Dealing with ADD, ADHD or… whatever

My Advice For A Teenage Me, And Maybe a Teenage You As Well

This morning I woke up from a dream where I was watching an interaction between a mother and teenager escalate into an argument and I decided to hug the teenager and pass on the advice below. This is what I remember saying in the dream, or at least pretty close. I wish someone would have said this to me.

When I was in grade school, even all the way through high school, we didn’t know about ADD or ADHD, I was just weird. Depression just meant you were sad. Anger issues just meant you were crazy. Basically anything that made you different just meant you were defective.

Now we have more awareness and that’s good, mostly. However, it also means that we get labeled in a different way; maybe not crazy or defective, but ADD or “suffering from depression”. Like I said, it’s good to have awareness, but sometimes… sometimes people get trapped in boxes by labels, start living up to labels and even sometimes use them as a crutch. Not always, maybe not you, but it happens and it’s something to be aware of.

Here are some things I think it’s worth remembering:

You have limited reserves – Every thing you do every day takes up some of you time, presence and mental energy. Some things take more than others and what those things are will depend on who you are. For me, as an introvert with ADD, the highest cost activities are those where I have to focus hard on something I have little interest in while being surrounded by people, especially if I’m the center of attention.

After an event like that I will feel totally jazzed up and energized, for about thirty minutes. After that, I will totally crash and need some time apart to recover. This leads to the next item.

Recognize when you are low on reserves – This is important. I have a few markers I watch for: difficulty focusing or finding words, blurting out statements instead of conversing and, when it’s bad, I actually feel a tingly heat on the top and back of my head.

For me another key indicator is that I move slowly, stare kind of vacantly, and my voice is nearly inaudible, and you’re not communicating clearly, and sometimes I speak in nonsense words, which I think might be my brain trying to keep awake but not able to form coherent phrases.

If I’m stuck at an event it’s a good idea to head to the restroom and do some quiet time, maybe even meditation. Another good option is to go for a short walk, or even pick up a cell phone and step to the side of the room and pretend to be in a conversation.

Know what to do when you are low on reserves – If you aren’t trapped at an event, here are some other ideas.

Good things to do while low on reserves

Nap. (don’t get addicted to napping when you feel low, it can lead to being dependent just like anything else.)

Exercise. Yoga, tai chi and martial arts are amazing for this, but if you don’t feel like you can do that, trying running or even just stretching or dancing and “shake it off”.

Meditation. You would not believe how many cool points you can get later in life by saying “I used to have issues with blah blah, but I totally used meditation to over come it.” Really, it can sound like you’re got this superpower that they can learn too. Don’t overplay it, but it is awesome.

Believe it or not, something like knitting can be really helpful. I was never able to “get” knitting, but I have seen it work well for a lot of people. Apparently once you learn the actions it’s a lot like going into a trance state. Basically anything that can let your mind rest but keep your body active can be great.

NOTE: There is often a transition time. You might need a few minutes to go from your cool-down/rest activity to going back to interacting with the rest of the world.

Bad things to do on reserves:

Facebook, video games, most TV – These things actually drain your reserves as much as they help you recover from them and can end up causing low-reserve hangover. It’s like plugging in your cell phone when it’s down to 2% battery and using it for making calls at the same time, you don’t actually gain much that way.

Things that might seem good but can lead to bad

Hanging out with friends “being crazy” might seem like it’s helping, but you might just feeding off a temporary energy that will cause a crash and can also involve bad-decision making. Sometimes, being low on reserves make you extra-suggestible, and sometimes it even can be similar to being drunk, which might feel good but is a bad place to be in the wrong situation. Be cautious and self-aware!

Reading. I hesitate to say this because I love reading, reading saved my life when I was an adolescent and I still love it today. The key is, you can over do reading as recovery and it can lead to a different kind of hangover, or simply missing out on other things. Read, read tons, all the time! But be aware of what you aren’t doing when you’re reading (like, in my case, sleeping. I can’t even say how much sleep I missed in high school due to all-nighter sci-fi reading.)

And that’s the biggest key, for any kind of recovery activity, be aware, know what helps you and what just feels good because those aren’t always the same thing.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Good, regular sleep is essential. Did you know you can die from lack of sleep faster than lack of food? Every aspect of your mental, physical and psychic health depend on good sleep.

Recognize you have resources, like family – When I was in college and complaining I remember once saying “What I need is a executive assistant that pays attention to schedule and reminds me of what I need to do each day.” And a friend helpfully said “It sounds like what you want is a mommy. It’s time you got a date book and started doing it yourself.”

Recognize your resources might feel like they are driving you crazy or nagging – So yeah, your mom or dad might seem like they are just being a jerk or nagging all the time. However, if you think about the service they’re providing in that nagging, just look into how much executive personal assistants get paid, and your parents are doing for free!

Recognize that every time you and that resource (i.e. your parents) argue, you are doing it out a place of love.

Underneath 90% of arguments are these statements:

They’re saying “I love you and I worry about you because I love you. I want you to be happy and great.”

And you are saying “I love you and I feel like your judgments of me indicate that you love me less, or don’t trust me.”

Regarding being trusted, see the above about reserves. Sometimes, compare yourself to being drunk or delirious or even just “hangry”. If someone says “Hey, you shouldn’t be driving right now”, it isn’t because they’re putting down your driving, it’s because they love you and don’t want you to get hurt. If I’m delirious from being over-stimulated and I have no spoons left, I might not be trustworthy for certain things.

Recognize you have an issue that some other people don’t have to deal with but that you still have responsibility for yourself and your actions or inactions.

You’re allowed to be your own judge of how well you’re doing, but it’s a responsibility. Get good at it; get good at knowing how well you’re doing so you can honestly answer people who judge you. You’ll find the more times you say “you’re right, I’m not doing well right now” the more times you’ll be trusted when you say you are doing well.

Lastly, remember when you are doing well, you are amazing and when you think you aren’t, it just means you building up to those times when you are.

Because you are always amazing, it’s just that sometimes you need a bit of rest before you can express how amazing you are.

One last thing: These are all based on my experiences and conversations with a ton a of people. Even inside that sample there were exceptions to everything I’ve said, so don’t let any of this discount your personal experience, just… give it a chance before blowing it off. It’s all stuff I wish I knew at fourteen.

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