For me, the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light some issues that I had (apparently) been coping with for my entire life. Suddenly, in addition to the massive ever-present stressor everyone else was dealing with, I also stepped into a more senior role at work, while working from home, while co-parenting a chaotic-good 4-year-old Tasmanian devil with cabin fever.
During that time, my workdays were less productive due to the impossible task of having to be both a full-time parent and full-time tech lead, but the demands were greater than ever. To make up time, I started working what I called “the night shift” — not set hours, but basically as little sleep as I could get away with in order to maximize my productive working time. It was miserable, but I at least felt like I could focus during those hours when nobody was Slacking me, emailing me, or asking me for more Cocoa Puffs.
Somewhere in there, it occurred to me that these focus issues, now very pronounced, had been present in one form or another for my whole life. The majority of my college coursework was done late at night. Academic papers were put off until the last possible day, when I would check out my source texts from the library and pull an all-nighter to write a 5 or 10 page essay that would somehow get an A or B.
Still, while I was aware of ADHD, I had always dismissed it as a possibility. In fact, sometimes, when working on an interesting problem, I felt like I could focus too well — I skipped meals and got angry when I was forced, for one reason or another, to stop. Then I learned about hyperfocus, and things made a lot more sense. If the task in front of me is not rewarding enough, I will put if off as long as possible, until (in the case of work or school) an impending deadline makes it exciting. If, on the other hand, I am given an interesting problem to solve, I will gladly spend all day chipping away at it. That’s hyperfocus — and it’s one of the only reasons I have been able to have success in life.
After finding out about hyperfocus, I started reading more about ADHD and took a few online quizzes that confirmed my suspicions. Here are a few behaviors I learned were related to my undiagnosed ADHD:
- Being distracted by an interesting bird / flower / cloud / squirrel
- Interrupting someone (usually my wife) to tell them about the interesting bird / flower / cloud / squirrel
- Fidgeting / stimming: Cracking my joints, spinning pens, drumming on my desk, tapping my feet, playing with bits of paper, clicking pens, chewing gum compulsively.
- Having a high tolerance for risk: Skateboarding, driving fast.
- Blurting / foot-in-mouth: How about telling my mother-in-law that pumpernickel means “devil’s butthole” — It’s actually “devil’s fart” but regardless SHE DID NOT NEED LEARN THAT FROM ME.
- Irritability / anger: I am prone to road rage, and get easily worked up. Not proud of it.
The research I had done let me to self-diagnose as ADHD in 2020 at the age of 36. I got an “official” diagnosis in November 2021 and have been managing my symptoms with medication since then.
Discovering I had ADHD in middle age had a profound impact on me. It caused me to re-evaluate the whole course of my life, and how things might have been different if I (or my parents or teachers) had recognized the signs sooner. Just being aware of this peculiarity of my brain has helped me reconcile behaviors like procrastination and hyperfocusing that seem contradictory but have always gone hand-in-hand for me.
Before starting medication, I really grappled with the idea that my ADHD was a core part of me: If I suppressed it, would I still be myself? And I was really resistant to the idea of popping pills daily to help me better perform my role in our psychotic capitalist system. But at the same time, my work is my craft, and it was incredibly frustrating to feel stymied by something out of my control. So I opted to try medication, with the knowledge that I could stop at any time. It’s hard to really gauge how effective the meds have been on their own, since shortly after starting them several of my pandemic-related stressors were removed. But in combination, I feel like my ability to focus at work has improved. When I’m on my meds, I can count on being able to focus when I need to.
So that’s my ADHD journey, for now. I still have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that the ideal outcome for me would be to organize my life so that I could manage without medication, but I’m just not sure that’s realistic. In any case, it would require a commitment on my part to regular therapy/coaching, plus diet and exercise changes.
My ADHD Stims
These are the Dopamine Inducers that really do it for me.
- Fast rap / hip-hop — Check out my Hip-Hop Brain Massage playlist on Spotify
- Trance and other EDM, especially full live sets. rave_on on SoundCloud is a great source!
- Professional mountain biker Kilian Bron’s YouTube channel
- Skateboarding videos, especially the “rough cut” versions on Thrasher’s YouTube channel that include the many failed attempts before the make.
- First-person videos of people walking in nature, especially these Iceland walking tours
- Fast-paced, technical, precise video games. Currently obsessed with OlliOlli World