At the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, I had just graduated from film studies college. I had no job, primarily because my privileged self wasn’t looking for one. I figured that I might as well use the time to work on myself and decided to begin therapy as a step towards that.
A few weeks into therapy, I was diagnosed with Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My diagnosis was a huge relief, as it helped me understand why I was the way I was – and why I am the way I am. Prior to therapy, I often thought about how I was wasting my life and my potential, how the people closest to me expected so much from me and how I was unable to meet their expectations. Knowing that I had Adult ADHD helped me put things in perspective.
ADHD often occurs with other disorders – anxiety or depression, for example. In my case, it was anxiety. Anxiety had shaped my personality and it often overlapped with ADHD. I was able to trace the roots of my ADHD to my schooling after moving to India from the south Asian country of Nepal.
I was disheartened with the school from day one, as the focus was solely on academics. My refusal to study made me something of a rebel. Unsurprisingly, my scores were terrible. It’s not that I was bad at academics, it’s just that there wasn’t much else going on apart from that for me to want to study and get good scores.
During parent-teacher meetings, my parents would be told that I was bright, but “too lazy” to study. I wanted to scream and tell them that I wasn’t lazy, studies were just not stimulating enough for my brain. I couldn’t concentrate, sit in one place, and then just write things out on a piece of paper.
Eventually, when I moved to a better school in the twelfth grade, my scores improved because apart from studies, there were different activities that we could participate in. Our teacher initiated a photography club, we had art classes, and I had the freedom to choose the subjects that resonated with me. I began to look forward to going to school.
For those unfamiliar with Adult ADHD, there is a tendency to label a person with the condition as “lazy.” When it comes to the differences between ADHD and Adult ADHD, there is also a tendency to associate ADHD symptoms — inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness — with only children and young adults. Signs of inattentiveness can show up as being easily distracted, constantly changing an activity or task, and making careless mistakes, while signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness can manifest as constantly fidgeting, talking excessively, and excessive physical movement – behaviours that are often passed off as being part of a phase that a young person goes through.
While there are subtle differences in the ways that ADHD shows up in adults as opposed to children (adult symptoms of ADHD can include restlessness, mood swings, and a lack of attention to detail, to name a few), it’s sad that people don’t otherwise associate ADHD with grown-ups.
Personally, I often struggled with seeing things through. So, let’s say, the laundry is done and I had to just fold the clothes and put them away, I’d struggle with that. If I began something and wasn’t excellent at it, I’d drop it. My presumed inability to complete things was getting out of hand – even the most seemingly mundane tasks would pile up, leaving me overwhelmed.
I had to make the conscious decision that if any task takes less than three minutes to complete, then it needed to be addressed immediately, without even a second’s delay. When there is a sudden urge not to do it at all – to procrastinate, basically – I would switch to another task.
I don’t believe that pills prescribed by my psychiatrist – a licensed professional, trusted by me – can be addictive. So, I was open to medication, but I did also want to work with small fixes, including timing tasks, putting on alarms, and telling friends and bosses to send me healthy reminders if I was procrastinating. It’s a long list of trial-and-error techniques that have helped me.
It’s crucial to have a solid support system as well. In my case, I lucked out on a strong circle of family and friends. Initially, it was hard for them to make sense of my diagnosis because ADHD is not a visible disorder, so to speak. But, gradually, they understood how it affects me in even the smallest of ways.
For example, I struggle to remember to close things, so I end up leaving doors and drawers open. My flatmate, who’s also my best friend, casually reminds me to close them. If I have too many friends over, I tend to get overwhelmed and prefer to retreat into my room. Knowing this, my best friend will later text me or come into my room to check up on me, without being weird about it. I also tend to space out when I’m being given verbal instructions or directions, so after a meeting, I’ll ask a colleague to help catch me up.
However, I struggle with “out of sight, out of mind” too. If I end up losing touch with someone, they might feel like I am actively avoiding them. So, I share memes and find ways of being in touch. This sometimes affects my romantic relationships, too, because I end up not responding to my dates’ texts or forgetting to answer their call back. They understandably get flustered and assume I’m ignoring them. So, there is constant guilt involved in relationships. When I do reach out to them, it means that I’m genuinely missing them.
There is a lot of talk about how everyone seems to have ADHD and how “annoying” that is. However, I believe there is a fine line between normalising and glorifying ADHD. Unfortunately, our generation likes to gatekeep everything — telling people what’s truly ADHD and what is not. We must understand that ADHD is relatively new in our vocabulary. While I understand that it will take time to wrap one’s mind around the fact that it’s not just about being “distracted”, people shouldn’t trivialise it. Just like how having a fixation is different from having OCD, ADHD too has many shades.
So, if you find my experiences even remotely relatable, I would urge you to at least get a diagnosis from a psychiatrist. Trust me, having someone acknowledge and validate that what I was struggling with was actually a disorder is a relief. Also, this might seem like a “hot take,” but I don’t personally think of ADHD as a “disorder” – I think of it as a syndrome. Because, unlike other disorders, it tends to impact only one’s productivity and doesn’t dislodge one completely. If this was a mellow world that did not prioritise productivity, we probably wouldn’t have ADHD or Adult ADHD in the first place.