Learning to Live With ADHD
I have "suffered" from depression and ADHD since I was a child. (I hate that term "suffered," but what are you going to say - I "enjoyed" depression and ADHD?). The depression made much of my childhood through early adulthood just plain miserable, and my ADHD contributed its share of frustration. I remember putting my head down on my desk and crying when I was younger during tests. I just found it so hard to concentrate and pull the information out of my head.
My depression was finally diagnosed and successfully treated at age 27, but my ADHD remained undiagnosed until my late thirties. I was talking to my therapist about being somewhat frustrated about my short attention span, and the other annoying symptoms. I think I referred to myself as a "space cadet." When she offered, "Maybe you have ADHD, " I was completely taken aback. Although I knew what ADHD was, it had never occurred to me that it might apply to me. But I didn’t dismiss her observation. Instead I read up on adult ADHD and had the psycho-pharmacologist who was treating my depression test me for it. Bingo.
My reaction to being diagnosed with ADHD was similar to my reaction to my depression diagnosis. In both cases I felt relieved, but for different reasons. My depression diagnosis brought me relief because I knew that it could be treated and I could climb up out of that hell. My ADHD diagnosis brought me the same reaction, but because it helped me to understand myself better. I’m one of those people who likes to have a reason for everything. I was relieved that there was a concrete reason for these aspects of my personality that had mystified me for so long.
My attitude towards my ADHD is very different than my attitude towards my depression. I can find positive things to say about having ADHD, but I can’t find anything positive to say about depression. To me, depression serves no useful purpose, and I would be very happy if it had never been a part of my life.
Of course, I’m not saying that having ADHD has been a bed of roses. It definitely made school more frustrating when I was younger, for instance. But over the years I learned to adapt and developed coping strategies. Once I recognized that I didn’t do well on tests, I put more time into studying and gave myself a longer period of time in which to study. For instance, I recently took a class to learn how to be a notary public. At the end of the class we would have the actual state exam. Instead of relying on learning everything I needed to know in the class, I downloaded the California notary public manual a month ahead of time and studied in small chunks of time whenever I could. Because I used this method that works well for accommodating my ADHD, I got a 93 on the exam (woo-hoo).
And ADHD has made me a great multi-tasker. I think I actually work better when I’m doing two things at once, or at least when I’m trying to keep track of more than one thing at a time. The psycho-pharmacologist who formally diagnosed my ADHD told me that he had a patient with ADHD who was a lawyer. This attorney made a point of not taking his ADHD medication when he was in court. He felt that his ADHD helped him in simultaneously keeping track of what was going on with the judge, the jury and the opposing counsel.
When he’s preparing briefs, he generally does take his ADHD medication to help him concentrate, which is basically how I handle my ADHD. I have medication that helps me to concentrate, but I only use it when I’m working on something that is particularly difficult or when I’m working in a situation with a lot of distractions.
Like I said, having ADHD is not necessarily a blessing, but I definitely view my depression and my ADHD differently. My depression is a disease to be managed; something that has been inflicted on me, much like my Multiple Sclerosis. I honestly can’t say whether I would have been better off or not if I hadn’t had ADHD. It’s such an ingrained part of my personality. But there’s no question that at worst I have learned to adapt my life to it, and at best, it has been a benefit to me in certain ways.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.