This Is What It Is Like to Be an Adult with ADHD

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When I was in college, the war on drugs had just launched. I remember the PSA with an egg frying in a pan, and the message, "This is your brain on drugs." (The commercial did nothing to stop people from ingesting all forms of illegal substances, but I'm sure it was a big boon to the egg industry from the onslaught of people who found themselves suddenly craving an omelette.)

In my college years, I "experimented" with a "stimulant" or two one semester, and ended up getting the highest grade point average I would ever receive. I wanted to forward it to my parents and tell them, "This is MY brain on drugs."

Jessica Bernstein

In 2007, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I wish I could tell you what made me seek help in the first place, but I don’t remember. As it turns out, an inability to remember things is a classic symptom of ADHD. My psychiatrist decided I should first try Ritalin. If it didn't do the trick, we would continue on down the line of meds and see if any of them "stuck."

Two days later, on a sunny Saturday morning, I got dressed, assisted my three-year-old daughter with her clothes, and headed off to meet friends at a local park.

Right before I left, I took the Ritalin.

When we arrived, I jumped out of the car and unstrapped my daughter from her car seat, and we were off. I galloped into the park like I was late for a board meeting. No sooner did I spot my friends did I start talking and talking and talking and talking. Had you held a radar gun to my mouth, I'm pretty sure you'd have clocked me spewing out ridiculous information at about 100 mph.

Inside my brain, it was like the grand finale of the Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular. My energy level was through the roof. When my kid said she wanted me to help "catch some leaves," I suggested we build the foundation for a skyscraper -- not that I really needed her help -- and with the time we had left over, we should consider drawing up the plans for an office park.

Two hours later, I found myself sitting on a bench, utterly depleted. I just wanted to go home and sleep. I figured all I needed was a year or two of some solid shuteye, and all would be well again.

But eventually, my psychiatrist and I came upon the right drug -- and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I felt like actually had a measurable attention span. However, although (thankfully) I've never again felt like I did before medication, I am still struggling, mightily. This is what it's like to be an adult with ADHD.

Whenever I get into an argument with someone or disagree with what they are saying, I rarely come out the winner. This has happened my entire adult life. Having ADHD often means that you are very disorganized, and, if you're like me, you have a tough time remembering things that were done or said to you -- or by you, for that matter. People with ADHD will often be told they said something, or did something, and they will have no memory of it, or at best a vague notion that what that person is saying might actually be true. Many times, I have believed something in my hearts of hearts, have sworn on my kid's soul that what I was saying was correct, and then I'd get a forward of the email in which I said no such thing (or worse, the opposite).

Over time, people with ADHD can come to doubt themselves to the point where they will back down from an argument, because they start to think that everything they believe or think they know is just their imagination. On the flip side, there are some of us who will never back down, just because they are tired of being wrong all the time -- or because, by the time they realize the other person is right, it’s too late to back down without appearing foolish, and they feel incredible shame.

Adults with ADHD don't get a lot of sympathy or understanding. In the minds of many, you are basically an adult who has chosen to act like a child. It's hard for people, because they can't see the thoughts running back and forth through your mind, non-stop, all day long. They can't feel the tug-of-war between that urge in your body that tells you must go on to The Next Thing and your often-futile efforts to will yourself to stay put and finish the task at hand. They don't see how hard you try to quiet your mind and listen to what someone is saying, only to end up unable to recall the important details.

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