My son was playing on my phone the other day when he shouted, “You have 11,999 unread emails, mom?! Oh my god”. Did I feel shame? Regret? Yes and no. To be honest, I had recently unsubscribed from many senders (we will not name names
clothing stores), so to be honest, I was beating the system. “Yeah, I know,” I retorted. “But most of them aren’t important, so I skip them.”
But then this stung a little as I said it out loud. Why couldn’t I just easily check off the boxes of emails I wasn’t going to read, and delete them? Well, if you are person, like me (hey, fellow human) chances are you are busy.
Filtering through emails while also trying to keep up with work, deadlines, appointments, feeding the kids, taking them to and from school, stop the house from burning down, figuring out what to eat for dinner, (let alone make a shopping list) is probably the last thing you want “to-do”.
The truth is, I am actually quite anxious about those emails, because I know there are important ones in there I still need to address from a while back. Ones that are warning me about my website/things that need to be fixed/forms that need to be filled … emails I thought to read on my phone while I was out, thinking I could multi-task, but then got so busy with my other tasks, I forgot about them.
The Anxiety Is Real
By avoiding and forgetting about them, a constant “lingering” anxiety creeps up, and it is relentless. It makes you feel that something is about to go absolutely catastrophically wrong/people will be made at you/you are so lazy/you are a failure because you did not attend to those emails. If you do have ADHD, anxiety is a comorbidity (which basically means they can often go hand in hand), and it is quite easy to anxious about many things, not just unread emails.
I know I am not alone with this, but forgetting/avoidance are just a few of my very obvious ADHD symptoms (for me anyways). Ironically, I like to consider myself as being a highly-organized person. I do not like clutter, I do not like to hold onto things that have no purpose (Marie Kondo would be so proud of me), lather, rinse, repeat.
Having only been recently diagnosed in my 40s, I am shocked to heave learned about the wide range and varying symptoms of ADHD. The varying degrees and severity of symptoms can explain why so many people – especially young girls and women – are often over-looked as they do not fit the “mold” – which is typically in reference to the old 80s way of thinking (hyper, rude, disruptive, poor marks, boys, etc) … This is an old way of thinking – and a dangerous one – one that has prevented so many people from going undiagnosed, or seeking treatment. It is also a reason that quieter, sweet, and helpful boys can be over-looked, too.
So what are some of the unique symptoms that one might overlook? The following are just a few that may or may not resonate with you. I do want to reiterate that I am not a medical professional and cannot diagnose. However, if you can check off more than a few of these boxes, it might not be the worst idea to reach out to your dr and see if it is worth exploring further. Remember: everyone can feel lazy and procrastinate. When that happens every day, all the time, every waking moment … that is a different story, and I am here to tell you that you are definitely not lazy, and it is not your fault:
- You Are Incredibly Creative: SO MANY GREAT IDEAS!!!!! I will tell everyone on Social Media, I believe in myself!
- Lack Of Focus: I really want to finish these great ideas, but the kids’ closets need re-organizing and I have put that off at least 5x now. And omg … has it been a YEAR since we went to the dentist? I better make an appointment. Crap, I should probably look into our health benefits and see if we can even go…
- Forgetfulness: Wait … what was I talking about again?
- Avoidance: Le sigh. But if I DO start an idea again, I’m afraid of making a fool of myself on social media- yet again (Leah, where are those pieces you were working on?! I can’t wait to purchase!)
- Rejection Sensitivity: I shared my great ideas and only got a few likes. Well, that’s it, my career is over. I will now proceed to mull about that all night long instead of sleeping, for the next 45 years…
If you read those and thought: “that sounds like me, but I don’t have ADHD” – chances are you probably don’t. However, if these symptoms occur daily – and often – chances are high you might. And if that is true, just think about how amazing it would be to know that you can help alleviate those symptoms, and become a more productive and successful you.
