ADHD. The D of dichotomy

Written by Anneri Oosthuizen

I believe that ADHD is a dichotomy, a condition of contrast… people living with ADHD are either exceptionally energetic or really tired, we are very sad or very happy, extremely excited or deeply disappointed, starting something great but rarely finishing, tremendously productive or the master of procrastination, hyper focused or easily distracted, and most of these switches happen within seconds or minutes of each other…. And so, each day living as an adult with ADHD is a rollercoaster ride.

I can list a word cloud of negative symptoms and characteristics but there are also so many positives and I believe somewhere in-between lies the true me. The problem is finding the in-between, the pause, and the space as we experience the extremes as described above on a typical, busy day.  One of my biggest battles is to accept and learn that I am neurodivergent and not the same as other people, even though living like this feels normal to me. (Until I see myself on a video, and think, ”Who is that, why is she moving so much, and can she just give the other person a chance to speak?”) I need to accept that this diagnosis is one of my greatest allies but can also be a sneaky enemy.  I need to embrace and understand the downside and celebrate the upside of this complex state of living. Each day I need to practise  stopping before I am depleted, as rest should not have to be earned; although rest can be boring even though it is necessary, so this too needs to be planned properly so you do not fill this up with more mess and unfinished ideas/projects.

Recently, I have learned an amazingly freeing thought – ADHD is not a deficit of attention, we have super-power-like attention skills – it is a deficit of everyday attention. So, the attention span that makes adult life work is a challenge… answering emails/WhatsApps, doing personal finances, cooking meals for your family… when on the other side there is a deadline or emergency, I am your girl!  And to make adult life work we need to practise these skills so they become a little easier for ourselves or just make lots of money so that we can pay someone to do this!

To cope with my emotions, and in order not to tire or irritate the people around me I have become a master at masking, but this is tiring for me.  So, for me it is imperative that you find your tribe – your people that accept you and who can be gently direct with you when you are too much; the ones who love you despite the things that jump out of your mouth or if you take five days to respond to a simple message;  the ones who have a big tank and can be your calm when you are verbally processing a situation (side thought – read up on ADHD verbal processing… it is fascinating).

As ADHD is a disorder of neurotransmitters, you need to learn about which ones are your  “Achilles heel” and how to naturally or medically increase these in your brain in a healthy way.  This is not doom-scrolling on your phone to up your levels of dopamine, although technology like TikTok and Facebook have taught me so much, provided me with an extended community, offered me examples to explain what I experience and shown me the universality of the experience of living with ADHD each day.  This involves understanding that neurotransmitters are fickle things, and it takes a village (husband, friends, doctors, therapists, kids) to keep them in check, as they have a huge impact on all areas of your functioning.  There is some fascinating research on how cold showers each day naturally increase your dopamine.

I do believe that ADHD has so many hidden benefits that we need to highlight in our journey to acceptance.  Here are a few:

  • We easily complete our daily step goals by walking from room to room trying to remember why we are there and what we were looking for.
  • We become very good detectives and have amazing visual foreground/ background skills as we are always searching for our things amongst the mess we have made.
  • We can do so many tasks at one time, as most of the time we underestimated how much time was left and now we need to finish in record time, or we will be late.
  • Having very good question-asking abilities… mostly because we are so eager to learn, but also because when there is a silence or a new person we feel quite uncomfortable and will fill each silence with questions to the other person in a bid to make them feel welcome. And then also because we interrupt so easily as this thought is the most important one, and if I do not tell you immediately, I will lose it!
  • Being a jack of all trades and master of none, as we know just enough of so many crafts, ideas, topics or projects to be able to have an in-depth discussion on numerous endeavours we started but never actually finished.
  • Being used to the unknown as we also do not always know what is going to happen next, which words will jump out of our mouths or what facial expression will decide to pop up. We are very adept at explaining what was actually meant and we can apologise very well seeing as though we have to do it so often.  Most of the time, our intentions are not very well understood as our actions unfortunately do not always follow typical social rules.
  • Superior googling/Chat GPT search skills as when we watch a programme/ learn a new skill we do a deep dive on all aspects because we are bored or because we have to know instantly… how tall is the actor, how much does $1,000,000 weigh, where is the deepest part of the sea, what is the average number of seeds on a strawberry or how many jumps does a gymnast make in one routine… only to forget this information instantly. So, we repeat this over and over and get very good at identifying search terms and parameters.
  • Crisis management and creative problem-solving – seeing clearly what needs to be done and in what order to sort this mess out… this is actually the only way we sort out a mess, otherwise we will leave it till later, so we have this skill going for us. We need this to be creative in order to hold our attention.

At the end of the day, we are flawed humans like everyone else, but we are sprinkled with some very exciting traits, and I believe that knowledge is power, so the more you can understand yourself, the easier you can make life for yourself and those around you.  As we live our ADHD truth, we also pave the road a little by little with this knowledge for the ones who will follow behind us – naturally I am talking about ADHD kids, as typical kids will not have the energy to keep up!

So just a short disclaimer before I finish:  This is my experience, which I obviously typed only a day before it was due, although I knew about it for months.  I also know that each person has a different world and life experience.  I do however hope you found some resemblance, humour, or enlightenment in reading about the dichotomy that is my life.  If you need to talk to me, get some good references (which I naturally googled at some point) or just want to debrief, you are welcome to contact me or you can just follow the trail of broken “dreams” (projects/party planning/ideas) and find me stuck in the corner of my own mess.