, consider whether it could be optimized.

    I hope that helps to get you started!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous wrote:

    We've been in couples therapy, and I'm working on my "part", yet the missing "link" that keeps rearing it's ungly head is the symptoms of what seems to me, as ADHD. At 58, he becomes very defensive, (more than the usual) over me talking with him about it. I just want him to take stalk in him being 100% accountable; 100% responsible in relationship for his patterns/behaviors that do not create co-creative, productive, and a consistant loving space for us both to discover our best with eachother with love. How do I approach my husband and in what setting, and with whom about the ADHD symtoms in our lives?

    ------
    Well, for starters, you might want to scale back on the "100% accountable and responsible." Rome wasn't built in a day, and if those are your expectations, you might be setting both of you up for failure. Baby steps. Baby steps. :-)

    Getting through "denial" is a complicated process. It starts with understanding the various components of denial, which is only partly psychological (or defensive). A great deal of ADHD-related "denial" can be related to the symptoms themselves -- not connecting cause with effect, being distracted by the latest new thing instead of an ongoing connection with one's partner, one's goals, and one's motivations, etc.

    It's such a big topic I devoted three chapters to denial in my book. So I encourage you to read it. You are also welcome to join the online discussion group for the partners of adults with ADHD, sponsored by CHADD of Northern California:

    http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/ADHD_Partner/

    best,
    Gina

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thank you Gina! Your suggestions help me focus. I take medication for Generalized Anxiety (this problem set in after the birth of my second child) and for ADHD. The meds help but when my hormones go haywire, so do my thoughts. I also work for some extremely exacting, difficult (often unorganized) teachers. Seems I (and a few other of us older women) can't do anything right and when I have to defend myself I clam up because I'm amazed at being accused of not communicating, and also yelled at (yes, yell is the correct term) for making a mistake. The long and short is that one problem is I have word finding problems when I'm rushed, tired, pressured or defensive. I also have a busy, chopped-up schedule that keeps me running and shifting gears quickly. So I miss things others would catch. I tried to talk with the teachers and explain that I have been diagnosed recently with ADHD and getting treatment. I was surprised by their lack of empathy (especially since they are seasoned Special Education Teachers and work with students who have comorbid disabilities like ADHD with intellectual disabilities).

    Sooo...Living where I am, I can't find anyone who coaches ADHD adults -- it is what I think I need to help me succeed and change my outlook/behaviors.

    I will try your suggestions and let you know what happens. Thank you again for taking time to answer me!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hi there,

    Most coaches work remotely, by telephone. Just a thought.

    I'd still look into optimizing the medication, though. It could be that the medication you're taking for GAD is interfering with the stimulant (assuming that's what you're taking) for ADHD. And address the hormones, too. Some women take an increased dosage of the stimulant at certain times of the month. Hormones, neurotransmitters...it's all connected.

    I know that in most states, teachers are under a lot of pressure and stress now. Perhaps that accounts for what you perceive as low empathy. Then again, perhaps your co-workers expect you, and really need for you, to be higher-functioning. I'm not sure a coach is going to help you keep up in such a job as you describe, with a chopped-up schedule, etc. If you can't find another job better suited to you, it might be you'd do best to focus on the physical/medical strategies, including sleep, etc. good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank you. I will check out the medication and hormone issue with my OBGyn and Psychiatrist. I just want to find the right combination so I can be alert and awake enough to practice some behavior strategies. I'm also going to have to work on my self-esteem. Your advice is invaluable.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Check out Dr. Charles Parker's blog for more info; he's writing the most comprehensive information on ADHD medical treatment, IMHO, approaching it from all possible angles. Very helpful!

    http://www.corepsychblog.com

    ReplyDelete
  25. Gina, come back to us, we miss you :) Most posts please!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Aw Katy, that is so sweet! Thank you! I'm just not as prolific as you, Ms. Excellent Writer.

    I'm working on a guest post from Dr. Ari Tuckman. Stay tuned!

    Hope you are well.
    g

    ReplyDelete
  27. Scroll past this and the next, if they look too long to read.

