I have a lovely friend named Sarah.
She’s smart and funny and our time together is filled to the brim with fascinating conversations and fun adventures.
Sarah is a successful professional and respected in her industry. However, she gets bored quickly and has to button down to do the boring bits at work.
She also struggles with her weight and even had a gastric bypass. It worked for a while but the weight came back. She knows she’s an emotional eater, what to eat and when yet never quite can get a handle on it.
When it comes to wine, one or two glasses is never quite enough. She loves exceptional wine and the conversation and time spent with friends. Who wouldn’t?
Despite all this, she also is self-disciplined and hard working. Sarah dresses well, has a beautiful home and is obsessed with pursuing the very best experiences life has to offer. However, friends who know her well, say that she is not living up to her potential.
She has Inattentive ADHD.
You’ve likely heard the term but chances are don’t know the whole story so let’s start by talking about what ADHD is… and isn’t.
ADD/ADHD stands for Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder – and I hate that term. (ADD is the same thing as ADHD and you’ll catch me using both.)
That’s a big word salad that doesn’t describe a person as the beautiful human they are. Often quirky, unique, creative thinkers… but not broken or maladapted as the name would suggest.
Phases of hyperfocus is common amongst ADHD folks. I prefer the words “inconsistent attention” or even “lack of Interest” as opposed to “Attention Deficit”.
Hyperactivity usually only applies to children and rarely with adult “ADDers”.
The stigma of the word “disorder” is like one disempowering period at the end of that string of imprecise descriptions.
So much of… well…. EVERYTHING is perspective! The label ADHD which I just dissected keeps people stuck and in victim mode.
ADDers live a paradox of both possessing brains may have grown at a different rate and in a different way to others. You also have unique strengths and weaknesses but, disordered? I don’t think so.
If you have ADHD, you will have the paradox of possessing incredible strengths but also challenging weaknesses.
This tribe of unique quirky thinkers have been the cause of many of our world’s leaps forward. Their brains simply work differently from “neurotypical” brains. Not better, not worse… Just differently.
Here’s some facts that counter then narrative of “disordered”.
Those with ADHD are:
• Often highly intelligent with 42% possessing an IQ of 120 and above.
• Exceptionally gifted.
• Frequently highly creative, making intuitive leaps and connections others can not.
• Quite intuitive or empathic.
• Highly energetic and willing to work very hard.
• Driven and often entrepreneurial out of necessity.
• Loyal and the best possible friend you can have.
Neuroscientists theorize that these types of brains developed due to one or more of these reasons:
1. At some time in the past, this kind of brain wiring gave us humans an advantage.
2. The brain has adapted to a particular environment.
3. There is a higher incidence of ADHD in multiple-births.
4. It’s an aspect of being exceptionally intelligent and gifted.
5. Genetic inheritance. ADHD the most genetically heritable form of brain wiring in the world.
Some researchers believe that up to 22 to 30% of the general population has some form of ADHD if you consider a sliding scale of symptoms.
ADHD is often missed or worse, misdiagnosed in many children and adults. It’s difficult to catch for many reasons and many medical and health practitioners lack the skills and training to diagnose.
Anxiety and depression commonly co-occur with ADHD – and it’s no surprise.
ADDers often feel that they don’t fit in with their peer groups. At school they may lag in emotional maturity and not have the same interests as others. Others have troubles with social anxieties and have difficulties with relationships or are extreme introverts.
ADHD comorbidity maladies include: Learning disorders (auditory and visual learning problems), dyslexia, OCD, bipolar and anti-social disorders, substance abuse and addiction, sleep issues and all manner of other behavioral “quirks”.
Criticism and well-intentioned but uninformed help plummets self-confidence and drive up anxiety and depression.
If the “helper” doesn’t understand that the cause of the anxiety and depression is ADHD, then the anti-anxiety and depression medications used will be ineffective.
When we acknowledge and use these perceived differences as strengths, these “behaviors” can be harnessed for greater success. For example, many people who have Bi-Polar traits are some of our greatest writers and comedians. It’s also my experience that if you support those with ADHD properly, the undesirable side effects like anxiety and depression can fade away.
The ADDer’s world becomes more vibrant and exciting when they embrace the unique and creative and “outside of the box” brain wiring. Everyone benefits from having someone with ADHD on their team, in their classroom and in their life.
Success comes from understanding how your brain works and how to build a life that supports you around your belief and value systems.
The Belief Trap
People with ADHD often have a poor sense of who they are and possess beliefs that don’t serve them. Because they feel so out of place, they can become “people pleasers” to fit in and neglect to develop boundaries to protect themselves. They often fail to acknowledge their wants and needs, often giving in to other’s. They become “good boys and girls” and then are surprised when life doesn’t turn out the way that they always imagined that it would.
It’s heartbreaking that many beautiful, bright and gifted people can’t understand how they ended up where they have in life. They find themselves on their own, exhausted and often overweight. They also don’t want to take the “prescribed” pills for their anxiety and depression.
The Different Flavors of ADHD
(If you are interested in the models of ADHD, read on. Otherwise, skip to the end.)
There are several models used to explain what ADHD is. The model most commonly used in Australia is around the concept of Executive Function which I’ll explain a little more about below.
Within this model there are three subtypes:
1: Hyperactive – which In don’t think needs much explanation
Just think about the typical “wild-child” portrayed by the media or the always busy person.
2: Inattentive – Difficulties starting / finishing work and engaging and being in the moment. 80% of girls diagnosed with ADHD are of the inattentive style.
3: Somewhere in-between both of those.