Whatever the symptoms may be, ADHD does and can present differently in each and every person. As an artist, I can get LOST while creating art (hyper-focus) – next thing you know it is 1 am and everyone has already gone to bed. I will also gleefully share new art pieces and let everyone know (from the rooftops!) that I will be releasing more as part of a series…. only to realize about 6 months later that I said that out loud. On social media. And I have done nothing about it since.
So many great ideas, so much time to execute, so little executive function. All the ingredients for the perfect ADHD storm.
Dopamine and lack of executive function
ADHD brains have low levels of dopamine, meaning reward or pleasure is hard to come by. Some people get a kick from completing tasks; people with ADHD will only get that “kick” if it is an area of extremely high interest to them. In fact if it is not, they most likely will have difficulty even starting these tasks, and then feel helpless and depressed later on because they feel like failures. And again, this is not laziness. It is called lack of executive function, meaning the ability to start, do and complete tasks is like trying to get a neurotypical person to rip their fingernails off – it’s painful, and why the hell would you even do that! So do ADHD people seek out dopamine? Yes and no – but not in the way you may be thinking.
Take our son, for example. He is the quiet, sweet and sensitive type who only aims to please, wishes for world peace, and loves drawing and playing video games so much, he may not been seen for hours on end. To him, playing video games is a means of raising his dopamine to a level that might match his neurotypical classmates on a good day. It does not mean he is addicted to video games – playing for hours on end actually means he is finally feeling a sense of achievement, reward, and pleasure that he is denied by his naturally occurring low levels. In the same way, school work for some of his classmates comes easily; for our son, it is agony. And that is not an over-exaggeration by any means.
BORDEAUX MADE IN THE ARCTIC
Another way to look at it metaphorically would be having a neurotypical (normal person – whatever that means) growing grapes to make the most delicious wine in the fertile land of southern France, while the neurodivergent ADHDer is placed with the same task – but in the Arctic. To expect both to have the same results would be mind-blowing, but this is also the world that a person with ADHD lives in every day. Expecting to live, perform, and thrive in an area that is not conducive to any of that.
So how does the wine maker in the Arctic end up making their wine? After speaking with their boss (I know this is totally made up but let’s pretend this is real, mmmmmkay), the boss realizes that in order for them to succeed, they will need a greenhouse that will keep the perfect temperature, allow sunlight to ignite those seeds, allow access to fresh (unfrozen) water, and lush soil. And what do you know – after some time, a lovely Bordeaux has been produced, and NeuroDivergent Wine is now selling off the shelves.
Like the help of the greenhouse, medications and mental health support are just some of the ways people who do have ADHD can have a more successful life. Even with medications, however, those with ADHD still will only have a limited executive function, meaning if they finally get the will to do something, it probably won’t last long. But it beats not having help at all.
Thinking back to my son, I never thought he had ADHD – not until after I was diagnosed a few years ago. Looking back further, I realize that I myself was overlooked as a child because I was well-behaved, got good grades, but I was highly creative, talked a lot (my mom called me Chatty Cathy), and I definitely had anxiety (but didn’t even know what that was – as a kid I just thought everyone had a terrible feeling of dread in their stomachs all the time, too). I would hyper-focus on reading; one particular summer I read 8 Sweet Valley High books in one afternoon. My drug of choice? Playing piano, singing and performing, and it was one of the few things I CRAVED. If I couldn’t play piano or have that sweet release of creativity ( I made my own songs), I would feel absolutely terrible.
Knowing what I know now … I know better. Living with ADHD does not mean you are doomed to have a life sentence filled with failure, no joy, anxiety, constant disappointment and struggle. What it means is that while these obstacles may be in your way, there is hope, and there are resources available.
I do want to end this by saying that many people with ADHD are in fact very creative, and successful because of who they are – finding ways to navigate through life has given us “superpowers”, unique ways to think outside of the box. In fact, you should consider yourself lucky if you are living with, or working with one of us neurodivergent crusaders: we might just be able to help you find unique solutions to problems, make you laugh on the daily, and to help you see that while we are all not created equally when it comes to our brains, what we have to offer is something you simply cannot get anywhere else.