Life with ADHD

I am going to be writing a series of posts about life with ADHD. Being silent about this will not help those who come after me.

What most people see when they look at me is a relatively successful woman, with a long term partner, family, friends, and a good job. But as has often been said:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I am a very typical woman with ADHD of my generation, diagnosed later in life, with a life of struggles that I’d not really understood. For many years I had blamed myself for things that I now understand to be part of ADHD.

Now I have a much better understanding of ADHD and how it impacts on my life. It would have been beneficial if someone had helped me to navigate through this rather than learning this so late in life.

It was only in retrospect that I realised that I had developed techniques that used my dopamine response to get things done. For work I had moved into the highly paced world of working on technology related projects, with deadlines, that fed my need for dopamine. This was all without understanding the underlying condition that drove all of this.

I must note how terribly unhelpful medical and mental health professionals have been. When seeking a diagnosis a GP said “oh you’re fine”. Once, just after my diagnosis, I was seeing a psychiatrist and he said “well you’re doing ok, got a good job”. He (and it is always a bloke) failed to see the years of struggle, the years of navigating my own way through this disability. I reckon that I am at least a decade behind my contemporaries due to ADHD.

“ADHD is considered a chronic and debilitating disorder and is known to impact the individual in many aspects of their life including academic and professional achievements, interpersonal relationships, and daily functioning.”

Harpin VA. The effect of ADHD on the life of an individual, their family, and community from preschool to adult life. Arch Dis Child. 2005 Feb;90 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):i2-7. doi: 10.1136/adc.2004.059006. PMID: 15665153; PMCID: PMC1765272.

And it is a disability, a neuro developmental disorder. It has been described to me as having a disconnect between knowing and doing, it is essentially a disorder of executive function. One can know what one needs to do, but often one cannot execute upon that knowledge.

ADHDers are often described as chasing dopamine due to issues with their dopamine response. This is due to at least one defective gene, the DRD2 gene that makes it difficult for neurons to respond to dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter that is involved in feelings of pleasure and the regulation of attention.

“Molecular genetic studies have identified several genes that may mediate susceptibility to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A consensus of the literature suggests that when there is a dysfunction in the “brain reward cascade,” especially in the dopamine system, causing a low or hypo-dopaminergic trait, the brain may require dopamine for individuals to avoid unpleasant feelings. This high-risk genetic trait leads to multiple drug-seeking behaviors, because the drugs activate release of dopamine, which can diminish abnormal cravings. Moreover, this genetic trait is due in part to a form of a gene (DRD2 A1 allele) that prevents the expression of the normal laying down of dopamine receptors in brain reward sites.”

Blum K, Chen AL, Braverman ER, Comings DE, Chen TJ, Arcuri V, Blum SH, Downs BW, Waite RL, Notaro A, Lubar J, Williams L, Prihoda TJ, Palomo T, Oscar-Berman M. Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008 Oct;4(5):893-918. doi: 10.2147/ndt.s2627. PMID: 19183781; PMCID: PMC2626918.

Some studies also show that issues with norepinephrine are also implicated. (Ulke, C., Rullmann, M., Huang, J. et al. Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is associated with reduced norepinephrine transporter availability in right attention networks: a (S,S)-O-[11C]methylreboxetine positron emission tomography study. Transl Psychiatry 9, 301 (2019).

However, our medical knowledge of ADHD is still quite primitive. And, of course, there are the naysayers who say ADHD is not even a real thing, but I just put them into the same bucket a climate change deniers.

One thing is certain, over the years I have come to see my ADHD as a kind of superpower too.

More in my next post.

Featured image is from January 2, 2018 — “Information from brain magnetic resonance images (MRIs) can help identify people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and distinguish among subtypes of the condition, according to a study appearing online in the journal Radiology.”