There are whole generations of people who passed through the educational system and out into the world of work having never even heard of ADHD. However, as awareness of ADHD grows worldwide, more adults are becoming aware that they might have the disorder and some of those go on to get officially diagnosed.

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.

Initiating the Task

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.

Catch the Wave

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.

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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.

New Beginnings

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.

we are adhd

Trail-blazing, hyper-focusing, risk-taking, fun-loving, fast-thinking, quick-talking, level-headed, time-wasting, dopamine-deficient
Raising Adult ADHD Awareness
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