Butterfingers…Spacehead…Goldfish Brain…These are some of the few colourful nicknames I have collected throughout my teens. NGL, I am sometimes clumsy and often find myself zoning out in boring situations. But goldfish brain? Science has proven goldfish indeed have longer memories than 3 seconds; meaning my high school bullies got their facts terribly wrong. Forgetfulness is one of the symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder); a fact that my younger self would’ve loved to be privy to.
My diagnosis came later, at 25, while seeking therapy to break harmful habits and patterns. But by then, a lot of damage was already done. From skipping classes in college to crippling self-doubt that still lingers today, undiagnosed ADHD can do real damage to a person. While I lie on the average mark on the spectrum of neurodiversity, struggles of adults higher on the spectrum should be enough to make one take notice.
And that’s where the essence of this story lies – adults with ADHD. While India’s education system and the next generation of educators and mental health health professionals are working towards being inclusive to neurodiverse children, what about the grown-ups who missed the mark? Take it from me, it’s not too late. The right guidance can right a lot of wrings. But to understand that, one must first know this – “Functionality is overemphasized, or people are expected to conform to certain neurotypical standards or to try to “fit in” by being functional. The justice perspective teaches us that wiring is not the issue- having a world that only recognizes and caters to one way of wiring is the problem. We need to de-stigmatize living with ADHD first, then focus on management,” reveals, Bhavya Kulshreshtha, Psychologist & Narrative Practitioner.
What is ADHD?
I describe my ADHD as being my clumsy Gemini twin, but how would a professional do it? Bhavya reveals, “ADHD is a form of neurodivergence (ND). Neurodivergence is basically brain wiring- each brain is wired and inspired differently! Brains with ADHD have difficulty regulating attention- sometimes there’s too much of it and sometimes too little. While some parts of ADHD are manageable and even welcomed (out-of-the-box thinking, creativity, etc.), some aspects are difficult.” While navigating one’s ADHD requires time, patience and commitment, we got Bhavya to answer some pressing questions as starters.
ELLE: What are some of the common stressors of ADHD?
Bhavya: The common stressors for worsening difficulties with concentration, multi-tasking, emotional regulation, impulsivity and other things that come with ADHD include stress, lack of sleep, sensory overstimulation, substance use, hormonal imbalance and/or menstrual cycles, and even certain foods! The factors that worsen ADHD difficulties might vary for each individual so exploring and understanding them can be crucial.
ELLE: In your professional opinion, why do you think there is still stigma attached to ADHD?
Bhavya: I don’t think there is enough awareness about ND/ADHD. Most people, even sometimes mental health practitioners, don’t consider how brain wiring plays a role in how we think, learn, play, behave, feel and relate to others. The visibility of and awareness around ND is so low, that people are more likely to label themselves as lazy, procrastinating, unmotivated, lacking the ability or not enough before considering that something else might be going on.
I would encourage people to read more about ADHD, especially the stories and experiences of people who live with ADHD themselves! There is growing information about the everyday ways in which ADHD shows up in people’s lives and how to recognize that. If you’re noticing yourself struggling, or if some recurring problems are coming up, don’t ignore them or brush them off. Get w about what is going on. Make observations, and take notes. Managing ADHD is not a one-size fits all approach, it needs to be personalized. Hence understanding how your mind works is the best starting point!
ELLE: Can ADHD be cured?
Bhavya: There is nothing to “cure” because brain wiring does not need “fixing”. But while ADHD can’t be cured, each person can absolutely learn how to navigate its effects of it in the way that works best for them. Some steps are “hacks” and might be “instant.” This could be stuff like setting alarms/reminders, having designated places for each thing so you know where to find it, writing a to-do list, etc.
But much of what is needed is to establish a relationship with our ADHD in a way that feels meaningful to us. This can involve cultivating certain skills and just like any other skill, these will require time and practice. For someone, this might be using the Pomodoro Technique to get work done (Google it, it’s super easy to try and useful for a lot of folks!). For someone else, this might look like mindfulness skills. For someone else, it may be reassuring self-talk to manage stressful tasks. Others may gamify things or make their workspace or their house more ADHD friendly!
ELLE: What are some of the long-term and sustainable ways of navigating ADHD?
Bhavya: That includes a few different important components and ideas:
1. Understand that neurodivergence is not a problem. Living in a world that expects people to conform to one way of working is the problem. You don’t need to “fix” anything, rather you need to find ways to work WITH your brain than AGAINST it. Can’t wake up early in the morning? Don’t. Even if everyone says waking up early does wonders, it may not be right for you and that’s okay!
2. Therapy is a space to make meaning and learn skills to navigate these. For instance, identifying one’s triggers, learning emotion regulation skills or communication skills, practising sleep hygiene, finding the right balance of stimulation, etc. Some people also take medication for ADHD/mood-related concerns.
3. Brains with ADHD don’t need to “slow down” as is commonly thought of. They actually need MORE stimulation than most. Make sure you have enough just-right challenges in your life and work, that will make them more enjoyable, interesting and easy to engage with.
4. Give extra attention to sleep, movement and nutrition. Biorhythms play an important role in ADH.
5. Take lots of breaks! It’s okay to work in small chunks rather than long sustained hours. Use your breaks to meet your needs for movement, stimulation, nourishment etc.
6. Start working on letting go of shame/guilt/self-blame. It depresses your motivation and only makes things worse. It’s not about your willpower or your strength. Your difficulty is real.
7. Just having a brain with ADHD and finding ways to be productive is not the whole story. The truth is that ADHD has an impact way beyond people’s work. It affects their emotions, identity, relationships, their bodies and so much more. It is important to find ways of addressing those as well and not only focus on functionality. One of the most supportive ways one can do that is to work with a mental health professional to understand, identify and work towards creating the changes they want to experience in their lives.
In conclusion, being neurodiverse shouldn’t be seen as problem but an opportunity to explore alternative ways of thinking, behaving and learning. Living with ADHD has certainly changed my perspective on life. I can escape into grandiose daydreaming scenarios that feel scarily real and also am able to tap into my hyper-focus state when doing crucial tasks. The dichotomy sounds painful, but for me, it makes for an incredibly exciting life – all inside my “silly little brain”!
Photos: Pexels; Giphy