This is a brief overview of life before I started treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I am sure that parts will resonate with some people – as I meet/know so many people that I see all the characteristics of ADHD, which is either channelled into addiction, or holding them back from pursuing an aspect of their life/life in general.
I have so much more that I need to write about regarding this topic, but I needed to keep the first post fairly short just to build up the backstory and share some information.
I am not trying to advocate the use of more medication, (necessarily) – or claiming to be any sort of expert on ADHD. What I am trying to do is make people start to question and discuss the reasons for why we do what we do. To be able to identify our issues, the way we are personally, our strengths and weaknesses – and then be able to use this knowledge to overcome aspects of life that we find particularly challenging. Whether this be starting treatment for an issue, or finding coping mechanisms for it.
During school I was considered to be the “naughty” one. Yes I was “naughty”, but going to a posh Grammar School this is not a hard title to achieve, and I was “naughty” but in the disruptive sense – I was not aggressive towards teachers or “dangerous”.
A couple of months after I was asked to leave school and joined college for A Levels, my Spanish teacher, (who I didnt get on with particularly well), approached me and said, “Conor, I have just read your school file, why didnt you tell me you had ADHD – this explains so much.”
I was confused, I told her that I had always known within myself but that I didnt know it was “official”. She told me that it had the year 2000 as the year of “diagnosis”, (if memory serves). From then on her attitude towards me was completely different, much more supportive and patient – instead of just dismissing me as a pain in the ass.
I spent most of my time, “away with the fairies”, with the glazed/absent look on my face that anyone that knows me well will be familiar with
A similar thing happened to me in Uni with my course director. He was my favourite lecturer as he was completely loopy – and so smart that he was away with the fairies. I used to go to his office just to chat and debate with him about things, and he quickly noticed from our chats and his lectures that I spent most of my time, “away with the fairies”, with the glazed/absent look on my face that anyone that knows me well will be familiar with.
He would often “call me back to the room” in our lectures. He explained to me that he had also read my school report and told me that I needed to explain to my other lecturers the reason for always looking absent and uninterested, so that they didn’t think I was just rude or bored- so I did.
I needed to explain to my other lecturers the reason for always looking absent and uninterested, so that they didn’t think I was just rude or bored.
According to my teacher it was in the year 2000, when I was 6 and in year 1 or 2, that I was recognised as having ADHD, yet no-one thought to tell me this throughout my whole secondary school career.
Upon arrival at secondary school I was given a mentor and had frequent meetings – both individually, and as a group, with the autistic/aspergers children in the year, always doing various tests, exercises and having discussions. At the time I had no clue what the purpose of these sessions was, and it was very confusing.
I always put down my different treatment and “privileges”, such as being able to leave classes during GCSE´s, to being “naughty”, and that teachers didn’t want me in their class. The autistic people, although very intelligent, had a range of issues, including trouble socialising, trouble expressing emotions, and also became angry or frustrated very easily.
Why Are We Afraid to Tell People That They Have an Issue?
I would like to make clear that looking back on it, throughout my whole school career, the school and my family did everything they possible could to steer me towards the right path EXCEPT FOR, (in the case of the school), sit me down and explain to me that this is what they had observed from my behaviour, this is what they were trying to do, these were the symptoms they had recognised, and these are coping mechanisms/strategies.
It was all kept very hushed as if it was something that should never be openly discussed. Perhaps this was because they didn’t want to tell a teenager they have a, “problem”, that gives them an excuse to misbehave in school, however I do not think this is the correct way to go about this.
If you had asked any of the Autistic people why they were in separate classes from everyone and had special meetings, they would explain to you that they were Autistic, they would explain the symptoms of this, and explain what they struggled with, in the very straightforward, matter of fact and often very refreshing way that autistic people often speak.
It is estimated that 2-5% of adults have ADHD yet the number of these that recognise this, or undergo treatment for this is only a fraction of that. Of children that are diagnosed with ADHD, roughly 25-50% continue to have symptoms during adulthood.
Kooij SJ, Bejerot S, Blackwell A, Caci H, Casas-Brugué M, Carpentier PJ, et al. (September 2010).
It wasn´t until I started my treatment and was given a book by my Psychiatrist about life with ADHD as an adult, that I really saw with clarity, laid out in front of me, the different symptoms and how they affect everyday life.
The book was so incredibly accurate – and written in a way that was easy to follow and understand – even for people that I imagine have much more difficulty focusing than I do – that I was actually laughing to myself as I read it.
It made me aware of all the different aspects of my personality and made me able to think of my own personal coping mechanisms to pre-empt or counteract things that I know I struggle with.
Why do we have such a taboo about ADHD in the UK?
When we imagine ADHD we picture crazy people bouncing off the walls and full of energy. The reality of the matter is that the majority of people, “grow out of”, the Hyperactivity part i.e learn to sit down and not be disruptive as they become adults and enter into the working world.
