Living With ADHD

Contrary to the label, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), this disorder’s symptoms often include a hyper awareness of internal and external stimuli, not a deficit of attention. It is in the outward appearance of an individual’s actions and inability to stay focused where the descriptor “Deficit” comes from. Individuals living with ADHD are continuously shifting their attention from one thought to the next in an often exhausting whirlwind of ideas and activities. They tend to be overly attuned to their surroundings, thus unable to hold focus on a single task. In children the first signs are often an indefatigable energy, moving non-stop from one half completed task to another.

Symptoms that individuals with ADHD exhibit may include:Image credit Norma Desmond

  • Boredom with tasks after the newness wears off.
  • Difficulty connecting emotionally with or having empathy for others, even loved ones.
  • Holding down or maintaining a job that is routine, no matter how challenging.
  • Significant impairment in social and vocational functioning.
  • Many individuals will report waiting until the last minute to do papers/projects, citing a need for the extra adrenaline in order to focus.

Moderate to severe depression can be a side effect of ADHD. Individuals with this disorder are very much aware of their inability to get ahead in the world like many of their peers. While individuals with ADHD may succeed in high-pressure fields, such as advertising and sales, many more struggle to maintain a living in jobs that are repetitive and less than stimulating.

In my practice I have seen equal numbers of adult men and women with the disorder, though in children ADHD is considered more of a male disorder while females often do not display hyperactivity. As with all illnesses, there is no good waiting period before one should seek help. When you first suspect something is amiss, see a specialist. If you need a referral, start with your family doctor. It is not uncommon to have individuals suffering from ADHD and accompanying depression be accused of simply being lazy. An uninformed label can do much harm to both a child’s and an adult’s psyche.

Two widely divergent treatment modalities, either combined or used separately, show great promise in the treatment of ADHD.

The first is Mindfulness Training, which includes the practices of yoga and meditation. This is a powerful tool for calming the mind. Mindfulness takes discipline, which can be hard for ADHD individuals to master on their own. Enlist a yoga buddy to help bridge the “habit desert” that many individuals with ADHD experience. The habit desert is the wasteland between when an undertaking is new and before it becomes a habit. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety and lessen depression as one learns to train the mind.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is cognitive-based. It helps identify thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions that make life harder: “I have to be perfect at everything.” It is also a collaboratively-based approach where client and therapist role play likely interactions. DBT has teaching and learning components as well, which help individuals’ with their self-esteem.

To help clients who have a hard time focusing on reading or writing, I often counsel them to listen to nature sounds via headphones or earbuds while trying to concentrate. Although this may seem contradictory, it both blocks out distractions and stimulates a large portion of the brain that is not typically used for the cognitive tasks such as homework.

Living with ADHD can be a constant struggle to make and keep emotional connections. Relationships need tending and individuals with ADHD need solid relationships to help them stay on course, to build self-esteem and to escape the trap of overly critical self-judgement.