Back in the 1990s there was a brief craze for stereogram images popularised in a book called Magic Eye. These images were, at first glance, just a weird collection of colours comprised of dots, but if you stared at them for long enough, a hidden 3D image would suddenly appear. It took a bit of patience, but once you trained your eyes to kind of relax, it was possible to see these hidden 3D images fairly quickly. However, if you didn't know there was a secret image hidden in each illustration and just flicked through the Magic Eye book you'd have absolutely no idea.
Sometimes, in order to properly understand something, we have to experience it first-hand and you also have to be told that it's there in the first place. And it's this first-hand experience that I believe is one of the most under-rated benefits of stimulant medication for ADHD.
I'm now in mid-50s and was only diagnosed with ADHD a couple of years ago. For almost my entire life I never knew what it felt like to have a normally functioning brain that was capable of being motivated for stuff that wasn't wildly interesting. People who do not have ADHD are able to self-motivate themselves to do the basics such as keeping the house clean, brushing your teeth and holding down a job, but we struggle with all of these things.
So when I was officially diagnosed and began taking Ritalin to treat my ADHD I found it hugely beneficial. It enabled me to get stuff done that I would ordinarily have put off, avoided and otherwise ignored. The diagnosis and subsequent treatment changed my life. However the Ritalin also gifted me with the ability to realise when my brain was not stimulated.
Here's an example. The other day I was working on an update to a client's website. It had to be finished before Christmas and in time for the Boxing Day sales. I clicked open a new tab in my browser and hit the YouTube bookmark. As I scrolled down the page looking for a cool video to watch, I suddenly asked myself what I was doing. And because I now know I have ADHD and because I know how I feel when I take my Ritalin, I realised my brain had dropped out of 'task positive network' (TPN) and into 'default mode network' (DMN) because I had not taken my afternoon medication. Prior to my diagnosis I would have been completely unaware of this and I'd have scrolled through that Reddit feed without a care in the world, oblivious to the fact that my active brain had deserted me.
DMN is the standard state for an ADHD brain - it's when it's not really tuned into a task - which is to say, most of the time. It's a scientific way of describing that daydream-like state our ADHD brain sits in. When explaining this to people who do not have ADHD I ask them if they've ever been stood in the shower and just let their thoughts go where they will and then before they know it, it's 10 minutes later and they don't really have any memory of what they were thinking about that whole time. Before Ritalin granted me self awareness I would have no conscious idea my brain was in DMN and now I do.
Just as a painter creates an image with the use of negative space, stimulants give us the ability to see when we are ‘without’ just as easily as when we are ‘with’. Recognising when your brain has slipped into DMN is incredibly useful for those of us who've unwittingly lived there our whole lives and means that for the first time, we can take action to remedy the situation.
Diagnosis is far from the end of the story though, particularly for adults, because they have an entire lifetime's worth of learned behaviour built around the management of the deficits caused by ADHD. Often, simply taking medication is not enough to overcome those patterns of behaviour because they have become ingrained over the decades. It also bears mentioning that there are states-of-mind and of mental-preparedness, that many people with ADHD have never experienced. Unfortunately there isn't a great deal of support for this side of an ADHD diagnosis. Official help usually consists of prescribing medicine, but after that the individual is often on their own.
I've been taking medication for my ADHD for about a year now and in that time I've come to recognise some of my learned behaviours and developed techniques for overcoming them. In particular I have gained a better understanding of the procrastination caused by my dopamine deficiency. My problem, as with so many people who have ADHD, wasn't just getting stuff done, but with simply being able to start them in the first place.
Much of the information that I have read about ADHD covers regulating the tasks themselves by using the Pomodoro technique or various time management tools, but very few of them talk about the equally important job of getting going in the first place. All the 'To Do' apps in the world are going to be of no use whatsoever if you can't push through the procrastination in the first place and actually begin.
Of course the stimulants that so many of us take for our ADHD are designed for precisely this purpose. These chemicals are engineered to arouse our slumbering brains, to artificially raise the level of stimulation in that frontal brain region and to bring our chronically under-stimulated brains up to a more normal human baseline. The good news is that they work - they can and do raise the levels of dopamine and noradrenaline - but particularly if you're an adult that is often still not enough.
The problem, as I see it, is this. We late-diagnosis adults have been this way for so long that we do not notice the decisive moment at which the brain is ready to begin a task. And rest assured - it is most definitely a moment - a window of time within which tasks can initiated. I have found that I suddenly become aware of a change in my brain, almost like my brain has changed gear, and if you have started taking stimulants as a late-diagnosis adult then you probably know what I'm talking about.
