Imagine having just finished making a lovely dish on your range cooker at home. You turn the switch off to extinguish the fire, but even without touching it, you know that it’s still extremely hot.
Now, picture a stranger coming into your house and holding a gun to your head. Then, in the scariest voice you can think of, imagine them ordering you to put your hand on that exact same burner. Would you do it? No, let’s rephrase, could you do it?
I’m assuming that most people reading this right now would say yes. In reality, it’s actually really hard to do that because your body detects that you’re in danger and won’t let you put yourself in harm’s way. Basically, it’s our body’s natural fight-flight-freeze response — this happens through hormonal and physiological changes and allows us to act quickly so that we can protect ourselves.
One explanation for this is the fight-flight-freeze response gets triggered by a psychological fear. According to Healthline, this fear is conditioned, meaning you’ve associated it with another negative situation or experience that happened before. So when you’re faced with a “perceived threat”, your brain assumes you’re in danger and already considers the situation to be life-threatening. As a result, your body automatically reacts with the fight-flight-freeze response to keep you safe.
More often than not, this kind of stress response gets activated even when we aren’t in a life-threatening situation. For example, have you ever been in a really heated conversation with someone and then ended up saying something you regret later on? Maybe you’ve experienced being in a highly stressful social event and just left earlier than expected, or you might even remember blanking out during an exam in your high school years.
Whether you’ve checked one, two, three, or even none of these boxes, you have most certainly been through an event that triggered your fight-flight-freeze response. Don’t worry though, because you aren’t alone! Do you know who else experiences this? Adults diagnosed with ADHD. Not only that, but we experience this in a more heightened form — something you’ll wish you never had to go through. What do I mean exactly?
Well, you’ll understand in a few more paragraphs. Besides that, I’ll also be tackling the different terminologies that individuals with ADHD experience on a day-to-day basis. If you’re one of us, high five! ADHD can be a superpower, as you’re well aware, but you know (all too well) that it also has its downsides. If you aren’t, take a seat and grab a drink of whatever you’re into as I welcome you into our world.
The basics of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Let’s start with the basics. You must be wondering, what exactly is it? Like what the name suggests, people with this medical condition are neurodivergent since they have differences in brain development. This is what makes them different from neurotypical individuals, another term for people who don’t display neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behaviour. Our brain activity is also different, which affects attention, the ability to sit still, and self-control.
The symptoms of this neurodevelopmental disorder can often be seen at the early stages of one’s childhood, and most cases are diagnosed before the child turns twelve years old. However, it can also be discovered later on, during the adolescence and adult stages of one’s life. Though there is no exact treatment for ADHD, it can be managed through medication intake and psychological counselling or psychotherapy.
As one of the most misrepresented conditions in varying forms of media, whether it be through movies or even simple TikTok posts, most people view ADHD as cute and quirky, or even a condition exclusively for children. Yet, society also often forgets that those children diagnosed with ADHD also grow old, and what was once seen as adorable can now be viewed as irritating and even irresponsible or inconsiderate. So now, let’s dive further into the common misconceptions about having ADHD and what it’s like to live with it as an adult.
How does inattention affect adults with ADHD?
Though this is often categorised as simply having a short attention span and being forgetful, there is so much more to being inattentive when you’re an adult with ADHD. As a child, I was often scolded by my parents every time they saw my quiz papers which would have gotten a perfect score, if not for my “careless” mistakes.
You see, one of the many downsides of inattention is that not only do we have a hard time focusing on tasks that require a lot of mental effort, but we also tend to miss the small details that are deemed by others as important. In my defence, there were birds chirping outside of our classroom window and they were way more interesting than that stupid science test.
If you’re an adult with ADHD, do you also get this superpower or feeling that you can do just about everything and anything? If yes, then you can also agree that more often than not, it usually ends up with starting multiple projects yet finishing none of them. For the neurotypical people reading this, I’ll give you an overview of what that’s like for me.
I could be doing the dishes then halfway through, I’d feel the urge to play some music while doing them. As I open my phone to find a playlist, I see a notification from one of my social apps and start watching videos.
I’ll probably get inspired to read or do art or even compose a song, which I’ll probably end up doing. In the middle of doing that, my mind will remind me that I forgot to do something, and I’ll probably try to do household chores once again, just not the forgotten set of dishes in the sink.
Bridging Hyperactivity and Impulsivity to form ADHD
Hyperactivity is often mistaken for common fidgeting and being talkative in social situations, but that isn’t all there is to it! In adults with ADHD, this type of behaviour is more profound and can even be seen as disruptive and/or rude. It is also commonly paired with impulsivity, a core ADHD symptom that negatively affects an individual’s self-control which can often lead to dire situations and even permanent consequences.
These two behavioural patterns can be seen in varying forms, from always feeling restless to having difficulty with reading situational social boundaries. As an adult with ADHD, I personally have trouble with different social cues.
Sometimes, in the middle of conversations, my mind will remember something and I’ll just randomly blurt it out without considering the other person talking or even the context of what they were saying, whether it was a good or bad thing. I also struggle with just sitting still, even if the situation requires me to (e.g. ceremonies, work meetings) and though this has never gotten me into serious trouble, it would be a lot easier if I could just do that.
However, that’s the problem with having ADHD. Daily occurrences that other people deem as easy and even normal can be extremely difficult for a person with ADHD.
Executive Dysfunction vs. Procrastination
Before anything else, it’s important to note that while everyone with ADHD has executive dysfunction, not everyone with executive dysfunction has ADHD. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s delve into the topic of what executive dysfunction is and how it’s different from procrastination.
While procrastination is simply putting off a task that you don’t want to do at the moment, executive dysfunction is a range of behavioural symptoms that can change how a person regulates emotions, thoughts, and actions, and is most commonly associated with specific mental health disorders like ADHD. People often mistake procrastination for this condition, but it’s understandable considering that the former is one of the many symptoms of the latter.
Do you still remember the little role-playing we did earlier? Well, it’s also a simpler version of trying to explain executive dysfunction to neurotypical individuals. Sometimes, when people with ADHD are required to do a certain task, especially one that they don’t like, our fight-flight-freeze response kicks in.
In other people’s eyes, we could simply be doing something ordinary, like watching a show or scrolling through our phones; meanwhile, we’re already screaming at ourselves inside our heads to do what we should be doing. You see, that’s the thing about having ADHD and executive dysfunction — no matter how hard we try or how much we want to do something, our body just doesn’t follow.
Admittedly, experiencing executive dysfunction is very draining. It takes up most of your brain power just to do a task that other people deem as “simple”, and being called lazy or hard-headed doesn’t help either. Take my mother, for example. She would always get mad when I wouldn’t do chores around the house, and she never seemed to listen or at least, never seemed to understand, whenever I would try to explain that I just couldn’t.
Like most people, she would simply see it as me procrastinating once again. Meanwhile, I’m already beating myself up once again over not being able to do the same things that neurotypical people can do with ease or without even a second thought.
So, what now?
Though I’ve gone over some of the basic terminologies, all of this is simply scratching the surface of what being an adult with ADHD is like. Though the saying is overrated, each life is truly unique in its own way and so, it’s important to remember that every person diagnosed with this neurodevelopmental disorder can experience these symptoms in different ways. Although, it’s still important to wait and get tested by a licensed psychiatrist before self-diagnosing or telling your friends and family that you have ADHD.
Living with ADHD as an adult is hard, but it also gets easier over time. Even though most neurotypical people can never be able to fully comprehend what it’s truly like to cope with it, the ones that attempt to do so, or even try to help in the best ways they know how are very much appreciated. So if you know someone with ADHD, give them a hug today. They probably need it.
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