How I Passed As Neurotypical For So Long

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

The descriptors neurodiverse and neurotypical were two of the first words I encountered when I connected with the ADHD community on Twitter. If you’re not familiar with them, a couple of down-and-dirty definitions you can work from are these:

Neurotypical: describes those who have a brain that works in a typical manner.

Neurodiverse: describes those who have a brain that works differently.

Like I said, down-and-dirty. The biggest, tallest part of the bell curve is full of folks with typically-developed and typically-functioning brains. Most expectations you encounter in life, whether they be at home, school, work, recreation, etc., most of the expectations are set up with the neurotypical average in mind.

Learning those terms helped me tremendously, as they put in perspective what I was facing. My whole life I had operated under an incorrect assumption—that I was neurotypical. Given that assumption, when I failed to meet expectations I simply blamed myself. Learning that I was neurodivergent—that my brain actually works differently than others’ do—was life-changing.

When the idea of having ADHD was first brought up to me, my mind rushed back in time and immediately began identifying all of the signs I had missed along the way, and ADHD had run rampant through all parts of my life, for as long as I can remember. At that point my biggest questions were how anyone looking at me couldn’t have known and how could I have not known about my ADHD? These questions ultimately led me to the the underlying question for this post.

Covering ADHD symptoms

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was 37 years old. At that time I found clear evidence of ADHD in my life going back as far as I can remember. So what gives? I’ve already addressed why I didn’t get diagnosed as a child, so today my focus is on my adult behaviors. I had developed many strategies, coping skills, and masking behaviors which effectively covered many of my ADHD symptoms and thus made it possible for me to hide in plain sight in the neurotypical world.

Pina created a comic that really resonated with me on this subject. Seen below you’ll see how anxiety can effectively lead one to mask many aspects of ADHD. Many of her shown examples are true for me as well. The thing with masks is they’re not real. They give the appearance of wellness, but they are simply covering the internal struggle.

So how did I pass as neurotypical for so long?

First, I have a lot of strengths that the neurotypical world loves.

  • Being creative
  • Starting projects I’m excited about
  • Problem-solving
  • Performance
  • Talking the talk
  • Pulling off great work under pressure
  • Helping others
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills

These help me to navigate most tough situations. When my feet are put to the fire and I’m up against a deadline (which I probably procrastinated) or a major consequence, I am doing my very best work. I am excellent at job interviews because it’s a performance. To me an audience acts like a deadline and flips that switch of unimportant/disengaged and all of a sudden I care immensely and can hyperfocus in that moment. I rock interviews.

But I also have a lot of weaknesses and/or ADHD symptoms that I have learned to cover, mask, or otherwise support or accommodate so that they are not obvious to the casual observer. Here are some of the things I have done to mask ADHD symptoms. Mind you, I was doing all of these things before I knew I had ADHD. They developed naturally as I tried to make up for or hide my shortcomings (as measured by neurotypical standards).

Things I was doing that masked or hid symptoms:

  • I was drinking 5+ cans of Diet Coke per day. Only after I learned about how stimulants interact with the ADHD brain did I realize this was actually a rudimentary form of self-medication.
  • I have carried the same fidget in my pocket for over 14 years. I have always used it when meetings get too long.
  • I rely heavily on Google Calendar to know where I’m supposed to be all the time.
  • I have taken mental health days regularly throughout my career, particularly when facing high anxiety or intense stress
  • I have used home as an outlet for negative emotions and behaviors that I simply cannot show at work without major consequences.
  • I am hyper aware of things like my phone and keys because I am prone to losing them. It’s almost an obsession to not let them out of my site or their places.
  • I take notes during meetings to help me listen to what’s being said.
  • When all else has failed, have flat-out lied to cover up symptoms.

So what does this mean for me now?

I know now that my brain works differently from neurotypical brains. So I can let go of the notion that I need to meet every single standard in the neurotypical world. Sure, there will always be some I can’t get away from or can’t make accommodations for. But I’m better about picking my battles now. I forgive myself more easily. I don’t simply get down on myself for being lazy or incompetent. I get to set my own bar.

