When My Daughter Asked Her Future Self If She Was ‘Still Sad About Having ADHD’

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When my first-grader comes home from school, I always take out the work she brought home from school and we go over it together. It’s a part of our after-school routine before she starts her homework. I ask her questions about her assignments and she tells me what her favorite assignments were and why. One of the assignments she worked on was a time capsule for her to open in four years. She had to write a letter to her fifth-grade self, and when I read the words she wrote, my heart sank.

She wrote: “Are you still sad about having ADHD?”

letter handwritten by child
The letter Cristina’s daughter wrote to her fifth-grade self.

Heartbreaking, right? I took a breath and as calmly as I could asked her why she was sad about having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She answered, “Because it makes it hard for me to concentrate at school. I just want my ADHD to go away.”

Now some parents in this situation might say something to their child like, “If I could take your ADHD away, I would.” When my child was first diagnosed and I didn’t know much about ADHD, I might have said the same thing. Now that I understand much more about ADHD and how it can affect my child in a positive way, I said this to my daughter instead:

“Your ADHD is what makes you so incredibly unique, creative, smart and fun. ADHD is not a bad thing or something to be ashamed about. It can be like a hidden superpower that allows you to think outside the box and see the world in a fun way.”

I am not sugarcoating ADHD to make it seem like it’s all sunshine and rainbows. It most definitely has its thunderstorms and my daughter knows it. Living with ADHD can be hard for her at times, and as her mother, I see her face challenges on a daily basis. A lot of hard work and effort is put into her getting through everyday tasks. But would I take her ADHD away if I could? No, I wouldn’t. Although it is not who she is, ADHD is a part of what makes her my beautiful, intelligent, fun, silly girl.

What I would take away if I could, though, is this perspective of ADHD that comes out every now and then, which was the purpose of the talk I had with her. After my little pep talk, her demeanor changed and she breezed through her homework afterwards. I am sure we will have many more talks like that and I don’t mind at all. Children with ADHD can need frequent assurance, praise, recognition, support and love, and I know my fellow parents and I will always be their biggest cheerleaders, fans and advocates.

Follow this journey on My Little Villagers.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us the story around a note or card you saved because of its significance. Send a photo of the note or card as well. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Was Diagnosed With ADHD as an Adult

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Sorry. I really was interested the last time we spoke each other. I really tried to listen to what you were telling me. The thing is, I also participated in all the other conversations in the room, just not out loud.

I apologize. I didn’t realize I left you in the middle of our conversation and started a discussion with someone else. I was already speaking to her, wasn’t I?

Wait… that was in my head, not out loud.

Yes, it’s true. I completely ignored everything and everyone after I was so impolite to you and focused on yet another conversation, but the subject of that conversation fascinated me and I couldn’t let go. 

I still can’t and I’ve been losing sleep over it for days.

Diplomatic? Not my thing. Honest? Always! Lying through my teeth? I don’t like it and I can’t; you’ll see right through me.

Birthdays? Forget them all the time. Especially when Facebook reminds me!

I’m rambling on an on, aren’t I? I seem like I’m not listening. I really realize that. Still, I hear and understand everything you are telling me. It does help if I find the subject of what you are trying to tell me somewhat interesting. It becomes difficult if that’s not the case. Just be polite and listen? Everyone will see I’m faking it in a second.

I know people think men can’t multitask. I do. I simultaneously take care of dozens of projects and problems at the same time. I’ve made hundreds of different exhibitions in the last 20 years, and I remember every little detail from all of them, but what was your name again?

Yes, I go fast. Always. No matter how hard I try to find more balance in my life or ways to conserve my energy, I always end up rushing from one project to another. And I’m tired, so terribly tired.

Strange enough I can’t understand why it looks like everyone is taking the easy way while in fact it’s me who’s the one who’s out of pace.

Most of the time I don’t like myself, and I’m terrified that you feel the same. 

It won’t come to a surprise to you; I’m not doing well. Despite the fact that I’ve been asking too much of my self for years, the last five years were devastating.

You didn’t notice? I believe that. You have to be really close to me to break through my shield or see through my pokerface.

author giving presentation at work For a long time I was perfectly capable of managing the amount of pressure and stress I dropped on my own shoulders, but lately I can’t find ways to ease the overload of thoughts, feelings and emotions in my head — this overload, this uneasy and restless feeling I’ve had all my life — but by inserting a huge amount of energy in keeping the speed, I rushed through it and ignored it. 