During that moment, when my brain is indicating that it is ready to initiate a task, I instinctively change whatever it is I'm doing at the time. For instance, if I had been simply browsing through Reddit, then I might close that tab on my browser. Or I might take a sip of coffee, readjust my chair, straighten my back and look to my computer screen for something to do. Or I might put my smartphone down and notice for the first time that day that there is a pile of dirty clothes on the floor. Or I might visualise myself on my exercise treadmill. In every one of these cases, the default mode network regions, that are active when the brain is idle, is going offline. It is at this point that you can tip your brain fully over from non-task to task-oriented mode. But this window of opportunity is easy to miss if you don't know what you're looking for and, instead of doing a high-value task, you open a YouTube tab or fire up Solitaire.
Think of starting a task, like catching a wave. To catch a wave you need to be moving when it catches up with you - you need forward motion. The stimulants are giving you some of that motion. As you paddle either side of your surfboard, you start picking up speed, but you are not yet on that wave. There is a precise moment, a feeling which every surfer knows well, when you do actually catch the wave and it gathers you up in its own momentum and pushes you forward. Knowing when the window of opportunity for starting a task is presenting itself is like that decisive moment in surfing when you either catch the wave, or it flows over the top of you and passes you by. And just as it takes surfers practice to recognise that moment when they have caught a wave, so it takes practice to notice when your brain is ready to begin something.
Stimulants and other ADHD medication can only take you so far. I'm 54 years old and for 53 of those years, I didn't know I had ADHD. That's 53 years of trying and failing to cope with the deficits of a life-impairing neurodevelopmental disorder; of not knowing what it feels like to be motivated towards an uninteresting task; of building a framework of patterns of behaviour designed to either mask my failings or to attempt to circumvent them. Popping a couple of Ritalin pills will not undo all of that.
So my advice is to learn to study yourself. Begin to recognise how your brain works with stimulant medication as opposed to without it. The moments when the stimulants are working will slowly reveal themselves to you, but only if you choose to look for them. Meet the drugs half way, recognise the decisive moments and learn to begin.
When I first joined Facebook it was simply about staying in touch with friends and family. We emigrated to Australia from the UK nearly 20 years ago and found it a brilliant way of staying in the loop and maintaining relationships. However over time Facebook changed. The site became extremely commercial - pushing adverts and promoted posts into our timelines. Then it evolved from a site defined by our friends and family to a site defined by the pages we followed and the groups we belonged to.
Human nature being what it is, we all join groups that are of interest to us - ones centred around communities, our special interests and also ones that reflect our views and outlook on life, society and politics. Facebook began collecting information on us from the very beginning and used this vast treasure trove of metadata to fine-tune its content algorithms. It was a feedback loop and an echo chamber that slowly but surely poisoned all reasonable discourse and helped to polarise society at precisely the time when we should have been working together to solve global problems.
Fairly early on in my use of social media, I started getting a reputation as a shit-stirrer and a troll and I can now see that the symptoms of ADHD played a part in this. I used to seek out conflict and took it as a personal point of honour when I 'won' some long-winded argument with someone who was usually a complete stranger. Didn't really matter what the subject was, who the other person was or what I thought I had accomplished - I would wade into the row and relish being as a hurtful as possible. It even got to the stage where friends would call on me as some sort of enforcer to help them out when they were being attacked in a thread or post somewhere on the site. I'm not going to lie - I quite liked the reputation.
There are several ways in which ADHD brings out the worst in us on social media. Our brains are chronically under-stimulated and getting angry is a great way of changing that. When we get angry we also produce adrenaline, a neurotransmitter closely associated with dopamine and norepinephrine. In other words we self-medicate by getting triggered and then ride that wave of negative energy for as long as we can.
Impulsiveness and recklessness are also hallmarks of ADHD which means that when a non-ADHD person might reconsider and pull back from an argument, we have no such barriers to entry and cheerfully dive straight in. ADHD is a disorder of the moment - one that mutes our ability to think ahead, to plan, to gaze into the future and to analyse what effects our current actions might have on our future selves. In the real world and online we love a fight, we enjoy a row, we like nothing better than getting stuck in and throwing punches at anyone that comes near us.
Disorders such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder are closely linked to ADHD. ODD makes you mad at the world and causes you to get angered by authority figures and those in a position of control. On Facebook this manifests itself by taking issue with the administrators of groups and pages and, inevitably, with being banned from them. The way my ADHD brain works I always took a ban as a win, another anti-success to chalk up, almost like a fighter pilot adding a Victory marking to their plane's fuselage.
