What It's Really Like Living With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

I was diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child, but my mum chose not to medicate me. 

They used to think that ADHD was a childhood condition and that when you turned 13, your brain would magically develop executive functioning skills overnight. The truth is that it stays with you, but your symptoms change. By my 20s I knew I had to do something about it. My life was simply not working.

I was disorganised, always running late and never able to finish tasks. Getting through each day felt overwhelming. I was burnt out and depressed. I’ve chosen not to take medication anymore and it’s working for me. I’ve learnt to live with my challenges and I have plenty of weird little rituals that I use to feed my sensory needs.

At work, for example, I slip off my shoe and rub my heel on the carpet, or rock in my chair – little things like this stop my mind from drifting. If I’m attending a medical conference, you’ll always find me sitting at the back so I can leave if I need to without disturbing anyone; I also always have a pen and paper to take notes, which keeps me listening and, if my mind starts to wander, I doodle. I’m a fidgeter. I’ve learnt to bounce my leg because the movement keeps me engaged and because I physically cannot sit still. I don’t even realise I’ve got up out of a chair sometimes.

Dr. Morwesi Mahlangu, 36, Corporate General Practitioner

At home, it’s not as easy to avoid distractions. I’ll be doing something and then, for instance, notice that I’ve left a coffee cup in my bedroom. So, I’ll get it and put it in the sink. Then I’ll realise I need to finish doing the dishes so I’ll get started on that. Then I’ll see something in the kitchen that should be in the bedroom, so I’ll stop doing the dishes and take the item to the bedroom, where I’ll realise I need to make the bed. I can go on for hours like that without finishing one task completely. I have notebooks all over my house that I use to write down personal reminders.

It can be physically exhausting and mentally draining, but because I’m so hyperactive, I still seem to have energy at the end of the day. I find meditating in the morning before work helps me a lot, as does taking frequent breaks during the day. I have an 11-year-old son. Being a mother isn’t easy for anyone, and especially for people with ADHD. I am easily overwhelmed so I have to focus on staying calm, for him. Remembering he needs a clean uniform and lunch box may seem simple, but when you’re so busy trying to navigate your own life, it’s easy to drop the ball.

I’ve had to set up routines to remind me of all the little things I need to do for him daily. Relationships aren’t particularly easy for me, either, because I have no filter. People with ADHD can also come off as aloof and insensitive, although I am an empathetic person – sometimes too much, I think. My forgetfulness can also be difficult for another person to live with.

ADDults with ADHD is an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of adults dealing with ADHD in themselves, their friends and their clients. For more information visit adultadhd.org.au.

This article originally appeared in Marie Claire.

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