What ADHD Is and What It Isn’t 

Becoming a mother changed my life. I never knew that a love like this was possible, until I met my newborn son. That love has grown and blossomed; and my heart is full. 

From the day I found out I was pregnant, I knew this was my chance to make right in the world, but was also terrified. Terrified I would make the wrong choice on one of the big mom decisions; terrified my indecisiveness would hurt my child. Knowing that my lack of self confidence and sense of self would be detrimental to him; I put forth my best efforts to fake it until it was true. 

Cracks started appearing. Anxiety and the feeling of being completely overwhelmed started to get in the way of accomplishing much. I sought treatment; and was given the newest antidepressant, with the hope it would help. After close to two years on that new medication, I was worse off than when I started. I reached out to a friend; who suggested I consult with a psychiatrist. 

The day before my scheduled appointment, I tried to cancel. I had convinced myself I did not need to see another psychiatrist. I have been diagnosed over the past twenty years with: bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression and anxiety. None of them fit. None of the medications helped. The idea of meeting with yet another specialist, who might spend 10 minutes with me before prescribing me yet another psychotropic medication was too much. 

I had given up. I realized the sinking feeling of never belonging, being abnormal, weird, crazy… was my reality; and mine alone. There had yet to be a single medical professional who actually took the time (more than 10 minutes) to sit with me, and hear my troubles. 

Fortunately for me, the psychiatrist did not let me cancel the appointment. He called, told me he had booked me for over an hour; and I needed to be there. 

The day of the appointment was my absolute worst day. Between my overwhelming emotions, and crippling anxiety… I could not handle being a mother. I had no coping skills, no control over my son. I cannot say the last time we were on time anywhere, or, the last time I didn’t throw out $100 + worth of groceries. I was failing at each and every aspect of my life. I was worried I was going to be fired from my job; due to tardiness, absences, and major problems with distractions. My husband and I were constantly fighting. I was too sensitive; and took everything he said as an insult. My knee jerk reaction was to yell, and threaten divorce. I didn’t want to live like this. I had hit rock bottom. 

I arrived to the appointment- on time, for once. The psychiatrist and I spent well over an hour discussing all of these difficulties. He had me complete a few different assessments, as he interviewed me. I shared with him that my son was to be evaluated with neuro-psych testing, for suspected ADHD; and that my sister was diagnosed at 35, last fall, with adult ADHD. 

Towards the end of the appointment, he informed me that according to my symptoms, assessments, and family history, he believed it was adult ADD. He elaborated on the DSM-V criteria; and I felt validated. I had an answer. For the first time in my life, my differences and difficulties made sense. The shame which crippled me daily? He explained I’d been living with a negative reel of “I’m not good enough. I’m a failure. I cannot do anything right. Etc..” for most of my life. Since the birth of my child, almost five years ago, it had been magnified. He also spoke of executive functioning disorder, which was an entirely new concept to me. 

Together, we decided to trial a small dose of medication, to see if it helped any to reduce the overwhelm. The best part of this agreement? If this diagnosis was correct, I would know within an hour of taking my first dose; I did not have to wait the usual 4-6 weeks to see a benefit. 

I woke the next day and followed his instructions. Within an hour, instead of waiting until the last possible second, I was up, showered, lunches packed, dressed, with over an hour to go before we had to leave. I was an entirely new me. We were all out the door on time, organized. No arguments, no forgotten items for school or work. 

It’s been six weeks. I have picked writing back up. It was one of the first habits to return. I cannot express how much that one habit meant to me. Since I was a child, writing was my strong suit. It was the one task I felt solidly capable of. To have it returned to me, after 10 years of not writing? I felt as if I’d won the lotto. 

My shame is beginning to lessen. My patience is returning. I’m addressing what I perceive as insults immediately, avoiding arguments, and more marital discord. Best of all, I’ve been able to let go of my wish to control my son; and am learning to work with him. This has strengthened our bond; and opened up a level of trust between us that I did not think possible, at such an early age. 

Russell Barkley Ph.D, a leading research specialist defines ADHD as: 

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the current term for a specific developmental disorder seen in both children and adults that is comprised of deficits in behavioral inhibition, sustained attention and resistance to distraction, and the regulation of one’s activity level to the demands of a situation (hyperactivity or restlessness).

The predominant features of this disorder include:

1. Impaired response inhibition, impulse control, or the capacity to delay gratification

2. Excessive task-irrelevant activity or activity that is poorly regulated to the demands of a situation. Individuals with ADHD in many cases are noted to be excessively fidgety, restless, and “on the go.” 

3. Poor sustained attention or persistence of effort to tasks. This problem often arises when the individual is assigned boring, tedious, protracted, or repetitive activities that lack intrinsic appeal to the person. 

These are the three most common areas of difficulty associated with ADHD. However, research is suggesting that those with ADHD, particularly the subtypes associated with impulsive behavior (see below), may also have difficulties in the following areas of psychological functioning as well:

1. Remembering to do things, or working memory. Working memory refers to the capacity to hold information in mind that will be used to guide one’s actions, either now, or at a later time. It is essential for remembering to do things in the near future. 

2. Delayed development of internal language (the mind’s voice) and rule-following. Research has lately been suggesting that children with ADHD are significantly delayed in the development of internal language, the private voice inside one’s mind that we employ to converse with ourselves, contemplate events, and direct or command our own behavior. This private speech is absolutely essential to the normal development of contemplation, reflection, and self-regulation.

3. Difficulties with regulation of emotions, motivation, and arousal. Children and adults with ADHD often have problems inhibiting their emotional reactions to events as well as do others of their age.  

4. Diminished problem-solving ability, ingenuity, and flexibility in pursuing long-term goals.  

5. Greater than normal variability in their task or work performance.

All information from: http://www.russellbarkley.org/factsheets/adhd-facts.pdf 

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