All of this negativity has a number of harmful effects on us and how we are perceived. The most obvious of these harmful effects is that we have absolutely terrible reputations. We are seen as trolls and keyboard warriors and certainly not the agents of justice that we think we are. In groups of a generalised nature this can be problematic but the real problems start when the groups and pages are local and in which the other people know you in real life. I have an absolutely awful reputation locally because for years and years I've been slagging people off and starting fights in small local Facebook groups and pages.
Since people with ADHD already have chronically low self esteem it's easy to see just how poisonous all of this can be to our mental health. It took me a long time to realise just how negative an effect social media was having on my life but I didn't really understand it until I was diagnosed with ADHD and began receiving treatment for it.
Facebook is not the only source of social negativity of course. Any platform on which you can connect with others is a potential feeding ground for aggressive behaviour triggered by an echo chamber of highly polarised interests. Twitter and Instagram are just as bad as Facebook, but also aggregating sites like Reddit, web forums and bulletin boards.
The other aspect of social media that is an absolute nightmare if you have ADHD, is the addictive side of it. In many ways social media sites seem to have been designed for the express purpose of attracting and imprisoning people with the disorder. They are constructed in such a way that, should an unsuspecting ADHDer wander into their sphere of influence, they are unlikely to ever re-emerge.
There are a couple of reasons that social media is addictive, but the main one is the like/love button. Every time someone gives you a virtual thumbs-up you experience a modest dopamine hit of approval. If we make a post and it attracts some positive attention then we get the warm glow of satisfaction that only comes from finding favour with Jeff from Pinedale in Wyoming, Antonio from Castellfollit de la Roca in Spain or Aiko from Kamakura in Japan. It's absolutely crazy that a thumbs-up from some total stranger on the other side of the planet makes us feel a teeny bit better, but it does.
Those little dopamine hits of approval are unfortunately quite addicting if you have ADHD and this is compounded by the algorithms that drive social media sites. We are constantly seeking approval for our posts or comments and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are kind enough to present us with a literally never-ending stream of them. So we enter into that zombie-like state of constant scrolling, immersed in the feed and (thanks to the ADHD) physically lacking in the motivational brain chemicals to extract ourselves. Worse still, using social media actually makes our ADHD symptoms worse.
It seems like there's no risk-free method of social media use for those of us with severe ADHD. In a 2019 study, researchers found that social media use increased ADHD symptoms but that it didn't matter how heavy that social media use was. In other words if you use it for half an hour a day, or sit on Instagram for four hours straight the same negative effect is observed. The bottom line is this - if you have ADHD then social media is a bit like crystal meth - there's no safe level of use.
Over the years I had various friends drop off social media. They would make a post saying how much they hated it, how lousy it made them feel and how awful they thought social media was. They would say that they were cancelling their accounts and that if we wanted to reach out to them we'd need to email. When I read these posts I would sigh, frown and roll my eyes. I thought these people were just being dramatic, throwing a pity-party and trying to get everyone to feel sorry for them. It's not a terribly empathetic viewpoint I realise, but I'm being honest here and I realise now that they were just ahead of their time.
There wasn't a single road to Damascus moment in my life when I suddenly realised how toxic social media was and how poisonous it was to my own well-being, instead there was a slowly revealed understanding. Over several years I gradually gained awareness of my actions and my behaviour and this was accelerated by my ADHD diagnosis and gradual appreciation of its symptoms. I always felt like I was on the side of 'right', whether it was arguing with climate-change deniers, anti-vaxxers, gun lobbyists or anyone whose political views I didn't agree with. But eventually I understood that nobody ever had their mind changed by a comment on Facebook and that all I was doing was making myself look like a twat and harming my mental well-being in the process. I laboured under the delusion that I was somehow immune to the polarising effects of content algorithms and personalised newsfeeds, but now I understand that actually I was the perfect target.
I had intended to cancel my Facebook account for several years before I actually did it. I kept making excuses such as the fact that I used it for work (true), that I had pages I managed (true) and that I would otherwise have difficulty staying in touch with friends and family (partially true). In the end I found a work-around that finally enabled me to pull the plug. I made a new empty account on Facebook (with no friends or likes) and added that as admin of the photography page. That meant I could still upload for business purposes but the echo chamber was silenced. Beautiful, beautiful silence.
It's been about five months now since I deactivated my Facebook account. I haven't taken the final step of completely deleting my account because I wasn't convinced I'd be able to stay away. But I have been staying away and I think one day soon I will delete my account completely. These sites are absolutely genius at tempting you back and you need to cut them out of your life as much as humanly possible if you are to end their control over you. To this end I removed the apps from my iPhone, deleted the shortcuts in my browser toolbar and ensured that I wasn't getting any emails at all from Facebook and the other social media sites.