At times I found myself too tired to walk, but instead of taking the time to recuperate I went even faster.

Being restless and so tired caused me to be even less concentrated, and anger and aggression surfaced. I ignored my family and friends. My private life and my work started to suffer.

When I finally realized I couldn’t keep living like this, I went to our family doctor and got referred to a psychology practice. After several sessions and research I got the same diagnoses as my son: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). From that moment on, I received help in dealing with the problems I’ve faced all these years.

The decision for starting medication with my son wasn’t something I took lightly, but after witnessing the results of this medication, it was less difficult starting myself. The first time I took my medication, it moved me to tears. I felt like I had been driving on The Autobahn at 110 miles per hour and then crossed the border to the Netherlands at 30 miles per hour.

I felt like walking through water. Never before have I felt so at ease. I could find some order in my thoughts and focus on the most important projects instead of dividing all my energy to 10 or 20 things at the same time (and therefore failing at about half of them). Problems out of my reach stayed where they belonged: out of my reach.

At the same time, I made changes at work; I could focus more on what I was good at without constant distraction. I started delegating work to the team. 

The combination of treatment, medication, changes at work and working hard to find a better way of life should result in exactly that: a better life!

Reading a book, walking with my dog, watching a movie with the kids, going out for dinner with my wife. I want it all more and I enjoy it all more.

I want to be more… me! And with the support of the people I love, I can. 

author hugging his loved one

Editor’s note: These answers are based on personal experience and shouldn’t be taken as professional advice. Talk to your doctor before starting on any medication or diet.

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18 People Explain What ADHD Feels Like

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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is much more than an inability to pay attention. For people with ADHD, the challenges associated with it can affect every aspect of their lives.

The Mighty teamed up with Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a nonprofit aimed at improving the lives of people affected by ADHD to ask people who have ADHD how they would describe their condition to someone unfamiliar with it.

This is what they had to say: 

1. “It’s like opening 100 tabs in your browser at once and trying to do something different in each one at the same time. Then someone walks up and wants to have a conversation.” — Jennifer Arnott

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2. “It’s like trying to listen to your favorite show with really bad noise disrupting the signal. All the while, loud children are screaming around you and throwing things.” –C hristine Ashley

3. “It’s like being a cat with 100 people with lazer pointers.” — Jamie Hynds

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4. “It’s like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ theme song… There’s so many random things happening at a fast speed.” — Junique Groenewald

5. “Picture a room with 1,000 TVs with each TV showing something different. Now try and concentrate on just one TV with out getting distracted.” — Damian DaViking Aird

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6. “Jack hammers. Lots of them in my brain. And a parade. With clowns and balloons and banners, and a marching band and strobe lights. When people talk to me it feels like someone is popping bubble wrap in my ears.” — Sophie Moir

7. “You know when you go into a room and completely forget why you went there in the first place? Its like that, but all day with everything you do. Or imagine throwing a bunch of different colored bouncy balls on a trampoline and trying to focus on one.” — Brie Braun

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8. “It’s like my mind is racing in the Daytona 500 and my body is a bumper car stuck in reverse.” — Flossie Mae Kay

9. “It’s a permanent tornado whirling around my thoughts. They are like books flying around in the wind and people outside only see a fraction of the storm inside.” —Theresia Waalderbos

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10. “It’s like a vortex of running thoughts, ideas, feelings and ‘aha’ moments. It’s difficult for some to understand but the moments of ‘Wow, that’s a great idea,’ make up for the years in my adolescence that kids and teachers got mad at me for my outbursts. I like the speed of my mind maps; it keeps things interesting.” — Caitlin Malley

11. “[It’s] like falling down a rabbit hole on your way to do something else every two minutes.” — Jen Dozer

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12. “It’s like an old train — slow to start, but a veritable force once going. It may pay heed so as to stop for passenger transfers (the details) along the route, but despite its inattention to the cities it passes, it’s focused on its goal.” — Jennifer Young

13. “My mind is in 100 different spots at once. Each of them seems equally important to get done and it seems like I have to get them done all at once. I bounce from one thing to another. My mind is in a fog that I can’t clear. A thousand thoughts race through my head all at once.” — Mike Moon

