A few months ago I first entertained the thought that I had ADHD.
I hadn’t considered it earlier because the name is so very misleading. One of the biggest disservices to ADHD is the associations the name gives us – a hyperactive kid who can’t sit still and is given Ritalin so he can listen in class.
What’s in a name
In truth, ADHD is more complicated than that. And it often manifests very differently in adults than children.
A key trait of ADHD is an inability to regulate your attention. You might find yourself unable to get yourself to do things you know you need to do, because they just don’t interest you enough. Other times, you find yourself so deeply immersed in your projects that you forget to eat or use the bathroom.
As a result, a better name for ADHD might be Attention Regulation Disorder, or a similar name.
A key theory behind why people with ADHD behave the way they do, is because they have a natural shortage of dopamine in their brain. Dopamine is a chemical produced by our hormonal system that helps us feel good, and people with ADHD find themselves needing to generate dopamine by seeking out experiences that will give it to them.
A key form of getting dopamine is novelty. This is why so many people with ADHD have a huge assortment of half-finished projects, hobbies, and interests. The initial dopamine boost allows them to deep-dive, buy all the materials and tools, and then lose interest when the novelty, and dopamine, wear off.
Sometimes deadlines help – the panic of an approaching deadline provides the adrenaline boost needed to power through the task, leading to an endless cycle of chronic-levels of procrastination and bursts of productivity at the last moment.
Depending on the severity of their ADHD, adults who have it may struggle to hold down a job, complete their degree, or even perform daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, or showering.
In many ways, ADHD is fortunate to have a series of medication choices that overall can prove very effective in alleviating its symptoms.
At the same time, ADHD medication may have its own side effects, such as nausea, diziness, or withdrowal symptoms when you stop taking them. Some medications are a form of amphetamines, which should not be taken lightly.
There are more options than ever before to try to find the right medication that might help your ADHD, I am no expert and it best to consult with a competent psychiatrist.
Broadly, there are two subtypes of ADHD, those who seem to have too much energy at all times and have trouble quieting their mind, and those who can’t seem to muster up the energy to perform what they need to do. The first is referred to as “impulsive/hyperactive” type, and the second is called “inattentive and distractable type”; many people can actually have symptoms of both, which is referred to as “combined type”. Both might struggle with similar monotonous tasks, or with staying focused, but behind the scenes something very different is going on.
For those whom always seem to have too much energy and impulsivity (which is my own experience with ADHD), anti-anxiety medications can be very helpful, as they help calm you down. I personally microdose on psylocibin mushrooms to achieve a similar effect – I was using them to manage my anxiety even before I realized I had ADHD.
For the latter type, who feel like they lack the energy, the medications perscribed are often forms of stimulants, to help muster up the energy and drive their body needs to get the job done. These people often have been self-medicating with coffee to try to create a similar effect.
(there’s an interesting phenomenon where people with the first type of ADHD who take stimulants, actually feel more calm. It’s sort of a 1 + 1 equals 0 type of experience and is worth being aware of)
Attitudes toward ADHD
There are two very different attitudes that many people have regarding ADHD.
The first, more prevalent one, is that it is a disorder. It is a handicap that some people have, and it needs to be treated to give people relief.
The other narrative seeks to normalize ADHD as just another way of being. It points out that people with ADHD are often sensitive and creative types, and speculates that they could do just fine if they didn’t have to fit into the specific molds that society tries to put people in – sit still in your seat in class, get a 9 to 5 job. This approach labels ADHD as a form of “neurodivergence”, implying that there are a lot of ways in which the human brain can manifest, and this is just another way.
With the latter approach, medication may be used with the attitude of a topical solution, a way to deal with conventional society when you deem it appropriate to do so (instead of fixing an inherent problem that you have).
The neurodivergent approach is also more likely to celebrate the advantages that ADHD has to offer – ability to produce very creative work, the ability to become an expert on many topics, ability to knock out work quickly during times of hyperfocus.
I cannot tell you which approach is more accurate, each has its pluses and minuses. It is worth remembering though that for many people ADHD can be extremely debilitating. Personally, I found the struggles with ADHD to feel like it’s not worth the advantages, I have a sense that I could do so much more of only I was more consistent and less fragmented.
Causes of ADHD
When it comes to describing what causes some people to have ADHD, there are two main approaches, and they fall broadly into the nurture vs. nature camp.
Some say that the ADHD brain is naturally formed to to produce less dopamine.
Others say that traumatic experiences in our childhood actually lead to ADHD – more on that shortly.
There are two things most people agree on:
- Even if your brain is naturally inclined to be ADHD, the way you are treated and helped during childhood can have a huge impact on how you actually develop and manage it. If you’re called stupid or incapable, this can become a deep-seated trauma that will inhibit you further later in life.
- Building off this, we can state the other point – most adults with ADHD have experienced trauma. Whether this trauma was the cause of the ADHD or a result of it is a matter of much debate, but it is almost guaranteed that someone growing up with ADHD will rub against the world in the wrong way and end up traumatized.
My own personal healing and attitudes towards ADHD have been heavily influenced by the book Scattered Minds by Dr. Gabor Mate. In the book, Mate describes his own journey of discovering his ADHD and offers a theory about how childhood trauma is the source of ADHD.