    I am an academic, well known and respected in my field for my writings, even though I have never managed to finish a book. Yet I have exhibited almost all the classic symptoms of ADHD for my whole life. These were defined by others as character flaws, and by me too, of course. It took constant effort to appear remotely normal, and lapses of one kind or another were commonplace. Meeting deadlines and coping with tedium have been especially difficult.

    I was a great disappointment as a schoolboy, although I did eventually manage to get into a good university, but I left after two terms when my father withdrew all support. I then worked at a series of manual jobs, skilled and semi-skilled, until I decided that I would have to find a less tiring life and chose to become an academic. I had enjoyed heavy work, because of the limited demand on my intellectual faculties.

    I did the absolute minimum required to receive a degree and then went on to do graduate research at the best place for my subject. I never obtained a doctorate, despite writing it up several times, differently each time as my interests changed. I couldn't bring myself to do the tedious parts, so I published lots of articles instead. All get cited regularly, and some are very famous among academics in several fields and even other disciplines, to a lesser extent.

    Yet I have never managed to hold down a full-time job for more than a year or two. I did not have a girlfriend until I was in my 30s. My marriage was successful for a while, until my character flaws took over, and it gradually went downhill. When it broke apart, my wife's vengeance was terrible to behold and a subsequent campaign of vicious anonymous letters made me unemployable as a teacher of undergraduates. Meanwhile, I had a nasty accident, so I had no permanent home, no family, no books, no money, and I was a pariah, completely at the mercy of circumstances.

    Undiagnosed ADHD can be seen behind the above and many other problems.

    ReplyDelete
  28. The only bright spot in that dark period was a couple of brilliant and attractive girlfriends, unaffected by the poisonous letters. One was from another discipline, the other from a distant university. Amicable partings, brought about by external circumstances.

    Unknown to them, they kept me from the brink of total collapse and then, perhaps as a result of this long-needed boost to my happiness and self-esteem, I was recruited by an American university and emigrated. Successful teaching and conference papers, but no completely new research and no papers completed for publication.

    During a year visiting Stanford in the hope of writing, I fell apart and had to give up my post. Long period of attempts to get good treatment, because the bipolar co-morbidity was diagnosed as depression. Whether the ADHD was unleashed through the absence of familar coping strategies, or delayed trauma, or the growth of the bipolar disorder, I was a mess, especially as various inappropriate drugs were tried.

    The professors of neuropsychiatry were astonished that I could cope with so much missing in the way of functions, presumably congenitally, because there were no lesions visible on my MRI.

    I am now on a tolerable drug regime, when I remember to take the pills, but I remain unable to focus fully, despite a high level of Provigil, or to keep depression entirely at bay, despite a high level of Lamotrigine, or to resist anxiety, despite Lamictal.

    What is worst, even than the lack of old friends or a good library or social distractions, is my inability to write. I have no classes or conferences to stimulate me, but above all I lack the bouts of mania and hyperactivity that used to allow me to work furiously for a month to get a project from idea to research to writing to journal submission. After that, I lost interest in the topic, and could never do any substantial revisions, if requested.

    This has been an absurdly long post, although I have cut out a great deal in the way of detail.

    I simply wanted to suggest that there can be worse things than relative sanity, as many Prozac takers noticed.

    I have a home, no mortgage, and a garden. However, I have never trusted myself to drive, so I am largely homebound. But I do have a supportive wife and adequate health insurance. Yet I have lost the one skill that made me a distinctive and valued person. I am just an invisible invalid.

    I am currently spending a year at a research institute alongside an Ivy League university with a tolerably large library, and hope that I can regain a little of my former ability, by learning more patient methods. If I can't, it's back to silence in the MidWest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As an ADHD'er who loves irony - I literally laughed out loud when I read the first line of your 10th paragraph, "What is worst, even than the lack of old friends or a good library or social distractions, is my inability to write."

      Holy shit, man! If you couldn't write, you wouldn't have made it 10 paragraphs!

      Perhaps you can no longer write massive academia journal articles that will be read by a bunch of boring stiffs who enjoy having smoke blown up their ass -- I don't view that as a negative. But you can write - don't kid yourself.

