I have a bit of a confession to make. I have ADHD.
Like many others, I used to think ADHD was over-diagnosed and just a label adults gave children to explain normal child behavior. Like, isn’t it normal for a little boy to be squirmy and active? And, aren’t our cell phones and 7 seconds video reels on social media contributing to everyone having a short attention span?
3 out of my 4 kids have ADHD. Seeing similarities between my kids’ struggles and my own, I actually went to the doctor to be tested about 2 years ago. Sure enough, I found out I have ADHD too. Because of my concussion in 2020 and all the other drama of the last couple years, I filed away my diagnosis into a little spot in my brain and proceeded to forget about it.
Until last month, when I happened upon a few videos about adults being diagnosed late in life with ADHD and I instantly related to what they were saying. I felt seen in those initial moments in a way that is hard to put into words. It has actually been life changing. Parts of myself that brought me so much shame, things about myself that made me feel like an imposter in my own “organized” life … everything about the way I am started to make more sense.
For those new to ADHD in adults, I found this list on WebMd (I don’t necessarily like this wording, but it’s not too terrible.):
- Being disorganized
- Poor sense of time
- Trouble knowing what to do first
- Not being able to multitask
- Feeling restless
- Putting off or not finishing projects
- Mood swings
- Getting easily stressed
- Finding it hard to listen when someone else is talking
- Struggling to remember things or follow directions
- Having so many thoughts that it’s hard to follow just one
A few items I’ll personally add:
- Out of sight, out of mind (literally)
- RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria)
- Dopamine deprived
- Hyperfocus (can get incredible things done in a short amount of time)
- Calm and focused in emergencies
- Develops creative solutions
- Intuitive and Discerning
- Empathetic and Caring
Verywell mind created this graphic, which may help if you have a hard time looking at lists:
Unlike many people who deal with ADHD, I actually am organized. I grew up in a very organized environment and learned to use organizing as a coping mechanism. Basically, I learned at a young age how to work around some of my natural tendencies. I do so much better in a calm and clean environment, so I’ve come up with so many systems to make it happen. Learning this about myself recently has already helped me begin to overcome the imposter syndrome that often tells me “who am I to tell other people how to manage their life? I’m a mess too.” Now, I see that I might be uniquely positioned to share with others how I manage to work around the mess in my head. I feel even more confident to help.
From the WebMd list above, the item that really speaks to me the most is “Having so many thoughts that it’s hard to follow just one.” Ummmm…. yeah. That’s why I write all my thoughts down in my planner, so that I can look through and pick one. When I just let the thoughts continually swirl through my brain, that’s when the mental chaos becomes hard to bear.
Though lots of videos I’ve seen make jokes about how ADHD people buy planners they never use, actually figuring out how to rely on my planner has been life-changing. This is why I never take it personally when friends or strangers don’t want to use my planner, because I really believe people have to find the exact right planner for them and how their brain works. Or at least learn how to use the planner of their choice in a way that helps them. I probably wouldn’t be able to use any other planner well, but I can use the one I created specifically for myself.
As I watch 3 of my children uniquely handle their ADHD, I can tell you for sure that people with ADHD are not lazy. They are some of the hardest working kids in the universe, they just aren’t always working on the thing that should be at the top of their priority list. But, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been working on cool and worthwhile things. But still, this is when we step in as parents and gently remind them what the top priority should be at the moment (aka: usually homework or going to bed or chores). But, as for me, I don’t have a mom that lives with me and guides me, so I have to figure out how to manage myself. As a child of the 80’s without helicopter parents, I started learning this early because I was always motivated to achieve. I used to use paper to track my to do list even back in middle school. Now I use my planner to keep me grounded and guide me. Still, some days I can’t fight it and so I organize the hall closet instead of writing that blog post on my to do list. Or I put all the focus into making a new recipe that wasn’t even on my to do list, completely ignoring everything I meant to do. Luckily for me, my current life situation offers me some flexibility. Lazy? Definitely not. Focus going to the place it’s needed most? Not always.
Even as I type all of this, I had to fight the impulse to stop at each point and over-explain. I want to feel understood. I think we all do. And I’m complicated … like my kids are, like we all are. I’m so much more than ADHD, but ADHD does explain how my brain works.
For instance, ADHD burnout is real! It’s no wonder that in the 11 years I’ve been blogging, there are several times I’ve taken months off without notice. Burnout is a big issue for those of us with ADHD. The blog post I wrote years ago about my experience with perfectionism also represents my struggle with ADHD.
Let’s go ahead and dispel a common myth: ADHD is not just being easily distracted. And actually, when we hyper-focus, we cannot be easily distracted. The brains of people with ADHD actually work differently than others. The more I study, the less I see ADHD as a curse, but just as a way to better understand myself and how I work.
Over here at the Johanson house, every time I learn a new tidbit, we discuss it. I’ve watched my teens with ADHD have so many a-ha moments. It’s been such a good journey so far and I can’t wait to keep learning more together.
Here’s a couple of our a-ha moments:
Body-doubling helps! Two of my teen girls sit next to each other while they do homework. (FYI – They are both in the top of their class, ADHD does not lessen intelligence). I’ve learned that their habit of working in parallel on their homework has been such a blessing for both of them, and “body doubling” is a known tactic in the ADHD community. They were doing this naturally and when I explained why their brains work better this way, it was a big a-ha moment for all of us.
Sleep is hard to come by when your brain won’t shut up at night. We learned that many people with ADHD have consistently running dialogues in their heads, while others have “silence” in their brain when they aren’t specifically thinking of something. This shocked both me and my husband about each other. He does not have a running dialogue and I definitely do. We now understand each other in a deeper way. When we were discussing this as a family, one of my non-ADHD kids asked “do you have a running dialogue at night when you try to sleep?” The 4 of us with ADHD quickly said “yes” in unison. This sums up why we have a bunch of insomniacs around this place!
These are just a few of the realizations we’ve come to around here. I never plan to use ADHD as an excuse for me or my kids, but I definitely appreciate understanding myself better and understanding my kids better. Knowledge is power! When you understand how something works, you can make a plan and manage. It’s the unknowns that are harder!
ADHD is not something wrong with someone, it’s just a description of how someone’s brain works. There are upsides and downsides to everything, even being “normal.”
And just like my brain, this blog post is not a concise definition of ADHD and wasn’t meant to be. It is a starting point. I like to be transparent because that’s where the truth lives and that’s how I find my community.