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14. “For me it is a constant struggle to remember — to remember what needs to be done next, what needs to come first, what I need to bring for an appointment, when an appointment is, what time I need to leave, what I have to make dinner with, when I need to pay a bill, and that’s just one day. I can have a dozen color coded sticky notes on the walls and a whole variety of alerts and reminders on my phone, but as soon as I look away the the thought has disappeared.” — Angelique Landy Borgmeyer

15. “It’s like being in a foreign country with no clock or calendar where no one speaks your language and you have to find your way around, go to work, go to school, go to the shops while finding a way to communicate with others when everyone around you is speaking loudly all at once in words you don’t understand.” — Niamh McSherry

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16. “It’s like there is a hamster wheel in my head. And the hamster runs fast.” — Maria Mikhail Volpe

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17. “It’s your eyes wanting to go 30 different ways to take in all the visual info while also thinking of what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, any shift in the environment, song lyrics that randomly pop up, the physical reactions of others, with every possibility racing through your mind every millisecond. Then it’s not being able to ever sit still, shaking yourself to sleep at night with energy, tapping anything (foot, hand, pen, etc.) and being constantly jittery and jumpy.” — Zoe Klumph

18. “It’s like driving around for hours and finally stopping to ask for directions and someone tells you that you’re not lost.” — Emily Jane

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If you have ADHD, how do you describe what it feels like to others? Let us know in the comments below. 

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19 Truths People With ADHD Wish Others Understood

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Everybody has experienced difficulty sitting still or paying attention; but, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is much more than this. For people with ADHD, these challenges can interfere with every aspect of their lives.

ADHD affects 11 percent of school-age children and symptoms continue into adulthood in more than three-quarters of cases, according to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a nonprofit aimed at improving the lives of people affected by ADHD.

The Mighty teamed up with CHADD to ask people who live with ADHD to share one thing they wish others could understand about the condition.

This is what they had to say:

1. “We are not lazy or stupid.” — Chad Snelson

 

2. “[There’s a] nonstop hamster wheel in our brains. My meds help, but I suffer from anxiety and insomnia as well. It can be brutal if you are a mom.” — Carrie Beckham Strub

3. “I have to tell people frequently, ‘My mind doesn’t work like that.’ It isn’t that I don’t want to pay attention; [it’s] simply that everything seems to demand my attention all at once. It makes it hard to balance my thoughts.” — Melina Hunter

 

4. “Be patient with me. Understand why I do the things I do. Don’t yell at me. Believe me, I don’t want to have ADHD.” — Joane E Richardson

5. “It’s more than lack of focus.” — Jennifer Lynn

 

6. “ADHD can affect every area of your life.” — Natasha McCulloch

7. “When I say, ‘I’m trying,’ I mean it. I’m not happy to be forgetful or impulsive or emotionally reactive. I’m doing everything in my power to control it. But I can’t always control it, so please, for the love of all that is good and holy, understand I am not doing any of it on purpose! All I want is to function well in the world, but it’s a struggle every day. It seems dismissive, but it’s so true: It’s not personal.” — Sarah Daily

 

8. “Some days I just can’t get it together for all of the different directions my brain wants to go in.” — Jennifer Arnott

 

9. “ADHD affects not only the people who have it, but also everyone who loves and lives with them.” — Gina Pera

10. “It’s a gift once you understand and accept it.” — Jeff Carlson

 

11. “It’s not that I’m purposely not listening; it’s just that I got distracted by my own thoughts or something random.” — Ashley Scroggy

12. “I don’t like to be talked down to like a child.” — Nina Reyes

 

13. “I want to be able to communicate with everybody. I want to be able to say what I’m thinking without forgetting the small details that actually make my point relevant. It’s hard to say what you mean when your brain makes connections internally, at a rapid pace. I feel like I just don’t make sense.” — Haley Ingalls

 

14. “I honestly overwork myself a lot because I can’t do one thing at a time, which wears me out.” — Sarah Reese

15. “ADHD is not a life choice or a joke. It’s real and it’s hard.” — Amber Griffith A

 

16. “You can’t learn not to have ADHD. Yes, there are tools to help, but at 43 it’s still hard to stay focused, even on medication, with people around me making noise. So when teachers tell my daughter at 9 she needs to learn how not to get distracted by people in her class I know they don’t have a clue.” — Kelly Bradley Allen

17. “It is utterly exhausting living with a gray fog swirling around my head.” — Caroline Pearsall

 

18. “I can’t control my attention span all the time. I am fighting tooth and nail to focus, but sometimes I just lose the fight. I am not doing this on purpose. I know it makes the lives of the people I love difficult and I can’t apologize enough for that. I am getting it treated, but that’s just it. I have to get it treated. I will welcome suggestions at all times, but I need to be the one to find the solution.” — Tony Lampo

19. “I’m doing the best I can.” — Kari Livingston

 

If you have ADHD, what’s one thing you wish others understood about your life? Let us know in the comments below.

