(This column originally appeared in Gay San Diego, SDGLN media partner.)
Far away and long ago, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) were considered childhood disorders that somehow magically disappeared in adulthood.
Welcome to reality: Scores of recent studies have shown that ADD/ADHD is more common in adults than most health professionals realized.
Unfortunately, since ADD/ADHD are still largely considered problems of childhood, many of us with ADD/ADHD do not receive any treatment. We might feel we are lazy or lack motivation. We may have spent years feeling like we can never quite get it together.
ADD/ADHD are pretty slippery to accurately diagnose. Most people – myself included – exhibit some of the symptoms from time to time. Who isn’t easily distracted or lethargic sometimes? Don’t most of us feel unmotivated and lazy periodically?
Just because you feel this way now and then doesn’t mean you have ADD/ADHD.
Let me define the terms. ADD is actually an outdated term that is no longer used by health care professionals. Instead, ADHD is the official name used by the American Psychiatric Association, and it encompasses hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behaviors. Let’s look at the three different types of ADHD.
Inattentive type: These folks typically have trouble paying attention, finishing tasks or following directions. They may also easily become distracted, appear forgetful, careless and disorganized, and frequently lose things. They can tend to be rather sluggish and slow to respond and process information. They often have difficulty sifting through relevant and irrelevant information. They may seem daydreamy, spacey or as though they are in a fog, and may be shy or withdrawn.
Hyperactive-impulsive type: These folks may appear restless, fidgety, overactive and impulsive. They act before thinking and often speak before thinking by blurting out and interrupting others. People with these hyperactive-impulsive behaviors typically have difficulty sitting still. They often talk excessively, have trouble waiting and seem to be perpetually in motion.
Combined type: These folks display both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.
An accurate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in adults is challenging due to other conditions that often accompany the disorder, like anxiety and depression.
Medication is usually a big part of working with adult ADHD. Stimulants are used to treat hyperactivity and inattentiveness, non-stimulant medications are used in people who don’t respond to or can’t tolerate stimulants, and antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to manage moodiness.
It’s not all about taking pills, however. There are lots of other things you can do to work with your ADHD:
•Ask for accommodations at work like allowing meetings to be recorded and using room dividers or headphones to minimize distractions.
•Use personal organizational systems, email for scheduling, grammar and spelling software and any kind of reminder system that works for you.
•Use white noise to help with concentration or to sleep.
•Make lists to remember chores and errands.
•Join an ADHD support group. There are quite a few in San Diego County.
Many adults with ADHD have compensated for symptoms of ADHD throughout their lives without even realizing it, finding methods such as the ones listed above to overcome shortcomings. For some, finally having a diagnosis means understanding what has been causing problems for most of their lives. Beginning treatment, at any age, can radically change your life for the better.
After all this information, you’re probably wondering if you have adult ADHD. To meet the diagnostic criteria, your symptoms must be present from childhood and persistently interfere with functioning in multiple spheres of your life, like work, school and interpersonal relationships.
While I did a lot of research in writing this column, I am not a psychiatrist who diagnoses ADHD. If you wonder if you have ADHD, I strongly recommend you see a psychiatrist who is familiar with the diagnostic protocol for identifying and treating adult ADHD. Self-diagnosis – even from reading a column like this one – is not the same as being diagnosed by a qualified psychiatrist.
ADHD is a lifelong condition that if left untreated, can lead to problems with self-esteem and social anxiety. If you suffer from ADHD, don’t suffer unnecessarily. Get help.
Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Michael is currently accepting new clients. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.