At a young age, I was told I had ADHD. You know those drawings young preschool kids do with crayons when they can barely hold a crayon? Where it’s all circles and swoops and running off the edge of the paper? If that drawing was in a museum, you may think it's a Picasso, but you know all too well a chubby little hand crafted that. Those drawings were me as a kid.
Run, skip, up, down, flip, flop, scoot, kick, bounce. I was all the verbs that teachers wish wouldn’t exist within a quiet, orderly, and calm classroom setting. I was a loud, messy, and disorganized young girl. I was told I was all these disruptive things over and over and over again. The words of not being a good kid stuck with me, and my self-esteem plummeted.
I may be better at hiding my busy body now, but my mind still races ahead, skips steps, and makes plenty of messes. These messes bleed into my most important relationships. When I ask my partner to repeat himself just one more time, please. He feels I don’t care. I do. He feels I’m not listening. I’m trying. This is hard. Some days, this is extremely hard. I’m an adult with ADHD.
I first heard the term “ADHD” when I went to the doctor’s office. My school principal was sick and tired of seeing me on a daily basis for every behavioral problem in the book. The principal recommended my parents take me to the doctor as soon as possible to get help. “Fix her and soon” was the message I got loud and clear. I was 8. I didn’t know what ADHD even meant. Neither did my parents.
All I knew was not only am I always in trouble, but now I am the problem, too. Me, my body, my brain … I’m all energy and movement in a world that rewards and often demands quiet and stillness. I didn’t fit in, and I couldn’t make myself fit in.
According to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, Fifth Edition” (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health diagnosis that includes a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity that causes problems with functioning and development.
Inattention behaviors include being off task, not having persistence, having a hard time keeping focus, and being disorganized. It is important to keep in mind that the inattention is not due to being defiant or a lack of understanding directions provided.
Hyperactivity includes excessive motor activity when it is not socially acceptable, excessive fidgeting, tapping, or talkativeness. In adults, hyperactivity may look like extreme restlessness or wearing others out with all their activity.
Impulsivity is another word for quick actions that occur in the moment without thinking about it beforehand. These impulsive behaviors could lead to harm potentially. Being impulsive may be motivated by wanting rewards immediately and not being able or willing to delay pleasure or satisfaction.
Examples of impulsive behaviors include: darting into the street without looking; social intrusiveness like interrupting others excessively; and making important decisions without considering long-term consequences, such as taking a job without fully understanding the job role.
Being an adult with ADHD is like having 10 computer tabs open, in your brain, at all times. I start a task, switch. Start a task, stop. I’ve found working in a big office with all its conversations and buzzing and footsteps and closing and opening of doors and drawers just doesn’t work for me at all.
In the office setting, I was distracted easily, and nothing got done. I tried noise-canceling headphones, but the movement of everyone around me was still so distracting. I didn’t like wearing noise-canceling headphones all the time because it shut me off completely from socializing with peers.
In the office setting with its open floor plan, I felt self-conscious and like the oddball that just couldn’t function like everyone else was seemingly able to. It was a frustrating setup for me, to say the least. It was impossible for my employer. Often, my work didn’t get done correctly or on time. Often, I felt like a total and complete failure.
Due to all the issues I had in a traditional work environment that wasn’t willing to make any adjustments for me, I sought self-employment and have been working from home for the past few years. The downside is that in my field, networking is huge and absolutely key for career growth. Remote networking is a real challenge.
Because of my ADHD, I’ve had to turn down great job opportunities because I know my limits. I don’t want to feel so limited by ADHD. I want to manage ADHD instead of ADHD managing me. I am hoping I can learn different ways to better manage my ADHD without having to make so many sacrifices.
According to a book titled “The Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment Planner,” by Arthur E. Jongsma Jr., L. Mark Peterson, and Timothy J. Bruce, ADHD for adults may look like:
As stated in DSM-5 that was published in 2013, population surveys suggest that ADHD occurs in most cultures in about 5% of children and 2.5% of adults. ADHD is more common in males than in females in the general population. In children, there is a ratio of 1 female with ADHD for every 2 males. In adults, there is a ratio of 1.6 males for every 1 female.
Based on 2001-2003 diagnostic interview data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), the overall prevalence of U.S. adults ages 18 to 44 years old with ADHD is 4.4%. Prevalence rates of adult ADHD were higher for males (5.4%) than females (3.2%).
My parents don’t have issues with ADHD like me, but my sister struggled with ADHD for as long as I can remember. My sister still has focus issues today. My sister was my companion growing up, especially when I felt trapped by my busy body.
