Sunday, May 12, 2013

possible symptoms, or normal experience?

I gave a couple of examples in my last post of experiences or traits I have had that could possibly represent ADHD symptoms. There have been quite a few markers from various checklists or articles that I identify with in addition to the ones I already mentioned. The question for me, always, is whether I have difficulty with these issues on a level that would justify a clinical diagnosis. I just keep thinking, "These things seem to be hard for everyone I know!" But maybe they really aren't.

So here are some of them. Maybe you can judge by looking at your own experiences whether my experiences are normal, or really something more.

1. Chronically running late and losing track of time. I am notorious for getting sucked in to spending hours at Walmart, half in a daze, when I had intended to simply get the things on my list and be home in less than an hour. Even when I have been determined not to do this, have had good reason to stay focused and be fast and no inherent reward for spending more time at the store, I still frequently emerge hours later, with my head hung in shame.

2. Underestimating the time it will take to complete tasks. This often contributes to our family running late; my underestimation of how long it will take to get the whole family ready to go somewhere. I can estimate accurately the time required for many activities, but there are certain recurring activities, usually having to do with taking care of the kids, which I continually underestimate. Perhaps this can't always be blamed on underestimation, but on procrastination. I am delaying something that is uncomfortable or difficult -- another common problem for people who have ADHD, but also a possible function of the overwhelmed and lethargic feelings of clinical depression -- and I try to tell myself it will be okay because "We can get it done in 30 minutes if we hurry." Again, there is an indistinction as to what the real issue is, where the outward manifestation really originates.

3. Frequently misplacing common items. My purse, my keys, my glasses, my phone. In college, one of our professor finally put Heath in charge of making sure I kept track of my purse when we were traveling places with groups from the college. I had left it somewhere along the road and had to have it mailed to me from states away that many times. So, was I just fulfilling the airhead blonde stereotype? Was I just being irresponsible, not prioritizing or doing what I needed to do in order to keep track of it? Or did I lack a normal level of attentiveness which allows most people to remember to keep their most important items with them?

4. Angry outbursts and other difficulties with emotional control. This is the impulse-control (or lack thereof) piece of ADHD. Early on, when Ethan started yelling, "I hate you! You're the worst parents ever!" and other similar mantras, Heath was shocked and disturbed, and he said, "I never would have said those things to my parents!" My response was, "Umm, sorry. I guess he gets that from me. I said those sort of things."

I've had relationship difficulties caused by impulsive things I've said or done more times than I care to remember, but unfortunately, also more than I can manage to forget. I've previously blamed it on simply being an emotional, sensitive person. I seem to feel things more strongly than other people sometimes, or in a more all-consuming way, at least, and I've always been sensitive to what people think of me. When I am upset or insecure in a situation or relationship, the internal tension and ire become so much to bear, and it begins to feel impossible not to confront and attack, to try to protect myself or just to move the situation forward in some manner toward closure (even if my way of "moving it forward" is ultimately the opposite of helpful or healing). This is especially true if I am stuck in a situation where I must interact with someone, being put on the spot, with little or no chance to work it out on my own first. So, I have learned to cope by distancing myself and giving myself time to work through my thoughts and feelings; managing to keep my mouth closed just long enough to avoid saying or doing something awful. However, this has not been a fix-all, because there are situations and relationships that I cannot work out on my own even when distanced, which continue to ferment and build internal tension that is just waiting to erupt into a confrontation when the next trigger event with that person or situation happens. Most people seem to see me as this gentle, quiet person and don't imagine I harbor this dark side, until they experience it. If you are part of the elite group that has experienced my dark side, then you know you are or have been very close to me at one point. If you are part of the even more elite group who has forgiven me for my outburst or tirade or awful things I said and continued to have a relationship with me, then I treasure you more than I can express.

My heart hurts to remember those who have been the target of an outburst of mine, or in some cases, who have simply witnessed my outburst toward another person, and have been so shocked and disgusted and unable to comprehend why or how I would act in such a way, that they ultimately decided they couldn't be in a relationship with me. Sometimes the person I lost was barely more than an acquaintance, but sometimes I held them so close to my heart that it was like having a piece of it ripped away when they left. My heart hurts because I eventually realize how awful or ridiculous the things I said were, and I am just as stunned and sick about it as the person witnessing it was -- yet I can do nothing to take it back. I know I can't adequately explain or excuse the outburst. In some instances, I am still dealing with residual feelings that precipitated the incident, and I haven't figured out how to process them in a healthy way or to just let go of them if that's what needs to happen. So, sometimes I am afraid to try to gain back your friendship with promises that it will never happen again, because I don't know that. I know the internal mess is still there, and I don't know how soon it will resolve.

