ADHD: More than a Diagnosis

Made+by+Isa+Mireles.

Made by Isa Mireles.

From the ages of five to eleven, my mother and I would frequent the symphony; those evenings spent at the theater are far behind me. Unlike other children, the discontinuation of my philharmonic outings wasn’t due to boredom – if anything, it was quite the opposite. I was ecstatic – exhilarated, even – to be at the symphony. The harmonious blending of every note, instrument, and key change sent shivers down my spine and brought tears to my eyes. Each piece told a different story, and I lived for every twist and turn. The music enabled my brain to bring fantastical, whimsical tales to life, producing cinematic masterpieces in my head that surpassed anything Spielberg, Nolan, or Hitchcock could create. I would be enthralled by the music…

…that is, until I would feel a hand firmly grab my thigh, quickly bringing me back to my cold, harsh reality. There, I was met with my mother’s stern expression and a chastising whisper telling me something along the lines of, “Stop bouncing your leg.” During my fantasies, I had subconsciously been shaking my legs which – according to my mother – was “disruptive” and “rude” to those around me. I tried to stop for the sake of maintaining my matinee evenings, but there was no helping my visceral reaction to the music around me. Thus, my days at the symphony gradually ceased. 

This was not the first time I was unable to adhere to social norms. Although the do’s and don’ts of being a functioning human being in society was relayed to me numerous times, they escaped me. It was clear that my brain was not wired in the same way as the average person’s. There was an explanation, however; a genetic family heirloom: ADHD.

ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a chronic condition that affects one’s brain functionality, resulting in attention difficulty, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, as well as abnormal cognitive, behavioral, and motivational functioning. Of course, this is only a paraphrase of the definition WebMD provides and is not an accurate portrayal of what living with ADHD is actually like. The technical terms within every “How to Raise a Child with ADHD” parenting book and medical journal are unable to illustrate the daily struggle someone, like myself, endures.

 

Executive Dysfunction

Executive Function (EF) versus Executive Dysfunction (ED) – though these words are almost identical, they have opposite meanings. The three letters, dys, being the difference between living life on easy mode and nearly impossible mode. 

The joint effort of both the frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex, think of EF as the brain’s management system (Belsky, 2022). Memory, focusing, learning, planning, decision making, emotional regulation, impulse control –all of the skills imperative to functioning “normally” on a day to day basis– is what EF is responsible for. Once dys is thrown into the mix, EF’s capability to utilize and apply these skills is non-existent, which is where the characteristic signs manifest. As Hill Learning Center’s article “A Guide to Executive Function” put it, “When people struggle with executive function, it impacts them at home, in school, and in life.” The symptoms of ADHD go beyond being easily distracted and unable to sit still.

 

Memory:

The ability to retain information is a skill that neurotypicals –those with typical neurological behavior– often take for granted. Those who’ve never experienced the consequences of its absence are unable to understand how vital a functioning memory is to simply exist. 

Chronic absentmindedness affects every facet of someone’s life – personally, physically, and socially. Despite how it may look from an outside perspective, a person with ADHD’s inability to remember is never on purpose. An item’s location is something that consistently slips my mind; jewelry, phones, earbuds, important documents, car keys, my own car, etc. Having cashiers or waiters run after me shouting, “Miss! You left your credit card!” happens more often than I would like to admit. Not only is this incredibly embarrassing, it can take both mental and real world tolls, such as identity theft. 

Memory impairment can compromise the ability to care for physical well being. Neglecting bodily necessities –eating, drinking water, going to the bathroom– is not uncommon. Bathing, brushing your teeth, wearing deodorant, and carrying out other hygienic normalities and necessities can be difficult to commit to memory for an ADHD brain.

What’s more, forgetfulness can negatively impact an ADHDer’s personal relationships. My brain often fails to remember to respond to important text messages or phone calls. Given that “out of sight, out of mind” is how my brain functions, if I don’t see someone on a daily or weekly basis, I genuinely forget they exist; this includes family members, close friends, and romantic partners.  

Even carrying out the most menial tasks requires the brain to not only create a list of tasks in a logical order, but remember the sequence they’re in. This is a skill that comes intuitively to most humans. For instance, the steps for getting ready for school may start with making the bed, followed by getting dressed, eating breakfast, then brushing your teeth, etc. However, remembering what tasks need to be completed does not come naturally to an ADHD brain. 

 

Organization: 

Similar to weeds, disorganization roots itself deep into every nook and cranny of an ADHDer’s life; affecting our surroundings, thinking, and even speech patterns (Green, 2022). 

Living with ADHD, my room has never stayed clean for more than five days. Normally, clothes are strewn about my bedroom floor, wrappers and other trash lay haphazardly near my trash can, and stacks of dirty dishes cover my desk … on a good day. 

