Last week I got some test results back, and at 27 years old I learned for the first time that I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I mean I guess I always knew I had it. At least I always joked about having it, but it was the kind of a self-defacing humor that got an easy laugh, and I never really put much serious thought into it. And lots of people joke about having it. I mean, who isn’t at least partially ADD with how the internet and TV have raised us? (There is even a term for this now called, Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder (AADD) and ‘they’ mostly blame MTV and Instagram for this.) I’ve always been fidgety but, I was told I would grow out of that. And I kind of thought I did grow out of it. I realize now that I just actually grew smarter and found socially acceptable workarounds for my restless energies.
But yet this last year, in a slower paced job, I think I began becoming more self-aware of my own quirks. And on top of a growing awareness of my of own limitations and how I personally function, I began to notice behaviors in the majority of other people, that were not at all consistent with my own behavior. I began to see that some things that I had thought were normal for everyone, were actually quite unique to me. Well as it turns out, not quite unique to me, 4% of the population is diagnosed with some level of ADD/ADHD.
So I became rather suspicious of myself, and I began noting some of my own personal quirkiness. To reiterate, I didn’t know these things were abnormal for many years! Let me give you a snapshot into my daily life, by showing you some of the comments I hear and make as a regular part of my day. These are the major & minor things that eventually led me to want to be tested for ADD. Some of these I’ve have experienced my whole life and some of these comments I hear at least once a week.
Comments frequently made to me…
- “Can you stop fidgeting?”
- “Can you stop tapping your foot, you’re shaking the whole table”
- “How do you have a master’s degree?” *After a co-worker handed me my misplaced coffee tumbler for the 4th week in a row.
- “You’re yelling…”
- “Sometimes you zone out when we’re talking.” (This is most embarrassing when I hear it from Jr. Highers)
- “Why do you always get up and leave during ____________ (meetings, class, church service, anywhere I have to remain seated for a long period of time)?”
- “Did you take that online ADD Test I sent you?”… ummm No I didn’t, I got distracted. *True story.
Comments I frequently make
- “Bleh… Staff meeting again…”
- “I’m a visual person, can you show this to me on paper.” When I can’t concentrate on the words they’re saying and it’s just not making sense.
- “What’s that ticking noise!?”
- (Now that I’m married) “Honey, where are my…?”
- (When I was younger) “Mom! where are my…”
Some attributes I’ve realized about myself recently…
- Although I read and listen to many books each year, I often get frustrated or even anxious when I come to the last 10 pages or so. It takes so much mental focus to finish.
- I find myself saying to myself, “this isn’t important information, you don’t have to listen to this.”
- When lecturing, if I got asked a side question, I can’t remember my train of thought at all. Often the class has to walk me backward to what I was saying.
- I used to always have to have an energy drink whenever it was time to reconcile my receipts and turn in the monthly budget report. It took a full 16 oz. Monster just to muster enough concentration to get through one of those monstrosities.
- I often come up with elaborate situations and stories in my daydreaming. My wife is entertained by my thought process when I try to read my transcript back to her of how the funny thing happened in my made up what-if scenario. This is an accurate depiction.
- When I was in graduate school I often studied and wrote with the TV on or in a crowded busy restaurant.
- I chew on pens, destroy paper clips, tear up Starbucks cup holders, doodle on all pieces of paper.
- I have trouble falling asleep because my mind is racing through various scenarios.
- I learned it’s not normal for people to listen to foreign music while writing or studying! Story time Below!!