Thus far my experiment has proved to be successful. I have missed out on absolutely nothing except a load of toxic behaviour and abuse. I still know what's going on in the world, friends reach out to me via messaging apps and my business pages are ticking over fine. Social media is a hostile environment for even the most level-headed and well adjusted people in society, but if you have ADHD it is unadulterated poison. Get out while you can.
Along with the diagnosis, you're highly likely to be prescribed some medication to try and offset the more problematic symptoms of ADHD. Assuming you don't have any reactions to the medication you've been prescribed, then you can begin taking them everyday and hopefully become a 'better' and perhaps more productive person as a result of it.
However there's such a weight of expectation around the effects of ADHD medication, particularly the famous stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin, that those of us with ADHD are suddenly expected to be 'normal' now. And while the aforementioned stimulants can and do have a dramatic effect on our brain processes, we still need to take baby steps and not expect too much of ourselves straight out of the blocks.
The problem is that we've had ADHD all of our lives, have grown up with its symptoms and we have, over several decades, put our own coping strategies in place to deal with them. Most of these coping strategies are, of course, completely useless but you aren't going to be able to dismantle them instantly the first time you chuck two Adderall down your throat.
We have constructed a whole set of principles, actions, modes of operation and expectations for ourselves over the course of our lives and you are expecting far too much of yourself if you think that they're going to disappear as soon as you start on medication. Family, loved ones, friends and co-workers might have similar expectations and it's important that you stress to them that being diagnosed and starting on medication is just the first step on a long road, not the end destination.
There are so many learned behaviours that we have to work our way around and these, in combination with the chronically low self-esteem that all people with ADHD suffer from, mean that some people give up before they even start. The first time an adult takes a stimulant like Ritalin they might be expecting some 'red pill' Matrix-like moment and they are going to be bitterly disappointed when that doesn't happen. The effects of stimulants serve only to raise our neurotransmitter levels to something approaching the standard human baseline and so what we actually feel is the same as everyone else - not suddenly hot-wired into the Matrix and blazing with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns.
It takes a long time to unlearn the shitty processes we adult ADHDers have developed over the years. You are not going to be suddenly able to power your way through your to-do list like some Goldman Sachs intern just because you've taken 30mg of Adderall. We expect ourselves to fuck up, to fail, to fall at the first hurdle, to give in and give up and having sufficient dopamine in our brains to motivate ourselves is just one small part of the jigsaw puzzle.
So lower your expectations. Start with simple stuff. Maybe begin by just setting a time of the day when you aim to do stuff. Take your medication at the same time each day, perhaps with a nice mug of coffee, settle yourself in and then start. Remember that it takes between 45 minutes and an hour for stimulant drugs to kick in, so if you plan to start work at 9am, dose up at 8am. Other non-stimulant drugs work differently and often have about a week's lead time before starting to have any significant effect. The drugs do work, but they are not miracles and you need to put in place the right sort of framework to better leverage the temporary boost you're giving your brain's executive functions.
It's also worth remembering that while stimulant medication can have a dramatic effect on many of the core symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, focus, forgetfulness and fidgeting, it doesn't fix everything. If you have ADHD then it is highly unlikely that you have ADHD only. If you have ADHD then it is highly likely that you have a number of common comorbid disorders, such as ASD, ODD, anxiety or perhaps bipolar and your medication may not have any effect on those comorbidities, let alone the learned behaviours you constructed around them.
Don't expect a lifetime's learned behaviours to disappear overnight, don't expect the pills to fix everything, remember that the pills only work when you take them and understand that it takes time to get dosage levels right. Simply knowing that you have ADHD is a huge benefit for how you conduct your life moving forwards, but if you're an adult and you only found out recently, then please cut yourself some slack.
The symptoms of ADHD are well known now - but when it comes to getting stuff done, the worst of them are - procrastination, impulsiveness, inattention and poor memory. So anything we can do to combat these frustrating traits, the better. And the good news is that we can put technology to work for us, hardware and software that will help you do precisely that. Here are eight of my personal favourites for getting shit done.
This was one of the first (if not the first) distraction-free writing apps and for my money it stands head and shoulders over the many alternatives that are available now. It is such a beautifully coded bit of software that it just gets out of the way and lets you get on with writing.
Distraction-free writing apps like iAwriter enable you to reduce your screen interface to the absolute bare essentials. I always run the app full-screen so that there are no bouncing dock icons to distract me. Then you have the beautifully designed interface, the display font that is perfect for this purpose and a clean backdrop that just encourages you to start writing.