This Hyperactivity tends to resurface in the form of Restlessness. However, this is just a tiny fraction of the issue. What you are left with is endless energy and a brain that never stops rolling. You are left with the Obessive, Compulsive, Addictive, Intensity – which without guidance – or at least recognition of these issues – just leads to the wreckless, self-destructive, and thrill-seeking behaviour which is so common amongst people with ADHD.
Symptoms of ADHD
Click this link to go to the Wikipedia page about ADHD, which is a wealth of information and which is where I have taken the symptoms list from
The below list of symptoms is not an exhaustive list. A lot of the symptoms are experienced by a lot of people – especially those related to concentration. We live in a society where we are trained to concentrate on things for a short amount of time. Video clips, tutorials, songs, magazine articles, are all designed to keep our attention only for a short period of time, and so it is only natural that most of us struggle with this.
However, it is the compilation of the vast majority of the symptoms of ADHD, which will lead to a diagnosis.
- Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
- Have difficulty maintaining focus on one task
- Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something they find enjoyable
- Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing or completing a task
- Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
- Appear not to be listening when spoken to
- Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
- Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
- Struggle to follow instructions
- Have trouble understanding details; overlooks details
A person with ADHD hyperactive-impulsive type has most or all of the following symptoms, excluding situations where these symptoms are better explained by another psychiatric or medical condition:
- Fidget or squirm a great deal
- Talk nonstop
- Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
- Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and while doing homework
- Be constantly in motion
- Have difficulty performing quiet tasks or activities
- Be impatient
- Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
- Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turn in games
- Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities
Starting Treatment for ADHD
In fact, when I stopped drinking and started taking medication for ADHD, (Atomoxetine), (more on this in an upcoming separate post), one of the hardest things I had to learn and practise, was how to look people in the eye, maintain concentration, and try to not appear uninterested.
This was incredibly difficult and made me feel so uncomfortable, (and still does to an extent). However, I finally managed to learn to focus on what people say to me, ask questions – in order to stay concentrated – and try and maintain eye contact.
Once you recognise the issues that you have, and the things you struggle with, it is simple to devise solutions or workarounds for these, and then start to practise what you learn.
The Misportrayal of ADHD in American Culture
I think that American culture has completely destroyed and belittled the perception of ADHD, as they have monetised the sale of addictive powerful stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall so that nowadays ANYONE can get access to these drugs.
Doctors are actually incentivised by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe medication. Parents are keen to medicate their overactive children, sports people use the drugs as performance enhancing drugs, and students incorrectly believe that the drugs make them smarter – when in fact all they do is keep them awake and make them believe that their performance has been enhanced. See this article which discusses the, “Placebo effect”, of Adderall in people that don´t have ADHD
Ritalin and Adderall
Ritalin and Adderall are both powerful stimulants with effects similar to that of Cocaine. Stimulants such as this are effective at treating ADHD because they cause the person to focus and not get distracted so easily.
However, this comes at a huge cost – physically and mentally. Using powerful stimulants has a whole range of side effects from, weight loss, insomnia, mood swings, and irritability.
It also does not help to actually solve any of the issues brought by ADHD, it merely masks them. I have met many people who were prescribed these drugs from a young age and have had really terrible experiences, due to being, “drugged up”, for years and not dealing with their issues.
Ritalin and Adderall are also very addictive – as they produce a stimulant “high” similar to that of Cocaine / Crystal meth. Because of this they are widely abused and even used recreationally. To read about addiction to Adderall please click here.
In fact Adderall is almost identical chemically to Crystal Meth, yet Pharmaceutical companies in the US have managed to start legally marketing and selling this highly addictive drug under the false pretence of ADHD treatment.
Powerful marketing campaigns, (yes, they are even allowed to advertise the sale of a PRESCRIPTION drug!), mean that people are rushing to get themselves diagnosed and get a prescription.
As the Health system in the US is privatised, it is in a Doctors best interest to diagnose you, and keep you coming back for your prescription – WHICH IS MADNESS.
ADHD in the UK
In the UK we seem to have the opposite problem, which is the reluctancy to admit that there is a problem, the reluctancy to seek help or ask for advice, and the reluctancy to take medication.
This may partly be engrained in our culture due to the fact that the NHS is a public service, and so it is not in their best interest to over-diagnose – however I also believe that there is this very old-fashioned, British “stiff upper lip” tradition of the fear of being unwell, or should I say not 100% okay.
It is almost frowned upon to be unwell or have issues – physical or mental – people are scared to take days off work for fear of losing their job, or appearing weak, and people – on the whole – do not put their physical or mental health before the pursuit of a career.
We are in the age of information and knowledge, where the vast majority of people have access to the internet and different resources – and people are just starting to care more about what they put into their body, and how much they exercise.
However, we are still miles away from widely accepting and recognising mental health issues, and openly talking them through – and THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE!
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