In March, I stumbled across the YouTube channel How To ADHD and now I wonder whether I have ADHD. I have long thought I might have some tendencies in that direction since I was easily distracted by noises or movements when I was in school, but I was never evaluated, and I finally decided that if I did have it, I had a very mild case. I never really thought about it again. What I have learned from watching the videos has made me consider the issue deeper. So much of it sounds just like me.
I used to doodle all over my math sheets and notebooks. At the time, I just thought I liked to doodle, but now I realize my mind refused to stay on one subject for long. In the absence of external distraction, I am distracted by my own thoughts. This same story is told by others who did the exact same thing!
During class reading time when we took turns reading out loud, I was never able to synchronize my reading rate with those around me. There was no way I could pay attention to the words on paper and follow the voice of someone stumbling over unfamiliar words at the same time. My natural reading rate was faster than everyone else’s and when it was my turn to read, I had to turn back a page to find where they all were. At the time, I thought my speedy reading comprehension just meant I was smarter than average, so I didn’t worry about it. It seemed stupid to force everyone to read together and I believed the slow readers must be having as hard a time keeping up as I was keeping down. Why not let everyone read at their natural pace? A very similar story is told by the host of How To ADHD.
I also remember that while I got perfect or near perfect scores on my tests without ever studying (just reading the textbook through once was good enough), I could not always finish my homework on time. After sitting in school all day, I was in no condition to spend any additional time on such things. When four of my teachers would assign homework on the same night – all due the next day – I burned out. One semester I got a D in math and an F in English in spite of getting As on my tests because I couldn’t finish my homework! I just thought I had less stamina than average; I didn’t realize all these symptoms were related.
While I might burn out from working long hours, I was always better than average in the short-term. I was quick to understand new, complex concepts. I was good in emergencies. I thrived at McDonald’s because every order was an emergency that had to be finished in ninety seconds or less. I was the most efficient employee they ever had. Yet when at home, I somehow never got around to working on my novel for fourteen years. This is exactly the behavior of those with ADHD. When a subject is interesting or urgent, they are able to “hyperfocus,” exceeding even those of normal attention.
I have also noticed that not all distractions are created equal. Sometimes distractions are distracting, but other times I need them so that I don’t get distracted by my own thoughts. This is also a sign of ADHD. I imagine this effect makes it hard to diagnose and could even bring up the question whether it is a real condition – but I’ll save those thoughts for another time. Many report needing to fidget with something while they work so they don’t get lost in their own minds. I fidget a lot. I find I often have to pace while thinking or else I can’t focus. Of course, fidgeting can also be interpreted as a symptom of Tourette’s, tardive dyskinesia, autism (stimming), or it can be culturally learned, so one has to be careful not to read too much into it.
I have also always had a hard time getting to sleep and tend to sleep more than the average person. This tends to be an ADHD symptom. I also start more projects than I finish and my father is the same way. ADHD has a strong genetic component, so now I think he might have a mild case too. I have also never been great at estimating time. This applies not only to estimating how much time has already elapsed, but to my predictions of how much time projects will take me. A day can feel like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. This is also a symptom of ADHD. I had no idea that all these things were related!
At the core of the condition is something common to all mankind – the inability to focus on that which doesn’t interest us and doesn’t seem urgent – some just suffer from it more than others. ADHD is a spectrum. We all have a little bit of it. “Trying harder” does not work because one first has to have the mental focus on something to make a coherent choice to try anything. “Try harder” is something that can only apply to the body, not the mind.
One symptom that doesn’t fit me well is lack of emotional regulation. I’m generally pretty good at not getting emotional in the usual sense – although, one could of course explain my outward behavior as the sum of many emotions, such as the desire not to appear emotional, or the emotion of calmness canceling out my anger, fear, or excitement. Sometimes I feel like Spock from the original Star Trek. Vulcans actually have emotions far more intense than humans, but they ignore and suppress them through equally intense mental discipline, honoring only logic.
In any case, the channel gives much practical advice on how to manage tasks and schedules that should be useful to everyone – and everyone is at least a little bit ADHD sometimes.
Among other ideas, the host suggests keeping a “to-did” list alongside the to-do list, to remind you of what you have accomplished, keeping things interesting enough to keep going. She also suggests adding a scoring system and a set of rewards.
She suggests that if you can’t find a good way to start something, to simply start badly. Eventually, the stimulus should activate your brain enough to fix any problems you might have created in the beginning. I learned to do this years ago, but it still goes against my nature. I need more practice.
She suggests setting up routines of the same tasks in the same order so that finishing one provides the cue for the next. She also suggests taking regular rests. While many of my tasks are unique, one-time things that do not fit routines, and I am often interrupted, I can certainly take more, short rests instead of the few, long rests that I do now.
She suggests adding new tasks to the schedule incrementally only after we have mastered our current work load. This is something I know too well. I am terrible at estimating how much I can handle and tend to take on too much too soon.
Finally, she suggests breaking big tasks into smaller steps. I now realize that sometimes the reason I don’t start tasks I mean to do is because they seem overwhelming because I haven’t broken them into small enough steps. Granted, sometimes there is no way to do this, but usually there is.
With any luck, I will have twelve books ready to publish in 2024 – without resorting to medication.
One thing I have observed in life and an idea I have been repeatedly exposed to is that one’s social environment has at least as much to do with one’s behavior as one’s innate nature. Sociologists suggest that putting people in jail might be a less effective way to prevent criminality than making sure people grow up in a healthy home environment, have plenty of legal opportunities for advancement, and are kept away from the influence of those who are already criminals. There are even those that have suggested that labeling someone as deviant in some way can cause that person to internalize and even embrace the label, becoming set in their deviant ways, and that if we instead cast their past behavior as an aberration from an otherwise clean record this would be less likely. This is called role theory.
I know that there are times I have been tempted to be rude since all my efforts to be polite were getting me nowhere and I was being accused of being rude anyways. I figured there was no loss to my reputation if I became what they said I was. Social environment matters a lot. I’ll recount three examples from my life:
One: When two of my coworkers failed to get along, management stuck me in the middle of them since I seemed to get along with almost anyone. However, because I was now in the middle, I had to interact with two troublemakers while each of them only had to interact with one of me. Thus, I was in twice as much conflict. Management soon forgot why I was put there in the first place and started seeing me as the problem.
Two: One of my coworkers often stood in the corner when there was nothing to do. I noticed that my other coworkers simply assumed he was lazy and would not help. Whenever a task appeared, they would do it themselves, grumbling all the time about the guy in the corner. When multiple tasks appeared, they simply worked harder. In contrast, when I was alone with him and something needed to be done, I simply left half-finished items near him. He was slow to respond, but soon enough he stepped in to help without being asked. He didn’t see a point in working when others were handling things so well and he couldn’t easily insert himself into the fray.
Three: I also notice that I joke less when there is someone else in the group to fill that role. The class clown is not always the same person; it is merely the funniest person in the class. How talkative or reserved I am changes greatly depending on who I am with. In school, I used to think I was introverted until I discovered that I could be quite extroverted in the workplace. The venue makes a big difference.
Instead of being quick to judge, maybe we should take note of the situation others are in and walk a mile in their shoes.
When was the last time you were labeled as something you weren’t?
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.