It shouldn’t be any surprise to me that since a large percentage of people I see in therapy are over 50 years old, that we are discovering that many of them have ADD or ADHD and have never been diagnosed.
“Attention Deficit Disorder” or ADD is a fairly common diagnosis in school-age children, especially if it is combined with hyperactivity or ADHD. However 30, 40, 50 years ago, it lurked in the classrooms and no one knew what to call it or what to do about it. They didn’t even know what “it” was. The children suffered, the teachers complained, and the mothers agonized. As you may remember in your elementary school days, there always seemed to be one kid disrupting the classroom or bouncing off the walls or who could never sit still, which was an unmistakable sign of hyperactivity. They were the only ones likely to be diagnosed and back then and put on Ritalin. They were the lucky ones. The rest went undiagnosed and slipped through the cracks.
Instead, their symptoms were labeled as negative attitudes or behaviors and they were accused of “not paying attention” … “not trying hard enough”… “not being interested”… “daydreaming” … “always interrupting”… “procrastinating”. As the years passed, many of these children continued struggling through school, being scolded and punished by their parents for poor grades and bad behavior and being shamed by their teachers and classmates. Eventually, their self-esteem sank causing them to believe they were stupid, incapable, and inferior and their self-worth was based on non-academic activities like sports, music, art, sex, and drugs.
Does any of this sound familiar? Who does this remind you of: your partner, your sibling, your child, or yourself? Think of that person or consider yourself as you read this. (I will now refer to the person with ADD as “you”) Growing up, did you feel like: you didn’t fit in… no one understood you…that you were stupid… why bother… you shouldn’t have the same dreams and goals as your friends… university was out of the question… you shouldn’t expect much success??? Did you go through life feeling like everyone was aggravated with you and annoyed at your irresponsibility, forgetfulness, tardiness? Did you come to believe that you are the screw up they kept accusing you of being?
Socially, you may have suffered as well. Your choice in friends probably changed. You may have started hanging around with the bad crowd, or maybe you isolated. Maybe you lost interest in things that used to be exciting. You may have become much more negative and irritable. You may have walked around angry and defensive. You may have been depressed.
How has your undiagnosed ADD (or ADHD) affected your adult life?
Often times, you don’t realize that your general behavior or way of doing things isn’t normal. I hear those affected with ADD, comment all of the time that they had no idea other people weren’t like that or that they have always thought their partner nagged for no reason.
Does your partner, boss, or friends accuse you of any of the following? Being disorganized… not finishing projects at all or not on time… not following instructions… not paying attention to detail… making careless mistakes… shifting from one project or task to another without completing them.
Do you misplace things: sunglasses, car keys, reading glasses, wallet, cell phones? Do you lack organizational habits like always putting such things in a specific place every time? Do you toss things into a junk drawer and then frantically look for it later on? Is your purse a mess?
In conversations, are you accused of interrupting, not letting someone finish their sentence or thought, and/or not listening to what other people are saying? Is it difficult to tolerate opposing opinions? Are you easily distracted?
Scattered? Are you forgetful? Do you always need reminding? Do you keep an agenda or calendar? Do you have a routine? Do you plan ahead or hate to plan? Do you manage time well?
What have you learned to do over the years to compensate for any of this or are you still scattered and provoking a lot of negative response from others?
Is all of this the source of many of your relationship issues, disagreements, fights? Have you sabotaged job opportunities or lost a job due to this? Has your school and/or job performance suffered because of this?
Here is an excellently written illustration of what it is to experience an ADHD thought process. Let’s take a sneak peek: “Good morning mind, wait, let me catch-up with you. Let me have the first cup of coffee before I begin my day! Ah, coffee helps me focus on today’s plans… Oh, the dog has “the look” and it’s time to take him to the dog park… e-mails oh e-mails… someone might be e-mailing me! Leash, where IS the leash? where is the coffee?… gotta have coffee… where is the dog? … oh yah, dog, dog park… gotta get off the computer…no time for that now…I do wonder what the annual rainfall is in Chile in October… travel sounds great right now! Oh, I need to see the Chiropractor today… what time? Dog…leash…out the door… Oh no, NO laundry soap… ANOTHER trip to Costco, takes all day and I don’t have any time. The phone, did I forget my appointment… which appointment? Missed call… wonder who called. Could call back, but not now, I don’t have time. If it is important, they will leave a message. Car keys… did I leave them in the dog park??”
Those of us who have no idea of what is to experience this are probably laughing out loud. It is truly incredible. I can’t imagine trying to filter all of that and focus. Those of you with ADD, probably aren’t laughing at all. You are probably thinking that “this sounds just like me”.
Over the years, it is likely that you’ve adapted and learned how to compensate for many of these things or learned how to manage them, so that they have less of an impact on your daily life. Even with the compensatory skills, life is still way too difficult.
It is not necessary for you to tolerate living like this any longer. Getting diagnosed (by a psychiatrist) and onto medications can be life changing …seriously. Children and adults notice changes within hours and over the course of several days or weeks; they can’t imagine their life without it. Students’ grades improve dramatically.
Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW (psychotherapist) Available for appointments in person, by phone, or by skype webcam. Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org Mex cell: (322) 138-9552 or US cell: (312) 914-5203.