This week I was officially diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD (or, because I lack the hyperactivity, ADD).
I never thought those words would ever be applicable to me for a couple of reasons.
One, I had no idea that "Inattentive ADD" was even a thing, as opposed to hyperactive-impulsive or the combination type. Worse, I was honestly skeptical of ADHD as a whole. I'm ashamed, especially as someone who is fighting to #endthestigma against mental health issues, to admit that when I thought of ADHD, I thought of it as an, in general, over-diagnosed disorder that really only applied to hyperactive little boys (and even then, I thought, how many naturally rambunctious kids were just given Ritalin so their parents and teachers wouldn't have to deal with them?). Most people who claimed to have it probably just needed stop making excuses and learn how to discipline themselves to focus on "boring" things. Only boring people are bored, and if you see something shiny, just get over it and move on, okay? After all, in a world of smartphones and clickbait and notifications, don't we all have a little "ADD" that we just need to deal with?
Wrong, wrong, wrong, and I am so, so sorry. Yes, our screen-based society makes paying attention harder for all of us, but ADD and ADHD are real and on a different level. Saying you’re “a little ADD” when you get distracted is like saying you’re “kind of bipolar” when you feel a little moody, and we really need to stop doing that.
Two, even when I allowed for the existence of legitimate ADHD. I didn’t think someone like me who did really well in school could possibly have ADHD. I was a straight-A student my entire life. I was the valedictorian of my college class. I have a master's degree. How could I have problems with attention?
Well, it turns out that “problems with attention” are not what I thought they were. I thought having problems with attention meant that you noticed everything around you all the time (again, the “Ooh! Something shiny!” idea). I’ve never been very visually observant -- if anything I thought I had the exact opposite problem. And the symptom that first made my counselor suspect I might have ADD was something that I thought was only anxiety: getting overwhelmed by packing. I thought someone with ADD would feel fine about packing but just get continually distracted by other things. In actuality, feeling overwhelmed by projects that involve organization and planning is classic ADD. If you think about it, it makes sense -- it’s a not very stimulating task that requires a lot of focus. But I had never thought about it that way before: I just thought I had a lot of undue anxiety due to, if anything logical, my perfectionism. And then there are the real outlier symptoms: things like getting a second wind in the evening and having a hard time waking up in the morning are related to ADD. Who knew??
I even misinterpreted my symptoms that make complete sense with ADD, like constantly thinking all the time or spacing out during long sermons or lectures. I thought I was just a thinker/intuitive and really impatient. Now I know that while I don’t have super fidgety body of someone who has the hyperactive type of ADHD, I have a fidgety mind that not only wanders when someone else is talking for what I think is too long of a time but also, to go back to a previous symptom, keeps me from being very visually observant. And even though I realized that I had a harder time with my attention span when I was really depressed, I thought that was because I was really depressed, not because I also have ADD.
It makes me feel a little better that I’m not alone; ADD is suspected to be very underdiagnosed in women, partly because it looks so different than the stereotype. The whole thing blew my mind, but the more I read and took quizzes like this one, the more I realized that it was probably true. Here are some of the items on the quiz that applied to me:
I end up doing several things at once.
I struggle to follow through on complex tasks. Short deadlines work best for me.
I may be looking right at someone but I’m lost in thought. My mind often wanders.
Sometimes, I even lose track of what I’m saying, or I go off on tangents.
I don’t have regular routines at work or home. I struggle with schedules or plans.
I’m not being obstinate. I know what to do, I just can’t seem to do it.
I have trouble organizing my work schedule, social life, and family obligations.
I create long To-Do lists then find them overwhelming.
Planning a big project feels daunting.
I procrastinate because I can’t see where to start, or figure out what I need.
I struggle to finish things that demand a lot of focus for a long period of time. Other times I get ‘in the zone’ and hyper-focus.
When faced with a big, important task, I will do a bunch of trivial chores instead.
Things have to be out where I can see them, otherwise I worry that I’ll forget about them.
I often misplace things like my phone, keys, or TV remote. “I just had it a minute ago!!”
I’m often lost in thought, my mind will be far away, imagining interesting ideas, situations, or conversations.
I’m pretty smart, but a bit absentminded. I’ve been called a ‘day-dreamer.’
I’m bad with names.
When I am alone I talk out loud to myself to stay on track.
Another factor that made it harder for me to get a diagnosis is that I had pretty high-functioning ADD that enabled me to avoid a lot of the external consequences of these characteristics, like bad grades, that are often a tip-off that something's not right. While I procrastinated on probably every major assignment in high school and college, because I could still pull off an A, no one, including me, could tell that anything was really wrong, besides my own nagging sense of feeling like I never really did my best at anything (and, of course, being chronically sleep-deprived and defaulting to guilt, fear, and shame as motivators for my life -- no big deal). I was a "good student," but not because I was particularly disciplined, organized, or methodical. I was in spite of those things.
Finding out that all of these things mean I have Inattentive ADD has brought on a lot of conflicting emotions. Sometimes, I feel relieved to know that there’s a reason why all of these things have been so hard for me, and it’s not because I’m just a bad person who can’t get her act together. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed because a lot of what I thought I knew about myself either isn’t true or is more complicated. For example, while it’s common to have depression, anxiety, and OCD symptoms coexisting with ADD, a lot of times undiagnosed ADD, and the guilt that comes from thinking you’re kind of a screw-up, can, not surprisingly, cause at least some of that very depression and anxiety. And that makes me sad, because I really wonder how much less I would have struggled if I had known I had ADD earlier. I probably could have gotten so much more done and felt so much less bad about myself, and I’ll never get those years back.
And honestly, I’m still feeling a little sad and overwhelmed about it even now that I do know, because I now get to figure out how to manage it, which feels like a complex task that is the bane of the ADD mind’s existence, even though it’s really more about acceptance, not working harder. (Really, I can’t give myself a break, ever.) I wish I didn’t have to deal with this at all. But there are lot of positives to the ADD mind, like creativity and (seemingly ironically) the ability to hyper-focus on things that are interesting to us, and I have a lot to offer with it. And above all else, I have the assurance that I’m really not, as the title of classic ADHD book says, lazy, crazy, or stupid.
I’ll be looking into different medication possibilities soon and generally figuring this out. I guarantee you will hear more about it here, so stay tuned.