      You have a garden? I assume you enjoy gardening or you wouldn't have one - so write a gardening blog! If you can crank out a few paragraphs and hit publish, whether it's daily or just a few times a week or month... soon others will find it. Some people make a living just from hosting ads along the sidebar to their blog, if you garner enough followers.

      To me, it doesn't seem that you've lost your ability to write - you just need to point your pen towards writing about something you enjoy and brings you passion. Plus, you can blog from the Midwest where it's cheaper to live and people don't have to work so hard to impress others. Garden... have a beer... and enjoy life a little. ;)

      Sincerely,
      One Amazing ADHD Gal in Kansas

      Delete
    2. Ha! And now I'm laughing out loud, Kansas girl. Especially about the smoke-blowing. :-)

      Aw but that sounds great.... gardening in the Midwest and not having to work so hard just to pay property tax here in the Bay Area.

      Thanks for stopping in.
      g

      Delete
  29. Thank you for sharing your story, Brampton. I wish you all the best as you work to regain your abilities.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I was diagnosed with AD/HD 6 months ago. I am a 32 year old female. I believed my symptoms were just part of my personality. For those of you whom are familiar with Myers-Briggs Personality Types- I am an ENFP (Extrovert Intuitionist Feeler Perceiver). Most AD/HD symptom of mine fit neatly within this personality type. I spent my life believing this is me, this is who I am. I lived everyday attempting to take one incident at a time and hoping I would handle it or do it better this time- ultimately become a better person. I failed 90% of the time.
    Because I was never physically hyperactive and brought nothing less than a B home from grammar through high school, 10- 20 years ago I did not fit the “ADD profile”. The possibility of ADD never crossed my or either of my parents minds, who ironically, both possess a PhD in education counseling.
    In college I started to realize certain traits I could not overcome no matter how much I wanted to or how hard I tried. I was attempting to be a “grown-up” like everyone else around me. I love things clean and somewhat orderly- yet I am always messy. I feel great when I am able to pay my bills on time-yet I am never able to follow my budget. I am excited to start new projects for school or work and jump right on them- but always leave then half done. It is more than frustrating not being able to count on you.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Anonymous -- sorry I am late to respond to your comment.

    Yours is not the first story I have heard about Meyers-Briggs "obscuring" ADHD symptoms.

    I know that some people consider Meyers-Briggs a helpful guide, such as in managing people at work or in understanding why a couple isn't getting along.

    But really, I'll be happy when we stop seeing this as some kind of diagnostic tool. Because sometimes the identified "personality" is more a collection of symptoms than true personality. And when you think it's just your "personality," you assume you're stuck with it.

    As I recall, the Meyers-Briggs was developed by a housewife at her kitchen table more than 50 years ago. Nothing against housewives or kitchen tables, but there comes a time to update our paradigms. :-)

    g

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found out I had ADHD before my friend taught me about personality types.
      They are not the same thing: my friend is the same Meyers Briggs personality as me (INFP) and she doesn't have any trouble with the executive functions that I struggle with like working memory and planning.

      Delete
  32. Hi Gina,

    Thank you for this blog! I can relate strongly to most of what's been said here and have been reading through the discussions with much relief.

    Below, I have written about some of the ways ADHD has affected my life:

    -Having the ‘internal’ form of ADHD
    -How it’ shaped my ‘personality’
    -How I’ve hidden it
    -The impact on my education
    -The impact on my focus and enjoyment of life
    -What to focus on?
    -‘Distractions’
    -Getting use to ADHD medication –“Am I normal now?”

    I’d love to hear of anyone with similar experiences or an opinion on any of mine!


    I'm a 23 year old female who has quite recently been diagnosed with ADHD. I've been taking medication for some months now and have found it quite helpful for concentration.

    I am still coming to terms with the enormity of this disease and the many ways in which it has impacted on my life.

    My sister was diagnosed with ADHD when we were children and there was some question over whether I had it too, as I had difficulty concentrating. However this proposal was quickly dismissed due to fact that my symptoms were not 'hyperactive' like my sisters. She was extraverted, loud, disruptive where as I was more introverted. My symptoms were nonetheless, just as sever -if not worse!

