The Signs of ADHD on My Highlight Reel

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I imagined I was sitting in back in a darkened classroom in 6th grade in the second row of desks, third seat from the front. The projector kept making the thwap-thwap-thwap sound as it continued to swing the film reel around an around at the end of the movie. As the lights came up, disorientation ensued as my eyes were slow to adjust to the overwhelming amount of light.

My vision cleared and I was sitting in my therapist’s office. It was still that day—the one when she first brought up ADHD to me. The highlight reel of my life that had had just concluded and I sat in shocked silence as the truth resonated within me.

I can’t really put into words all of what I have discovered about myself since learning of my ADHD as a 37 year old adult. But I will share with you what came across my highlight reel. I’m no diagnostician. Some of these may be unrelated to ADHD, but they all fit together as pieces of my puzzle.

  • I am awful at keeping up with homework
  • I am a sensory avoider
  • I drink Diet Coke like health nuts drink water
  • I am a heavy, habitual procrastinator
  • I can’t pick out a conversation in a crowd or amid other interfering sounds
  • I have a terrible short-term memory
  • But I’m great at trivia
  • At work I’ve been labeled as being inattentive in meetings
  • I struggle to initiate and maintain eye contact
  • I am drawn to screens and can immerse myself in their content for hours
  • I am prone to addiction
  • I have carried a fidget for nearly 15 years and bring it out in meetings
  • I get physically and mentally restless in meetings
  • I have low impulse control that frequently defies my own professed values
  • I can’t let go of collections and possessions
  • I have piles all around my home and office due to disorganization
  • I have been told that I talk too much and I do tend to ramble
  • When I was a youth, peers reminded me to shower
  • It is nearly impossible for me to read and retain information from text books
  • But I will read novels all day long
  • As a teacher I was horrible about grading and lesson planning while at the same time I could spend hours a day in the minutiae of running school chess clubs
  • I can’t keep track of time
  • I currently have over 80,000 unread emails
  • I have probably broken more promises than I’ve kept, because I forget them almost as soon as I’ve made them
  • I am horrible with names. I usually can’t remember them even for the duration of the conversation when I first heard them
  • I have a myriad of unfinished projects at home and and work
  • I played many instruments and took private lessons for years, but I could probably count on one hand the number of times I actually practiced at home
  • There is a mountain of mail that covers half of a counter top in my house
  • I miss deadlines when there is no apparent consequence attached. If there is no deadline, most projects simply don’t happen
  • I am on my 3rd job in as many years and I haven’t felt good at any of my jobs during my 15 year career
  • I am only motivated to complete non-preferred activities if there’s a severe consequence attached to not completing them
  • I nearly failed my first semester of college because I quit going to the classes that were uninteresting or hard. I only succeeded the second semester because, threatened with academic probation, I pared down my class-load, put myself on a strict schedule that accounted for every half hour of my day, and I stuck to it the entire term
  • I am a great idea-man. I can brainstorm and get projects started like nobody’s business. But I’m horrible at follow-through
  • My older brother was diagnosed with ADD (now ADHD-Inattentive) when we were kids. My younger brother, though undiagnosed, could be a poster-child for ADHD
  • I’m unnecessarily quick to anger, especially in scenarios where there’s no apparent consequence for displaying my anger, like at home.
  • I have a disproportionate emotional response to most things.
  • I am prone to fixation and lose myself in desired activities

And those are just the ones I recorded in my journal in those first couple of days after that visit with my therapist. I’ve discovered more since, but even that list feels completely overwhelming.

Reading it brings up so much anger, frustration, and grief.

I am angry that my older brother was diagnosed as a child and I was not. I am frustrated that so many struggles of my life can be tied back to this one root cause that was operating just under the surface. I feel grief over the last 30 years of my life and over what might have been had I been made aware of ADHD and received treatment back then.

But there is also relief, and comfort, and hope.

I am relieved to finally know that I am not just a lazy, flaky, uncommitted slacker—and all the other things that family, friends, and employers might have said or thought of me. I am comforted to finally know why I have felt like I had to put in extra effort to just reach “satisfactory” levels. And I have hope because in even the brief time I have known about my ADHD I have made substantial progress toward improving my life.

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ADHD has plagued my entire life unmolested. But now I know it’s there. Yeah, yeah—even G.I. Joe taught that knowing is only half the battle. But knowing what I’m facing and having a clear path forward has given me strength and courage enough to stand and shout my battle cry as I begin to take back my life.

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I have ADHD

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My fingers were strumming back and forth across the cushion of the faded blue and teal striped couch. It has that short ribbed texture to it that gives just enough feedback to be interesting. It was my third time sitting on the old couch, though “old” may be unfair. It certainly wasn’t new anymore. A few feet across the room from me sat my therapist. We were just wrapping up the Reader’s Digest version of my life, when seemingly out of the blue, she sat down the paperwork, looked up at me and asked:

Has anyone ever talked to you about ADHD?

Do you remember watching “The Sixth Sense”? At that moment I knew exactly how Bruce Willis was feeling as the plot twist was revealed and all of a sudden he had this series of flashbacks as the truth from the present shed light on his past and he realized that in scene after scene he had, in fact, been dead the whole time.

In that moment the highlight reel of my life played back through my head. Having finally been given the correct lens through which to view it, the greatest struggles of my life came into crystal clarity as I finally grasped what had been going on all this time.

It was (and still is) overwhelming.

I immediately knew that my therapist was correct. I knew it because everything else made sense around it. It was like I had been struggling to piece together a puzzle my entire life and someone just handed me the box with the picture on it. And right there, connecting everything, was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

I have been a teacher since 2006, during which time I have taught many students with ADHD. My older brother and my daughter both have ADHD. I am even the director for a behavior center where over half of the students have ADHD. But I still couldn’t see it in myself until someone else pointed it out.

How could I not have known?

My brother was diagnosed with ADD (now ADHD-Inattentive type) when he was in high school. I would have been in about 6th grade at the time. Of course now we know that ADHD runs in families. But back then I wasn’t tested. Thirty-some years later it only took my therapist about 2 hours to come to the conclusion that I had ADHD. But people I’d known my whole life (including me) had no idea.

I’m still struggling with this knowledge. In some ways, it’s been a relief. So many of my struggles now have a reason behind them. But untreated ADHD can really mess with you, especially when you don’t know it’s there. I’ve lost jobs. I’ve been told I don’t pay attention to serious matters. I forget a lot of things and break a lot of promises. I blow past deadlines. I labeled myself as lazy and sometimes incompetent. At best co-workers could probably have described me as flaky.

My journey is really still at its beginning, but I have already learned so much about ADHD that has helped me. I have connected with many good people with ADHD who like me, were diagnosed as adults. And also like me, they have faced many years of struggles, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and much more, simply for lack of knowing they had ADHD.

I’ve been back to that old couch several times since that day. I still fidget with the ribbed cushion. But now I know why I seek that sensation so much. And the regular conversations with my therapist are now centered on specific tools and supports designed to help folks like me with ADHD.

My life is all the better for every hour I spend on that couch. Whether or not you believe you have any potential diagnosis, if you are struggling with life I urge you to find a good therapist with a comfy couch. I promise you won’t regret it.

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My goal in starting this blog is to help raise awareness of ADHD and to help share resources and insights that I’ve gained along my short journey of discovering ADHD as an adult, so that hopefully others can find out what I did: that there’s a reason life seems harder than it should be, and also that there is help, treatment, and hope, all readily available.

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