Posted by Scott King
When most people think about ADD / ADHD they think about behavioural problems. They think about kids that can’t sit still , can’t shut up, and driving everyone absolutely nuts. When people think about ADHD they think about naughty kids, bouncing around like squirrels screaming, shouting, talking people to death and not being able to engage in anything productive. Although ADHD is seen as a behavioural problem, actually it is the attention aspect that causes the most significant problems for those who suffer with this disorder.
I have lived with ADHD my whole life however, as far as I can see from reading my care files, I was not officially diagnosed until I was much older, when I had actually started to regulate myself. I was also never medicated.
ADHD is not so much a behavioural problem but far more a problem with the brains management system. Simply put, people with ADHD always have too many tabs open. There are many people with ADHD who have never had any significant behaviour problems and even for those who do, those behavioural problems are the least of their problems, as I mentioned, it is the attention problems that tend to make more trouble for people, particularly as they get older and more is expected of them for being able to manage themselves.
The first thing people need to understand is that ADHD does not mean “naughty”, and those who suffer from it should not be branded as such. You cannot punish a disorder out of somebody. ADHD does not mean a person can’t learn or focus at all and it has nothing to do with how smart a person is. ADHD is a set of problems that include a wide range of characteristics and although age and maturity can bring better regulation and awareness it almost certainly isn’t something only children have. People with ADHD need to be supported not shunned and in order for ADHD sufferers to accept themselves, having others accepting them makes it a lot easier. With support and patience, people with ADHD can achieve and excel.
If you think working with a child who has ADHD is difficult, try actually having it yourself. Having ADHD is, for want of a better term, a pain in the ass. For me, it is not something I want to have, It is not voluntary, I just have it and I’ve had to learn to accept that and live with it.
ADHD isn’t all bad though and really, learning to manage it and take some form of control back is all about understanding your strengths rather than always falling back onto the negatives.
In this post I want to share what is like to live with ADHD as a child and as an adult and I want to share with people that this disorder is a hidden disability but equally, it is not a prison sentence or a first class ticket to failure. It never goes away but it can be managed and someone with ADHD can do achieve great things.
Children with ADHD struggle to focus. Behavioural problems often stem from adults responses and a child’s sense of failure
I grew up in foster care and don’t get me wrong I was not always the best behaved. However, a lot of my behaviours were trauma responses relating to the adverse childhood experiences I endured and was continuing to endure. I wont go into all that here but the point is, ADHD wasn’t my only handicap, I was carrying a big bunch of mental health problems on my shoulders including attachment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and of course, ADHD.
With such a concoction of disorders it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to attempting to fix any of these problems. The problem is that it is rare for people to have just one mental health problem, one often causes another and they can all trigger each other. ADHD can take away focus which leads to a sense of failure, which triggers thoughts of worthlessness, that manifest into depression and depressive thoughts get exacerbated by an overactive ADHD brain. Imagine trying to deal with all of that as a child when you can’t self regulate, when you do not have the ability to understand your own psychology and when you can’t articulate it to those who want to help you.
Imagine trying to focus on something important or trying to go to sleep at night but you just cant stop thinking. Scenarios, ideas, past memories, questions about the future, sounds and events stuck on repeat in your head and you just cant shut it off. They are not necessarily bad thoughts, just thoughts, lots of them and you just want them to shut up! When you have ADHD, silence can be very loud. Thoughts can often be unorganised, transient, random and relentless. On top of this I had also been moved around the system a lot so thoughts of where I may be living next week, memories of past placements, thoughts of potential future placements and all of the additional worries that come from living in the care system where also relentlessly bouncing around my head.
ADHD makes it hard to focus on one thing, it can make silence loud and it is hard, sometimes impossble to switch off
As a child people used to call me annoying, many called me an attention seeker. I would follow my foster carers around asking them everything about anything. If they were changing a light bulb I’d be there going “what are you doing?”, “why?” “where did you buy that light bulb”, “I like lights”, “can I help?” “what’s for dinner?”, “why is the light not working?”, “can I have a yoghurt”, “are we going out tomorrow?”
I remember I was living with one foster family and they were having building work done. I COULD NOT leave that builder alone. I was following him around asking him questions, picking up tools and asking what they were, trying to show him my toys and the foster carers would repeatedly shout “LEAVE THE DAMN BUILDER ALONE!”
In the car I would say “are we there yet” every 2 minutes, during films I’d ask questions constantly. I could not just be quiet and sit down and it felt like a part of my body always needed to be in motion. I always had to be doing something. Even when people did want to talk to me I couldn’t focus on what they were saying for long, I couldn’t stand and listen, I had to fiddle with something, walk off or think about something else. Even during conversations i had initiated I would pace around or walk away and come back whilst still talking. This would drive carers absolutely mad.
