At the grand age of 54 I was finally diagnosed with a mental condition that I’d suspected for many years that I had: attention deficit disorder, or ADD. Knowing that I was correct in my self assessment — as I usually am when it comes to ailments of mind and body — I was thrilled that there was now actually a diagnosis of what was “wrong” with me … after decades of people telling me something was “wrong” and implying very strongly that I was “bad” because I am different. That gray cloud has hung over my head for most of my life, one that lifted and let the sun shine in once I knew the truth.
Once I returned home with the diagnosis papers in hand, I decided to check out “Scattered: How attention deficit disorder originates and what you can do about it” by Dr. Gabor Mate. I wasn’t all that surprised to basically read the story of my life in those pages. I also admit that while I find it fascinating and very illuminating, I also have been in the process of reading it for over two months… a book that may have taken me three or four days if I really sat down to concentrate on it … because, as people with my condition will attest, I keep getting distracted by other things. I am currently in the last few chapter on how adults can lovingly “re-parent” themselves to cope with this condition.
In a nutshell, ADD is a mental condition in which the brain does not fully develop, meaning the person afflicted is kind of immature, or “stuck” in one way or another. Its origins may begin inside the womb, and its development can come occur because of the circumstances in which a person is raised. It brings about many easily observable behaviors, ones that often make other people shake their heads in wonder, amusement and even disdain (such as those who judged me, the “different” one, as “wrong”). One could say that the wires in the brain are maybe quite literally crossed, which accounts for the “scattered” minds that ADD people exhibit. We tend to jump from one things to the next, and usually pretty rapidly, because our attention spans are so short. This condition brings about challenges large and small for those who have ADD, which help explain why some of us are “underachievers” as I have been basically, like, forever.
The Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov, a wonderful resource for all things medical, including the novel coronavirus) cited in a 2016 report that approximately four percent of adults and about 130 million children worldwide have ADD. Diagnosis of this condition usually happens in childhood and, says the CDC, in the age group between six and 12. The estimate for ADD in adults living in the U.S. in that year was 4.4 percent. The web site says about 75 percent of adults — such as myself — are not even diagnosed until they are, well, grown up. Unfortunately many people of all ages who have this condition are either undiagnosed or they are but are not getting the recommended treatment of prescription drugs and/or therapy, probably because of the cost/inadequate health care coverage. Sad.
Children who have ADD are labeled disruptive, naughty, overly active and talkative, and so on from school teachers and other adults in their lives. Others may be daydreamers, tuning out because, for example, they find school boring. This was me. I wasn’t exactly a bad kid, though I know I did a lot of tuning out in my school-age years. I actually was named by my graduating class, at our 11th grade prom, “most likely to be the first woman in space.” Because I am a sensitive soul, as people with ADD are, I took as kind of an insult at the time, just another in a long line of judgments against me by my peers because I was well aware of my “spaciness.”
Teenagers with ADD tend to be rebels and risk takers, engaging in risky behavior such as alcohol/drug use, driving too fast/recklessly, driving and drinking, etc. About 27 percent of teens with ADD have an issue with alcohol and/or other drugs; they, like many adults, self medicating the mental pain (and/or trying to slow down their brain, which tends to race around endlessly). Yes, I can relate to this too. I recall thinking I was such a “wild child” but then I hear from today’s 20-somethings about their lives and I think, “Wow, I was actually a regular goody two shoes!”
As for adults, as I said before, only about 25 percent of us with ADD were diagnosed as children (which puts me in the majority for once, because usually I am in the minority in many respects). Interesting that, because apparently everyone around me knew I had an issue (or two), something “wrong” with me, but nobody ever went forward to figure out what it was. I just chalk it down to the fact that maybe ADD wasn’t really a “thing” until the 90s, when it seemed to me that every third child in the world had it and was on Ritalin or something for it. A graph on the CDC site shows that diagnoses are increasing every year, so either more people are heading to the doctor for help and early intervention. Which is way cool.
It was no surprise to me to learn from Dr. Mate in the book that many people with ADD also have co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, social phobia and agoraphobia (fear of going out into wide open spaces, or out in public). And yes, I’ve been struggling with some of these conditions for decades; stemming from when I was teased and bullied in grade school (in the 70s, when you could still get away with it) on through the many challenges and detours, if you will, I have encountered along my life’s path as an adult. Take for example my work life: I have 30-plus years in the work place and a resume probably as long as my arm. I’m pretty certain that my (what I see as sometimes unfortunate) tendency to blurt out whatever I am thinking at the time just may have contributed to my having been fired from a number of jobs. I’m sure other people can relate.
Work life isn’t all that suffers when a person is suffering with ADD; personal life takes a beating. People can be chaotic and disorganized in their home spaces, plus relationships also can be difficult for people with such short attention spans. There’s a saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” which I can relate to. My house is admittedly a little more cluttered than I prefer, because if I don’t have certain things in my sight, I tend to forget I have them. And then sometimes I will go buy another purple sweater (when I already have five of them) or get $100 worth of groceries, only to come home and realize that I don’t have much space for them as I already had plenty of food. Maybe I need to get cupboards with see-though doors …
Also, my so-called “love life” over the years has been, well, ummmm, interesting. It has been full of what Dr. Mate refers to as detours, one-way roads, missed turns, and so on. Similar as it were to my work life, with many short-lived stints (in both work and love). One thing that he says in the book which left me sad was “we attract our emotional equal,” which didn’t say much for me when I look back on the men I have dated and my personal diagnosis of what was “wrong” with them. It is enlightening to know that people with mental health issues tend to attract others who also have issues, not necessarily the same ones. And people with addictions tend to attract the same. This was interesting to learn in the book. Hence these relationships usually tend to be a bit (a lot??) challenging.
About 15 percent of adults in the U.S. who have ADD have diagnosed substance use disorders, says the CDC. Because I have lived for 55 years and am a keen observer of human behavior (with a strong interest of psychology as well), I personally believe that number is a little low. But then I remember that these are people who are NOT diagnosed and so aren’t counted in that estimate.
One statistic I read from the CDC which also causes me a bit of concern is this one: adults with ADD can have about a life space of about 13 years shorter than the average person. I concluded this may be due to our difficulty in controlling our impulses, which may lead to self-destructive behavior and poor health babits, such as our diets and a lack of adequate exercise. I read that almost 27 percent of women with ADD were classified as “obese,” and while I am not, I’ve known for years I need to watch my weight. So anyway, knowing this information may help me live a longer life. Or not. Who knows. Knowledge is power.
Though there have been the challenges — including “bad” or “wrong” decisions I’ve made, short-lived jobs and relationships and other features of my life as a person with ADD — thee also has been a lot of fun. Though I’ve been anxious and depressed most of my life, I am very good at playing the happy-go-lucky girl. In my mid-30s I decided I was sick and tired of everyone labeling me negatively, and decided to consciously unearth details (by looking within myself) about what was GOOD about me. Even though I may be a chronic underachiever I’ve had a lot of good times, good friends, and good moments (and a great 20-something year old son) and I can’t really complain. Those “detours” in my life were adventures, not necessarily mistakes but experiences to learn from. And I am definitely not done having adventures and making memories of life, love and fun: I look forward to more!!
I am grappling with the idea of taking medication, though am seriously not sure about it. I’m afraid I’ll “lose my edge” and become less of what makes me uniquely “me” (and I happen to like me the way I am, thank you). Even so, I highly recommend to anyone reading this: if you think you or someone you know/love may have ADD, please seriously consider getting evaluated. Perhaps this can be a gift to you, rather than a handicap, knowing what is going on. It all depends on how you frame it and choose to deal with it.