Exhausted, frustrated, failing. When I sat on the couch one August night next to my wife, Alison, I arrived as a combustible package of not-so-good feelings.
Why, I asked her, did I feel every day like a pinball in a pinball machine?
Working to rekindle a writing career had the sensation of zipping from one flashing bumper to the next — write a blog post, publish a photo on Instagram, learn to effectively market on Twitter, read the news, back to Instagram, damn it I forgot to post on Facebook, read more, watching YouTube, check Twitter, and on and on.
Concentration eluded me. I was 38 years old and this didn’t make any sense. Did she know why?
Alison put on her best all-knowing grin. “Listen, I’ve been telling you for years you have ADHD,” she said. “Take the test.”
I’d been in denial ever since she first told me her cold, honest assessment (she’s a mental health therapist, by the way), a decade of I-am-not pushback against her perception of how I operate.
Now, though, I worked from home that summer as opposed to an office with a boss, struggling to build my own business and write a book, and it became apparent. She may be right.
What to do about it?
the real struggle of Adult adhd
As it turned out, after taking a test with my family physician, yeah I do have adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Not the hyperactivity part, but the attention problems turned out to be for real.
Trouble finishing tasks? Check. Inability to focus on a task? Check. Quick temper? Check. Forgetting appointments and things Alison had told me? Check. Lost in your own thoughts? Check. Struggle listening to people talking? Check. The feeling you worked hard all day only to realize you accomplished nothing? Check.
On and on. This wasn’t normal.
Adult ADHD shows up in a person from a variety of sources. From the Mayo Clinic:
While the exact cause of ADHD is not clear, research efforts continue. Factors that may be involved in the development of ADHD include:
- Genetics. ADHD can run in families, and studies indicate that genes may play a role.
- Environment. Certain environmental factors also may increase risk, such as lead exposure as a child.
- Problems during development. Problems with the central nervous system at key moments in development may play a role.
As I looked in the rearview mirror at my life and career, the symptoms of Adult ADHD have always been there. They just didn’t drag me down because I worked in a structured environment — newsrooms and corporate offices — with supervisors and daily tasks, a format that didn’t allow me to fail. If I did, I’d be fired.Once out on my own, it was like taking floaties off a kid who hasn't learned to swim. Click To Tweet
Before I took the test, I chalked this up to my idiosyncrasies. It’s just how I work, I figured, a reasonable level of intelligence combined with experience, know-how, and drive pushing me to work my life and career out.
a strategy of awareness
The longstanding denial about adult ADHD led me to a place where I wasn’t figuring my life and career out; where instead I failed to accomplish much of anything, where I earned little income for my family, where I even fumbled being a mindful father to our two sons.
At 38, it was time to stop being willfully stupid about it.
A cure? Nah, there’s no cure. There’s just responsibility.
The responsibility to make the appointment with your family physician to get tested, to take the next steps, and to follow through.
Clearly I’m no physician, and I can only speak to what works for me. What I can say is my own turnaround is real.
I take a daily, low-dose pill of Wellbutrin XL, which plays with your brain’s neurons to get them into the proper balance. It’s commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder or to help someone quit smoking.
Does it work? Like I said, there’s no cure, so when I sit down to write something, even this blog post, I get tempted to click to another webpage. What I’ve noticed, though, is a heightened awareness of the temptation, and I can avoid it. Before, I justified to myself undermining behavior.
I also use an app on my iPhone called Focus@Will, and I freakin’ love this app. You can choose from a dozen background sounds like a crowded café or music, put on the headphones, and get to work. I honestly lose track of time when I’m using this app while writing. I’m in the zone.
Productivity is on the rise, the quality of the work has improved, and, I’m just happier. More pleasant to be around, too.
This is why I’m optimistic about 2018 when I largely failed in 2017.