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What My Child Taught Me About ADHD That My Ph.D. Didn't

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When I say what I do for a living, most people reply, “Huh?” I’m a rehabilitation neuropsychologist. I assess cognitive and emotional functioning in people who have had a brain injury, stroke or other neurological conditions. Then we develop a rehab plan, identifying strengths and developing strategies to compensate for any weaknesses. I love my work because even if two patients have the same diagnosis, there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution.

That’s why at work and at home, I always appreciated Dr. Spock’s classic advice to parents: “Trust yourself — you know more than you think you do.” After all, the brain has billions and billions of neurons, and no one can say exactly how they all work together. So when my daughter was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a young child, I thought, “No big deal — I got this.” I often work with people with ADHD, focusing especially on problems with executive functioning (EF). Those are the higher-level skills that your brain uses to know where to direct its attention, for planning, time management and keeping track of what’s going on. Medication can help with attention, but EF skills often need to be taught.

All was well and good, until my daughter was in middle school and forgetting to write down her homework, or writing it but forgetting to bring the right books home, forgetting to do the homework, and/or doing it but forgetting to turn it in, and her school was not implementing the structure that could lighten the EF load. One day, in a particularly low moment of frustration (along with a building panic at the thought that maybe she might not make it out of that grade, let alone high school), I said to her, in the most non-therapeutic tone possible, “How could you have forgotten your homework again?”

To which she replied, “Mom! I have ADHD!”

And she was right. Luckily, there was one person in the room who understood brain-behavior relationships, because the higher levels of my brain, drenched in a cascade of cortisol (the stress hormone), had apparently made an executive decision to go out for lunch, leaving the “primitive” part of the brain in charge. All the knowledge I routinely share with people at work, encouraging them to be understanding of ADHD symptoms rather than rage against them, went right out of my head, replaced by the fear that maybe I didn’t know what I was doing and if I didn’t get things under control soon, the doors to my daughter’s success in life would be slammed shut.

Hence, my question whose answer was obvious. But perhaps it wasn’t a total #ParentFail, because my daughter had somehow developed a better sense of herself at 13 than I had at her age (or let’s face it, at 30). She understood what she was dealing with and had learned to advocate for herself. So perhaps it’s time to propose a corollary to Dr. Spock’s adage: Trust what they know.

As in, trust that a pre-kindergartener with an inexplicable fondness for horses might know what she’s talking about when she draws this picture:

Child's drawing of person riding horse. It says "When I grow up, I want to be a horseback rider."

Let me explain. We are not a “horsey” family, but because my daughter was obsessed with horses, I signed her up for riding lessons, figuring she’d try it for a while and then her interest would fade. Not quite. Somehow, this child who seemed at risk of missing the entire 7th grade curriculum could focus for hours when she was riding and never forgot any of her gear (excuse me, her tack) when packing for lessons. And at school, she found wonderful teachers who encouraged her to write almost every essay and do every art project about horses (or so it seemed). Twelve years later, she is applying to colleges with equine studies programs — something I didn’t even know existed when I was having my middle-school meltdown.

So after years of education and experience in neurocognitive functioning, now I can add my two cents to the unending stream of advice for parents of children with disabilities. Maybe I should have known it once I had my doctorate, but it took a kid with a disorganized backpack and a clear mind to set me straight: Brains may be “neurotypical” or they may have all sorts of idiosyncrasies. Who knows exactly what each child’s path in life will be? But generally speaking, if you’re a good enough parent that you’re worrying about it, I believe your child will be fine. You can deal with any problems that arise. But first, take a deep breath. Sometimes you just have to trust that the kids will be all right — if you can avoid panicking, trust them to discover the things they’re good at and then basically stay out of their way. Especially if they’re on top of a thousand-pound horse.

girl riding a horse

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Realized What I Say Isn't Always What My Son With ADHD Hears

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It’s one of those days. A day seemingly like any other, where I wake and go through my normal routine of breakfast, packing lunches, yelling about getting socks on and to stop sitting on each other’s heads — a day where everything seems “normal” until it’s not.

