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?’

Advertisements

25 thoughts on “Adult ADHD: What it feels like to have ‘Naughty Adult Syndrome’”

  1. Thanks for writing this, it’s easy to forget that ADHD is not just associated with children. Do you know if all children with a diagnosis continue to have the symptoms in adulthood?

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment 🙂 I think somewhere between a third and two thirds of children with ADHD continue to be affected in adulthood. I expect there are hence a lot of adults like me who suffer from the condition without any awareness.

  2. OMG! Hilarious. I can soooooooo relate. I haven’t been diagnosed yet, but I’m so going to demand a full on evaluation from my neurologist. I too suffer from depression and anxiety disorder. Just did an app test for ADHD because I so relate to it. My score was extremely high, and even though they say at the end to not consider it as a real diagnosis, they did highly suggest that I see a mental health professional ASAP. My brother always swore that I had it. My son has Asperger’s Syndrome and my hubby swears I do too. I can see why he thought that because Asperger’s is oftentimes misdiagnosed as ADHD because of the similarities.
    Anyhow, I loved what you said about pilot lessons. I work with an organization called YWAM and we have a tendency to say that we learn how to fly while were already in the sky.
    Loved this post. It made my day.
    🙂

    1. Thank you so much! If you think you might have ADHD, I strongly suggest getting tested. Even if the medication options are difficult for complex cases like me and you (with depression and anxiety), I found it very self-affirming. And there are behavioural and environmental adjustments that can be made. Let me know how it goes, and if you have any questions, I’ll help however I can! Good luck! 🙂

      1. Heyyyy, thanks. Yea, I’ve suspected it for years actually. However, I live in the North-east of Brazil (although I’m Canadian) and seems like my neurologist doesn’t take me too seriously. Next time I see him I’m going to insist on training. My ex-psychiatrist swore I had bipolar, despite all of the survey he gave me that came back negative.
        Hmmmmmm.
        Thanks again you.
        🙂

      2. The difference between bipolar with mixed episodes and unipolar with ADHD is actually quite tricky to tease apart. As far as I can tell, the key difference is bipolar episodes will be more cyclical (whereas ADHD symptoms are chronic), and bipolar brings periods where you need less sleep and have inflated self esteem. Otherwise, they may be very similar. If your ex-psychiatrist suspected bipolar, then unipolar with ADHD seems like a plausible alternative. Good luck! Xxx

  3. I don’t have adult ADHD but I do suffer dreadful anxiety, primarily in social scenarios (I don’t cope well with dealing with people) and the mental health stigma that is out there is unbelievable. The ‘helpful comments’ you list that people make are spot-on. The most annoying one I face is ‘oh you just need to breathe’. Even though I’m bordering on a panic attack, I’m well aware that I need to breathe, I do not forget the mechanics of inhaling and my panic is not stemming from an inability to do so, I am also not helped at all by a lack of understanding and an assumption that normal, physical breathing is ‘all’ I need to do to prevent an attack of a psychological problem that takes over my every thought. Bravo to you for rationally handling these types of people, I hope you continue to cope with your new diagnosis and thrive.

    1. I’m sorry to hear you suffer from such severe social anxiety – I have only had that occasionally but it is so debilitating! 😦 I laughed when I read your comment about being told to ‘try and breathe’ because I have been given the same advice when I’ve been panicking. If only the problem was just a lack of effort! I hope you are able to find some ways to cope, even if that’s just am empathetic friend who understands and can help support you during some of the more stressful situations. Thanks for your comment xxx

      1. Thank you very much, I’m currently working with a psychologist on building my confidence outside of my home, so I’m still hopeful this problem won’t hold me back forever (it’s owned several years of my life so far.) Best of luck to you too! x

  4. I loved this canny and insightful post. I have many in my family affected with various clinically diagnosed disorders. There is no pat advice that can take it all away our”fix” it, obviously. I just try to listen and make people laugh if possible…cry with them if it is not. I love that you are able to find humor in your situation! And I especially love that, all said and done, YOU are the one expert that needs convincing!

