At some point over the past couple months, I started seeing suggested videos on YouTube or social media posts related to ADHD. I didn't think much of it at first, but then started thinking, wait... could I actually have ADHD? I've since been doing a lot of research on it and realizing it sure would explain a lot about why I am the way I am.
First, some back story.
I've been on medication for depression since 2004. At the time, I was self-employed and under a lot of stress. I felt constantly underwater and if I wasn't in a serious funk, I was irrationally angry all the time. It was taking its toll on all my relationships, so I saw my family doctor. I explained where I was, and he promptly put me on Lexapro, which had only come out in 2002. He was a big fan, and actually said, "I wish I could put this stuff in the water supply." That was good enough for me. I started taking it, and after it'd been in my system for a while (it can take up to a month), people around me said they could see a big difference. I still struggled with things, of course, but it didn't seem as bad.
In 2006, we packed up and moved from Ohio to Georgia. Once we'd been down here for a while, a new doctor prescribed Citalopram, which he said was a "generic of Lexapro", which I now know isn't really the case (Escitalopram is the generic of Lexapro; Citalopram is the generic of Celexa). Then a few years later, a new general practitioner switched me to Sertraline (generic of Zoloft). It's been okay, but again, I feel like it hasn't been as effective as it should be.
The reason I'm writing this is to get down a lot of the things about me that seem to align with people that have been diagnosed with ADHD. Maybe some patterns will emerge, or some folks that have it can corroborate some of these symptoms.
A lot of the more "typical" symptoms of ADHD don't really apply to me. For example, I think I was a pretty good student. At least I don't recall having many issues getting good grades, paying attention in class, or getting homework done (but we'll talk about memory later on). And I don't think anyone thought of me as lazy or messy. But there are a lot of symptoms that especially affect adults with ADHD I certainly can relate to.
Attention and Distractibility
While the common joke about ADHD is that you're always yelling "SQUIRREL!" in response to some distraction, it's usually not like that. If I'm honest, though, I do think I have some issues with maintaining attention, especially in conversations. I know I'm guilty of my mind wandering when my wife is speaking to me, especially if there are other distractions in the room like the TV. Sometimes my brain really does check out. Sometimes I'm focused on what my response is, even before the other person is finished. And often, even right after the conversation, I can have trouble retaining what was said.
And it's not just conversations. If I'm in the middle of a YouTube or tutorial video, especially if I'm at my computer, I can find myself pulling up Twitter or Facebook, or they'll mention some product and I pull up Amazon.
Boredom and Shiny Objects
On the subject of distractions, more often mine take the form of shiny objects. For me, this can take the form of new software or gadgets. As a web developer, it may take the form of a new programming language or framework I want to learn. Or I may go off on a deep dive learning something new in woodworking or for our next camping trip. I've always been invigorated by learning something new.
At the same time, I can get bored and restless fairly easily, especially at work. I've been building websites for over 26 years now, and it often feels like rolling the same boulder up the same hill over and over. And usually when I start running out of things to do, that's when I start looking for things to learn. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but usually I never have enough time to truly learn it well enough to make good use of it. It just becomes another abandoned, useless skill.
I've suspected for a while that my memory doesn't work like a "normal" person's does. I tend to forget things fairly easily, usually minor things. A lot of people with ADHD will constantly forget things like where they put their car keys or put cookies in the oven and forget about them. That's not normally my issue. But there's a good chance I'll completely forget what we talked about two days (or maybe 20 minutes) ago. And I guarantee I will almost instantly forget your name the first (and maybe second) time we meet. I realize everyone is forgetful at least sometimes. But this happens so often for me that I preface a lot of conversations with my wife with, "I'm sure we've had this conversation before," or "You've probably told me this already, but...".
And my long-term memory isn't any better. I just don't think I remember things like other people (or at all). Where some people can rattle off stories of things that happened in their childhood with clarity, most of my past is spotty. I remember things as brief "flashes", but rarely with any detail. This may be as true for something that happened 30 years ago or 30 days ago.
