After some reflection upon my ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), I have came up with a sort of analogy:
Think about thoughts as water flowing through a faucet.
With a non-ADHD person (here I almost said “normal person” but Normal is only a town in Illinois) you can presumably turn that faucet on and off as necessary, and thus stop the flow of thoughts.
For someone with ADHD, however, there is a leak in the faucet. Regardless of where we like it or not, there is usually a constant flow of thoughts. Sure we still have ways of making the flow increase or decrease, and there are even times when it stops (though the moment you realize it is not there is the moment you destroy it, kind of like with humility). For the most part, however, it is always going. Even when it isn’t there, the simplest observation, the slightest provocation and it can be off to the races with the flow of thoughts.
This is why when we are trying to do to something we don’t like or want to do (whether just at the moment or at all), it is easy to get distracted by that steady stream of thoughts, and in so doing focus our attention on something, someone or somewhere we would rather do, be, or simply focus on.
We don’t always mean to either. I know there have been plenty of times when my wife Sarah was speaking to me and something she said sparked a stream of thoughts that caused me to stop listening to her and focus instead on that rabbit trail my thoughts traveled down. Sometimes I catch this quickly and simply refocus to what she is saying. Then it is simply a matter of figuring out if I can puzzle together the missing pieces of what she said, or if I have to ask questions to fill in the gaps. Other times I am not so lucky and get distracted for too long to know what else she said, and simply have to be humble enough to admit that I got distracted by a thought.
In any case, For those of you who know or care about someone ADHD, I ask that you remember that there is a constant background flow to our thoughts, and humbly beg your patience when dealing with us. This near constant flow also causes us to be more apt at interrupting than others. The flow just want to be voiced and wants to interject every “excellent” insight on all aspects of existence it excessively exegetes. This last sentence by the way is an example of my flow in action. One of the little things I enjoy in life is alliteration, and so a constant background task my brain is unconsciously doing is looking for ways to express myself through alliteration (another example of how that flow plays out in my life is all the excessive asides I tend to take in both my writing as well as speaking with full-on sentences in parentheticals, such as this one, which are generally unnecessary yet in many cases informative afterthoughts I still want to express).
One thing about ADHD that will be helpful to understand is that the name is somewhat of a misnomer. It is not that I just have this constant deficiency of attention in everything, but that our attention is far more easily harnessed on things we enjoy or desire. When we are focused on something we really like or want to do, whether that is writing an article about how your own insane brain works, or building the world’s most powerful biodiesel boat (hey, I’m sure someone out there is doing it), we can channel our stream of thoughts to focus on whatever our object or objective is, and we can unleash that flow in a way that is hard to describe to non-ADHD individuals outside of calling it a hyper-focus. This hyper-focus can be pure ecstasy, and is sometimes overpowering. It is easy to be overwhelmed with excitement, especially when we want to share all our amazing insights with others (which again makes us more apt to interrupt). Learning to live with it, let alone control it, can be a distressing and daunting daily drain. We must constantly work on harnessing it for good purposes, missions, and goals, and at the same time stave off negative side-effects that threaten to hinder or wholly harm our positive efforts. We ask those of you who live and/or interact with us to have patience with us and try to be understanding. It is almost as difficult for us to be this way as it is for you to deal with it. Please bear with us through both the blessings and the curse of our disorder, because one of the negative factors about having ADHD we must deal with is that our disorder is “invisible” to most people. If someone has a physical disorder, it is generally visible to others, and people recognize this person has certain limitations on what they are capable of. Many mental disorders are “visible” in a similar way, in that after interacting with them it is obvious that they have a mental disorder which limits certain things. Most people affected by ADHD, however, appear “normal” (for lack of a better yet succinct term), or maybe slightly eccentric, but our disorder is not obvious to others who observe us. We appear to be fully functioning, yet most of us struggle with things like disorganization, procrastination, tardiness, absentmindedness, thought or verbal dyslexia, word-vomiting, “laziness” (in that we can have a hard time doing or getting into mundane tasks), and a whole host of other symptoms and problems people think we can/need to just “get over” but can’t (at least not without great effort and difficulty). These are only a few thoughts on the topic, but this is something I wanted to share with others, to hopefully help you or someone you know better understand what it is like having a mental disorder that is oft times misunderstood and/or outright dismissed. One of my pet peeves is when I hear someone say “oh, I’m just AD(H)D today” or “that kid is so hyper he/she must have ADD” or some similar statement. These statements are simply ignorant and insensitive to those of us who have this disorder, and they are the result of a lack of understanding of what it truly means to have ADHD. I don’t profess to be an expert of the topic, and don’t fully understand it myself, but with 29 years of experience having it, I hope I have given you some sort of insight that may help you better understand those with ADHD. Having ADHD can be a great blessing if we can harness the positive aspects while at the same time reigning in the negative aspects.
Caveat: I want to make clear that I am not a psychiatrist or physician, and as such have no true insights into what bits of what I’ve said truly stem from my ADHD, and what just stems from the way I’m wired. As such, please take what I’ve said with a grain of salt. I am speaking here in the third person for those with ADHD with only a lay person’s insights based on what I’ve experienced and reflected on in myself, and from my experience with others who have ADHD. If you or a loved one you know had ADHD, and something here doesn’t resonate with you it is probably just something in the way I’m wired , though it is possible that our ADHD is just symptomatically expressed differently.
Please comment below and share with others your own insights into this topic, either as a first hand ADHDer, or as one who interacts with an ADHDer.