The app has a focus mode which keeps the text in the centre of the screen and you can set this to sentence, paragraph or typewriter modes. I always work in sentence mode and then all the text I'm not working on is faded out so I can concentrate on just the paragraph I'm currently writing. The idea is that you just get the words on the page, rather than fiddling about with font styles and all the other distracting crap you find in Microsoft Word.
I've found iAwriter to be the perfect writing environment for my ADHD brain, so much so that I've now written two whole books and numerous newspaper articles with it. It's available on Mac and iPhone, as well as Windows and Android and is heartily recommended.
These awesome little gizmos are essential if, like me, you spend 50% of your day simply walking around looking for your keys. The tiles are tiny little Bluetooth trackers encased in hard-wearing plastic and to use them you simply attach them to something you're always losing (such as your car keys) and then pair them to the app.
When you inevitably lose your keys/dog/wallet/patience for the 14th time that day, you can fire up the Tile app, trigger the appropriate tile and it will call to you by beeping its little heart out. You simply follow the sound and discover where you've left them. There's also a special 'lost' mode for when you lose your keys away from home and uses other Tile devices to alert you to its location.
They make the Tiles in several different versions, such as a slim model that is designed to go into one of the little credit card sleeves in your wallet or purse. They also have a couple of different iterations, including a blingy gold version and a more robust one that you could stick underneath a skateboard for instance.
Living with ADHD is to live with a thousand different distractions all of which get in the way of applying yourself to the task at hand. And while distraction free writing apps can help with the visual distractions, what about audible distractions? Other people's conversations, the way the air conditioner makes that weird little click noise every 13 seconds, the car beeping its horn in the street, the bird tweeting its lungs out on the roof of your house - we hear it all and are distracted by it all.
It's been well established that electronic music, paired with some good noise-cancelling headphones, is a great help when it comes to concentrating and I often listen to it while working. But I've also found I often start enjoying the music and that distracts me from my task. So instead I started using noise generators, which produce a wall of random sound that serves as an audio-barrier against audible distractions.
The app that I found to be best is called Noizio. It sits in the Menu Bar so it's easily to hand and can be output to any audio devices you have connected to your Mac. The app includes sounds such as 'birds in a park', 'blue whales' or 'deep space' and you can combine these using sliders to arrive at a soundscape that works best for you. There's a free version to try and if you like it you can upgrade to a paid version and get loads more sounds. Simply try them all and see which one works best for you.
I'm a real Apple fanboy but I will be the first to admit that Google's voice assistant leaves Siri in the dust. Not sure why Apple (who pioneered the entire bloody concept) can't give Siri a few more smarts, but they seem happy for her to languish down the shallow end of the gene pool. That being said, she still has her uses for some specific tasks - such as shopping lists.
Before I was diagnosed with ADHD, a trip to the shops routinely turned into three trips to the shops because I would always forget one or two items and only realise when I parked the car in the garage and turned the ignition off. Now when I realise I need something from the shops, I simply say, "Hey Siri, add vegan sex lube to my shopping list" and it gets added. I add things as soon as they occur to me, so if I'm making a meal and realise I've run out of an item, I pick up the phone and add it there and then. This is important, because as we all know far too well, if you don't act on these things instantly, it drops out of your head and only returns at some fantastically inconvenient moment in the future.
To view the shopping list when you're in the shop, you can even say, "Hey Siri - show me my shopping list" and it'll display said list in a list format in the Reminders app, for you to tick off as you proceed around the shop adding items to your basket. Google's version is (of course) a lot more sophisticated and ties into a special shopping list web app, but it works along the same lines.
ADHD brains just work differently to the standard versions - we all know that - and dealing with them on a daily basis is about finding work-arounds or tools that play to the disorder's strengths. One of our big problems is organisation and the use of organisation to facilitate the smooth implementation of a task.
I first encountered mind-mapping software over a decade ago and immediately thought it was such as great idea. It lets you spew out all of your ideas and thoughts and worry about how they're connected and ordered afterwards. You can fill the screen with words, phrases, pictures and URLs and then start connecting one item to another until it makes perfect sense.
The software I've used for years is MindNode - it's far and away the most best designed mind map app and has grown a sensible and mature feature-set over the years. My only issue with it these days is that it is now subscription software and I am considering ditching it for SimpleMind which has an excellent Lite version which is completely free and a Pro version which you can buy outright.