    Interestingly, I believe my ADHD worsened as I got older.
    It was always there, even in early primary school I was labelled slow, but I did manage to cotton on eventually -to tasks, work, people. It was a struggle but I maintained my activities and occasionally I would find myself lost in the moment; living it instead of watching it. These moments became few and fewer and it took progressively more 'intense' activities to captivate me.

    Through my teens I tried hard to maintain an outwardly 'calm' persona -to appear steady and 'stable' and I was somewhat successful. I made a conscious effort to control the things I said and to question how my 'seemingly' hilarious comments might be interpreted by others. (Sometimes, not quite as hilariously!) This decision on my behalf resulted in less frequent 'inappropriate' remarks and more 'quirks.'

    I have been called "quirky." That was okay. "Quirky" is far more socially acceptable than "inappropriate."

    But is "quirky" me? Since my diagnosis I think not so much. I settled for it -as the better alternative- but the label still hurt. It didn't reflect who I was inside.

    I was so relieved to read the title here: "What is personality, and what are symptoms?" The question has been on my mind some time now. I believe I’ve gathered correctly that others here also have a ‘front’ or way of appearing more tuned into the environment and people around them, this has been so for me as well.

    Truth being told -to myself now- my symptoms have been severe. Through out these past years I have viewed the world through a glass wall more often than not. So much of my energy has gone into masking this disease, pretending to listen, to comprehend… Pretending I’m in the same moment as the rest of the room… That it’s hard to distinguish my personality amidst it all.


    Extreme activities and intense (unhealthy) relationships have been a means of distraction -but common sense told me to give these things up.
    Helping others gave me reason to focus somewhat (according to my psychiatrist ADHDers often work in 'caring' positions) but I can't live my life solely for other people.


    Long story cut short-

    I have struggled to get to where I am today. After having lost focus in school, I’ve had to work hard to get myself back into the education system; to prove myself and my intellectual capabilities. I've progressed through different courses and degrees have finally transferred into the degree I want (and have always wanted) to be in.

    I’ve noticed the difference the medication makes but it still takes much of my energy to focus.


    pt 1 -Alice

    ReplyDelete
  33. (contd.)

    Truth being told -to myself now- my symptoms have been severe. Through out these past years I have viewed the world through a glass wall more often than not. So much of my energy has gone into masking this disease, pretending to listen, to comprehend… Pretending I’m in the same moment as the rest of the room… That it’s hard to distinguish my personality amidst it all.


    Extreme activities and intense (unhealthy) relationships have been a means of distraction -but common sense told me to give these things up.
    Helping others gave me reason to focus somewhat (according to my psychiatrist ADHDers often work in 'caring' positions) but I can't live my life solely for other people.


    Long story cut short-

    I have struggled to get to where I am today. After having lost focus in school, I’ve had to work hard to get myself back into the education system; to prove myself and my intellectual capabilities. I've progressed through different courses and degrees have finally transferred into the degree I want (and have always wanted) to be in.

    I’ve noticed the difference the medication makes but it still takes much of my energy to focus.

    A question I have which ties in with the one about distinguishing personality from symptoms of ADHD is “How do I differentiate between ‘distractions’ and, well, ‘living.’” I’ve shifted from intense parting and relationships, to an intense degree. The degree, of course, has much more direction and is more fulfilling, it’s enjoyable and I’m sure, the right choice. So are these factors what distinguish it from other ‘unfavourable’ distractions?

    I still am driven by the fact that THIS has to be done THEN and must be done WELL where as others, it appears, breeze through more ‘passively.’ I still feel the need to fight and also to perfect all that I do. I think I do this to compensate for the fact I do not always come across as alert –perhaps to prove to myself and to others.

    The burden of hiding the symptoms of ADHD still makes it difficult to let others in.

    To sum things up… Having been isolated for much of my life, I’m finding it hard to determine things ‘worthy’ of my attention; things that are representative of ‘me’ whilst aspiring to be a moral and good person.

