Looking at me, chances are you wouldn’t know I had a mental condition unless I told you. But I am one of thousands who suffer from adult ADHD, which is brought to the forefront of mental health issues each October.
I’m a military spouse and mother of three who juggles school, part-time work, freelance writing and a steady volunteer gig as a committee chair. My husband deploys and goes on temporary active duty orders (TDY) regularly, so I am left to tackle life on my own pretty often. I post a few status updates on social media that deployment stinks, but otherwise our family gets through. I’ve been told I’m a “master” at multi-tasking, and a “superhero” for doing it all and having even a lick of sanity left.
From the outside looking in, it looks like I have it all together.
However, what you don’t see is the anxiety that completely envelopes me prior to his leaving and the emotional flood (and eventual shutdown) that occurs because of being too busy. When it comes to school, I have to study twice as hard because I can’t retain most of what I read. Oh, and did I mention that I can’t focus on a conversation for more than a few minutes without becoming distracted?
See? I don’t *quite* have it all together.
Growing up, I always knew I was different from other kids. Though I never struggled in school academically, (I was described as the ”smart kid”) I always found it hard to fit in with my peers. I found myself daydreaming when I shouldn’t have, and any type of criticism or rejection I received was earth-shattering — a phenomenon known as “rejection sensitive dysphoria”. I was anxious in crowds and preferred solitude over social situations because I always felt awkward in them. I was called “too sensitive”, “space cadet”, and “squirrel.” My legs were always bouncing up and down, and I was always messing with my hair. I would find out later that the latter two were known as “fidgeting” and “stimming”, respectively.
I would have never known I had any type of disorder had it not been for a mental breakdown I experienced when we arrived at our current station. After seeking treatment for issues related to that breakdown, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) just this year. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as “one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood.” According to the CDC, boys are three times as likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls. This is because girls’ ADHD symptoms tend to be more internal than boys, making it harder to recognize in girls. ADHD also denotes a lack of executive functioning and working memory. Other common symptoms of ADHD in girls include:
- Poor boundaries
- Avoidance of hard work
- Easily distracted
- Lack of emotional control
- Loses things often
- Excessive talking
- Frequently interrupts or “blurts out”
Girls and women with ADHD are also more prone to low self-esteem and depression.
In fact, this TikTok video I created explains how ADHD affects me, and many other people, in my every day life as an adult:
I will admit that it was hard to adapt to military life at first. The constant changes in my husband’s schedule, deployments and TDYs, and the enormous demands placed on me to bear everything alone can be a recipe for chaos. I find that I quickly become overwhelmed where my peers are able to endure. However, I have been able to (mostly) bring order to that chaos by learning the necessary skills to develop structure in my life.
Tips for helping manage adult ADHD
Keeping a routine: Developing a routine that I can realistically follow has been an invaluable way for me to maintain emotional control and combat restlessness. I wake up at the same time every day with my kids, get dressed, feed the kids and myself and then we focus on their school routines, whether they be virtual or in-person. I have even instituted a rule in my house, known to the kids as “quiet time”, where they go up to their rooms and entertain themselves for two hours while I study and/or complete work for my day job. With a solid routine, I am able to focus more on tasks that keep me busy and productive rather than focusing on my emotions, and I can retain some emotional control.
Having a calendar and/or planner: In order to be organized and manage my time, I have to have a planner. I can often become overwhelmed at the thought of everything I have to do and a planner helps me not only break down my tasks and appointments one by one, but helps me manage my time and priorities. Planners are also especially useful for helping me remember everything I need to do when I would otherwise forget.
Hobbies: I find it hard to remain focused on things that don’t interest me, so it is essential that I have at least something in my life that I am thoroughly interested in. I love to sew and create costumes, and because I love it, I can remain naturally focused on it. I have also found that my hobbies refresh me, and allow me to return to my normal roles and tasks without leaving me feeling completely drained. Sewing has also taught me patience, and it helps to curb my restlessness and impulsivity by giving me a way to channel some of that energy into something positive.
Therapy and medication: Contrary to what certain stigmas surrounding mental health may have you believe, it is 100% okay to ask for help. My overall behavior and cognitive functions, and even my social skills, have improved drastically since receiving regular therapy and medication. I have learned not to be ashamed for needing medication, but rather rejoicing that I have found something that helps me live up to my full potential as a wife, mom, student, writer, employee and as a person.
Recognizing my “superpowers”: At first, I thought that my diagnosis would break me. Then, a thought occurred to me: I had been living with this condition my whole life without knowing, and I had survived thus far, right? Then, I focused on the positive attributes I possess – my creativity, my superior ability to multi-task, my passion, and my determination. I have successfully created (and finished!) projects, I’m an accomplished writer, I am about to complete my degree, and I am raising three beautiful kids while holding a job. Instead of focusing on all I couldn’t do, I focused on all of the things that I can do, and that I keep doing. My condition may make my life more challenging, but that doesn’t mean that I am not capable of achieving great things, nor does it determine my worth as a person.