I reach out to other ADHDers to gauge how they might respond to situations I’m in. I helped create an online ADHD support group largely for that purpose—so that when I’m not sure if the thing I’m facing is an “ADHD thing” I can quickly find out. Learning more about ADHD and connecting with others who have it has continued to be a critical part of my personal development. I also seek treatment for my ADHD through medication and therapy. By combining reasonable expectations with effective plans and meaningful supports, I find it easier than ever to navigate the neurotypical world.

~~~

Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms:

ADHD Voices: CG

Photo courtesy of CG

I grew up in a suburban town in the 80s and 90s, when ADD and Ritalin were only for rambunctious boys who couldn’t sit still. Not for smart, talented girls with quickfire brains who were destined to go places, who were lost in thought all the time and who couldn’t seem to not make silly mistakes on tests or ever clean their rooms or make any real friends, but that’s not a problem, right? If she’d just try harder it’d all be fine, right?

My undiagnosed ADHD was a problem all along, even if the adults in my life either didn’t see it or were in denial that it was anything other than my own poor self-discipline. It became a major problem when I went off to college and found things like going to class and starting homework to be absurdly difficult. I could barely manage Cs in most of my classes.

Mounting problems

I’d always had problems with this sort of thing, but nobody else I knew seemed to have these difficulties, and I didn’t understand why. But I hadn’t felt particularly attached to my major, so I transferred to another school closer to home and tried computer science. I had the same issues there, so I moved 500 miles away to be with my internet boyfriend and got a job. As it turned out I wasn’t any better at making myself go to work, pay bills, or even maintain basic self-hygiene. Plus the boyfriend was awful. 

After I had a nervous breakdown, my dad told me that if I moved back home and tried college again, he’d pay for an apartment for me, so I did. I went to class for maybe a week before I fell into a deep months-long depression that scared my dad so much that he forced me to go to therapy and get on antidepressants.

This was around the time when all the kids I went to high school with were in their senior year of college and preparing to graduate. But I felt like I had missed some sort of “how to be an adult” class somewhere along the way. What I couldn’t understand was that if I was so smart and talented like everyone had always said, how was it that I was the one who floundered around, getting nasty voicemails from temp agencies I’d ghosted and avoiding opening the yellow bills I received in the mail? It must’ve just been that I was a lazy failure, right?

The antidepressants lifted my mood, and pretty soon I met my future wife (though at the time I thought she was my husband). We had a whirlwind romance and were married within 18 months. She and I were the best of friends but she was (understandably) very frustrated about being married to someone who couldn’t remember to do chores or pay bills. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t just do things, and I continued to hate myself because I didn’t understand why either. 

The argument that changed everything

We eventually bought a house and later had a son who is fantastic. A few years into that part of life, my wife and I were arguing about how she’d never heard of anyone other than me who didn’t want to go on walks because they were boring.

In frustration I Googled, trying to find a defense, and found a forum where someone asked about this exact issue and a commenter responded, “Have you looked into ADHD?” I scoffed, but looked up the symptoms for ADHD, fully expecting to immediately rule them out. To my shock, I realized I matched nearly all the symptoms for ADHD-Primarily Inattentive. The next week, I told my therapist, “I think I might have ADHD!” and she responded, “I was starting to think that too.”

I went to my doctor, who after some discussion prescribed me a small dose of plain old Adderall, and I was astounded at the difference it made. Doing boring stuff wasn’t easy per se, but it was much easier for me to at least get started. I was much more mentally present at work and in conversations, and my wife said for the first time she could actually talk to me and feel like I was truly listening. And the weight of “lazy failure” finally started to lift, because I no longer had to view these things as a personality defect or a moral failing; it was a treatable mental health condition.

It has not all been smooth sailing since then. We got laid off from our jobs at almost the same time. Our house got foreclosed on because I forgot to pay the bill, a lot. I estranged myself from my entire biological family over a period of ten years, for reasons that could get an entire blog of their own. We moved to a new city in a new state. The first doctor I found shooed me away as a drug-seeker and it took me 3 years to remember to find a new one, which coincided with (for non-ADHD reasons) an extremely rough patch in my marriage. Eventually my wife came out as a woman, which prompted a lot of thinking on my part, and as it turned out I was nonbinary.

And I think I’m actually ADHD-Combined Type—I just at some point smushed all the hyperactive parts deep into my brain, or into small subtle body movements, so that they wouldn’t pop out and annoy everyone. But knowing I have ADHD has given me explanations for so much of my history, and I’d encourage anyone reading this who feels the way I felt to give the symptom list a glance. It might change your life. 

