When I went to my first ADHD group meeting I was struck by the similarity of the other people there to myself. Each person was unique and were from various walks of life, some in corporate business, a few self-employed, some unemployed and others struggling or getting by in various jobs.
We were also different from each other in terms of style or look. Some hippies, some punky types, some sporty types, some conventional types, some cool, trendy types, some scruffy, some smart, some playing safe, some totally outrageous. Some were confident, others awkward, some funny, some sad. They couldn’t have been more different but there was a common thread running through us all. It was as if we shared a personality.
As I heard people talk about their troubles, their successes and failures, their lives, it sounded like it was me talking. It could have been me. By describing themselves they were also describing each other. I recognised myself in what they said and it made me finally accept, yes, Angie, you definitely have ADHD.
It’s funny that most of us who have this neurological condition have difficulty accepting it. I’m forever telling myself “Don’t be silly, you don’t have ADHD! They made a mistake, there’s no such thing” etc etc. Well apparently most people with ADHD also have this same voice in their head. They also find life extremely hard to cope with.
One thing that we all share is we have a malfunctioning limbic system in our brains. The limbic system consists of four brain areas; the hypothalamus (in charge of stress hormones); the amygdala (which regulates anxiety and fear), the hippocampus (affecting memory and recall) and finally the cingulate cortex (this ties the limbic system together in a way by deciding what you need to pay attention to).
Depending on how this system is malfunctioning it can produce slightly different results. An overactive amygdala often produces excessive worrying. Too many stress hormones from the hypothalamus can result in depression. This continual depression then affects our ability to control our worrying which then stimulates the production of more stress. This is a horrible, vicious circle where we are continuously in “fight or flight mode”.
So, although we are all different, our brain chemistry is similar. We still don’t know exactly what causes ADHD to happen but it seems that it is likely to do with our dopamine transmitters. These allow dopamine to travel from one cell to another, carrying messages. Our transmitters are crap basically. They are not completing the journey or are dropping the contents on the way! So messages are not getting through. This makes it hard for us to learn, pay attention, stay still, relax, focus, stop thinking. Our brains are constantly wired, trying to make sense of a nonsensical brain. It can be exhausting!
At my first meeting one girl said “I’m usually seen as the weak one, the worrier, always anxious, flakey, accident prone. But when things actually go wrong I am the one who copes. It’s like I turn into a super-hero and I feel really calm.” I laughed as this is almost word-for word, the same as I describe myself. It’s like I can finally relax when a disaster happens. Now I know what’s wrong, I can deal with it. Nothing can be worse than what I’ve already imagined in my head. And, after all the worrying, ruminating on solutions, it’s as if I’ve rehearsed every disaster scenario already and am prepared.
Another man spoke of his frustration with work. No matter how hard he worked, there was always a sense of climbing a mountain made of sand. Each step you climb, more sand fell beneath you, making progress very slow. He described how he procrastinated deliberately too create more stress. He could only be effective in his work when under extreme stress so often left things till the last minute, meaning his work was careless, rushed and full of mistakes. Again, he could have easily been describing me.
It’s weird to think that the traits that I thought were my personality, the idiosyncrasies that make me who I am, are all just caused by brain chemistry. It makes me wonder who we really are.