- ADHD doesn’t always mean hyperactivity.
When we’re talking about a modern ADHD diagnosis, it’s also including what used to be a separate disorder called ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) which psychiatrists often used to specify the inattentive type of ADHD. Now that they’re recognized as a single condition, more women are being diagnosed much later in life like I was. Young girls typically aren’t diagnosed because of the way they present their symptoms--inattentive ADHD is not as disruptive or attention grabbing as the hyperactive type. Rather than not being able to sit still or keep quiet in class, girls with ADHD tend to daydream and zone out. It’s also important to remember that everyone presents differently regardless of gender, having symptoms from both types is common too.
- ADHD brains are physiologically different from a neurotypical brain.
ADHD brains lack two specific neurotransmitters (various chemicals that transmit information around the body) called dopamine and norepinephrine which causes people with ADHD to seek activities that release dopamine. Activities that might not release dopamine for them, like homework, household chores, or work that they aren’t interested in, are always left until the last minute, until they have no choice but to get them done: low dopamine-producing activities just aren’t compelling to the ADHD brain which leads them to be deprioritized. ADHD brains also don’t sort external stimuli and information in the same way that neurotypical brains do. When external information enters a neurotypical brain, it’s sifted and sorted into what information is useful to pay attention to and remember and what’s not. ADHD brains aren’t able to sort information in the same way which means they aren’t able to decide what to ignore and what to focus on. This also means that it’s easy for people with ADHD to be overstimulated and understimulated.
- Boredom can be physically painful for people with ADHD.
Interestingly enough since ADHD brains lack dopamine, that means when we aren’t able to stimulate our brains enough to make more it can actually cause pain. Dopamine has a lot of uses throughout the body, including pain processing and regulation. Since there’s a negative association with a lack of dopamine in our brains, people with ADHD are often drawn to behaviours that increase dopamine like eating and shopping.
Now that some of the basics are out of the way, I’d like to talk about my personal experiences with ADHD and how having ADHD makes me a good fit for a consulting career. After some self-reflection, I realized that learning was one strategy that I used to regulate my ADHD. Learning new and interesting things released dopamine for me and helped me be the lifelong-learner I am today. It’s also partially why I can’t stop picking up new hobbies and skills. Before I could read on my own I used to ask my parents to read me encyclopedia entries as bedtime stories and I asked to go to preschool at two and a half. Combined with the way my brain collects and stores information, having ADHD has made me a quick learner. Since my brain doesn’t sift through information in the same ways that a neurotypical brain does, I can pick up on patterns and make predictions based on those patterns much faster solely based on the sheer quantity of data my brain collects. It’s both a blessing and a curse, though I can collect and store a ton of data, it also means that I have a hard time focusing on what information is the most important. Since learning is a socially acceptable coping strategy, my ADHD went undiagnosed for the decade and a half I spent in the education system.
Once I graduated, I quickly realized how many normal things I couldn’t do because of ADHD. I had trouble maintaining a clean and organized apartment, I often forgot to eat and some days I couldn’t get out of bed because I was so tired and unable to focus on anything. After talking to my roommate about her ADHD diagnosis, I realized how much I related to her experiences and I started on my own journey of getting an ADHD diagnosis. Just six months later I received my unofficial diagnosis from my doctor (an official diagnosis is typically made by a psychiatrist, I’m still waiting for my appointment) along with a prescription for an ADHD medication to help manage my symptoms. In short, it’s been life changing. I’m finally able to keep my apartment clean and organized, I can focus regardless of what I’m working on and I don’t have trouble getting out of bed anymore. I don’t feel like I’m being pulled in nine different directions at once and my mind is finally quiet. My nearly life-long anxiety and depression have both disappeared and I’m becoming my happiest and calmest self.