By seeing my sister’s busy body move carefree through the world, I felt less alone and hopeful. Today, my sister understands when I change topics too fast, half listen when watching TV or movies, and leave a house project half done. She’s understanding because that part of me is a part of her, too.
According to a book titled “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: What Every Parent Wants To Know,” by David L. Wodrich, Ph.D., there are many possible causes of ADHD, such as genetics (inborn traits), brain differences, food additives, sugar, environmental toxins, and family and social influences. According to an abnormal psychology textbook, risk factors for ADHD include very premature birth, low birth weight, and prenatal exposure to alcohol and smoking.
After learning of my ADHD diagnosis, the only recommendation given by my doctor was to start a stimulant medication and fast. My parents acted quickly out of fear I wouldn’t make it through school.
Throughout my childhood and teen years, I cycled through all the stimulant medications. I get that they work for some people, and that’s great. For me, I didn’t feel like “me” while taking them.
I remember being given meds during school hours. I would try to pocket the pills because I didn’t want a pill to change me. I didn’t want to change myself to be a better me, a more easy to accept me. I didn’t want to mold myself into being more socially acceptable, I just wanted society to accept me as me.
As an adult now and a mom of a young one that I believe will have issues with ADHD, too, I am looking into how to treat ADHD without medication. I don’t know what adult care for ADHD without medication looks like. But if it’s out there, I’d like to learn more.
According to “The Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment Planner,” there are many therapeutic approaches to treating ADHD in adults without the use of medication. Therapeutic interventions without medication could include:
The long-term goal of ADHD treatment for adults is to reduce impulsive actions; increase concentration and focus on low-interest activities; minimize the behavioral interference of ADHD in daily life; sustain attention and concentration for consistently longer periods of time; and achieve a satisfactory level of balance, structure, and intimacy in personal life.
According to an abnormal psychology textbook, for adults with ADHD, cognitive behavioral therapies help to reduce distractibility and improve organizational skills. In treatment, short-term treatment goals could include decreasing hyperactivity and impulsivity. Long-term treatment goals could include preventing and reversing academic or work decline and improving social skills.
I struggle with depression and anxiety. I didn’t have these terms to use as a child, but I think I’ve had depression and anxiety since the time I was little. For me, I think it mostly stems from all the negative feedback I’d get in school.
My worst memories were when the teacher would have rewards or prizes based on the whole class performance. I always ruined it. I would try to sit on my hands to stop fidgeting; nothing worked. I was the clear outcast. I was made to feel like I was different in the worst way by my classmates and teachers.
Because of all my behavioral issues in the classroom growing up, it took me a while to accept myself as smart and capable. I thought my grades were bad because I was bad. It wasn’t until I got to college and got myself set up with learning accommodations that my life really began to shift in a more positive direction.
Per DSM-5, ADHD is associated with the following possible consequences in adults:
Sun Behavioral Columbus offers mental health services for adults struggling with ADHD. At Sun Behavioral Columbus, our adult outpatient behavioral services include two vital services: a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and an intensive outpatient program (IOP).
PHP includes five group therapy sessions per day, five days per week. PHP groups use a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach. PHP offers coping skills training and a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), which is an evidence-based system to help people understand and apply wellness techniques for the purpose of relapse prevention.
IOP includes three group sessions per day, five days per week. Key components of the IOP include stress management, life skills development, mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and yoga and physical wellness strategies. These treatment approaches will help you or your loved one gain new skills to better cope with ADHD.
Your struggles or the struggles of a loved one managing ADHD are real and have an effect on many aspects of life. Counseling may be the next right step for you to gain increased self-awareness, more coping skills, and achieve a higher quality of life. You are worth it. Let’s work on setting treatment goals together to meet your individual needs and concerns. Contact Sun Behavioral Columbus today at (614) 706-2786.
How do you treat ADHD without medication?
For adults with ADHD, cognitive behavioral therapies help to reduce distractibility and improve organizational skills. Also, teaching relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and guided imagery is helpful.
How do you calm someone with ADHD?
To help an adult with ADHD, lower expectations if set too high, consider roles and responsibilities, engage in self-care, and create and maintain healthy boundaries.
Can ADHD get better without medication?
Yes, there are effective nonmedical approaches to treating adults with ADHD, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The therapist using CBT can help the patient with ADHD to identify, challenge, and change self-talk that leads to distractibility, poor planning, and impulsivity. The patient can also learn relaxation skills such as deep breathing and meditation to aid in coping with stress.
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