5. Hyperfocus. People with ADHD, while having trouble focusing on mundane tasks or things that are not very interesting to them, are often able to focus intensely on things that are interesting or rewarding to them. This hyperfocus can result in the person being difficult to reach while they are focused on the interesting or rewarding activity. They totally zone out and have a hard time disengaging from it, even if it starts to cause major problems in their life. Hyperfocus can be a useful skill that results in great productivity and high-quality work, or it can be a source of conflict in relationships and a distraction from other important responsibilities. This is perhaps the most compelling symptom I have that seems to link to ADHD more so than depression. I had previously seen my tendency to do this as a symptom of my depression or anxiety, thinking that I was probably immersing myself in a book or series of videos or writing project as a way of escaping the tasks and relationships that I found overwhelming or tension-inducing. That may still be true to some degree. If I am forced to abandon the activity I am hyperfocused on, I will sometimes immediately slip into panic-attack mode and/or intense depressive feelings. But I also understand now that if I did have ADHD, my hyperfocus would be a very typical behavior. The activities or interests that elicit hyperfocus are very rewarding to someone with ADHD. When I read a book or get wrapped up in a writing project, the buzzing in my head shuts up. It's wonderful. It feels so nice. I don't feel anxious; I don't have to work hard to relate or sift through what's going on around me. I am present. I may not be present to you, but I am present to me. I'm not sure if it stimulates the dopamine that people with ADHD are low on, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's one of the reasons it happens.

I experienced the positive side of hyperfocus when I was working as a legal assistant. I was put in charge of entering judgments into our computer program. For whatever reason, I liked working with the software and the legal documents and entering the details and so forth. At my first performance review, they commented that I was doing very well, and that no one before me had ever been able to keep up with all the judgments. The person who had my position always needed help or fell behind. But I was fixated when I worked on them, and I kept up. I had a few other side duties that I found it hard to keep track of, and I would enlist the help of computerized reminders and checklists and such to try to keep from dropping the ball in those areas. I would remain productive with my duties unless it was a day when I had to answer a lot of phone calls as well, which would cause me to lose my focus and become frustrated.

Apparently, my supervisors thought my ability to handle a heavy workload which involved me focusing intensely on doing one particular thing over and over meant that I would do well with whatever they handed me, so they shuffled responsibilities around and gave me a new set of duties that was quite varied -- switching from one thing to another to another and keeping it all straight. I was overwhelmed and unable to keep up. I sometimes wonder if they had never switched around my job duties, if I would still be working there. Probably not, because the attorneys were really mean to us sometimes, but it is possible my satisfaction in flying through those stacks of judgments and being praised for it would have kept me there.

Perhaps this is enough to discuss in this blog entry. Some other ADHD symptoms which may or may not be discussed in a future blog entry: internal tension and restlessness which tends to "overflow" in some manner (my inability to listen to a lecture without doodling on my notes, making a list, messing with my hair, or at the very least making a mental list, and my tendency to mindlessly hum random things all day long); having trouble paying attention in conversation and not interrupting; having difficulty prioritizing tasks (often spending time on tasks that are clearly low priority when there is a high-priority task that needs to be addressed, e.g. when company is coming, getting distracted with organizing the linen closet instead of changing the sheets); and needing a minimal amount of ambient noise or activity and few interruptions in order to maintain focus.

So, again -- how much of these difficulties I've experienced are potentially caused or exacerbated by ADHD symptoms, or how much might be caused or exacerbated by my struggle with depression and anxiety? How much of my experiences have been the way they are simply because of my personality type and the hand I've been dealt, so to speak; the strengths and weaknesses that contribute to the unique experience of being me, but which are nothing that would qualify as so far from average or "normal" human experience as to be a disorder? I am still trying to figure it out.


  1. Curiosity with these things is always good. You've got lots of that! :) Recognizing the circular causality (you refer to) can be so helpful, too. There's just so much we don't's all part of the mystery...and the beauty of God creating us all to be different, yet made in His image. Your honesty is refreshing and valuable. <3

  2. In my opinion, a disorder would be defined as not being able to be a productive member of society. I think everyone has some degree of "mental illness" if they look deep enough. There are a lot of people struggling that just choose to hide it. I also truly admire your honesty!

  3. I definitely struggle with lateness. Sometimes I think it's all part of the same spatial troubles I have-I can't orient myself in space OR time...and sometimes I think it's just lazy selfishness. :). Depends on my cranky level. ;)