During my psychology grad program back in 1995 I was stumbling around the internet and I found a web site with some psychological tests that could be used to test one’s self and see if any dysfunction was found. I had a few minutes, so I tried a short personality type test and found that it agreed with my previous results administered by a counselor in my program a year before. I was found to be “INTJ” personality type according to this scale which was a short version of the Myers-Briggs instrument for personality type.
Then I saw the “ADD” test for Attention Deficit Disorder. Hmm, I thought… my brother has ADD and to a severe degree. I never thought that I should get tested for it – but, let me take a look and see what kind of questions they ask.
As I sat there and looked at the questions, answering them in my head at first and then later, writing down every answer… I was mesmerized. These questions were describing a pattern of behavior that was E-X-A-C-T-L-Y me. I found it fascinating. I eagerly read each question and responded as truthfully as possible. I had no idea that ADD was this. Hmm…
When the test was finished and I totaled up my score I found that I had scored something like 77 points. Hmmm… Not bad, a “C” level I guess. I think nothing to worry about. Then I saw the “key” at the bottom of the screen. It said if you score 25 points or higher you may have ADD and you should be tested by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist… or some other mental health specialist.
Huh? 25? Wow, I tripled that. I sat there for a minute and re-tallied my score and re-read everything on the page about the test. Apparently I had taken it exactly the way it was intended to be taken. It took a few more minutes for reality to sink in to the squishy grey bulbous mass. I realized that having ADD probably for years and years, maybe over my whole lifetime explained a lot.
I went to a friend I know that was a mental health counselor. I asked her to give me the official test, whatever that was, for ADD as I wanted to make sure this was all true. She did, and the instrument showed I had a profound level of ADD or ADHD and that it was affecting nearly everything I did!
Wow. I knew that I wasn’t really like other people because I noticed that so many times I didn’t seem to fit in with the program. I get incredibly bored with common things quickly. I always seem to have a variety of things I’m thinking about at any one time. If you picture your mind as a dry-erase board where thoughts arise and go away… mine is full of every color of dry-erase marker. The white is nearly hidden because there is so much going on there, and more thoughts need to find a space to go. The mind starts to drag fingers across what was already written so it can write more. Yes, it’s that bad sometimes.
As I focus on something, some topic that I need to think about, for work or for school, I noticw that my attention span is in seconds. I was never able to concentrate much longer than ten seconds at a time on anything. To say this was debilitating is an understatement. Any paper I was taking notes on during class is filled with drawings, diagrams, jokes, ideas, and even pages for books I’ve yet to complete – none of it related to my lessons.
My whole life has been a whirlwind of events and activity (book coming soon). I’ve been on a rollercoaster of ADD for so long that I thought it was just normal. I thought it was just me. I thought that nobody could really concentrate for more than ten seconds at a time on any one thing. I thought that everybody got bored in a few seconds.
Anyway, this post isn’t about describing ADD and how my life has been affected by it. Suffice it to say that my life has been a direct expression of the ADD!
I wanted to write this post for a couple reasons, one being to show some of the signs of ADD and ask readers to at least take an online test to see if it might be an unseen problem in their own lives. The second reason I’m writing this blog post about ADD is so I could share with you some of the things that helped me with ADD and that might be able to help you too if you are suffering from it.
What is adult ADD/ADHD (with Hyperactivity) like?
In the book Driven To Distraction, Edward M. Hallowell described an experience of the “hyperactive” aspect of the ADHD disorder from a patient’s perspective:
…It’s like being super-charged all the time. You get one idea and you have to act on it, and then, what do you know, but you’ve got another idea before you’ve finished up with the first one, and so you go for that one, but of course a third idea intercepts the second, and you just have to follow that one, and pretty soon people are calling you disorganized and impulsive and all sorts of impolite words that miss the point completely. Because you’re trying really hard. It’s just that you have all these invisible vectors pulling you this way and that, which makes it really hard to stay on task.
Symptoms of Adult ADHD:
The Hallowell Center identifies the following indicators to consider when ADHD is suspected and recommends that individuals with at least twelve of the following behaviours since childhood— undergo professional testing:
- A sense of underachievement, of not meeting one’s goals (regardless of how much one has actually accomplished).
- Difficulty getting organized.
- Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started.
- Many projects going simultaneously; trouble with follow through.
- A tendency to say what comes to mind without necessarily considering the timing or appropriateness of the remark.
- A frequent search for high stimulation.
- An intolerance of boredom.
- Easy distractibility; trouble focusing attention, tendency to tune out or drift away in the middle of a page or conversation, often coupled with an inability to focus at times.
- Trouble in going through established channels and following “proper” procedure.
- Impatient; low tolerance of frustration.
- Impulsive, either verbally or in action, as an impulsive spending of money.
- Changing plans, enacting new schemes or career plans and the like; hot-tempered
- Physical or cognitive restlessness.
- A tendency toward addictive behaviour.
- Chronic problems with self-esteem.
- Inaccurate self-observation.
- Family history of AD/HD or manic depressive illness or depression or substance abuse or other disorders of impulse control or mood.