  5. Oh, you are spot on with the advice-givers. Maybe I could start offering air in a zippy bag. We all breathe, right?

    My husband’s the naughty adult, but I’m the one who will leave the oven (and maybe the occasional iron as well) on.

  6. OMG your post had me laughing and crying at the same time. I get so much unsolicited advice from people – but the worst has always been around medication. Everytime I open up about being on medication for depression or anxiety there is always this hippy-dippy response of “Oh, that stuff is poison, you should try yoga/chammomile/herbal supplement/destroying cars with a crowbar…” You get my drift. I get it, I get so much here (my psychiatrist is currently working on determining if I have ADHD or something else…mental health limbo, yay!). Actually, when reading your posts, I sometimes think our paths are so similar we are often walking along the same river (just at different intervals). Also ducks are awesome and adorable. There is always time to think about ducks. 🙂

    1. Yes, you’re right, the unsolicited advice does seem to peak in relation to medication! Close friends, family, even medical practitioners all seem to have uninvited opinions… I’ve lost count of the number of anecdotes I’ve heard about people who ‘forgot to take their meds and never looked back’. There’s so much stigma, it’s going to be a looong battle…

    2. And everyone “knows someone who has the same as you, and they just…” (exercise/meditate/swim/write/take extra vitamin “foo”) – My m-i-l is the worst for this with regard to my fibromyalgia.

      My son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was around 6 (he’s 20 now) & I have always recognised the same symptoms in myself but have either learned to work around them or been very very fortunate to have a spouse who manages where I forget. He’s my “remote backup”. As long as I tell him that I need to do something/have an appointment, he’ll make sure I remember. The social stuff has been less noticeable, I think, because my “social circle” are friends I met via the internet in the mid-90s and we only get together in person a few times a year which is manageable for me. I don’t tend to have too many friends outside of that grouping.

      When it comes to “well-meaning” family & friends, it’s easiest to smile & nod, then change the subject. Umpteen complaints of “we’re only trying to help” and “it’s because we love you” when they get told to stop doing it makes you feel like it’s your fault for getting fed up with the same useless “advice” rather than theirs for not thinking before regurgitating rubbish.

  7. Thanks for writing this. I was diagnosed with ADHD along with social anxiety disorder and some depression on top for good measure.

    Prior to my diagnosis I had been suffering from chronic pain. Every waking hour I was in pain. You could just poke my arm and I would hurt. In and out if Dr. offices, having various tests done, feeling like a crazy person. This went on for a few years with no answers. In and out if therapy for my depression that wouldn’t go away.

    Within just a few short weeks after being diagnoised and starting on some meds, about 80-85% of my pain went away. The diagnosing Dr. was baffled. But for the first time that I could remember I felt “normal” and I knew what my issues were. My stress levels dropped like they were thrown off a cliff. This was confirmed by my chiropractor and massage therapist when they asked what was going on because my muscle structure in my neck, back, shoulders, legs etc had completely changed. That I felt, literally, like a different person.

    Two years on and I still feel better than before then. Not to say I never have my problems. My life is littered in them, but in the words of G.I. JOE (the 80’s cartoon and not the horrid movies of recent) “knowing if half the battle” and because of that I can more times than not come up with exit strategy that doesn’t include a panic attack. Or me breaking shit out of frustration. Makes it a bit easier to be around me. Just ask my wife. No only if I could get the one therapist to understand that trying harder isn’t the answer.

    1. What a fascinating story! Thanks so much for sharing it… So happy to hear your diagnosis and treatment have brought you such relief! My psychiatrist believes a huge amount of my problems are related to my ADHD, and that once it’s controlled, my world should change. I don’t expect a light bulb, but I do feel I understand myself much more, and – like you say – that’s half the battle.

  8. LOL
    Thank you so much! The very same thing happened to me last friday and this is the first time i have genuinely laughed since 🙂
    I am a naughty adult… I may never get my shit together and I think I can be ok with that. Revelation #4678 since diagnosis.

Please feel free to add your thoughts! :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s