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ADHD: Your Misunderstood Superpower

Hey! You! Yeah you, Do you feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole your whole life?


Are you used to being called stupid, irresponsible, lazy, or spacey… a dreamer who can’t get anything done? Even if it's just by the voices in your head?


Do other people say you’re “too much” - you feel too much, talk too much, do too much… are generally just too much person to deal with?


Can you relate with having 100 thoughts or ideas all screaming for attention at once, yet you can’t focus long enough to follow through with any of them?


If you connect with any of this, you may have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).


But don’t let the word “disorder” fool you. Trail blazers with ADHD such as John Lennon, Michael Jordan, and Leonardo Davinci have made history being their different, unique, and stupendous selves. By learning more about this condition and finding ways to optimize it, ADHD can become your SUPERPOWER.


Your Different and Wonderful ADHD Brain


Did you happen to watch the Academy Awards this year? Remember the movie that won 7 Oscars - more than any movie since 2008?


“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” - the movie written and directed by someone with ADHD… about ADHD. The movie replicates the experience of living in a brain with ADHD - one that feels like its experiencing a little bit of everything, everywhere, all at once.


When he started writing the movie, Daniel Kwan didn’t realize he had ADHD. Through the process of writing the movie and researching the condition for his characters, he began to realize that this could be the reason he had always been so different his whole life. Shortly after self diagnosing, he was formally diagnosed and treated. He said in an interview with Salon, “It's such a beautiful, cathartic experience to realize why your life has been so hard.” He also said “This movie, obviously, when you look at it now, was made by someone with ADHD.”


This movie came on the scene at such a crucial point in our culture’s history. Experts estimate that only 20% or less of those who have ADHD have actually been diagnosed and treated. Like a musician writing a song that perfectly depicts the feelings of a generation, this movie is a godsend to those who live in an ADHD brain and could never really explain it to others.


How is your brain different?

The brain of an ADHD person is structurally and functionally different from that of a person without the condition. Structurally, the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, hippocampus, and amygdala tend to be smaller in people with ADHD. Functionally, this can cause poor memory, emotional instability, distractibility, and difficulty with complex problem solving skills.


People with ADHD have abnormally low levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine transmitting between the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia. The prefrontal cortex controls your emotions, judgements, and attention to the present task. The basal ganglia is responsible for motor skills and executive function. Dopamine plays a role in memory, motivation, mood, attention, movement, and more.


Since a neurotransmitter is essentially a messenger which communicates to different parts of the brain, not having enough messengers means the right signals dont get to the right places at the right time. This results in the symptoms characteristic of ADHD.


How your brain got this way

Evidence points to ADHD having a genetic component (76% heritable) which can be turned on or intensified by certain environmental factors. These environmental factors often came into play early in the womb if mom used alcohol, smoked, was excessively stressed, or got exposed to environmental toxins like lead.


While roughly 9% of kids diagnosed with ADHD grow out of it, the majority of kids become adults with the condition. That said, the condition is only stable in about 11% of those diagnosed. In the rest of the ADHD population, changes in the condition occurred over time, sometimes getting better and sometimes getting worse. This speaks to the malleability of the condition.


Are you a dreamer or an over-doer? ADHD types explained

The two types of ADHD are almost like opposite ends of the spectrum. One causes apparent inactivity (daydreaming) whereas the other causes lots of activity (bouncing off the walls). People can get diagnosed with one type or as having both simultaneously.


Inattentive type

Inattentive type ADHD manifests through the following symptoms:

  • Trouble staying focused and sustaining mental effort

  • Spacey-ness or perpetual daydreaming

  • Easily distracted (has trouble finishing tasks)

  • Forgets routine chores (like paying bills)

  • Has trouble following instructions (like homework)


Hyperactive/impulsive type

Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD manifests through the following symptoms:

  • Constant movement like the energizer bunny

  • Can’t sit still, especially in quiet, calm settings

  • Excessive fidgeting

  • Can’t stop talking

  • Impulsively interrupts or blurts out answers

  • Can’t wait their turn

  • Struggles with self control

  • Acting without thinking


Individuals can be diagnosed with ADHD presenting as Inattentive, Hyperactive, or BOTH.


The most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps, struggled with paying attention in class because of his ADHD. When he found swimming, it became his #1 therapy - improving his mental health and setting him on a wildly successful career course.


How a professional diagnoses can set you free

Understanding exactly why and how you are different can create a ton of understanding and compassion for yourself. Some say it even brings them to tears when they find out what in the heck their condition is because it helps them realize that there is a real reason for how different they have always been. It wasn’t your imagination and it wasn't even your choice… your brain is physically and functionally different. It’s so different in fact that you operate in a world of your own. And it makes you unique.


And you know what? The world needs unique people. People like you and me… different types of folks that see the world in a different type of way. Your worldview adds a crucial piece to the whole. Your unique voice and personality and way of living can create positive change. In your life and the lives of others. When you manage your diagnoses and create balance, your gifts will shine.


A Professional and a Friend

Find a trusted psychiatrist and/or psychologist who feels like a friend to you. Why is this important? Because you will have a relationship with them for months or years to come. They will check in with you to see how you’re doing. They will get to know you so they can notice changes in your behavior and condition. They will help you find ways to manage yourself so that you optimize your gifts and minimize your self destruction.