My son asked me to come watch a video with him. He’s been talking about these videos all weekend and asking me to watch. I haven’t been paying attention but have managed to successfully nod and murmur at appropriate times while saying, “Not right now.” I had just said no again, was putting the dog in his kennel and thinking about my to-do list. I looked up to see him standing there. His hands were twisting around one another, his shoulders slumped. He looked at me, frowning. I didn’t understand what was happening and was about to give him grief for not getting his bag together and standing there
with no socks on, but there was something about the way he looked that stopped
me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“You just said you don’t care,” he says to me. My first response was to say quickly, “Oh no I didn’t,” and move on. Because I truly didn’t. My stomach clenched because I felt something coming, and I was nervous.

“Why are you standing there like that?” I asked, almost not wanting to hear the answer. He shook his head, pulled his eyes away from mine and went to put his socks on. Motherhood pushed me forward gently. I bent before him. “Why were you just standing there looking at me like that?” I asked, looking him in the eye, at his level, my hand on his knee. I felt it before I saw it, that gut-wrenching feeling as you watch someone you love deeply hurting. He crumpled. He wouldn’t meet my eyes, but I could see the tears in his. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. But I heard him, and it did matter. I didn’t know what “it” was, but it mattered.

“Please talk to me,” I said softly, still close to him.

“You just said you don’t care,” he said, working so hard to hold back tears. “I asked you to come watch the video and you said no and you don’t care.”

That was the realization. What I say is not always what he hears.

Heather's son at home
Heather’s son at home

My son is and always has been a very feeling boy. He is so in tune with my moods and emotions, he can tell when I have a migraine, when I’m tired, when I’m stressed and when I’m happy — all without me saying a word. He knows when my left eye droops, it’s a bad headache. He knows when I am pale that I am tired. He knows when I sigh deeply, I am stressed and thinking about something.

It hit me in that moment that my son might know me better than I know him.

This person sitting in front of me is someone I think know better than anyone. I know his voice, the way the right side of his hair curls up in the front when it gets too long. I know his sense of humor, his hobbies, his struggles. I know. So when it hits me that there is something I don’t know, I’m stunned.

I don’t know how my son sees his world. He has ADHD, and his world is so different than mine, we might as well be on different planets, speaking different languages. And I think at times, maybe we do speak different languages. Because my son is noisy, continually moving, forgetful, persistent to a fault, eager, excitable, messy and more. His days are filled with people around him telling him to stop. Stop talking, humming, doodling, moving. Stop to clean up his mess, do his homework and remember his socks. Stop asking questions, fidgeting – just stop. It gets tiresome even for me and I’m his mother. Others don’t have the tie to him that I have, that fierce Momma Bear feeling that comes out and wants to protect him from everything — all the hurt, pain and
judgment that comes at him daily because he’s a little different.

So when I realize that I have now become one of those people, someone who discounts him, who just wants him to be, well, not like him, it crushes me. When he gets into something, he gets into it with all of his being. The stuff he gets into is important to him, all-consuming at times, and because it is important to him, he wants to share that with the people he cares about. But because he ends up being so persistent, not knowing when to stop asking, not knowing when to take no for an answer, he ends up hurting. Because people get tired, tired of saying no, tired of him asking the same question different ways, hoping to get the answer he is looking for.

Our conversation makes me see that he is so used to hearing no, so used to be discounted, ignored and making people upset that he hears everything through a lens of negativity. My simple no translated into “I don’t care about your video. I don’t care about you.” My actions were telling him everything else was more important.

I could sit here and argue with him, explain why he is wrong, tell him that’s not what I said — but instead I say, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I do care. Right now we need to get ready for school, but how about we plan to watch the video tonight after dinner?” That’s all it took. He perked up and sat straighter and said, “You promise?” I nodded.

I do promise. I promise to keep kindness in mind. I promise to remember it only takes a second to hear someone and let them know they’ve been heard. This is vital for all relationships, but even more so for my son. I promise to work to change “no” to “not right now, but how about …” I can’t always say yes, and I won’t. But I can be gentler in how I reply. I can work to ensure my words accurately reflect my intent. I don’t always have to be interested in his stuff, but I can be interested in him.

I promise. I can listen. I care. It hurts how much I care.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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