    The diagnosis of ADHD and all that ‘fell into place’ afterwards was a HUGE relief to me, with an awareness of something being ‘not quite right’ I accepted this finding oh too easily. It was so great to be able to move many of my seemingly careless attributes under the heading of ADHD and not ‘bad person.’ Though, like many of the stories I’ve read here, the years have taken their toll my on self esteem and I sometimes query the above.

    My last questions are these.

    Reflecting on the impact of ADHD medication –
    I can recall times in my past where I have been naturally immersed in an activity. (Like I mentioned before; those moments were quite few and often linked with more intensive activities.) I’m finding the medication helps keep me focused through the less captivating day to day activities, as intended, however I am finding this to be incredible and wonderful –and yet somewhat terrifying!
    Is this how people who don’t have ADHD live their lives –everyday? From my outside perspective and through the cloud I now call ADHD, I’m inclined to think yes!

    Is anyone else, since starting medicine, find this hard to become accustomed to?

    I feel less in control when I’m not watching the situation from the outside. I feel as though I’m being selfish, experiencing these moments for myself -instead of watching myself enact them. I don’t want to be so immersed in life that I fail to meet the needs of others around me. Though in saying that, I feel much more able to have others alongside me in a life I am actually experiencing!

    I suppose this is the next step of my journey. I would love to hear from anyone who can relate.


    pt 2 -Alice

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hi Alice,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I know that many other people will identify, even if they don't speak up.

    You ask: "I’m finding the medication helps keep me focused through the less captivating day to day activities, as intended, however I am finding this to be incredible and wonderful –and yet somewhat terrifying! Is this how people who don’t have ADHD live their lives –everyday? From my outside perspective and through the cloud I now call ADHD, I’m inclined to think yes!"

    Do you mean, do all people without ADHD live lives of quietly linear desperation? :-)

    For one thing, all people with and without ADHD are individual humans, and there's a huge range of "normal" human behavior.

    I'm not sure I understand your question. But I think you mean, does your getting accustomed to paying attention to boring tasks mean you will become a Muggle? :-)

    I'd say, no. Give yourself some transition time as you learn to take care of life's "boring" necessities. The more efficient you become at that, the better able you can start incorporating the more exciting things. More importantly, you can plan them so they are more exciting and less fraught with pitfalls.

    But it also sounds like you're wondering how to balance a natural inclination to care for others (what you might have "self-medicated" with in the past, to the exclusion of tending to your own life) with the necessary responsibility to care for yourself. In that case, I would imagine it's still a question of learning to balance.

    You are young! You have just learned about ADHD. Medication is working for you so far. That's great. And you will continue to find life-balancing strategies that work for you. No doubt there will be some wrong turns, but you will identify them more quickly and self-correct. I'm betting that, anyway.

    Good luck!
    g

    ReplyDelete
  35. I was diagnosed with ADHD in my twenties I took strattera until now. Now I am 31. I was having severe headaches. So now I am on nothing. I have been married to a control freak spouse for 12 year's an because he is so controlling I have been unable to go to college or get a job. I like to stay busy keeping my mind constantly stimulated which is difficult because he does not allow me to work, or go to college or have friends unless he picks them out himself. So I experience depression a lot. I feel trapped an lonley. I have three small children. I have no one to turn to, no family, no parents no friends. No one to talk to. I'm saying up every cent I can get access to to be "free" again so I can enjoy life an smile just being happy. I constantly struggle trying to say the right thing at the right time an starting a conversation an having a conversation with a group of people is always a struggle. With one individual I am able to focus an conversation properly.
    Any advice is greatly appreciated. I feel so lost I feel so lonely and depressed. I just want to feel confident again. I just want to be happy and smile and enjoy my life again. Please Help
    Shannon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have a difficult journey ahead, as well as many difficult choices. I am sorry that it seems your spouse does not care much about your happiness. I hope that you and he can seek counseling/ therapy together to repair your relationship and learn to love each other better. I hope that if he is unwilling to do so, that you will be able to find the resources you need to make changes. Reaching out to others via the internet can be a great way to start friendships. I know how hard depression can be, but know that there can also be another side.

      Delete

Thank you for your comment. To receive any responses by e-mail, click the "subscribe" link just below this box.