How did I survive 53 years of undiagnosed ADHD? I definitely didn’t survive unscathed. One of my saving graces was that I had a ferocious appetite for books. The structured classroom environment, with the teacher lecturing for a week, homework, and then the dreaded test never worked for me. Much of the time my brain translated the lectures into the voices of the parents from Charlie Brown.
I did learn to draw however. I got great grades in Art, Music, and Creative Writing. Had this been an art school, I would graduated with honors. This was public school, however, and that meant preparing students for “real” jobs.
Most of my early education was in the 1970s. I had never heard of ADHD and I'm pretty sure neither did any of my teachers. Instead of being screened for ADHD, my symptoms/traits were taken as lack of interest or in some cases, outright rebellion. Eventually, boy did I rebel. I realized early on, that if I was going to make anything of myself, it wasn’t going to be on their terms. Maybe some people can pull off the whole quote “me against the world” thing without the negative baggage that usually accompanies that attitude. I started to take on a boat load of that baggage. Anger, low self-esteem, drug abuse, anxiety, and the list goes on and on. Welcome to the world of co-morbidity with undiagnosed ADHD.
My parents confessed to me once that they did not expect me to live past 20 due to my drug abuse and reckless behaviour. I basically was experimenting with anything and everything and probably should’ve died a few times over. Deep down I was losing the battle for my self-worth. The way I saw it, the educational system was the antagonist. It was the end of the second act, and I was getting my butt kicked.
But all was not lost. Without knowing it, I had been learning coping skills for my ADHD. Some of them were mere bandages, while others proved to be useful, and I still use them today. It was a very hit and miss process and it took years to pull myself off the floor.
In my early 20s I met the woman who I would marry, and start a family with. Shortly before we married, I went cold turkey from all drugs and alcohol. I never went back. Amazing what love and prayer can do. I didn’t even drink so much as a beer for a couple decades. Now I can enjoy an occasional beer (one of the seven wonders of the world) without ending up binging until I pass out, or doing something incredibly stupid.
I went from working in minimum wage jobs for decades to making a six figure income (although that didn't last). I now love furthering my education and constantly take courses in all kinds of subjects from art to quantum physics.
Now 56, I have five children and three grandchildren. I was only diagnosed a few years ago and believe the best part of my life is just beginning. So, although not unscathed, I did survive. Not just survived, but thrived. I took the hard road, but you don't have to. Get diagnosed now and save a few decades of struggling.
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There are an estimated eight to ten million people who are unaware they have ADHD. I don't know about you, but for myself, that is simply unacceptable. Imagine for a moment that all these people were concentrated into one city such as New York which has roughly that population. If you could be a fly on the wall, what kind of scenarios do you imagine you would see in the homes, schools, and the workplaces there?
Now, put on your social worker hat. What kinds of problems with relationships are going on in this hypothetical city? What is the divorce rate? Is crime out of control? Are the jails and prisons bursting at the seams? Up to 45% of inmates have ADHD. How badly is the mental health infrastructure strained?
Let's take a stroll down Wall Street. What kind of financial and economic ruin would you see? How much more poverty and hopelessness would there be? What would be the effect on the economy?
Sadly, this scenario is real. The only difference is the undiagnosed ADHD population is spread out rather than concentrated in one city. They go unnoticed, or worse, misunderstood. The destruction all around them is tangible. The good news is: ADHD once diagnosed can be effectively managed, reducing its negative impact significantly then the positive traits can finally shine. Now what does our hypothetical city look like?
Whether you have ADHD, know someone with it, or are a healthcare professional dealing with ADHD patients, we all want to reach out and help these people who don't know what they are fighting yet. To do that we need to refocus on the basics... instead of adding to the confusion that is already out there. I think we can all agree that our first priority should be helping the 10 million to recognize they have ADHD so they can get help.
Please join me as I talk with Jeff Copper on Attention Talk Radio about how having a stroke changed the way I deal with ADHD.
The show aired on Wednesday, Aug 12th at 8pm Eastern. You can watch the archived show above.
Do you suspect you may have ADHD? The following is a list of common symptoms of ADHD. This list is only some of the traits of ADHD / ADD and can vary greatly:
1. Distractibility: Are you easily distracted and lose your focus when performing a task or in a conversation?
2. Disorganized: Do you have a hard time organizing your desk, bills , schedule or anything else?
3. Restlessness: Do you often have a hard time sitting through a meeting or class? Are you constantly moving your leg or playing with a pencil? Or is your mind racing with thoughts continually?
4. Procrastination: Is it difficult to begin a task, or do you start multiple tasks but never finish them?
5. Chronic Tardiness: Are you often late for work, school, or meetings? Do you wait until the last minute to get out the door, only to find you forgot something and now will be late?
6. Impulsivity: Do you take unnecessary risks with finances or when driving? Do you blurt out inappropriate comments. Do you crave excitement?
7. Excessive Talking: Do you continue to pour out your thoughts even when the person you are talking to seems uninterested in the topic(s)? Do you cut them off when they speak or finish their sentences?
Don't panic, having these traits doesn't necessarily mean you have ADHD. It is when these traits significantly interfere in your quality of life, jobs, and relationships that you should seek help from a professional. The good news is that many people completely turn their lives around once they are diagnosed and receive treatment.