I'm sure we've all seen the stories on TV, read them in the newspapers. Most of those stories are from a doctor's perspective or a parent's perspective.
What I'd like to do is take this opportunity to try and explain what it has been like for me to live with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) for the last 37 years so that perhaps everyone can have a better understanding of what a person with ADHD has to go through every day in their life.
First, let me try to give you and idea of what ADHD has meant in my life. Frustration, torment, anger, sorrow, hope. These are all feelings that I've lived with throughout my life with ADHD.
Frustration comes because I always had so many ideas and thoughts running through my head that sometimes it was impossible to sort any of them out. Think of a tornado whipping all its debris round and round...this is what it can be like to try and sort out thoughts for an ADHD person. It's also quite frustrating for a younger person afflicted with ADHD because they can't adequately describe to adults and doctors what they are feeling or thinking so that there is an understanding of what's happening to the child.
Torment. That's easy. Kids can sometimes be the cruelest human beings on earth. When someone is different from them, or acts in a way that's not considered normal, they tend to pick on those kids. It's tough for "normal" kids to understand what an ADHD kid is going through, because they have nothing to base that understanding on. So it's easier for them to make fun than to try and understand.
Anger is the result of always trying to deal with an overload of information, topped off with the fact that most people have little understanding of what you're going through. Anger at the other kids that make fun of how you act. Anger that you can't sort it out and be like everyone else.
Sorrow happened often to me. I always felt as though it was my fault that I was like this, that perhaps I just wasn't doing something right, or had done something very wrong and this was my punishment.
Sorrow that I had few friends because other kids were afraid of me, or laughed at me, or just didn't want to be anywhere near me.
Cause and Effect
Having a mind that runs 100 miles an hour, 24 hours a day can be exhausting. I remember vividly in grade school being mercilessly picked on by certain people. At times it was so bad, I would get severe stomach cramps and have to leave school or stay home from school. I just couldn't stand the idea of having to deal with that every day, so my nerves would just start tearing me up from the inside.
And of course, the more it bothered me, the more they teased me. For them, it was fun to see how crazy I could become after a bit of teasing. It was like a game for them, at least that's what it felt like.
I had trouble with my grades because I couldn't single in on what the teachers where trying to teach. I could pay attention for about five minutes, then my attention would get diverted. And it doesn't take much. A leaf falling outside the window, a noise, a movement. Any minute distraction and I was gone. And it was frustrating for the teachers, too. The kids would bait me so I would disrupt the class.
I remember reading when I was in my mid-twenties a report that was written by my grade school counselor as he sat in on one of my class. Within the span of 15 minutes, he made a list of 25 behaviors considered to be abnormal for a child my age.
At that time, I had little or no control over what I was doing.
I have some minor recollections of going to Iowa City to see the doctors for my "condition." I remember being scared to death as they examined me... from physicals to written tests. I was scared to death that something was wrong that they wouldn't be able to fix. I also remember my parents being totally exhausted trying to keep up with me. I not only had problems in school, but was having some pretty big problems outside of school as well.
I was probably 9 or so when I started taking medication. I'm not sure it was called ADHD that far back...no one has ever told me what they diagnosed me as having. I guess at this point in my life, it's pretty moot what I was diagnosed as, but I took the medication for many years.
I sometimes think the medication and what I went through up to that point have made me forget most of my childhood. I have sporadic memories of things I did or what happened, but most only come when a parent or friend tells me a story; then I can remember it, but otherwise, I draw a blank about most of that part of my life.
I do remember that I had become pretty much a loner. I found that being by myself was much easier than dealing with other people, so I became a recluse, spending most of my free time in my room or in our basement amusing myself for hours on end with my toys.
I still have that loner feeling to this day . . . I'm much more comfortable by myself than with other people, as sometimes I feel very self-conscious when in groups of people.
Around age 10, my dad got me involved in sports. I found that I had an affinity for two sports in particular, and I strove to do as well as I could in both. I ended up excelling in baseball as a pitcher, which in the long run I think had a very good effect on me.
I felt in control of myself and everyone around me up there on the pitcher's mound. And that brought a fabulous sense of well-being. And because I did so well at it, I started to receive some positive feed-back from my peers, which helped me to "break out of my shell" as they say.
I was still afraid to make friends though. I had two or three friends that seemed to understand my situation, and at the time that was enough to keep me somewhat happy.
Junior High was were I started to figure some important issues out. I discovered the therapeutic benefits of music and even taught myself how to meditate. Music was the big key for me though. I found that music not only had a calming effect on me, but that if I used it as "background noise" I could concentrate much better. The only explanation I can come up with is that when music is playing, I can switch part of my mind to concentrate on the music, and that frees up the rest to concentrate on the task at hand. I know that sounds strange, but even as I'm writing this story, I'm sitting and listening to the radio. Somehow I'm able to concentrate better when my mind is very active.
As for the meditation, whenever I found myself heading for what I considered a "bad moment", if I could find a quiet place to be by myself, sit down and find a spot on the wall, or a crack in the floor, and just concentrate on that, then I could bring myself back under control.
So, midway through my Jr. High years, I was able to wean myself off the medication.
