When I was very young, I was obsessed with painting. I painted on rocks, paper, cardboard boxes-anything I could get my hands on. If the events of a day disallowed painting, frustration would ensue. An easily bored and distracted child, I could forget about time when I painted. Although I didn't understand it at the time, I was exhibiting signs of ADHD that have only recently been uncovered through my time in Clinical Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
I have been reluctant to claim the diagnosis as my own, because there is a negative stigma associated with ADHD that honestly makes me uncomfortable. First and foremost, ADHD isn't taken seriously. People who find themselves in moments of forgetfulness or distractibility joke about struggling with ADHD. Most of us are genuinely distracted in a modern world that was built to offset even the slightest degree of boredom, but ADHD is more than mere distractibility. It looks different on everyone, but classic signs include: an inability to sit still, talking incessantly, recklessness, hyperactivity, and difficultly concentrating on repetitive or mundane tasks.
Estimates vary, but up to 5 percent of U.S. adults may have ADHD, or about 11 million people. What’s more, about 50 percent of them also have some form of anxiety. ADHD is likely caused by structural, chemical, and connectivity differences in the brain resulting from genetics and environmental triggers.
Dr. William Dodson writes, "Children with ADHD are often able to concentrate on activities they enjoy. But no matter how hard they try, they have trouble maintaining focus when the task at hand is boring or repetitive." This isn't just boredom, but a frustrating inability to concentrate.
For example, I studied math and chemistry for hours, simply because I couldn't for the life of me concentrate on the confounding numbers and symbols. The problem was not that I couldn't complete the work, it was simply that I couldn't concentrate on any of it. Despite hours of struggling with complex and foreign digits and symbols, I aced my math and science courses. This too, contributes to feelings of fraudulence-I did the work, eventually. If I truly had ADHD, the work would be impossible, right? Maybe not.
Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP writes that those with ADHD are often extremely creative and inventive, which makes us good problem-solvers. Although people with ADHD can be easily distracted, we also pay attention to things other people miss, which helps us figure out creative ways around our mental roadblocks. When it came to math and chemistry, I relied mostly on rote memorization and a burning desire to maintain a perfect GPA. Once an important class or test was over, I promptly forgot everything and refocused my energies on things I was obsessed with.
When I was young, the activity that obsessed and intrigued me was painting. Now, the things that capture my attention are *primarily* running or writing. When running or writing, I'm able to forget about time, I feel less anxious and more fulfilled. The usefulness of running has been a blessing in more ways than one: medication is often prescribed for those with attention deficit disorders, but it might not be necessary. Dr. Legg writes that effective alternative treatments for ADHD include behavior therapy, and exercise. Why?
Because although the exact cause of ADHD is unknown, research indicates it may be related to a dysfunction with the neurochemical dopamine. Exercise, especially sustained cardio like long-distance running, encourages the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain, thereby having the same effect as Ritalin (a medication often prescribed for those with ADHD). The tricky part of substituting exercise for medication is that the effects of exercise only last a few hours, whereas the effects of Ritalin last longer. Some doctors prescribe both to patients, and are able to prescribe less Ritalin to those who exercise regularly.
I started running when I was 12, and I noticed that I was able to sit still longer and concentrate better. Even now, exercise helps broaden my window of concentration. When I don't run or exercise, I often find myself leapfrogging from mundane task to mundane task without quite completing anything. When my therapist confirmed the likelihood of ADHD, I felt like a the final piece of a puzzle was jammed into place. Of course, the reason for my distractibility, restlessness, and inability to quiet my brain has a reason.
I was offered Ritalin, but declined for now. I've lived with ADHD for a long time, and have always found workarounds. And although my brain can be confounding and frustrating at times, I'm hesitant to relinquish any part of myself to medication, especially since I don't know how it will affect me. However, thousands of people do rely on medication, and this isn't a negative thing. The stigma surrounding medication is not only useless, but harmful for those who truly need it.