Consulting has proved to work well with my ADHD in a variety of ways. It’s often fast paced with short deadlines to keep me focused on the project at hand. Specifically, in working at DevFacto, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects which adds just enough variation to my day to keep me engaged in my work. Since continuous learning is one of my coping strategies, consulting has given me lots of room to keep learning; every new project is an opportunity to learn and hone my craft. Working in a field like UX design has also worked really well with my ADHD. There’s just enough structure to keep me focused while also providing enough flexibility to let me think outside of the box and make use of my wide range of knowledge.
ADHD is all about managing time and focus, and part of how I do that is taking time at the start of every week to plan out my days and how long I have to work on each activity or project. For each day, I box out time to focus on a single task or project which helps give me an idea of what my utilization and project allocations are going to look like for the week. As I move through the week, I adjust the actual time I spend on each task. While I’m working, if I find myself losing focus or hitting a mental block I switch tasks and work on something else. I also take time every hour to get up and stretch or do a quick chore around my apartment for a quick mental reset. Keep an eye out for a future post that dives deeper into some more of my coping strategies!
Though ADHD has made some aspects of my life much more complicated, it’s also become my personal superpower. Having the ability to hyperfocus on a task means that I’m able to get it done in half the time of a neurotypical person with the same amount of detail and accuracy. I’ve also learned to leverage my need to continually learn to become ultra-multidisciplinary. The phrase “jack of all trades but master of none” springs to mind, for me it’s become “jack of all trades and pretty good at a few.” Coupled with ADHD’s enhanced pattern recognition, I’m able to recognize patterns across my varied knowledge bases to come up with creative solutions to problems. It’s been speculated that many famous artists and scientists had ADHD including DaVinci, Einstein, Picasso and Van Gogh. If having ADHD potentially includes me in that list I certainly wouldn’t complain.
About the author
Sara Richards is our Social Media Coordinator and Visual UI Designer based in Edmonton, Alberta. She has a background in industrial design and sociology and is a recent graduate from the University of Alberta. In her free time she loves to do film photography and snuggle with her cat, Lasagna. Sara is passionate about putting the fun in functional to design new and interesting things. Follow her on instagram!
About the artist
Elijah Cardinal-Whitford is a Freelance Illustrator working under the pseudonym Kumobleu. Based in Montreal, QC. You'll find him drawing inspiration from the everyday or pointing out every dog he sees while out and about.
For this piece, he writes "I placed my focus more on the daydream aspect, exploring with colours and movement in contrast to the monochromatic workspace. We may be stagnant but our mind wanders and creativity flows as we daydream."
In discussing many medical diagnoses, related to both physical and mental health, the gender binary seems to arbitrarily be enforced. It is important to note that when discussing medical terms, it is the biology of sex which is referred to and not the gender binary or gender identity. To quote a resource listed below, "Sex and gender are two different things. Sex is about a person's biology. It describes their chromosomal make-up, their hormones, and/or their anatomy. Gender, in contrast, describes a person's understanding of themselves as male, female, or another gender entirely." The medical community frequently does not devote enough time and research to determining the experiences of non-binary, genderfluid, transgender, and intersex people. In fact, much of medicine still struggles to devote equal research to biologically female experiences and this is true with ADHD. Therefore in this article where the words boy and man or girl and woman are used, it references the biology of sex which does affect many ADHD symptoms and diagnoses. It does not, however, refer to gender binary and identity. If something in this article speaks to you, we encourage you to use the listed resources to further research how ADHD may or may not affect you.
ADD in Women: Why Girls' ADHD Symptoms Are Not Diagnosed
"That Explains Everything!" Discovering My ADHD in Adulthood
What It Feels Like to Have ADHD — In Art!
Did Leonardo da Vinci have ADHD? -- ScienceDaily
Understanding the ADHD Mind: Neuroscience of Symptoms
The Intersection of ADHD and Gender Diversity - Psychotherapy, Counseling, Coaching Blog Post By Holly Miles
Sex and age differences in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms and diagnoses: Implications for DSM-V and ICD-11