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What’s it like being an ADHD adult?

By Gwen Jones

I get this question a lot.  Like….a lot a lot.  People are curious.  Guess what.  I’m here for it!  I love that people want to know me better and understand my brain.  At the ripe old age of 45, I’ve got a lot of experience.  Before I tell you, there are 2 caveats that I need to give you.

  1.  Not every ADHD person is as open and comfortable talking about this as me.  That’s cool.  It’s personal.  Make sure you save your curiosity for open spaces like this one so you don’t accidentally expose someone to trauma.
  2. ADHD is an umbrella term.  This means that there are about as many ways to experience ADHD as there are people with it.  There is a list of traits to identify ADHD in others.  But, we don’t all have all of them.

With that in mind, here is a look into Gwen’s personal brand of ADHD.

I am a natural multi-tasker

The simile I like to use for my brain is this.  It’s like being in a room with 9 people.  All of them are talking to me.  I am actually having 9 different conversations at the same time and I feel quite comfortable with that.  I feel relaxed when doing multiple things.  Even whilst writing this article, I’m also checking my calendar, listening to a podcast and meal planning for the week.  It’s comfortable and I like it.

The downside is, I’m not always a multi-task finisher.  Don’t get me wrong.  The important stuff gets done.  But, I have a tendency to start projects and hobbies and lose interest.  My garage is full of knitting, baking books, needlework, woodwork, exercise equipment and lord knows what else that I have lost interest in.  This also is an issue when I clean.  I can clean for 2 hours and accomplish almost nothing.  This is because I spend the first 30 minutes thinking of the most efficient way to clean something.  In fact, I think of 20 ways that all have strengths and weaknesses.  By the time that’s done, I’m exhausted because I’ve already cleaned the kitchen 20 times.  I need a rest.  Then, I decided to clean out a closet instead.  So, I get everything out and become overwhelmed by the visual noise in front of me.  And yes, I know that I have made my own hell, but I thought this time would be different.  And so on and so on.  Creating processes to follow is a coping mechanism I had to learn because it was not natural for me.

I am an ADHD extrovert

Many people think that all people with ADHD are extroverts.  This isn’t true.  But, for me, it could not be more true.  I love being with people.  Since I am sensory sensitive, I feed off of the energy of the room.  I can be in a room of tipsy people, be completely sober, and get carried away with everyone else’s energy.  I love to be in crowds.  I love to be the centre of attention.  This serves me well in my public speaking work.  I don’t get stage fright.  I get stage excited.  This also works for me when working with clients 1 to 1.  I feel the shifts they experience.  I mean I actually experience a feeling in my body alongside my clients.  My intuition in spaces like this helps me help others.  I love this.  Sounds amazing, right?

There is also a downside.  I experience something called rejection dysphoria.  This means that when I feel I have let someone down or I am being criticized, I experience this viscerally.  It makes me sick to my stomach.  Also, if I am caught off guard, I can become overwhelmed by the emotions of my friends and loved ones.  In the therapy and coaching space, I am prepared and grounded.  I am protected.  In the big wide world, I can get swept away by someone else’s grief or anger or sadness.  When I was younger, this made me very easy to manipulate.  I was a smart kid.  If you came at me with a logically incorrect argument, I could hold my own.  Come at teenage Gwen with emotion and I was in it with you and unable to see where your feelings stopped and my started.  I’m lucky that I learned to manage this as an adult….mostly.

I make quick decisions

Impulsivity is a part of my ADHD profile.  I decided I wanted an MSc and signed up that night.  I wanted to open a coaching practice and did it.  There was no question of what if.  This serves me in many ways.  I am great in a crisis.  I can see what needs to be done and make sure it happens.  I can pivot easily without a lot of need to stay on the current path if a better one is available.  This also means that when corporates want to add or edit content for seminars, I have no problem.  I thrive in changing spaces.

And, there’s a downside.  Some decisions require measured thought processes.  So, when I bought my first house, I skipped the inspection because I wanted that house.  What could the inspection tell me?  Turns out, the inspection can tell you that the rocks that made up your driveway are actually slag from an old mill and dangerous for you and your children to be around.  A coping skill I had to learn to identify where the pull for a decision sat in my body.  This helped me know if making a decision quickly was safe.

I have an internal clock you could set your watch to

Many people with ADHD are time blind.  I have the opposite.  I feel time.  I know instinctively when a 50-minute therapy session is at minute 45 and we need to wrap up.  I go to the kitchen 15 seconds before the timer goes off every time.  It also means I can plan how much time it takes to write a blog article or go grocery shopping and be correct within a matter of 5 minutes.

How could there be a downside here?  Let me tell you.  Procrastination is a big part of the ADHD profile.  (Blog to come)  So, I may plan 35 minutes to finish a report and start it with 35 minutes to spare.  Then, life happens.  A child gets ill.  The dog runs out of the front door.  School calls and needs a few minutes.  I have no minutes to spare and anxiety goes through the roof.  If I have learned anything from becoming a parent it is the need for a buffer in my time estimations.

I am an ideas metaverse

Big sky thinking is my favourite place to be.  Give me any topic and I can think of 20 different ways it could come to fruition.  DO I think outside of the box?  I don’t even have a box!  My brain does not need to be limited by such silly things as reality, time and space.  If you want someone to see a possibility, I am your person.  In fact, I’ll see as many as you have time for.  Anything is possible.

I’m not so good at the details.  I’m the person who would plan an amazing event and forget to order cutlery.  I’m great in a team as long as I have that person who can remind me that although anything is possible, not everything is probably or doable within a time frame.  I love those people who can keep me to deadlines and frame my ideas. I’m looking at you #Rachel Vecht.  Simple interventions help me thrive.

My hyperfocus is my superpower

For you neuro-typical people, I experience hyperfocus the same way you experience flow.  When I enter that state with my brain that works 3 times faster than the typical brain, I can absorb and create content with lightning speed.  I consume the minutiae of theories and processes and that information sticks.  At Uni, I would knock out a 5-page paper in an hour from start to finish and only need to spell check.  It’s like a USB in my brain that downloads the topic I am choosing to focus on.

Sometimes, I hyper-focus on the wrong thing.  When Pinterest came out, man….  I learned so many new skills that I will never use.  I know how to make nail polish.  Why?  Who knows?  My brain took me down a rabbit hole and I had to know.  Also, sometimes my brain hyper focuses at inconvenient times.  For example, the other night as I was going to bed, my husband said some off-hand comments about housing prices in our area.  Then, he went to sleep.  Fast forward 2 hours later to me obsessively looking at the rate of inflation and how it affects mortgages in suburban housing developments.  Y’all, we aren’t buying a house.  I just had to know!

These are just parts of what make me me.  My ADHD cannot be separated from who I am any more than my eye colour can.  It is me and I am it.  I embrace and love the difference that I bring to this world.  But, it took some time for me to get there.  I’ll talk about my diagnostic journey as an adult in a blog to come and how it changed everything.

I hope this gave you some insight into the possibilities of a life of an ADHD person.  Again, this is my experience.  Others will be different.

Gwen is an open book with a wealth of knowledge and experience who is ready and willing to share. She brings so many different perspectives to the topic of neurodiversity.