My wife recently told our daughter a story about something that happened during Christmas just after we'd gotten married. I have absolutely zero recollection of this. She said I'd mention it occasionally for a few years after that, but I don't recall that either. It's as much news to me as if it'd happened to someone else.
And sometimes this scares me.
Sometimes I'll find myself sitting in front of my computer, staring at code I've been working on all day and I'll have no idea what I was doing, or why. After the frustration passes, I start to get a little scared, and then end up just sitting there trying to will it to come back to me.
Procrastination and Motivation
At any given time, my mind is a tornado of things to do: stuff I have to do and stuff I want to do. These can range from taking out the trash or winterizing the camper to building a sewing table for my wife or rebuilding my blog (again). It gets to the point where there's so much competing for attention in my brain, it just shuts down and I don't get anything done. Some days it almost feels like there's some unseen force that's literally holding me back, pushing me back down in my seat.
Often, I try to decide on what to do in terms of what will have a larger payoff. Like, maybe I should do that piece of art first, because I could list it for sale. Or, I should spend some time working on my site or learning some new technology, because that will at least add to my "marketable skills". I tend to prioritize in terms of what I think will provide the greatest ROI (return on investment). I have a really hard time doing things for myself, just because I enjoy it.
One thing that does help motivate me is a deadline. If there's a clear date I have to hit, I'm much more likely to get started and see it through (especially if I'm being paid to do it). But often, just having the deadline itself can cause the added stress of having to get the thing done, especially if it's proving to be a struggle (ie, hard project, bad client, etc).
Another common issue with those with ADHD is with impulsivity. For me, it's not like I just say anything and everything that comes into my head. I do at least have somewhat of a filter. But I'm aware that historically I've had issues with interrupting or "talking over" people. I've been more aware of it the past couple years and am always actively trying to make sure I don't do it and become a better listener. Easier said than done sometimes.
My other impulse issue relates to finances. Many adults with ADHD tend to jump into purchases, especially if it satisfies the "shiny object" syndrome. I liken my issues with this to Mr. Toad's "manias". I tend to get fixated on something new (software, tech gadget, appliance, tool, you name it) and simply can't let it go until I've bought it.
Our 2021 purchase of a new camper is a good example. That's not to say that I regret the purchases. I usually get a lot of use out of whatever it is. But there's always that knowledge in the back of my head that it's only a matter of time until the new mania arrives. And I'm a seasoned pro at being able to justify just about any purchase to myself, especially if it can be used for "work". All that said, note that none of this is putting us in the poor house. All our bills are paid, we have money in the bank, food on the table and all that. I'd just like to be a little less impulsive in that arena.
I admit I can get irrationally angry sometimes. It manifests most often while I'm working on a development project and I just can't work something out, or can't figure out why something isn't working. I just throw up my hands and think, "Why can't I figure this out? Why am I so f**king stupid? A good developer would have figured this out by now."
It's in these moments when I'm also the most stubborn. Instead of walking away and taking a break, I keep banging away at it, hoping to make it work out of sheer will. Sometimes I'm successful. Sometimes I go to bed in a bad mood, only to fix it the next morning in five minutes.
I've been told by many over the years that I'm too much of a perfectionist, and they're not wrong. With all the things I want to do, whether it be art, development, woodworking, etc, I find it difficult to start them because I know they won't turn out how I see them in my head. I assume it won't be good, so I'm afraid to start. Nothing scares me more than a blank canvas.
As I mentioned, I've been a web developer for 26 years. And every day, at least once a day, I feel like a total and utter failure and fraud. I always assume everyone else on a project knows more than me. I don't think I could ever mentor anyone junior because I'd never feel like I was qualified to teach them anything. And no matter how much experience I may have, the second someone disagrees with me, I immediately assume they're right and I'm wrong.
Related to Imposter Syndrome is this thing called "Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)" that I've recently been learning about.
Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is common with ADHD and is a strong emotional reaction that can occur from any (real or perceived) criticism, rejection, discouragement, tease, etc.