Here are My 6 Lifehacks for Managing ADD/ADHD:
1. Make lists and use post-its. There was a time after I found out I had ADD/ADHD that I was ‘list crazy’. Every morning I would wake up and write a list of what I needed to do for that day and what I wanted to do for that day, but that wasn’t essential. I followed that list every time I got distracted with something that became important in my mind because when my mind becomes focused on something – it’s very hard to get away from that. Focus comes rarely, but if it’s there – I never remember what else I had going on and I can lose hours doing something (sports usually) that takes time away from my other activities that I needed to do.
A person with ADD/ADHD has thoughts all day that pop into the head that require action. Unfortunately, a lot of times the action needs to be taken at a time in the future, and can’t be completed immediately as the thought comes. In order to keep up with all the thoughts in my head I had post-it notes of 4 different colors so I could write up a quick note and stick it to the pile of other post it notes of the same color.
I separated the notes by color to correspond with areas of my life… for instance: If I had a thought that I needed to study for my biology exam on Thursday instead of Wednesday I’d put that on a blue post it. Blue was for school. If I had realized that I had better run 8 miles slow instead of 4 miles fast because I hadn’t done enough LSD training (Long Slow Distance) I would put that on a pink post-it because pink was for activity/exercise/fun. And so on. I had post-its all over my computer, my wallet, in my pockets in my backpack, all through my books…
But, it made a difference since my level of stress went down a couple of notches because now – those thoughts weren’t just lost, as they would have been without the post-its. I HAD the thought written down, it was just finding it. Finding it on paper was much easier than bringing the thought back into my mind when I needed it. MUCH easier. So, post-it notes or some other list system might work for you.
2. Two words, Gingko Biloba. When I was studying for some of my graduate exams I used Gingko Biloba for a while and I experienced something I never had before… sustained concentration lasting for minutes… even up to an hour at a time. Not joking. This stuff is worked very well. I remember having to take it for a few days to build up a level in the system before it worked, but when I did so I found remarkable results. I couldn’t have been happier with the results. I’ve been away from the USA for a few years now, so I’m not sure what the health industry is saying about Gingko Biloba, but, if there are no real negative side effects I would strongly recommend someone with ADD/ADHD try this out as an alternative to Ritalin or other medications generally prescribed. Learn more about my Gingko Biloba experience here.
3. Take advantage of the time when you first wake up and you’re lying in bed awake, but relaxed. If you’re like me, even with ADD, this time when I first wake up in the morning is the time when my mind is nearly completely uncluttered with thoughts. I can think clearly for as long as I lay there, sometimes I do just that for an hour as it’s remarkable that the mind is in this quiet, anti-ADD state. I use this time to think about what best to focus on during the day and to resolve any problems that need looked at. I am amazed, and even to the point of being disturbed about the level of concentration that occurs during this time, it’s so unlike any state of the mind after I’m showered and running around during the day. Not sure it happens for everyone, but it’s worth a look.
4. Meditate! I meditated using a Vipassana type method where I just focused on the breath in and out and the feeling of it at the tip of my nostrils. After a while I found that the mind actually was able to stop during meditation. I had no movement at all. No thoughts existed. It was a cool state that I’m glad I found as it offered a lot of relief, whenever I sat I could either calm the mind or stop it. It’s a good feeling when feeling too frazzled or when the dry erase market board (mind) is overrun with 6 thought processes all trying to write on the board at the same time. The coolest tool I got from meditating is that anytime I choose I can stop what I’m doing and focus on a couple breaths – in, out, in out, in out, and the mind has calmed down remarkably from the state prior to watching the breath.
5. Exercise. For me there are a couple kinds of exercise. There is competitive and there is solo. As I get older I prefer the solo type because I’m able to think a little bit as I do it. I especially find that LSD running or bicycling works well for thinking for extended periods of time. The faster I go, the less I am able to concentrate on anything except the movement – the exercise. This is also a good break for the brain and something that should be enjoyed when you can.
6. Try hard to catch yourself doing 8 things at once and eliminate 7 of them. Today as I write this I’m typing, listening to some Radiohead and other mixed music… I have drawing paper to my left that I pulled out because I thought I’m going to get this urge to draw something for a cartoon project I’m working on. I have the internet going in the background, though I’m not using it. I just made coffee and I’m sipping it occasionally. I’ve got all those things going on while I write, and since I’m used to this – I’m OK writing under these conditions. If I find that I’m NOT able to concentrate on writing, I’d eliminate the other things so I could better focus.
Persons with ADD/ADHD just naturally add things to their personal environment that causes new stimulation and pulls their attention away from what they really need to accomplish. If you can catch yourself doing this and eliminate all those extra sources of stimulation, you’ll be able to concentrate on what matters more easily.
I’ve never gone to a psychiatrist to seek medication for my ADD/ADHD. I am anti-medication, preferring to find lifehacks that work in it’s place. I fear relying on medication since I made it to age 29 without even knowing I had ADD/ADHD. I didn’t go insane during all those years, so as long as it doesn’t get worse – I think I can manage without medication.
OK! I hope these six lifehacks help some of you with ADD/ADHD!
Best of Life!
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[Top image by English106 at Flickr]