I was talking to my friend Rhonda, who runs Canadian business- and life-coaching business Drunk Squirrels, about ADHD and the possibility that it might be at the root of a lot of the problems my teenage son is having. That led to the realisation that he probably inherited it from me.
I’ve known for a long time that my husband and daughter probably have ADHD, with an emphasis on the hyperactivity. But my son and I are both (comparatively) quiet people who like to read and spend hours engrossed in a book or similar. Apart from my son, I’m the laziest person I know! If we can sit still and read for hours, how can we possibly be ADHD? That doesn’t make sense! Does it?
Well, Rhonda explained that you have to take out those parts where you’re doing something that completely engrosses you, and evaluate the rest. So that’s reading for both of us, and gaming for my son. Apparently it’s typical of a person to display atypical signs (e.g. the ability to be engrossed and block out all distractions) when they’re doing something they have a passion for or high level of interest in. She also said I had to discount coping mechanisms I’ve put in place as an adult.
So, with that in mind, I reviewed the list of symptoms for Inattentive ADHD.
Note that I’m only looking at ‘inattentive ADHD’ which is ‘a subtype of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that often manifests as limited attention span, distractibility, forgetfulness, or procrastination.’ This means that on the spectrum of ADHD, this is further away from the hyperactivity end and closer to the attention deficit end.
1. Careless mistakes. ‘A child with inattentive ADHD may rush through a quiz, missing questions he knows the answers to or skipping whole sections in his haste. An adult may fail to carefully proofread a document or email at work, drawing unwanted attention and embarrassment. If you tell yourself to slow down and pay attention, but find it mentally painful and physically uncomfortable to do so, this may be a sign of inattentive ADHD. Your brain is aching to jump to the next thing, and ultimately you just have to give in.’
I don’t feel like this describes me. I’m quite methodical and detail-oriented, and I don’t feel like I have a tendency to skip ahead. I do speed read, but I’m also an excellent proofreader.
2. Short attention span. ‘Unfinished classwork, half-done art projects, and incomplete reading assignments are all hallmark signs of attention problems in students. Adults with inattentive ADHD despise boring work meetings 10 times more than their colleagues, and need to be chewing gum, sipping coffee, or even standing during meetings in order to sustain their attention throughout. If you are consistently frustrated by your inability to make it through long documents, stay focused in meetings, and see projects through to completion, that could be a sign.’
The half-finished classwork, half-done projects and incomplete assignments are all me. Always have been. The only year I had trouble at school was 6th form (when I was 16) and that’s because we didn’t have any exams – I had to pass based on the completed assignments I did, and I never completed my assignments. I’m quite a patient person, so long meetings don’t bother me, but I do have a tendency to zone out and daydream if I’m not interested. I also have an old habit of jiggling my leg when forced to sit still for long periods, which used to drive my mother crazy. I also tend to click my pen on and off during meetings which drives colleagues crazy, and I used to doodle in class at school. Actually, I remember my mother used to tell me off for swaying when I was forced to stand still, often asking me if I needed to go to the toilet. After I had my first child, I was delighted to realised that it was ‘socially acceptable’ to sway with a baby in your arms. I also have trouble staying still when I go to bed. I’m constantly wriggling and rearranging myself as I wait to fall asleep. Drives my husband mental.
3. Poor listening skills. ‘Students with inattentive ADHD typically get about half the instructions relayed to them verbally – if that. Their notebooks are filled with more doodles than notes, and they may need to record and listen back to lectures several times to absorb all of the information. Adults don’t do well at cocktail parties. They interrupt others’ stories with their own anecdotes, never remember names, and zone out about halfway through every conversation. If you’re constantly being asked, “Weren’t you listening?” or “Why am I wasting my breath?”, that could be a sign of inattentive ADHD.’
Oh god, yes. I have terrible listening skills. That’s why I don’t watch TV. If we watch TV or a movie, I’m constantly asking my husband “What did they say?” Or I’ll ask a question and he’ll be “They just explained that.” I was awful at taking notes as a student, but thankfully I learned well by reading. And yes, I tended to have more doodles than notes. And yes, I’m fucking awful at remembering people’s names. And yes, I zone out during conversations. BUT…
I do have a tendency to get frustrated with people if they go off on a tangent when I’m trying to steer a conversation in a certain direction. Like in a meeting, I can be good at steering everyone back to the topic at hand to get a decision and move on to the next point. A couple of weeks ago at work, I was talking about something and a colleague kept going off on tangents and I’d keep bringing the conversation back around. My boss said ‘You’d make a good lawyer, always keeping the conversation on track.’ But it’s not because I don’t go off on tangents. Anyone who has read my blog over the years knows that I do. But it’s because I was impatiently waiting for the answer and trying not to be rude about it!
4. No Follow-Through. ‘For children and adults alike, inattentive ADHD can manifest as a million projects lying around the house in states of completion – the vegetable garden that got planted but never watered; the new organization system that was assembled but never used; the abandoned sheet music for the piano lessons started and then ditched after a few tough months. If you love to plan and start projects but get sidetracked and leave a trail of unfulfilled promises in your wake, that could be a sign of inattentive ADHD.’
Holy shit, that couldn’t be any more me if it tried. Wow. Okay, so you all know about my many unfinished projects. I’ve posted about them in this blog before. There’s a reason I call myself the Queen of Unfinished Projects. But you may not know that I started a degree in Medical Laboratory Science and never finished it. I started a degree in Arts and never finished it (thankfully I dropped that one before I actually paid for any of the classes/lectures I attended). I started a degree in Education (Primary) and never finished it. I started a degree in Communications and never finished it. Are you seeing a trend?