A second model (By Dr Dan Amen) uses a Functional MRI (SPECT Scan) to explain which parts of the brain aren’t firing as well as other parts of the brain. Within this model, there are seven subtypes and multiples of variations under each: Classic ADD, Inattentive ADD, Over-focused ADD, Temporal Lobe ADD, Limbic ADD, Ring of Fire ADD, Anxious ADD.
The tricky part is that you can start with one and end up appearing to morph into another, as you learn ways to manage your ADHD or as you age or hormones change. ADHD isn’t consistent. It can show up when you least expect it, and even then that can change, which explains why it’s difficult to “diagnose”.
Neurotransmitters and Executive Functioning
Neurotransmitters are chemicals which move messages between brain cells. These essential chemicals in the brain help us to think, feel and take action. They include the happy brain chemicals of Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin.
In this conversation, we are talking about the modern brain, which is also called the pre-frontal cortex or frontal lobe.
ADHD is the most genetically heritable form of brain wiring and the genes that control the levels of happy brain chemicals seem to be different in those with ADHD.
The problems seem to occur when there are not enough happy brain chemicals produced or there is a problem with how these chemicals reach the brain cells.
Think about watercolor painting. In a typical brain, the brain would have a lovely pale and even distributed “wash” of Dopamine through the front part of the brain. A brain with ADHD will have a blotchy pattern of Dopamine where the blotches are the deepest and most vibrant colors where the neurotransmitter is working the best.
Dopamine is the happy brain chemical that gives a feeling of reward and makes you want to do something.
When you have lots of Dopamine on board, then you have a strong desire to do or complete a task and you are better able to focus.
In other words, if there is not enough Dopamine, there is no interest in the task and no focus.
EF (Executive Function) is your higher level or higher-order thinking and processing. Very broadly, there are two types:
Organization – the gathering of information and structuring it for evaluation
Regulation – which is about changing your behavior in response to your environment.
Good EF means we can:
1) Manage time well.
2) Manage our attention – staying focused and switching our focus to what’s essential.
3) Plan and organize with ease.
4) Remember lots of details and have an excellent short term working memory.
5) Pause before we say or do something – which stops us from doing something we will later be sorry for. No more “oops” moments!
6) Meld our past experiences (life lessons) with our present actions, which helps us to figure out the consequences of our actions.
What happens if you don’t have a good executive function? Here’s a list of behaviors which may sound familiar. Please note, if they do, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have ADHD.
• The harder you try to concentrate, the less you can.
• Resistance to goal setting as a means to avoid failure.
• You just can’t work out how to start, but once you do, you’re ok.
• You didn’t do well at school as a kid; now you are a “workaholic”.
• Procrastination can be your middle name, and you can be very inconsistent.
• You might “tune out” of conversations and remember conversations differently from others.
• If you’re interested in something, then you can’t stop focusing which can lead to other problems.
• Money management. What’s that?
• Can’t keep a secret if it’s exciting.
• Love a good drama. And you find it difficult to relax. Then there is fidgeting and toe-tapping.
• Talking too much and being overly detail orientated. It can take forever to get a point across.
• Risk-taking and adrenaline creating behaviors.
• You can make constant silly errors and then have to cross-check your work frequently.
• You have lists everywhere, and often they look the same day after day.
• Clutter prone and often misplacing keys, phones, glasses, etc.
• You can get caught up with binge-watching tv or video games if you are inclined.
• When you were a kid, you were the funny one in class. You were good at making fun of yourself, and as an adult, if you didn’t grow out of that, you’ve become quite eccentric.
• Fibromyalgia, psoriasis, eczema, skin sensitivities, acne, food sensitivities, gluten intolerance, weight gain/obesity can be part of your life.
• You are a fabulous story teller…oh what an imagination!
These are just some of what are called the soft signs of ADHD. And there are lots more of them.
If you have one or two of these, it doesn’t mean that you have ADHD. However, if you have more than just a couple it’s worth observing yourself for a couple of days.
Well, as I said, ADHD brains aren’t damaged or deficient – they’re just wired differently. It uses those happy chemicals of the brain differently. It uses them for areas of intense interest giving extra abilities and the rest gets lost or forgotten.
Success can be found through understanding how the ADHD brain works and learning techniques to counter the less desirable aspects that come along with that particular kind of wiring. A great way to do this is by working with a coach.
An ADHD Coach will help you with these.
1) Put in place an external executive function system which includes journaling, systems and checklists.
2) Good nutrition, exercise, good quality sleep.
3) Simplify. Do less. Don’t hurry. Learn to pause.
4) Have accountability buddies.
5) Work in a Team.
6) Take specific supplements which support Executive Function and brain health.
7) Take prescribed and appropriate medication.
8) Help you with navigating a diagnosis.
When it comes to medication and diagnosis, that’s another whole conversation beyond the scope of this piece. ADHD medication (which isn’t addictive and is very safe) can help you to manage your focus and support changing behaviors for the better. It can make life less risky and be a lifesaver for relationships and school/work too. It’s a worthwhile conversation to be undertaken with your health professional or ADHD Coach who are familiar with the terrain.
Rather than discuss “treatments”, I prefer to focus on the techniques, strategies, nutrition/supplements that I talk about every day in my coaching world.
The first step for anyone, including you, is to have the courage to reach out and talk to someone who understands what it’s like to have ADHD… someone who can give you an unbiased perspective.
Then create your very own team of fabulous professionals and friends who know what they are talking about and with whom you feel comfortable calling upon when you need help.
Please don’t struggle when so much excellent help is at hand. No one else needs to know about your checking out whether you have ADHD. This is really important if you feel that there is any stigma attached to having ADHD.
All others will see, as you change and create more success, is that you are now living a fun, less stressed and successful life filled with ease.
Who wouldn’t want you to experience that?
I wish you every success.
Lots of Love,