Sometimes it feels like the worldwide web was designed with the sole purpose of enticing you away from whatever you are currently viewing. Hyperlinks, adverts, pop-ups, redirects - you name it, it's all designed to capture your eyeballs and send them somewhere else. I mean, it's is bad enough for baseline brains, but those of us with ADHD are fucked.
So just as distraction-free writing apps are the way to go when you're in production-mode, distraction-free reading apps are the way to go when you're in consumption-mode. Fortunately most browsers have a built-in reader mode, which enables you to instantly flick to a beautiful text-only rendering of a webpage which you stand a much better chance of reading before zoning out.
Safari, Firefox and Microsoft Edge all have great reader modes, but the one I like best is an extension made only for Chrome called Mercury Reader. Whenever I visit a webpage with an article that I actually want to read and comprehend, I always flick to Reader mode, which removes all the adverts, videos and flashing lights and just shows you the words.
Since the iPhone ushered in a new era of smartphones there have been a whole range of cool apps designed to incentivise tasks. These have been a boon for those us with dopamine-deficient brains who will do literally anything other than that whatever we're actually supposed to be doing. These apps can sometimes be seen as a bit gimmicky, but the fact is our ADHD brains respond well to gimmicks, so I say, work with what you've got.
Streaks is a habit-forming to-do app that's available for Mac and iPhone. You add items to the app that you're supposed to do on a regular basis and the idea is to get as long a streak (successive task completions) as you can. Now admittedly I'm also on the spectrum and this app keys right into my burning need for routines, but I've found it a great way to trick myself into getting stuff done because losing a long streak is heart-breaking.
Over the years the app has evolved and you can now add negative tasks to your list, such as, "Don't Smoke" or "Don't Eat that 15th Doughnut" and these carry on clocking up wins automatically until you fail and have to depressingly hit the button. There are also built-in reminders, which I find great for things like my medication, statistics so you can geek out over your tasks and scheduling so you can block out weekends or specific days.
I have the memory capacity of a goldfish. If someone asks me to do something, unless I either start doing it there and then or write it down and stick it on a post-it note on my screen - it ain't getting done. I also have sudden flashes of inspiration, usually when I'm standing in the shower and I know that if I don't record them in some way there and then, they're gone.
Just Press Record is a brilliant app that runs on my iPhone and Apple Watch and let's me transfer a thought or task out of my woefully limited inbuilt short-term memory and into the cloud. To use it you simply start the app, hit the big red record button and speak. The app then saves your idea/task/song lyric/reminder as an audio file but it also transcribes it into text. You can then share the text or the audio file or both.
The app has an Apple Watch companion app which is brilliant in its simplicity and so useful. Whenever something occurs to me I can just hit the big red button, speak into my watch, and it's safely recorded, transcribed and sent to the cloud ready for me when I'm back home. You can also edit recordings prior to sharing using a brilliantly simple interface.
Got an app or device you swear by that really helps with your ADHD - would love to hear about it - just comment below.
I was recently invited to appear on a documentary panel TV show here in Australia called Insight. The episode in question was covering the subject of adult ADHD and how it impacts everyday life. The panel was a mixture of people with ADHD and family members and professionals - a scientist, a psychiatrist and an ADHD coach.
The filming of the show was fairly nerve-wracking and, since it went for over two hours without a break, most of us made sure we took our meds just prior to filming. It was an interesting experience and great to hear the stories from the other panelists about how ADHD had affected them.
There's an article about me on the SBS website here and if you'd like to watch the show yourself, it's linked below - you'll probably need a VPN to view it outside Australia.
Every school report you ever got said that you were clearly an intelligent kid but that you just won't apply yourself to the work and that if you only put in the effort you could achieve so much more. If only this had occurred to you! You'd be a grade A student.
Every job you've ever had ends the same way - you're shown the front door. Whether it's working in a restaurant, in a shop or in an office, you go through jobs like other people go through toilet rolls. Ultimately you end up working for yourself because there's no-one left to hire you.
You're in the middle of doing something and then a thought occurs to you, so you sit down on the couch to look it up on your smartphone and now it's three hours later and you know everything there is to know about Panamanian golden frogs.
You get angry easily. Angry at people you don't know, angry at people you do, angry at people you love. You don't mean to, but a switch just flicks in your head and you're suddenly being horrible.
You make lists of things that need to happen but find yourself incapable of working up the enthusiasm to do any of them. New things get added to the list but it's a rare day when anything gets ticked off. The to-do list simply serves as a reminder of what a failure you are.
You might not be able to work up the enthusiasm to do something useful around the house, but when you're interested in something it's like you enter an isolation chamber and the outside world goes silent. Then you wish that you could do the thing you're interested in as a job.