5. Disorganization. ‘Lost your phone again? Your keys? That report that’s due tomorrow? Since we’re often thinking about something else when we’re putting down important things, inattentive adults are prone to the worst of ADHD’s hallmark disorganizational symptoms. Our homes, cars and work spaces often look like tornado just hit them – which can fill inattentive adults with a crippling amount of shame.’
Uh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. At my last job, I had to take my laptop home with me every day. I literally had to leave it in my car overnight (with my car locked, obviously) or else I would forget to take it with me to work the next day.
I’ve lost so many things in my time, it’s not funny. And I’ve never had a tidy desk or bedroom. Never. I’ve had to learn to be more organised with things I value or that are necessary for work purposes. I still lose stuff though, even when I’m trying hard to be super organised. This is why I pack my suitcases a month before I have to fly!
6. “Laziness” or “Apathy”. ‘”He could pay attention if he tried.” “She’s just not dedicated – that’s why she misses so many deadlines.” Unfortunately, inattentive symptoms make us look lazy or uncaring, especially if the ADHD is undiagnosed or hasn’t been disclosed. Without treatment, we’re prone to losing jobs and friends – or even developing a hard and bitter persona as a defense mechanism. If everyone’s pinned you as lazy your whole life, it’s easy to start to see yourself that way too.’
Weeeeellllll…. I’m pretty sure I am actually lazy. But yeah, my school reports always said ‘Has potential, must try harder.’ I’m not sure about this. But given that the only criteria is that people think you’re lazy or don’t care, I guess I’ll say yes. I’ve always been considered lazy, and I do see myself as lazy. But I suspect I am actually lazy, so… Fuck, I don’t know. Yes?
7. Bermuda Triangle Syndrome. ‘Everyone misplaces their car keys or phone from time to time. People with inattentive ADHD trade stories about finding their glasses in the freezer and the frozen peas in their purse. They tend to misplace the essential things they need for living – keys, wallet, backpack, sports equipment – on a daily basis. If you have found that you need a “launch pad” near the door to ensure you don’t forget your phone, and couldn’t live without the locator device attached to your key ring, that could be a sign.’
I feel like this one is the same as #5. Disorganisation. Losing stuff all the time. Aren’t they the same things?
As I already mentioned, I have a tendency to misplace things, but I don’t think I’ve ever put anything in the fridge when it belonged in my handbag. I have seen both my kids do that before! But yes, I definitely need to put the ‘important things’ in a particular place so that they’re there when I need them again. I learned that the hard way over a number of years. My handbag now goes next to the dining room table every day when I come home. My phone and glasses always go on my bedside table. And if someone says ‘Remember to bring such-and-such tomorrow’ you can bet I’ll forget if I haven’t set an alert in my phone (or even sometimes if I have!). I have to set alerts on my work computer for all sorts of things, including basic daily tasks like turning on the dishwasher before I leave or checking the mail. These are coping mechanisms I’ve established because I forget things and lose things.
8. Distractibility. ‘Inattentive adults are dreamers, doodling on their notes during a big meeting or studying a fly on the wall while their spouses are asking about bills. Often nicknamed “space cadets” or written off as flaky, many people misinterpret their lack of focus as lack of interest – and can get frustrated by their inability to pay attention, especially when it’s important that they do so.’
I was definitely a daydreamer at school. 100%. I’ve learned to pay more attention as an adult, but I do still have a tendency to zone out. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when it’s inappropriate to ask random questions or share random thoughts – like during work meetings, during sex or in the middle of someone’s tale of woe.
9. Forgetfulness. ‘How many times have you missed a doctor or dentist appointment in the last year? Inadvertently stood up friends for lunch? Joined a conference call 20 minutes late? These are all common occurrences for adults with inattentive ADHD, who struggle to pay bills, return friends’ messages, and send out birthday cards on time. This may be perceived as rudeness or laziness, but this behavior is rarely done on purpose.’
A big, fat, adamant YES. I’m always running late or forgetting that things have been scheduled or are due. I have to put everything into my calendar on my work computer or my phone, with alerts. I literally had my talk with Rhonda a week late because I forgot that it had been scheduled for the previous weekend.
All that information was taken from ADDitude I took their self-test and it says that a score of more than 51% suggests ADHD. I scored 65%. I think I would have scored more highly if the questions had been worded slightly differently. Like, I don’t have trouble relaxing, but I do have trouble turning my brain off at night, which Rhonda said was pretty much the same thing.
When I took the self-test specifically for women, I got 69%.
I took the self-test at Totally ADD.com too and got 7 out of 9 on the inattentive section. That was easier, because they offered some differently worded alternatives for each question and you just answered yes if any of them applied to you. For hyperactivity and impulsivity, I scored 5 out of 9. I don’t tend to interrupt people, but that’s more politeness than anything else. I sometimes get impatient for people to finish their story so I can tell mine, but I don’t rudely interrupt. If I don’t get a chance to say it soon enough, I often forget what I was going to say because my mind has moved on. I have a lot of blog entries that were never written because I wasn’t able to write them down at the time when I thought of them! I also don’t tend to pace or walk quickly (I’m actually a very slow walker) but I do tend to fidget or bounce my leg or tap my toes or whatever. And I think overall I’m incredibly patient, like I would have said it’s a characteristic of mine. But partly that’s because I daydream or am distracted by other things, so I’m not just sitting patiently doing nothing, I’m off in a world of my own, or I’m reading a book. *shrugs*
Anyway, it was interesting. I’d like to explore it some more with regards to my son, and whether this information can help us help him. If we can use this information to help him understand his own behaviour, help us understand his behaviour, and help him put coping mechanisms in place, that would be awesome. This new knowledge may even change a few things for me!