Living with Attention Deficit Disorder
Mike Stuchbery on his recent ADD diagnosis and why this has provided the breakthrough he needed.
Last week, I was diagnosed with moderate to severe Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). To be honest, I can’t really describe how I feel. But, what I do now have is an explanation for many of the paths my life has taken.
It’s a life full of piles of unpaid parking tickets, angry emails from bosses, promises made before dissolving into nothing. It’s meant broken relationships, lost jobs and the cost of thousands of pounds.
It’s also meant a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, anxiety and depression.
While there’s a lot we don’t know about ADD, we do know this – that the children and adults who have it experience constant interruption to their thought processes.
Whether by the premature uptake of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain, or another kind of chemical imbalance, those with the disorder are constantly deluged by distractions, over-stimulation and racing thoughts.
I’m hardly unique in my position. It is estimated that around 1.5 million Britons have ADD, with only a fraction having been diagnosed.
For the past 20 years, I feel as if I’ve been trapped on a treadmill, heading nowhere, exhausted and frustrated.
For those undiagnosed, life is often an incredible struggle. With low executive function – the skills required to modulate behaviours, to organise and delegate towards a goal – everyday tasks become herculean in scope.
While many might be able to ‘mask’ the difficulties they are facing, many may give the impression of under-performing or lack of interest in their work. Additionally, many with the disorder experience impulsiveness.
what the papers don’t say
Sometimes, it becomes all too much. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has previously stated that adult sufferers of ADD are far more likely to resort to crime or attempt suicide than those who don’t have the condition. Indeed, it is thought that more than 30% of the UK’s serving prison population have ADD.
Personally, at times it has left me at rock bottom. Lost jobs, relationships imploding and spiralling debts have consistently left me feeling a failure, simply unable to live the same kind of life as those around me.
The irony is, those who have the disorder often excel in the creative fields or obscure and esoteric areas. ‘Hyper-focusing’ can be observed in some of these individuals and gives the impression of competency across the board.
Indeed, talking to those with the condition, it seems that ‘you’re so good at this, why can’t you get your act together?’ seems to be a common refrain they’re faced with.
This periodic ability to hyper-focus might be the reason why many don’t seek a diagnosis or experience a great deal of ‘gate-keeping’ by the medical profession –waiting lists can extend up to several years on the NHS.
For those who suspect that they may have ADD, a diagnosis can be life-changing.
Various medications been shown to have amazing efficacy in improving concentration levels and lessening symptoms, targeting the different neurotransmitters in the brain. Therapy and coaching have also been shown to help tremendously in improving executive function and developing life skills.
It is estimated that around 1.5 million Britons have ADD, with only a fraction having been diagnosed.
Furthermore, employers in the UK have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to workplace conditions, allowing those with ADD to avoid many of the pitfalls that their condition presents.
Following my diagnosis, each day I’m gaining some further understanding as to how ADD has coloured my life this far. Each day, what I once saw as my own failings, I now see as part of a clear pattern of behaviours I was locked into.
Sure, there’s a lot of grieving to be done for lost opportunities and, those I’ve fallen out with as a result of the condition, but there’s also a great deal of hope. I feel as if I’ve been presented with a new beginning – a chance to start afresh.
It’s a life full of piles of unpaid parking tickets, angry emails from bosses, promises made before dissolving into nothing.
If you feel you may have ADD, I won’t lie to you – obtaining a diagnosis can be difficult, especially through the NHS. However, the feeling of liberation and relief that it can provide is worth the labour.
For the past 20 years, I feel as if I’ve been trapped on a treadmill, heading nowhere, exhausted and frustrated. Now, for the first time, I feel as if I’m confidently striding forward.