The Risks of Not Seeking Treatment

Half of individuals with undiagnosed ADHD will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. The reason? Those with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder have brains that produce less dopamine than those without the condition. As a result, these people crave dopamine and find ways to get it one way or another.


Those with ADHD are 4 times more likely to experience depression in their lives. Those with hyperactive/impulsive type are also more at risk for suicide. When left untreated, the individual experiences frustration, disappointment, and low self esteem because they cannot function in the same way as others. Oftentimes, understanding your condition can bring a lot of clarity and acceptance. It’s hard to address a problem if you don’t really know what it is.


By misunderstanding yourself, you will be stuck in the narrative of “why can’t I be like everyone else?” constantly. This is demoralizing to your self esteem as it doesn’t honor your unique gifts. The way our society is set up makes it seem like if we can’t do normal things the normal way, we are flawed. But this is totally FALSE! You are different. Which means the way you live your whole life, from relationships down to career choices must suit your different type of brain.


Treatment Synergy

Often pharmaceuticals are the go to treatment for ADHD. The ADHD brain has a lack of dopamine, stimulants increase dopamine levels, thereby improving brain function that requires dopamine. This doesn’t come without side effects, however, which can consist of:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Anxiety

  • Upset stomach

  • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate


Some don’t like medication because it changes their personality. Others don’t like the idea of refilling a lifelong prescription. And even those that are put on medication still need other therapies to create a comprehensive plan for treatment. Professionals understand that there is no quick fix pill… even with medication, cognitive therapy still needs to be implemented for the medication to work to its maximum ability.


Turn Your Symptoms into Superpowers

Stimulants are not the only way to improve dopamine levels either. Intense exercise done regularly increases baseline dopamine as well. Maybe this is why 8-10% of atheletes have ADHD compared to the general population (around 3-5%). Especially hyperactive types tend to gravitate towards sports where their constant movement is needed and appreciated. Athletes like Kevin Garnett, Simone Biles, and Terry Bradshaw all credit physical activity with helping them manage their ADHD.


Scott S. Shapiro, MD treats adults with ADHD, many of whom only want to use pharmaceuticals as a last resort. Here are his tools for successfully helping patients with ADHD without the use of pharmaceutical medication:


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Proven by research, CBT helps people with ADHD by helping them become aware of self critical thoughts that have been on replay for years. If you have ADHD, you know what its like to be criticized your whole life and you’ve probably internalized a lot of these criticisms. CBT will help you become aware of your inner critic and address it, creating changes to your thought processes and in your relationship to yourself.


Mindfulness Training

5-10 minutes of mindfulness can go a long way in managing your symptoms. During a mindfulness meditation, you sit in a comfortable position and just breathe. The goal is to become aware of your thoughts in a non-judgemental way, letting them come and go as they please without trying to control them. A hefty amount of research shows this practice improves attention while lessening distractibility.


Create Structure in Your Life

Disorganization can affect ADHD people more negatively, resulting in overwhelm and anxiety. Two essential tools that help with executive functioning are a calendar and a to-do list. This will help you manage your time, remember appointments, and stick to important tasks. While this may be a harder habit to form for those with ADHD, it can have tremendous benefits when implemented.


Find an Activity Partner

You don’t have to do it on your own… and if you have ADHD, you probably shouldn’t do it on your own. Find a friend, family member, or co worker who could also use some accountability in their lives. Check in with each other throughout the week to make sure you are staying on track, getting your to do list done, and sticking to your calendar.


Get Your Sleep Schedule Dialed

Those with ADHD are more likely to experience sleep problems (are you a night owl?). Lack of sleep can intensify symptoms such as procrastination and impulsivity so you want to get a handle on your sleep ASAP. Develop a night time ritual to get you relaxed by decreasing stimulation (screens) and doing some meditation or yoga.


Focus on Nutrition

Dr. Shapiro recommends decreasing sugar, caffeine, and carbohydrates while always having protein rich snacks on hand like nuts, cheese, and peanut butter. Feed yourself a balanced diet, increase water intake, and your brain will function much more optimally.


Make Physical Activity a Priority

BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) is critical for focus, attention, and mood regulation. Intense exercise that works up a sweat can increase BDNF levels. Physical activity also improves memory, reduces anxiety and depression, and can improve the processing of emotions. If you want to feel better, you can start today with a good hard workout!


Conclusion

I hope you not only feel enlightened about this condition, but also excited about it. If you have not found help and started a management plan for yourself, you could be on your way to one of the most beautiful experiences of your life. Self awareness is the first step to positive change.


You can take a preliminary quiz to get an idea if you may have ADHD. Continue to explore trusted resources for self education, seek professional help, and do something kind for yourself… start connecting with others like you so that you don’t feel alone in this. Finding a community of ADHD people who share your struggles and celebrate your triumphs can be an incredibly soothing balm for the spirit.


I’ll leave you with this quote from author and therapist Shannon L. Alder: “Don’t waste your time being what someone wants you to become, in order to feed their list of rules, boundaries, and insecurities. Find your tribe. They will allow you to be you, while you dance in the rain.”





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