I did live with a number of carers who supported me and managed these issues well and I feel many of them were able to find ways of working with me which were less exhausting for all. Other carers just did not get it at all and said i was “constant” and “exhausting”. However, it was School where my ADHD caused the most problems for me. Sitting in a classroom for hours on end listening to somebody talk whilst knowing that pacing around, walking off or continuously talking was deemed “disruptive” and “bad” was absolute torture for me. It is not that I did not want to listen and learn, I really did… I just could not focus.
I would try hard to listen but something small would always grasp my attention. A bag would fly past the window and my brain would go “oh a bag”, “I wonder where the bag came from”, “where is that bag off to then”, “what shop did that bag come from?”. Before I knew it, twenty minutes had passed and I would turn my focus back to the teacher only by then, I had lost what the teacher was on about and all I could hear was the teacher mumbling what might as well be a foreign language so I would look around the room or doodle on my books desperate for the lesson to end. At that point I knew I had tuned out and there was no way I was going tune back in without help. My focus then was on how long it would be until the lesson could end and I would try to find ways to make the time go faster such as sharpening a pencil all the way down, whispering to a friend or making figures out of some Blu-Tack I pulled off the wall earlier in the day.
I don’t know why teachers did this but they always noticed I was not focussing and rather than helping me refocus they would decide to single me out and quiz me. They would shout “SCOTT!” and then ask me a question which they knew I couldn’t answer because of course, I wasn’t paying attention. Whenever they did that I remember feeling embarrassed, stupid and attacked.
Staying tuned is difficult when you have ADHD, it is frustrating. When I’m listening, reading or working on something I get part of it but then I drift off and then drift back and drift off again. It can take me a long time to actually absorb information especially when it is presented in text format. I can read very well, I have a high vocabulary and I have no issue with my spelling. However, reading something and actually taking in that information are two completely different things. I find that I am only able to make myself focus under two conditions: When I am genuinely interested in something or when something becomes an emergency.
I often leave things to the last minute, even the simplest of things. Whilst working from home I often make quite a mess in the kitchen or find I have used every mug in the cupboard and I say to myself “I’ll do that later” then when I realize my partner will be home soon my brain goes “Oh sh** ! she’s gonna be home in 10 minutes and its a bombsite in here!”. That sense of urgency makes me focus and quickly get everything done. I’m aware this makes my partner sound horrible but she isn’t, the same happens when I have a guest arriving. I like things to be tidy I just really struggle to do it as a go.
Even in college, all my fellow students would talk for weeks about their progress on their dissertation or essay and I would think “ah, that’s not due for ages”, then on the evening before it is due when I have done nothing I suddenly think “oh… my… god” and find myself in a panic. All of a sudden I can focus and somehow I always managed to bang out dissertations or essays essays within a few hours and miraculously get a distinction. As I said, ADHD has no bearing on a persons intelligence, I can do things and I can do them well I just need certain factors present to be able to focus and actually get it done. I would prefer not to work this way but sometimes I just have to, it is the only way. It’s like my brain struggles to line tasks up in order of importance and an emergency situation is the only thing that shunts something to the front of the queue.
The supernova of thoughts makes it hard to access specific memories on demand.
Another common problem with having ADHD is that I am easily distracted. Like anybody else I see and hear things that are going on around me and I have thoughts going through my head but most people when they haver something they have to focus on, they can push that stuff out of the way and focus on what they’ve got to do. My ADHD makes it very difficult for me to do that. I have learned how to overcome this to a degree but sometimes when I am really trying to focus on something that I am not all to interested in it feels like docking a spaceship into the international space station as a try to line up all my thoughts whilst working with extremely fine tolerances. Even something as simple as a crack in wall can be enough to divert all of my attention away from a task. It’s annoying because sometimes I cant focus on reading something important but will instead start reading the ingredients list off the back of a packet of crisps! I say to myself “don’t read that, read the other thing jeez!”
ADHD also affects my memory because my brain is often struggling to process the supernova of thoughts that are constantly flooding my mind. The issue is not really with memory storage though, it is a problem with accessing that information when needed. I can remember everything from years ago but if you ask me to recall a conversation I had five minutes ago I often struggle to recall it, then an hour later BANG!, the entire conversation is there in my head. I find myself walking into rooms or shops and thinking “what did I come in here for?”. I am constantly losing things and struggle to organize my things. My computer always has a hundred tabs and windows open. I have replaced my bank card 32 times in my life. Trust me, having ADHD is such a time vampire, it is exhausting at times and It isn’t something I wish upon anyone. It is frustrating because I am smart, I have a lot I want to do but I waste so much time bouncing between ideas and thoughts, I procrastinate and get upset with myself when I haven’t met me goals for the day because I know I am capable of more.