In addition to inhibiting my dreams of ever having an aesthetically pleasing room, disorganization results in other areas of my life being negatively impacted. Important documents or items get lost amongst the sea of clutter, leaving me with angry parents or teachers. I am usually too embarrassed to invite friends over to my house in fear that they’ll see what my mother so lovingly labels a “pig-stye” of a room.

A messy room, however, only reflects the chaos inside of an ADHDer’s head. A train of thought does not exist in our brains, but rather “multiple tracks of thoughts in rapid succession” as author Rachel Green states in her article “ADHD Symptom Spotlight: Disorganization.” Imagine trying to do homework with several people screaming at both you and each other, while irritating music plays in the background. The pandemonium within a brain wired like mine is not solely internal. Thoughts always manage to escape my brain and out of my mouth unintentionally, leading to “less coherent stories without a clear progression from beginning to middle to end.” (Green, 2022). When I tell a story, I tend to tell events out of order, include ambiguous and irrelevant details, fail to reach a clear resolution, and take twice as long to get my point across.

 

Self Monitoring: 

Another obstacle people with ADHD face on a day to day basis is the inability to self-monitor. Impulsivity, very loud volume level, hyperfixations, inability to comprehend social situations– it’s because of these traits that labels like annoying, overwhelming, weird, obnoxious, and embarrassing are affiliated with ADHDers. 

Impulsivity, according to the National Library of Medicine, can be defined as “acting without enough thinking.” Although some individuals are more spontaneous than others, those with ADHD find it nearly impossible to resist high-risk behavior. “Do first, think later” is the motto in which ADHDers involuntarily live by. Author and comedian Reed Brice depicts the why behind impulsive decision making, “it can feel like a dozen controllers are all in charge of my brain at once and nobody is checking in with each other before they’re pushing buttons.” From a young age and all throughout adulthood, impulsive behavior is a constant; climbing tall trees as a child, getting into fights in middle school, participating in unsafe sexual activity, spending large amounts of money – all examples of poor impulsive decisions ADHD brains are significantly more prone to making. 

 

Task Initiation: 

An ADHDer’s motivation deficiency is often attributed to depression, however these aren’t mutually exclusive; someone with ADHD may have depression-like symptoms without having depression at all. This isn’t to say that all people with ADHD do not have depression. In fact, adolescents with ADHD -such as myself- are ten times more likely to develop depression along with other mental illnesses such as anxiety, OCD, etc. (Roth, 2019). Depression, along with ADHD, often manifests itself as unfinished homework and lengthy cat naps. Even worse are the labels assigned to those with ADHD— lazy, self-absorbed, inconsiderate, spoiled, the list goes on. What neurotypical individuals fail to understand is that a lack of task initiation renders me frozen, leaving me stuck laying down in an endless cycle of scrolling through social media for extended periods of time. During this state of paralysis, I am not not enjoying my so-called “laziness.” Contrary to how it appears, my mind is at war with itself. Internally, my brain is screaming at me to get up and be productive to no avail. If I had a penny for everytime I’ve mentally shouted at myself to get up and be productive, I wouldn’t have to worry about student loans. It is because of my absence of motivation that tasks take me three times as long if they get finished at all – putting me at a severe disadvantage when it comes to finishing both long and short-term goals. 

 

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: 

A common symptom of ADHD is RSD, or rejection sensitive dysphoria. Simply put, rejection hurts a whole lot more with ADHD. For a neurotypical person, the anguish from rejection is painful, but short-lived. For someone with ADHD, however, any form of rejection, regardless of how small, feels like the end of the world and can oftentimes manifest as physical pain. For the majority of neurotypicals, a failed test indicates that there’s something to be improved upon, but to me, a failed test means that I’m the most worthless, unintelligent, unsuccessful person in history. The mere idea of “rejection” and the feelings of anguish that inevitably follow, has prevented me from pursuing opportunities if there is the slightest chance of failure. The ideology of “trying again” that has been so heavily ingrained in society, has never resonated with me. From afar, I’ve observed how despite their utter and complete failure, my neurotypical classmates have always managed to get up, dust themselves off, and try again. It’s perplexing and somewhat isolating. For them, the sky’s the limit, meanwhile my phobia of rejection has stopped me from looking up. 

 

 Looking Past the Diagnosis:

ADHD is a chronic condition and not something easily controlled. The symptoms previously mentioned that affect my day to day makes being alive incredibly difficult. There are days when I scream into my pillow, condemning God, the universe, fate, or whoever was in control of my genetics, for forcing me to live with ADHD. The realization that I will never be free of my “quirks” haunts me and it saddens me to know that I will never be able to think or act like a “normal” person. Neurotypicals tend to have this optimistic view of ADHD, labeling it as a “super-power,” forgetting its virulence. This viewpoint within itself is a privilege, and actively disregards the struggles that individuals with ADHD face on a daily basis. The lack of understanding from educators, peers, and society in general, only makes things more difficult for those with ADHD.