You like driving, you think you're pretty good at it, but somehow you keep getting tickets for speeding. You're also one of the unluckiest drivers on the road because you keep getting into accidents. It's like your car's magnetic and it irresistibly attracts idiots to you.
You're overweight, probably obese and you know how to fix it. So how come you're drawn to that doughnut cabinet like a fly to shit every time you fill up your beaten-up car with petrol. Also - why do you not feel even remotely guilty about eating that four pack of sugar-glazed doughnuts either?
You see people sitting on park benches and watching the world go by, or lying on a beach just relaxing and you have no idea how they do it. You can't sit still for more than 30 seconds before you have to get up and do something else. The thought of sitting in a meeting is like submitting to torture.
Sure you put the thing in a safe place. Now you have no idea where the safe place is. You spend your life doing laps of your home looking for car keys, phones, TV remotes, purses, wallets, medication and glasses. If you can pick it up and move it somewhere - it's probably lost.
Over the last couple of years I have seen how my use of social media has changed from a place to catch up with friends, to a place to get into a shouting match with total strangers over often irrelevant subjects. Those of us with ADHD sometimes seek out and often provoke conflict as yet another form of stimulus for our crappy dopamine levels. This is compounded by the fact that many of us also have ODD. And when you combine those two things - it just ends up in a never ending cycle of angry posts, comments and replies that only make us look like arseholes, not the avenging warriors for truth that we think we are. Facebook, Twitter and the rest of social media has been designed to keep us coming back again and again with an endless drip-feed of crap. The good news is that there is a way to turn off the tap.
The first option is pretty drastic and is not for everyone as it's quite final - and that's to deactivate your account. I found that Facebook in particular was damaging my mental health and so I switched my personal account off. I haven't deleted it yet - I'm seeing how things work out - but I may well take the next big step.
The second option is to tweak your settings in order to mitigate confrontational behaviour. If you prefer this second option here are some solid tips to improve that experience.
You can still be a member of these groups, you just don't get new posts showing up in your feed. The phrase "out of sight, out of mind" applies doubly-so for those of which ADHD - if something's not in our visual sphere then we don't tend to think about it. As a result, you onlly drop into the groups when you feel like it and you can then read all of the posts. If there are controversial posts, most often the fight is usually over by the time you get there and you can weigh in with some middle-ground viewpoint and look very grown-up.
This was the big one for me and made a huge difference. It means that if you reply to some post somewhere on Facebook, you don't get any notifications if people respond. Like most of us I have crappy short-term memory and as soon as the little red number's gone from next to my profile image, it's out of my head. Then later on I'll remember the post and go and have a look and by then any heat I was feeling at the time of writing has usually passed and the thread has died down and I can either reply in a less heated way or simply let my single comment stand on its own and let the rest go.
Other steps I have taken include:
When I grew up in the UK in the '70s and '80s, mental health and mental disorders may as well have not existed. They were never talked about, never mentioned in conversation and the closest you got to seeing them on TV was when someone went bonkers and got taken away in an ambulance by men in white coats. So finding out in my '50s that (firstly) I was autistic and (secondly) had raging ADHD, meant I had to do a whole lot of catching up.
When I got my diagnosis for ADHD from a clinical psychiatrist, he prefaced his comments by saying that labels were not helpful. I didn't fully understand what he meant by that until, like most of us who got diagnosed later in life, I read every single article, watched every single video and read every single book on ADHD. Yes I'm exaggerating but I think we all take a deep dive into the subject, particularly if it's new to us. And based on everything I've learnt since I found out I'd had ADHD my entire life, it's clear that there is no single ADHD diagnosis.
Current scientific thinking on the subject of neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD is that they share some common central defect in the frontal region of the brain. There is particular interest in, and scientific work around, the links between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and ADHD. This line of investigation was no doubt sparked by the realisation that there was considerable overlap in many of the core symptoms of ASD and ADHD.
But beyond this, it's also worth pointing out that ADHD affects everyone in different ways and the precise blend that makes up your ADHD recipe may be quite different to someone else's. It was because of these differences that the official literature defining ADHD initially said there were three types - inattentive, hyperactive and combined.
The three main types of ADHD didn't really cover all of my symptoms and I found them far too generalised. So it didn't surprise me to discover that some professionals have proposed a much more granular definition of ADHD. For instance, Dr. Daniel Amen has put forwards seven types of ADHD. His list includes the well known inattentive and hyperactive types but broadens it out to include five new types - Overfocused, Temporal Lobe, Limbic, Ring of Fire and Anxious ADD.
