October is most famously known for its tittie cancer awareness. It is less known for being the ADHD awareness month. Seeing as that I have both titties and ADHD, you know what that means, don’t you? October is Beastie awareness month!
Tittie celebrations aside, ADHD is something that is a constantly on the forefront of my mind. Perhaps you may have been clued by my posting a piece about October with only a few days left in the month, but I can not help but be aware of ADHD every single day. While I do believe we are over-medicating our children for behavior that can be remedied with more recess and the arts (i.e. fun stimulation, not boring stuff), ADHD is a disorder weighted in stigma. It’s widely seen as fake. Made-up. An excuse. And that hurts me as someone who copes with ADHD, yes, every single day.
It could be surprising that the Americans with Disabilities Act actually protects those with diagnosed ADHD. However, having the stigma it does, claiming it as a disability with your employer can be quite a Catch-22. Even those who advocate for people with attention deficit disorders advise to tread lightly, as having ADHD and asking for accommodation may still lose you your job within the confines of legality. Why would anyone elect to live this life?
For October (henceforth, Beastie Awareness Month), I want to share my experience with ADHD in hopes that my words are added to a force that will one day break down the stigma of ADHD and other mental illnesses before the Public’s eye.
I am not your typical ADHD kid story. I was not the out of control, hard to contain ball of energy most people would picture when it comes to this diagnosis. I didn’t need to be “controlled” by pharmaceuticals at a young age. In fact, my childhood academic background was quite the opposite. I did exceptionally well for a good period of time. So well, in fact, that it would have never occurred to anyone that I may have a learning disability. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was 18 and a senior in high school.
By the time anyone even acknowledged I had a problem, I had already been accepted into college.
In elementary school, I was tested on multiple occasions in hopes to place me in the school’s gifted student program. I would outperform the other gifted children on both standardized tests and academic competitions, but I never got the IQ score to get into the program itself. It baffled my teachers and guidance counselor so much that I was allowed to participate in some gifted program activities in spite of never being fully “qualified” for the program. I have taken other IQ tests since, and my scores can vary a full two standard deviations depending on the test and what time of day it’s administered. In the research I have done over the last 10 years, I would come to learn the term “twice exceptional” and realize how texbook 2e I had been as a child.
More than anything, my diagnosis, support groups, and continued research in ADHD has provided me an understanding of myself. For one, I know now that girls do not demonstrate ADHD symptoms like most boys would and are vastly underdiagnosed as children. The fastest growing demographic being prescribed ADHD medication in recent history has been women between the ages of 24 and 36 (or about the time life becomes a little more complicated than your normal coping mechanisms can handle). I have come to understand that my life-long anxiety and panic attacks have a source. I have learned that, though my acquaintances and loved ones may not always understand the way my mind works, I am not a lesser person for it.
Capturing what a cognitive disorder “feels” like is like describing what a giraffe looks like to someone who has never seen one. You can go at length about it’s long neck, it’s spots, it’s long legs, the black tongue, and how it eats leaves from the top of a tree. If you’ve never seen a giraffe, you would still leave the conversation with only a vague idea of the appearance of a bizarre and awkward creature.
I prefer not to medicate my ADHD and use other natural methods for controlling some of the more difficult symptoms. What it comes down to is that I would rather take the highs and lows of how my mind functions over the flat line, monotonous drone of what it feels like to be on medication like Ritalin. That being said, I can imagine every single one of us, to some extent, has a continuous inner dialogue. Have you ever been so worried/fixated/excited about something that it was impossible for you to sleep? If your answer is “yes,” (and I’ll assume it is), you have experienced a glimpse of what I have come to refer to as “the noise.”
“The noise” is what my inner dialogue sounds like. It is the best explanation I’ve come up with so far to describe what my ADHD feels like. For the most part, on normal days, it’s a chatty, easy to distinguish inner dialogue with a few quiet, aside dialogues that are easy to ignore. On days when I am hyperfocused (little known ADHD symptom for those inexperienced with the disorder), the noise is much “louder” and much faster, but still mostly on a single train of thought. On particularly bad days where it takes all of my energy not to have an anxiety attack, “the noise” sounds like a room full of inner dialogues shouting at each other, each individual thought harder to distinguish from the next.
Another way I like to visualize it is particles moving in an atom. When the atoms are stable and cohesive, the particles move at a slower rate. When the particles are “excited,” the atom becomes less cohesive and less stable. ADHD is the energy that “excites” the particles that make up the cohesion of my thoughts.
In the land of Beasties and truth, there can almost always be an upside if you want one. One of the most useful mechanisms of my disorder is an enhanced ability to filter both internal and external “noise.” Our brains all have filtering capabilities. If our minds had to process every sight and sound input fed into it, we would, in short order, go completely mad. My mind has honed this designed feature into a craft. I instantaneously forget and ignore things on a constantly evolving and complicated list of what my brain has deemed “unimportant.” I am only aware of it to the point where I have caught myself in retrospect filtering out details of conversations or drifting off to sleep during redundant lectures. At some point information passes through a gate that says, “I already know this” or “This is not vital for me to think about now,” and my brain automatically diverts energy into more important functions. One may say my brain is constantly training itself to become more efficient. (Though that “one” may only be me.)
This is why I love the ever automating of tasks that I imagine were much more arduous before the advent of computers. All the typing and paperwork and filing, all becoming more efficient everyday. This isn’t even to mention analyzing data. If you didn’t know, here’s a short history lesson on the rise of the personal computer: one of the biggest catalysts for the proliferation of desktop computers was the invention of the spreadsheet. The short time that calculations and record keeping a spreadsheet made us capable of was a businessman’s wet dream. It cut the time it took to calculate models into previously unimaginable fractions of the time it took before. Additionally, desktop computers and spreadsheets made these calculations affordable for lay people as well.
Decades later, and with rise of mobile technology, the momentum of innovation in business runs the same course, if not at an exponential pace: make business faster, easier, less expensive and more efficient. Through divine chemistry and what I imagine is some level of psychological conditioning growing up with computers (part of the first generation to do so), I am exceptionally suited to imagine ways in which mundane and time consuming tasks, such as data entry, can be made to go faster, become automated or be completely eliminated through my natural talent of filtering out the unimportant “noise” and distilling only vital information.
In other words, I am, by design and to my advantage, perfectly suited to innovate in business. So I have that going for me.
If you’re still here with me (and why wouldn’t you be? I’m hilarious), I thank you. I do not expose my shortcomings in vanity, but for the purpose that those who read about them walk away with a renewed perspective on the people around them. Or even themselves; that would be cool, too.
Beastie ADHD Awareness Month!
If you would like additional information on what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone with “impaired executive functions” such as myself, I recently came across this fine listicle: 20 Things to Remember If You Love a Person with ADD. Disclaimer: I don’t appreciate that it claims that ADD’ed people are difficult to love (as if!) and disapprove publicly of listicles in general for the purposes of disseminating important information. However, the bulk of the content is redeeming enough to recommend.