Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common, yet wildly misunderstood neurological condition that affects 15 million Americans. October has been named ADHD Awareness Month in hopes of dispelling some of the myths that frequently circulate.
Many who criticize ADHD as not being real often do so by comparing ADHD diagnosis rates in the U.S. to those in other countries. The problem here, however, is that the criteria for diagnosing mental disorders differ from one country to the next. For those who aren't affected by the disorder, it can come off as laziness or a lack of motivation, but that's not the truth at all.
If you love someone who has this condition, there are 15 things you need to know:
1. Everything is a distraction. Everything.
Having ADHD means getting distracted by every little thing. Email notifications, the sound of a car driving down the street, and itchy tags on clothing aren't just annoying, they demand our complete and immediate attention. We can focus on anything, but it might not always be the right thing. It's kind of like having 100 different tabs open on your browser, and all of them are making a sound.
2. This impulsivity can affect bigger aspects of our lives, too. If you tell a person with ADHD to follow their heart, they'll do exactly that. That's how we go through five different majors in college and announce life goals of living off the grid in Europe, or opening a Broadway-themed restaurant in Chicago. While most of our elaborate schemes never see the light of day, we allow ourselves the freedom to explore different routes until we find what we truly do want to do.
3. Our organization system is on the border of breaking down into complete chaos. People with ADHD have incredibly busy minds, and the way we choose to organize things typically reflects that. On a good day, we'll come up with this elaborate system involving planners, highlighters, and sticky notes, but it's often extreme overkill, and we generally don't remember to use it anyway.
4. Fidgeting is really peaceful.
Yes, we know it's very distracting to be near someone who is fidgeting incessantly. Considering we would be highly annoyed by being in the presence of such a person, we totally get it. The problem is, moving around is kind of what we do. There are even special fidget rings that allow people with ADHD to use up some of that energy while sitting still in a seat.
5. We're aware of how crazy we sound when talking about ADHD. "I couldn't focus on my test because I had a song stuck in my head and it was playing too loud." Sensory overload can be so much sometimes, we get overwhelmed by things that only exist in our own minds.
6. We will not sell you our Adderall. Aside from the fact that it's illegal, asking for pills that haven't been prescribed to you is part of what perpetuates the stigma against ADHD. You may feel like a superhero with it, but we actually need it to maintain a normal sense of productivity. Besides, if you knew what a big pain in the butt it was to get our prescription filled, you wouldn't even ask.
7. Nothing will ever be as glorious as hyperfocus.
While inattention typically rules our brains, there is a glorious thing called hyper-focus where there is nothing that can break our attention from what we're doing. Car alarm going off outside? Doesn't matter. Fifteen new Facebook notifications? Oh well, finally cleaning out this closet. Apocalyptic plague of locusts? Nothing's going to stop us from finishing what we're doing. While this does happen naturally on its own every now and again, medicine helps get us there a lot easier.
8. It's not just for kids. ADHD is often criticized for "putting a diagnosis on childhood" but that's really not the case. The disorder can last through adulthood, and many people who may have learned to deal with the disorder as best as they could as kids don't get diagnosed until after they're out of school.
9. Forgetfulness is our middle name. If we read an email or text message on our phones but can't respond right away, expect an answer three days later, if it ever comes. If there was an option to have your doctor's office remind you of upcoming appointments so frequently that it borders on stalking, we'd be all for it. Otherwise, just sending a postcard in the mail two weeks ahead of time is a good indicator that we're probably going to forget about the appointment until three hours after we were supposed to be there.
10. We spend a crazy amount of time looking for our keys, phone, or purse.
If it's not in its usual spot, there's no chance we'll ever find it. We'll spend hours looking for things in unusual places, like digging in the freezer for our phone. After giving up the search, we'll typically find it in our pockets.
11. We need help with the details sometimes. You know the feeling of going through a long math problem, and getting the entire thing wrong because you added something instead of subtracting it early on? That's kind of how it is with every aspect of our lives. Staying detail-oriented with ADHD is extremely difficult, and we may need an extra pair of eyes from time to time to make sure everything's good.
12. We get anxious. A lot. With a mind that is constantly buzzing, it's only natural that some of those thoughts can become worrisome. When a single negative thought comes to mind, it can easily spiral out of control into anxiety over dozens of different scenarios that probably won't ever come true.
13. We mean well, but we can be hard to be friends with sometimes.
No matter how much we love you, we can be terrible friends at times. There will definitely be conversations when our attention drifts away and we're totally not listening while you're talking. We'll forget about plans to hang out, and there's a chance we'll be late if we do show up. Please know that we feel completely awful about it.
14. We're passion-driven. With so many possibilities in front of us, rest assured that if we choose a path, it's something we really want to be doing. We don't waste our time with jobs, relationships, or hobbies that don't thrill us and keep our attention. For better or for worse, we're all in.
15. It's a real disorder, not something that that can be fixed "with self-control." There's a real difference between not wanting to do something unfun (like homework) sometimes and having a real neurological condition that makes it difficult to complete everyday tasks, like paying an electric bill on time or emptying a dishwasher completely without wandering away. We're trying our best, promise.
[Header image: iStockphoto]