Adult ADHD: What it feels like to have ‘Naughty Adult Syndrome’

A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with adult ADHD. It was a strange experience. I went into a room, had a chat with a bearded old man, and came out with a psychiatric disorder. So it was exactly what you’d expect from a trip to the shrink. Minus the leather couch.

A slightly less normal trip to the shrink
A (hopefully) less typical trip to the shrink… (Image from PsychCentral.com)

Publicly, I’ve responded with my usual take on British reserve. In other words, I’ve been excitedly telling everyone. Including more than a few strangers.

‘Nice to meet you – I’ve just been diagnosed with ‘naughty adult syndrome’ – what did you say your name was again?’

If that sounds glib, it’s deliberate. By openly poking fun, I’m trying to protect myself against a potentially hurtful response. If I make the joke first, and they respond in kind, I can convince myself it’s all part of the banter. It’s probably the same reason that I can often be heard calling myself ‘crazy’, ‘mental’, or ‘loopy!’

In private the diagnosis has triggered a lot more in the way of thought and self-reflection. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with frustration, distress, and embarrassment at some of my more antisocial habits. The fact that I shake like a dodgy washing machine whenever I’m expected to sit still. The fact I often interrupt people – mid flow – to blurt out an unrelated thought. I love ducks! And the fact I can’t queue. I mean, seriously. On more than one occasion, I’ve been known to barge past my colleagues because I just can’t keep watching them pour their tea so tortuously slowly. In Britain, this makes me the moral equivalent of an axe murderer.

Domestic Ducks
Some ducks (Image by Jonny Jet)

There are, of course, more serious challenges. At home, I have this unhelpful habit of wandering off without a passing thought to turning off things like ovens, hobs, and irons. In social situations, I’m renowned for my outrageously inappropriate remarks. They’re not deliberate, I just don’t seem to recognise social conventions in the same way as other people. In the workplace, I’m currently less effective than a chocolate teapot (at least you can eat a chocolate teapot!). As if it wasn’t hard enough holding down a job with depression, anxiety, and fatigue, I now find my brain wandering off every time I… Erm…? Oh, yes, ducks!

Realising that many of my problems are part of a recognised condition, and having a label to explain those frustrations, is both a relief and a revelation. I now know, for example, why a single cup of coffee can have me bouncing around like a famous anthropomorphised tiger. But if I thought I could use my new label as an excuse, I’d seriously underestimated the degree of scepticism and stigma.

ADHD Multitasking
‘I have this unhelpful habit of wandering off without a passing thought to turning off things like ovens, hobs, and irons’ (Image from adhd-app.com)

The first time I suggested my ADHD might be contributing to my low productivity, the response was telling:

‘ADHD? We all have problems concentrating. Have you tried making a list?’

It didn’t take me long to realise that I’d heard this sort of ‘advice’ more than a few times before:

‘Major depression? We all get sad. Have you tried baking?’

‘Chronic fatigue? We all get tired. Have you tried yoga?’

‘Anxiety disorder? We all get stressed. Have you tried camomile tea?’

Perhaps if I started each day by whisking a few eggs, doing a couple of stretches, and sipping some camomile tea then I’d be cured. But I doubt it. More likely, it’d just be enormous waste of eggs.

It still surprises me how often, and how eagerly, people like to volunteer their ‘solutions’ to my problems. Especially those with no experience of ADHD, depression, or indeed any mental health problem of any kind. In this vein, I’ve been thinking that I might start offering free piloting lessons. I’ve never actually flown a plane, but I’m pretty skilled at running around with my arms outstretched shouting ‘Nyyyrrrrr!’, which surely makes me more qualified than most armchair psychiatrists?

More realistically, I guess I should just learn to ignore most ‘advice’ when it comes in:

‘Thank you for your advice. Your recommendation will now be evaluated by a leading expert in my life and circumstances (ie me) before being considered for implementation. Please note: due to a high volume of unsolicited comments, all suggestions below an undefined quality threshold may be summarily dismissed without explanation’

The problem is this assumes I – myself – am capable of recognising the difference between what’s helpful and what isn’t. Which I’m not. There are a lot of myths about ADHD, many of which I’m only just beginning to unwrap. I suspect it’ll take a long time to understand what my new diagnosis really means for me. So, in the meantime…

‘Nice to meet you – I’ve just been diagnosed with ‘naughty adult syndrome’ – what did you say your name was again?’