Sometimes I will be sitting there with someone and my brain will just play in my head a high definition recording of a fart I heard someone do In a shop the day before or something funny someone said to me last week and I’ll just burst out laughing. Sometimes sounds stay in my head replaying for days and I often have an urge to make those sounds out loud. I often find a joke or an internet meme funny for much longer than other people. Sometimes I repeat a word in my head over and over again until sounds odd and then ask someone to repeat that word back to me, some people must think I’m nuttier than squirrel droppings.
However as a have grown up I have learned to slowly understand this disorder and find ways to work with it. These problems I have spoken about do not happen all the time they just happen often. There are some days where my mind is calm and I can focus fully.
My behavioural problems stemmed from the responses and reactions of others, not the ADHD itself.
The behavioural problems I exhibited, especially in school did not come from the ADHD itself, they were triggered by how others around me responded to my ADHD. People would just assume I don’t want to pay attention or that I am being rude or disruptive, I didn’t try to be, I didn’t want to be. When people told me off or singled me out it would cause me to become frustrated at them and at myself and it was from that my behaviors escalated. Imagine trying to read a book underwater whilst everyone is telling you its easy and that you can’t do this and that until you have read it all. It doesn’t matter how many times someone shouts at you, you cant see the words.
I really did want to do my work at school, I wanted to do well and get good grades, I wanted to be a good boy, I wanted to focus and have others tell me I’ve done well, I just couldn’t focus. My mind was always on everything but the task at hand. I think that a lot of it the problems stemmed from adults wanting to me to do things in a set way, in the way they knew to be best, in the “normal” way, the straight path, but I needed to go a little left and a little right to get to the same end goal and there were a great deal of people that simple didn’t understand that.
Like all of my mental health issues I have overcome their negative consequences by first accepting that I cant fix it completely. Acceptance is key. I have this disorder, my brain is wired a certain way and so I have two options. I let that defeat me or find a way to work with it. I have learned that my disorder does NOT mean I can’t do things, I just have to do some things differently. I have found that working my life around my disorders has been much more productive than trying to force my disorders to fit a norm.
Delivering public speeches and training is easy, I can focus because I am interested in the cause. ADHD can make you talk a lot, which serves me well in this type of work
People who know me or know about me may be reading this and thinking “yeah but you can focus for 4 hours when delivering a course, you can write articulate blogs, you script and publish extensive online courses, you have successfully run your Company for 8 years, you can work effectively with children and caregivers and retain the information they give yo so you CAN focus”.
A lot of this is because the work I do is something I am very interested in and as I said, I can focus if I am genuinely interested in something. Improving the lives of children in care and supporting those working around a child is a deep rooted passion that is very important to me. I can focus on that because I am genuinely interested in it, this is my thing, this is my power, this is what I’m all about.
Although, saying that, I do not run the show as seamlessly as people think. In the car, on the way to venues, meetings or appointments my mind is racing. Sometimes I’m running self directed feature length films in my head, I am changing the music every 5 seconds, I am playing silly games in my head like “guess what kind person is driving the car in front ” or I’m looking for a car the same as mine. I’m thinking of yesterday, I’m thinking of tomorrow, my mind is just firing thoughts an ideas around my head constantly.
However, when I get to a venue and I step in front of that group of people the “thought fire” in my head settles to an ember and I become focussed. I am in my zone, I know what I have to do and I can do it. I am in the world that is important to me, I am interested and I am invested. Sometimes in the past I have been really thrown off by something during a training session. If someone comes in an hour late, someone’s phone rings or If a police car flies by outside with its sirens blasting I can be completely thrown off and the fire in my mind reignites.
In my early days of public speaking this lead me to panic and freeze. However I have learned not to be ashamed of myself and so now, when this happens I simply ask the group “what was the last thing I said?, I have been completely thrown off”. I don’t feel silly, stupid or embarrassed anymore, I know and accept my problems. Someone always reminds me and the fire of thoughts calms once more and I’m back in the room. If I did not do that my thoughts would start going mad again and Id start thinking about everything but the things I needed to be thinking about. The difference between how I function now and how I functioned as a child is that now I know what support I need and I am able to ask for it. That foster carer or social worker in the crowd who reminded me of what I was on about has supported me, they have refocused me. As a child I didn’t really know what help I needed and I was mostly thinking about the next time I was going to be told off or how embarrassed I would be for saying I couldn’t do something. As an adult I am able to think about things differently and I have learned not to self-shame.