Having read Dr Amen's work I found myself nodding my head in agreement with his definitions and, when I did a checklist found I sat in all but one of his sub-types - the only one I didn't identify with was Anxious ADD. If you read Dr Amen's list you might notice that some of his sub-types, such as Overfocused, sound quite a bit like other disorders - such as ODD.
In a 2015 paper titled, "Molecular underpinnings of prefrontal cortex development in rodents provide insights into the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders", researchers showed that "Neurodevelopmental disorders such as intellectual disability (ID), autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (AD(H)D) and schizophrenia share particular cytoarchitectonical, connectional and functional features suggesting a similar neurodevelopmental origin."
So if you've just been diagnosed with ADHD, perhaps you should do a mental checklist of your own. You will probably find you have several co-morbid conditions to go along with your core ADHD diagnosis. Check out the full list here.
People feel a range of emotions on discovering, later in life, that they have ADHD. Some people sink into a deep depression at the thought of all the missed opportunities and endless failures. Some people are elated to finally know what's been up with them the whole time. Most people fall somewhere in between these two states.
If you have recently been diagnosed then here are some tips from someone who got diagnosed at the age of 53.
ADHD is one of the most treatable neurodevelopmental disorders there is. Over many decades and countless studies, stimulants have been shown to have a beneficial effect on the dopamine-deprived brains of people with ADHD. These are not new drugs - they were around long before people dreamt up the conspiracy-obsession with 'big pharma'. Amphetamines were first discovered in 1920 and Ritalin was invented in 1944 and first approved for use in 1950.
So don't feel embarrassed, shy or like you're doing something dodgy by taking prescribed stimulant medication. The drugs won't fix every aspect of ADHD, but it'll raise your brain's neurotransmitter levels to a point where they're similar to a neurotypical brain. That means you can concentrate better, be less distracted and have the willpower to both begin and finish tasks you set yourself.
So yes - Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Vivance, Dexedrine - whichever drug you take - they can make a big difference, but they are not magic pills that instantly fix your head. One of the biggest problems is that if you were diagnosed later in life, you've become used to (and accepting of) not starting or finishing tasks. This in itself is a big roadblock and such learned behaviour takes a lot of unlearning.
The key is to cut yourself some slack, take it slowly and test the limits of your newly motivated brain. Instead of suddenly deciding to write your life story, perhaps begin with a memory or two and pick things up from there. Instead of deciding to build that yacht in your backyard, perhaps try a few sailing lessons first. Just don't be afraid to begin.
When I first took Ritalin I honestly didn't know what to expect. Unicorns flying out of my butt? Choirs of heavenly angels serenading me? An instant and persistent hard-on? World-peace? The discovery of interstellar warp drives? Drooling from my mouth? I had no idea. And if you've never taken it before either then the results after that big build-up can be ... disappointing? You see, while Ritalin is stimulant, but all it does is get our dopamine levels up to neurotypical levels and that feels 'normal' - it's not some high like you just snorted a line off a mirror.
So here's my drill which might work for you too. First I get myself a coffee - tea works too but I don't like tea so it's coffee for me. Then I find out what the fuck I'm supposed to be doing - which task needs completing. Then I take my two morning Ritalin pills with my coffee, I give it about 10 minutes to kick in and then I start working. I'm on regular Ritalin, not the slow-release stuff and I found that 20mg morning dose fizzes out after about three hours and then I take 20mg more. That gets me through to early afternoon when I take another 20mg and that finishes off the working day for me.
I found that I needed to point the Ritalin in the right direction - just sucking the pills back with nothing in particular in mind is going to accomplish nothing - you need to have a task in mind and only then pop the pills.
I wouldn't change anything about my brain and the way it works. It's fucked up so many things for me over the years, lost me jobs, ruined relationships, got me in trouble with the law, caused me serious physical harm and damn near killed me, but it's all been anything but ordinary! Now I know more about the executive functions that ADHD impairs and understand the affect it has had on my life, I've learned to appreciate the good things.
We're the ones who take a path for the first time, who swim in that water for the first time, who push the limits further than anyone else and the latest scientific evidence suggests we evolved for precisely this purpose. We're life's path-finders.
Hyper-focus is a potent tool when used productively. I had the idea for this website, registered the domain name, designed the branding, built and populated the website, created the online store and populated it with 120 products and registered and populated the social media pages - in four days flat. I'm sure you've had similar experiences when you're enthused by something working on it is effortless. That's a hell of useful ability to have!
We ADHDers also tend to be more creative, more energetic and more spontaneous than neurotypical people. It can be a heady mixture and, pointed in the right direction, a useful one too.