I tend to take most criticism or critique personally, especially in my programming and art (and especially if I didn't ask for feedback). Often, this feels like a personal attack and can exacerbate my imposter syndrome even more. I usually don't even get upset at the other person, but rather internalize it as a personal failing. Again, I must be the one who's wrong, right?
I now believe this is what may have led to my "rage quitting" my previous job. Without going into too much detail, I was on a stressful project where I and a couple other devs were trying to implement some new code and procedures and things just weren't going fast enough for a few people further up the ladder. One day, when something wasn't working as they'd expected, they abruptly removed me from the project and said they were going to do things another way.
This had been building up for a while and I guess something just broke in my brain. This was a clear vote of "no confidence" in me that I didn't think I could recover from, especially since it was done right in front of the entire agency. I quietly got up, packed up my desk, walked out the door and never returned. In retrospect it was unbelievably reckless of me ("Honey, I may have just quit my job"). Luckily I still had an open offer from another agency, so I took it (and am still there 5+ years later).
I've also historically been a huge quitter. I get myself into situations that lead to high levels of anxiety and my brain just has to "nope" out of them. Case in point, when I quit soccer before the first practice and literally walked off the field during the national anthem of my first little league baseball game. I've had to back out of conference talks and almost backed out of doing a talk on imposter syndrome. How's that for irony?
From what I understand, a lot of folks with ADHD have a very hard time saying "no". I definitely can relate to that. I've always had a bad habit of taking on more than I can handle at any given time. This could be anything from a website project to an art commission. Sometimes it's because it's a paying gig and at the time, I could use the extra income (maybe to fund some shiny object). But I genuinely want to be helpful, so I tend to get over-committed and then burn myself out.
Friends and Family
I usually feel like I'm a terrible friend. And son. And brother. And uncle, etc. I just don't stay in touch with people as much as I'd like. Yes, everyone is busy, but I tend to worry that they don't think of me as much of a friend as I do them. I don't reach out because why would they want me "bugging" them? My default assumption is that people aren't all that interested in me and my bullshit. I also tend to think I'm just too selfish and wrapped up in whatever daily neurotic thing I'm dealing with at the time. Who wants to be around that?
Fidgeting, Bouncing Legs
This is more of what you might think of as "typical" symptoms, but I've done it all my life. At nearly any given time, my leg is bouncing, even as I'm writing this. I'd always thought of it as nervous energy, but no idea why I did it. I've also had at least some form of restless legs syndrome (RLS) for as long as I can remember. It's normally only an issue in the evenings or after I've gone to bed. It's incredibly hard to explain, but it's this strange and irresistible urge to move your legs, clench your toes, etc. I also fidget with my feet a lot after I go to bed. I've read that RLS is common with people with ADHD, as well as sleep apnea (which I also have).
Another thing I've always done is harder to explain. I'll often "tap out" things I hear with either my feet or fingers. This could be music, but is usually speech. For example, I'll be watching a movie and realize that I'm tapping out the syllables of dialogue with my fingers. I have no idea what this would be called but I can remember doing it even as a kid. I'm not sure I've even ever told anyone about it, as it sounds like such a weird, obsessive thing to do.
But What Does It All Mean?
So here we are. What does all this mean? I've seen the checklists for ADHD and even though I think I fit a lot of the criteria, I'm not sure it's enough. And what is ADHD and what is just anxiety? I've been on meds for almost 19 years, presumably for "depression", but how much of what I deal with is depression vs anxiety vs (possible) ADHD?
I've reached a point, at 50 years old, that I need to know what's going on with my brain. So I've scheduled my first appointment with a real psychiatrist to try to pinpoint things, and hopefully get properly assessed for ADHD (or rule it out). I hope to write a followup to this post soon afterwards, once I've gotten their findings.
I hesitated a little to write this, as it paints me in a light some may not be used to seeing me in. But I know there are others in this same spot, that have the same symptoms but never thought to see if it could be labelled and treated.
I have no idea what this new doctor will be telling me, but I'm very much looking forward to learning more about myself and why I am the way I am.