Medication is often the go to “cure”. Meds can help but they don’t fix the problem. Medication is only a part of the solution
The truth is ADHD can be a burden to those who suffer with it and as I have said a few times in this post, I’d rather not have it and It is not something I ever chose to have. Although I have educated myself on the subject of psychology and mental health, I am no doctor or psychotherapist but what I have learned about ADHD is that research suggests it is mostly inherited. Without getting all sciency, essentially the neurons in my brain are supposed to fire messages from one neuron to the next then reload ready for the next messages and the brain uses certain chemicals to make that happen ( I am simplifying this massively). ADHD means I lack a couple of those chemicals so my neurons do not always reload properly creating intermittent barriers so messages get stuck or have to find alternative paths. I have learned that medication can help but the effectiveness of those medications can vary hugely from one person to the next. Some people with ADHD say medication has made a life changing difference, others say it makes a little bit of a difference and there are some who say that medication makes no difference at all. I remember watching a program on ADHD, it was produced in America where medication seems to be given readily to pretty much every child expressing behavioural problems. One of the doctors said to a parent “medication is to make things easier for you, not your child”. To an extent I can agree with that.
What I do know is that mental health medication does does not cure the problem. Medication is like a pair of glasses. The glasses do not fix a person eyes they just make it easier to see and as soon as they remove those glasses their sight is back to being fuzzy. Medication can help but it is only a part of the treatment / solution. What helps the most long term is support, understanding and self-awareness. I have never taken medication for this and I think a lot of that is because I have had very bad experiences with SSRI medication in the past (anti-depressants). I also personally do not like the idea of medication dependency. I am not anti-medication but If I can, I will always chose self-management over medication. I am not advising anyone which is the best solution for this I am just sharing my own thoughts and experiences on it, I am simply sharing a perspective.
I think, looking back medication may have helped me focus a little better as a child but as an adult, I am very self-aware and I have managed to find my own coping strategies that for me, I have found to work well. Really, how I view it, is that the goal for me has always been not to fix or completely cure but to get to a point where that disorder / illness / problem does not control my life or negatively impact me on a daily basis and I feel that’s where I am with this.
Learning about a disorder can be enlightening but then you have to learn how that disorder impacts you as an individual because disorders can present different challenges to different people. You have to know the disorder AND know yourself. You have to be aware that despite the negative focus others put on ADHD everyone has strengths that must be realised.
I have learned after moving between many jobs in my adult life that self-employment works best for me. By being self employed I can manage myself and build a working environment which works for me, I am not forced to work in ways I cannot manage and I am able to chose what services I can and can’t deliver. I have my own little system going that helps me be productive and get things done. I am not forced to work set hours and I as I work from home alot I can pace around a bit here and there without the worry of people questioning me.
I have also found that music has a HUGE impact on my thought processes and certain types of music help me focus on things. Some music gives me energy, some music helps me to be calm. I have ALWAYS got some kind of music on. I utilise various software to help remind me of important things and to help me stay on track and I am lucky to have a partner who understand me and so, she knows when I have lost focus and she always helps to refocus me and refresh my mental palate.
There are some aspects of self-employment I struggle with though, I literally cannot decode anything HMRC sends me and I cannot work out my taxes, I also really struggle with official letters and bills that come through the door, but that’s ok, I have an amazing accountant who literally manages the HMRC stuff and my partner helps me with letters and bills.
Which brings me on to my final point which is that what has been most helpful for not just ADHD but all of my psychological difficulties is the support of others. Often I do not need people to do anything more than just get it, to know me, to accept me and to know what to do when I need it. Over the years I have surrounded myself by these kinds of people. People who call me “fun” and “funny” rather than “annoying”. People who see my extra energy and constant talking as a good thing and finding the right partner who can cope with my mess, my energy, my randomness, all of the things I mentioned above. I am blessed to have found that. Acceptance from others is a real healer.
So, It has taken me about 4 days to write this. Whilst doing so I have drifted in and out of it, watched countless pointless videos on Youtube, had about 50 cups of coffee, had a thousand irrelevant ideas, changed the brake discs on my car, done some shopping, learned some new animals facts and watched plenty of Netflix but… that’s how I work, that’s how I need to work and in the end, I got it done. Whether any of this makes sense is another matter!
My brain may not allow me to do things in the same way as others but I can get things done, I can function and I can do and be what I want to be. I think age and maturity has helped me naturally deal with this better but accepting who I am, how I work and learning to work with it not against it is really what has helped me to overcome the many problems that ADHD brings.
And lastly, if you have ADHD or any other psychological problem, it is important to remember that It doesn’t matter what others think is “wrong” with you, there is always a lot right with you and it is really important to focus on that.
People ask my how I can stand up in front of a crowd for 4 hours and talk. Well… I have ADHD, that’s how I do it!
Far from being a condition to be pitied, ADHD / ADD can bestow exactly the super-skills needed to excel. Justin Timberlake has it, Will smith has it, Adam Levine has it, Will.I.AM has it. All of these people are performers and artists, successful ones at that. They are using their ADHD to excel, they accept it and work with it. I just wish that more people working around children with ADHD would focus on positivity rather than negative labels and constant punishment.
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