Now, that's not to say I still didn't have problems. I was still bored to death in the classroom. And at that point, I became the class clown. I found that through humor, more peers were less afraid of me, and more "intrigued". I think at times they were just sitting there waiting to see what I would come up with next to throw the teacher off. I was still disruptive, but most of the teachers I had noticed that humor was my way of surviving the day, and were genuinely helpful to me. My grades were okay, B's and C's mostly, but I found it quite difficult in most classes because they were just so boring and slowing moving. With ADHD, a quick pace is better, because the more information your brain has to process, the happier it is.
Perhaps now is a good time to explain why a lot of ADHD kids are constantly moving. For me, I had to be constantly on the go. It may sound strange, but when I would stop moving, I got this feeling that something bad was going to happen. I can't explain just what I thought this bad thing would be, I just knew that if I stopped moving, it wouldn't be good. I had a bad habit of bouncing my leg constantly. I never noticed it, but everyone else did. Even in my sleep, I was constantly moving. Almost every morning I would wake up with pillows and blankets strewn all over the place. And just getting to sleep was a spectacle in itself. When your mind and body feel this need to go 100 miles an hour all the time, it's hard to get calmed down enough to sleep. This was when I found out that music at night helped me to divert my mind from everything but the music....I could literally close my eyes and picture the people playing each and every instrument, which occupied my mind enough to put me to sleep.
Another problem that plagued me through, was paranoia. Not that someone was out to get me....but that someone was always saying something bad about me. I knew I had problems and that everyone at one point or another had shook their heads and said 'there he goes again'. After awhile, you begin to wonder whenever you see people talking amongst themselves what they are saying about you. I realize now that most of the time they weren't even talking about me, but paranoia is a very big part of ADHD. Even today, I find myself thinking that people are talking about me behind my back.....it's the worst part of ADHD to find a way to 'fix'.
Other Ways to Survive
I'm not very proud of this part of my life, but once I made it to high school, a lot of things changed. The need to be approved of by your peers becomes much more prevalent in high school than at any other time in your life.
Due to that fact, I found myself doing things that I swore I'd never do. I started smoking cigarettes at 14 years old. At fifteen, I was drinking alcohol. By sixteen, I was smoking marijuana. Peer pressure is probably triple the problem when you have had ADHD all your life. You've been shunned, laughed at, made fun of, picked on and beat on. So, if a chance to fit in, no matter who it's with, comes along, it's much easier to fall prey to the wrong people. After all, the drug users, drinkers and smokers are outcasts just like you, so it just fits that you should be part of their group.
And the sad part of it all is, drug users are usually very perceptive people and know who is in need of friendship and a sense of belonging, and they use that against you to pull you in. So, I was pulled in.
And to make matters worse, I found that marijuana went a long way in helping me to control my ADHD. Of course I didn't realize until later that it was just numbing my brain to the point where I just didn't care what people thought of me, but it did have an amazing effect on me.
In fact, it wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties before I realized I was using marijuana as a crutch. I was able to finally stop using, but I can't stress this enough to parents of ADHD kids....because ADHD kids are taking drugs to control their ADHD, it's only natural for them to assume that other drugs are okay to use also. So please, please make sure to explain to your kids that not all drugs are beneficial, even if they seem to make them feel better.
As of the writing of this story, I still deal with ADHD on a daily basis. Not only do I still have to control myself (which I do drug free by the way), but I also have a 13 year old son who has been fighting the same problems as I had to deal with.
Unfortunately for my son, he was also saddled with an extra problem to deal with on top of the ADHD, but we're in the process of getting the help that he needs to make him a productive member of society.
I found about 12 years ago that computers were a great way for me to keep my mind focused, and strove to teach myself how to use the computer. In the process, I was able to get a job as a graphic artist and have been using the computer as my way of keeping an active mind as busy as possible.
Computers are a great way for ADHD kids to focus their energy and attention. Because there are so many things you can do on a computer, they are able to focus better. I know no one wants to hear this, but a Game System works wonders for ADHD kids (at least it does mine). With all the graphics and the speed at which the games move, the whirlwind is easily digested by the ADHD mind, and I feel it can be a good way to also get their reflexes in top form. I don't suggest that you let them sit in front of the game all day and night just to keep them calm, but as a reward for getting their homework done (which other ADHD parents I'm sure will attest is a chore), or for doing their chores, or just for having a good day at school, some time at the game system is a wonderful way to let your kids know that you appreciate the effort. Because that's exactly what is is, day in and day out, a supreme effort to deal with a problem that has no real solution, just stop-gap measures to make life a bit easier.
Keep them busy and active, be patient because there will be a lot of bad days, and try to remember that they didn't ask to be this way anymore than you did.
One last thought....
I've asked our editor Dana Larsen to keep this article exactly how I wrote it. I know that it's probably a bit hard to read, as I tend to jump around a bit, but this is what happens when you have 15 things running through your head at once, all wanting to be written at the same time.
I admit that I'm no expert on ADHD, but having lived with it for 37 years, I felt I could provide some insight into what an ADHD person has to go through on a daily basis. And that just maybe, a few more people would understand this very real problem and be a bit more forgiving to those of us who sometimes just can't get a handle on it.