I recently decided to start seeing a psychiatrist again to seek help for my symptoms of anxiety, mood swings, and impulsive behavior.
My previous psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and recommended that I start psychotherapy. But the cost of getting medical help can be quite steep for most ordinary Filipinos. The same holds true for psychotherapy.
Back then, I didn’t have a full-time job, relied plainly on business earnings, and had not yet committed to freelancing.
So I delayed my evaluation and carried on with life, simply hoping that I would not react so badly to inevitable triggers.
Until recently, I reached out to a fellow support group member’s psychiatrist. He offered me a flexible payment deal. This enabled me to pursue diagnosis and treatment without having to worry about my family’s sustenance.
At this point, I might ask myself: “Hey, you think about this now, but how come when you see something interesting on a store display, all that monetary concern flies out the window?”
And snap! There goes one ADHD symptom hiding in plain sight.
How ADHD came up
I remember mentioning to my psychiatrist that I would often come across some videos about ADHD. And somehow, I just found them relatable.
I rambled about how, at one point during the pandemic, I spent an unreasonable (or shall I say alarming) amount of money impulsively pursuing my special interests.
I also mentioned that I have always found focusing difficult.
He then sent me a diagnostic questionnaire.
The next week, my diagnosis came through.
I most certainly had ADHD.
So often, the mention of ADHD brings up a mental picture of ill-behaved children who can’t stop moving around, fidgeting, or disrupting others. But, contrary to general belief, ADHD is not just a “kid thing,” nor is it solely about hyperactivity. There is another subtype of ADHD called inattentive ADHD which often manifests as forgetfulness, disengagement, or distractibility.
And that is precisely what I have.
How come they never caught it early?
I was a “Gifted Kid,” or so they called us back in the late 1990s and early 2000s — just one specimen in a cohort of precocious children who seemed more intellectually advanced than their peers.
(The term “specimen” is fitting because we served as living science experiments, in a sense. We were always under scrutiny – by psychologists, by teachers, and by the whole education system that didn’t know what to do with us.)
I breezed through my academics in the early years. My curiosity and eagerness served me well back then. Sure, I had a lot more interests than I could handle – but that has to be a good thing, right?
But once the more complicated aspects of school such as scheduling entered the picture, things suddenly got hard.
The growing inconsistency between my real self and other people’s perception of me bothered me a lot.
In my mind, I always had to be “that smart kid.” Otherwise, who else would I be?
It never crossed my mind that I could have ADHD due to the stigma attached to this particular condition at the time. Many would even confuse ADHD for autism. And back then, people didn’t treat those on the autism spectrum too kindly.
Of course, today, we know better.
But, back then, people viewed mental health in overly simplistic ways.
What’s my ADHD like?
My mind can go a mile a minute, and that’s certainly what it’s doing now.
That comes in handy when, say, I have a blog or column to cram in a short period of time.
But on ordinary days, this can get overwhelming.
I might be working on my content management job when suddenly I’d spot the “blog tags” section on my WordPress dashboard. Before I know it, I’m searching about tags because I suddenly realized that I’m not so familiar with how they work. And then of course, I would have to look up best SEO practices, so I’d do that. Then I’d remember this one blog post I wrote about Marikina, which would get me searching for the best shoe stores in Marikina. So on, so forth…
Then somehow things go full circle back to blogging and I’m looking up the best content management tools, trying to learn how to figure out a great posting schedule. You’d have figured since I have a blog right now, I’d already know this, right? Actually, nope. I may have looked it up, but I didn’t finish reading everything because some random idea came along and got my full attention.
True story, yo.
In fact, it’s the story of my life at this very moment.
How difficult can it be?
Here’s the thing – my mind can be quite unreliable.
You see, I only function this way when I’m under a certain amount of pressure. That pressure is what actually drives me to work.
Otherwise, my energy is scattered. I’m all over the place, unable to focus on one single task.
This week was not so good. I should be clocking in at least 4 hours of work a day, but in the past three days, I worked only an hour each day.
You can just imagine my horror when I took a good, hard look at my time tracking app. Only then did it fully register in my head that I wasn’t doing enough work.
I suddenly found myself trying to think of ways to clock in 15 hours in a single day.
In short: looking for a miracle.
No surprise there
Truth be told, this is not a one-off incident. In fact, this describes how I lived most of my high school and college life.
I was always on the edge, desperately figuring out strategies to accomplish what my brain simply decided to ignore and file away as “unimportant” – when in fact, these tasks were crucial.
No wonder I graduated from college a couple of years behind schedule.
Oh, and I also hopped from one course to another – not one, not two, but three times!
I almost did it again, but had to remind myself: third time’s the charm.
As my last years of college approached, I became increasingly antisocial. But I hyperfocused on my thesis, and that’s how I managed to get my bachelor’s degree.
When I got my first job, it felt fun to earn for the first time. For once, I could afford my hobbies!
But it didn’t take long before my entry-level salary ceased to be interesting. The 8 hours I needed to spend in the office felt like torture. Oftentimes, I would sit in front of my work laptop, secretly immersed in a different project.
Thankfully, my coworkers were all wonderful people. They showed me only kindness and understanding. Still, that wasn’t enough to keep me on board. I felt sad about leaving, but at this point I felt like an odd piece that didn’t fit the corporate puzzle. So I decided to become an entrepreneur and try “making it” on my own.
I had a good run with entrepreneurship. I’m also thankful that my husband decided to take that uncertain road with me. But now that we have a family to sustain, I can’t help but crave stability and self-control. And these two things don’t come easy for a person with ADHD.
Where does the road lead?
That, for me, is uncertain territory.
In an ideal world, I would be able to ignore distractions completely and be able to follow schedules to a T.
But as setting expectations is important, I must realize that ADHD will likely follow me through life. I cannot simply wish it away or undergo any sort of therapy that will make me “ADHD-negative” somehow.
Medication will keep it under control, and so far that’s been my experience with Ritalin. This highly controlled stimulant regulates my brain’s dopamine system so that doing a singular task is more “rewarding.”
There are a couple of drawbacks to this drug, however: 1) it’s quite expensive, and 2) it’s not widely available, at least in the area where I live. Only the 24-hour branches of Mercury Drug carry it – and in limited quantities at that.
For these reasons, I’m unable to take it on a regular schedule. Instead, I opt for the next-best treatment schedule: taking it on demand.
Better that, than nothing at all.
I’ve also decided to read up on strategies on how to manage my workspace and schedule as a person with a highly limited attention span. One such strategy is to keep a “brain dump” nearby. It could be a notebook, pad, or any piece of paper on which I can jot down the random ideas that pop up out of the blue, disturbing my focus. Instead of engaging with the thoughts, I can archive them for a later time.
More importantly, I try not to sweat over the ADHD label. It simply explains the unique way my brain works, but it need not define me completely.