This approach highly encourages therapy and healing in addition to just administering medication, should you choose to go that route. This is similar to depression treatments which are proven to be more effective with a combination and medication and therapy, not just medication alone.
My own journey of working on healing and addressing my ADHD in therapy led me to the following insights, which are very subjective to my own experience. See if these ideas resonate with you.
You have an inner child who does not know how to do basic things. Think of the person with ADHD as an overgrown child. We all have an inner child inside us who actually influences the majority of our decisions. Healing the inner child is a core part of much of the work I do with my clients.
I believe that the ADHD inner child is one who has been left behind. They feel abandoned and lost, and no one has explained basic things to them that other people take for granted. Our parents are often to busy or emotionally incapable for providing us with the amount of nurturing we need, and they often take for granted the things that are obvious to them, which are not at all clear to a six year old.
Additionally, we are often taught a very conditional form of love where our accomplishments are linked to attention or praise. This results in a huge amount of pressure to achieve things that others might deem valuable.
As a result, your ADHD child ends up with several belifs and patterns:
“If I do more, people will love me” – this results in a frantic pressure to perform and get things done. The stakes are huge – bieng considered worthy.
“If I fail I will be unworthy” – this inverse idea is that failure is a reflection on our core value. WE are worthlesss if we dont’ accomplish.
These two ideas often combine into a toxic loop – we start new projects with the home that this thing will be the hting that earns us love. As we come closer to completion, there is a growing fear that we won’t do a good enough job – if I share my project with the world, I may be seen as a failure and rediculed.
Better then to abandon the project, despite the amount of judgement we may have towards ourselves for doing that, than to complete it and experience real failure. “Abandoning a project is failure”, we tell ourselves, “I’m simply shifting my interests. I’ll come back to it later.”
Similarly, it can result a constant state of anxiety and bewilderment – look at ADHD like a six year old child dropped in a busy Manhattan street. Everything is big, foreign, and overwhelming. No one ever taught us the world was safe, or how to navigate it safely.
That can begin now.
Here are some core strategies I have adpoted in my own healing, which has helped me a lot in managing my own ADHD:
Heal your inner child – this is very broad, but also the most important. Proactively allow your adult self to be the nurturing mother and father your inner child needed, but never got. Imagine yourself in your mind’s eye showing affection to this inner child, praising them, going on adventures with them. This is the baseline healing that your inner child needs.
Explain the basics – assume your inner child doesn’t really understand why they need to do laundry or take a shower. Explain to them, like you would to a six or eight year old, why we do these things. It may seem obvious to you, but assume your inner child never had this explained to them – you may be surprised how quickly they come on board once get the right explanation
Break things into very small amounts of time – no one expects a six year old to plug away for an hour on a project. And it’s your inner six year old that is in charge of all your projects. Set an alarm for a very short period of time – 5 to 15 minutes and undertake the project you are avoiding. When the time is up, initially force yourself to stop even if you want to continue – this will teach you to avoid hyperfocus and establish integrity within yourself that 15 minutes is just that and not more.
Explore failure head on – we are terrified of failure. And I believe that all fears must processed instead of avoided. I would lie in bed every morning and experience debilitating anxiety around failing others, of being a loser. I would allow these fears to rise up and pass away, and note how I continued to exist, how I was still a good p person, how my inner child was worthy of love.
Learn to diffuse the fear of failure by no longer fearing it – and note just how often it is this fear of failure, and the assumed emotional repercussions of it (being unloved and unworthy) come into play in your daily life.
Mourn the loss of opportunity. There is a part of us that wants to do it all. It is a wonderful, childlike urge – everything is possible, at the same time. Unfortunately realty isn’t so forgiving. Spend the time honing in on what really is important to you, and realize that to accomplish it you will, unfortunately, need to stop doing other things.
This can lead to a very painful sense of lost opportunity (and keep an eye out for that voice that says that if only you could do everything at once, you’d finally be worthy) and give yourself permission to mourn it. It’s a form of loss of innocence that is crucial for your inner child to experience.
I worked with an ADHD life coach on this last point in particular, he helped me focus on prioritizing what was truele most important to me, and reduce some of the stress that I felt to do it all. He gave me a great analogy – “ADHD is like standing under a fig tree full of ripe figs, and being so torn about which fig to pick and eat that you stand there paralized until they all rot”. Find the fig you want to eat.
This requires you learn to say no to a lot more things.
It implies that if you are feeling overwhelmed you are almost always doing too much – you need to wrap up or abandon certain projects and be more mindful of new shiny things that pop up in the future, and the (false) promises they hold.
Note that advice above pertains to adults working to self-heal their ADHD. If you have a child with ADHD, the advice would be similar – focus on providing them with unconditional positive regard and affection, and reassure them repeatedly that no matter what they can or cannot do, they are loved. This is the single best behavioral change you can undertake on behalf of an ADHD child – increase their inherent feeling of worthiness and reduce their anxieties.
Discovering my ADHD diagnoses gave me a framework to understand so many of my life struggles, and the healing methods I described above have greatly helped me alleviate the suffering it was causing me. Hypnosis is one of the best ways to quickly uncover the root source of your struggles and heal them in a deep and permanent way.
If I can help you do the same, be in touch!