- When on a road trip, I would often search for music on the radio, hitting the seek forward button, over and over, until I found a station I like. What was peculiar though was that I would frequently seem to stop on a Spanish station. After un-zoning out five minutes later, I would say “what the heck am I listening too?!” and I would start scanning the radio again, sometimes only to stop on another Spanish station. This lead to some embarrassing situations when I had friends with me in the car. They often thought I was being silly on purpose, and I would just respond with an uneasy but also genuine laugh, “haha, weird…” because it was funny! I don’t speak Spanish. I have two theories on why I so frequently ended up accidently ended up listening to Spanish radio stations. It’s possible that I simply got distracted midway through my search and the Spanish language wasn’t enough stimulation (because I didn’t understand it) to make me snap out of the new thing I was thinking about. But my second theory is that my brain actually likes the kind of white noise, ambient sounds that the Spanish music was playing. It was a filler of ambient noise that distracted my brain just enough so that I could actually focus on what I wanted to focus on. This was actually a big revelation for me and after discovering this I made a “Foreign Worship Music” playlist on Spotify and now use it whenever I am doing serious writing or grading and it really helps me. Here is a link to my Spotify Playlist I use.
So I went and got tested, and here is what I discovered. I scored in the bottom 1% in composite memory, verbal memory, reaction time and a few other things. A few other scores were low and a few were average. Average at best!! Woohoo. Here is a snapshot in case you’re interested in more technical jargon.
Honestly though, what’s frustrating to me is that this means that I’ve always had it, and somehow I didn’t know. But, in reality, I’m not sure what I would have done anything differently even if I had known sooner. I have been able to to be successful in school, which is commonly an area that people with ADD often struggle with. I graduated with a Master’s in Theological Studies in 2013, but it was with great effort and a great cost of personal health! There are however some behaviors and abilities about myself I wish I could change, and many of them I already mentioned on those bulleted points above. I honestly wish I had the ability to easily sit through an entire church service. And I wish when sitting down for dinner with my family that little noises, or ticks, or lights, or whatever would not agitate me so much.
It’s just frustrating because I wish I would have known earlier because it would have explained so much. And that word “explanation” is key to ADD. In fact, it’s really my big takeaway learning this about myself. That ADD is an explanation, not an excuse. ADD is an explanation of why I have trouble remaining interested in something for long periods of time, or at all if it is not inherently fun and exciting. ADD is an explanation, in that, it is the name of a “disorder” where my brain has fewer dopamine receptors which make my brain less sensitive to reward and thus makes it harder for me to stay engaged. (ASAP Science put out a great video explaining some of the science of ADD/ADHD and it’s even ADD-friendly!) ADD is not an excuse for my behavior when I interrupt or don’t follow through or forget to bring that one very important thing along with me (like my passport on an out of country trip, true story).
ADD is an explanation, not an excuse.
It should be noted that many would prefer that ADD/ADHD not be labeled as a disorder, but rather as a trait. There are many wildly successful people with even severe levels of ADD/ADHD and they have found ways to make it work for them. I even read an article that explains that those with higher IQ could better find workarounds for the limitations that ADD normally puts on them.
Through discovering and reflecting on all of this, I guess I have three big takeaways.
- ADD is an explanation, not an excuse.
- ADD puts you at a higher risk of Anxiety & depression. Those with ADD are 10 times more likely to struggle with depression and over 50% of those with ADD also struggle with an anxiety disorder. This is crucial for me as I fight for my own personal health and life balance.
- Medication may help for times when I really need focus. I’m still researching side effects and listening to my Doctor’s recommendations and of course, I will need to learn how my body responds to the different types. I’m starting a Doctoral program this Fall and my Doctor suggested that some medication might really assist me in these studies, and I think I’ll begin looking into that.
If you resonated with this post, I would really recommend you consider getting yourself tested by your Doctor. If you’re interested in testing yourself, please remember that a self-assessment can only take you so far, and you should really get actually tested, but here is a link to the same self-assessments questions that was part of my test I took in the doctor’s office. By this scale, if “very often” is a 4 and “never” is a “0” I scored a 70/72 on this test. That’s an A+!
I’m still learning so much about ADD and would love feedback and input on your own experience. What’s your experience with ADD/ADHD? Please share and comment below!
If you have ADD/ADHD share in the comments below about how you found out, and how the diagnosis changed things for you.