~~~

CG can be found as @boundariesmfer on Twitter

~~~

ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @ gmail.com

~~~

Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms:

Book Review: Healing ADD

I read Dr. Daniel Amen’s “Healing ADD,” the 2013 revision of his 2001 book. Full disclosure, I actually listened to the unabridged audiobook. This was the first book that I read by recommendation after finding out about my own ADHD.

What stands out about this book?

Dr. Amen, through the use of SPECT scan technology, has identified seven distinct types of ADD. As a side note, he uses “ADD” where most experts I have read have transitioned to using “ADHD.” For this post, I will mirror the language from his book.

First, Dr. Amen shares the core symptoms for all types of ADD as: short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, procrastination, and poor internal supervision. Then he splits out from there, distinguishing the 7 types of ADD based on symptoms and SPECT scans.

Not familiar with seven types of ADD? Here’s a preview:

  1. Classic ADD – Inattentive, distractible, disorganized, hyperactive, restless, and impulsive.
  2. Inattentive ADD – Easily distracted with low attention span, but not hyperactive. Instead, often appears sluggish or apathetic.
  3. Overfocused ADD – Excessive worrying, argumentative, and compulsive; often gets locked in a spiral of negative thoughts.
  4. Temporal Lobe ADD – Quick temper and rage, periods of panic and fear, mildly paranoid.
  5. Limbic ADD – Moodiness, low energy. Socially isolated, chronic low-grade depression, frequent feelings of hopelessness.
  6. Ring of Fire ADD – Angry, aggressive, sensitive to noise, light, clothes, and touch; often inflexible, experiencing periods of mean, unpredictable behavior and grandiose thinking.
  7. Anxious ADD – Anxious, tense, nervous, predicts the worst, gets anxious with timed tests, social anxiety, and often has physical stress symptoms, such as headaches and gastrointestinal symptoms; conflict avoidant.

Curious about which of the 7 types of ADD might pertain to you? If you’re not up for a SPECT scan at the moment, you can take this brief online questionnaire directly from Amen Clinics: https://addtypetest.com/

What makes this book useful?

Though I haven’t heard other experts speaking of ADD or ADHD divided into 7 subtypes, Dr. Amen has been very thorough in his research. The benefit you derive from that is that he has very specific recommendations for each type of ADD that he has identified. The beginning of the book is dedicated to sharing the core ADD symptoms and then helping you to identify which subtype or subtypes are impacting you.

Having that knowledge in hand, you can use this book to follow Dr. Amen’s recommended treatment course of medication, supplements, diet, and neurofeedback, with a specific plan for each subtype in each of these areas. So if, for example, you’ve got type 2, Inattentive ADD, you can use the book to find the exact treatment recommendations for you, including medication, supplements, diet, etc.

Beyond this, the last section of the book is full of tips that are useful for those with ADD, and people who work with those with ADD. The chapters dedicated to parents and teachers I found very helpful. I only wish my parents and teachers had had access to them when I was a child.

Some tips Dr. Amen has for treatment of all types of ADD:

  • Take a 100 percent multivitamin daily
  • Take 2000-6000mg of Fish Oil daily
  • Eliminate caffeine and nicotine
  • Exercise for 30-45 minutes daily
  • Limit screen time to 30 minutes per day
  • Do not yell at a person with ADD, it will only make matters worse
  • Test ADD kids and adults for learning disabilities
  • Never give up seeking help

What didn’t work for me

While most of the book was very useful, it was pretty clear that the recommendations given for the 7 types of ADD are contingent on you knowing which type you have. And although he does share the online questionnaire that you can take, nothing replaces the SPECT scan technology that he references throughout the book. In some ways, the book felt like a 400 page commercial for SPECT. I don’t want to discount the help it gave me, but to get the most value from the book, it’s clear that getting one is needed.

Final verdict

I actually found the book very useful. At the start of each chapter based on an ADD type he shared stories from real patients and their families. This made it easier for me to relate to what I was listening to. If I were listening again, I would use the book as a reference rather than a cover-to-cover read, targeting those areas of the book specific to my subtype(s). I haven’t gotten a SPECT scan, but reading the various sections of the book and taking the questionnaire gave me enough to feel like I was getting some very helpful targeted advice.

🧠🧠🧠🧠 4/5 Brains – Great Read

~~~

If you are interested in purchasing Healing ADD, you can do so here on Amazon. And for further reading on Dr. Amen’s approach, you can visit his website at AmenClinics.com.

I am not paid or sponsored in any way through this post or the links I share. They are provided solely for the benefit of my readers.

~~~

Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms: