My journey of conquering ADHD
When I was a kid, there was one thing I hated more than anything, going to school. I hated it so much, that everyday, since I was 3, I would run away from my mom every morning. There was even a time when she was 7 months pregnant and she had to run around trying to calm me down so I would go to school. I know, not a great memory.
I used to take a private van to school. I would get to it, crying my eyes out and saying "I'm going to open the door of this van and jump", and I was just 4. Weird right? How could a child be so extreme about something like going to school.
This hate relationship continued throughout my older life, school was always boring and a burden for me. I never quite understood why I was there and being there caused me a lot of mental tiredness. My grades were never great and I was felt like I wasn't very intelligent either.
And this wasn't just in my school life, it impacted the way I interacted with people, the way I spent my time and much more.
Then one day, something clicked. I had learned something new, I had learned to self start. For the first time ever, I learned to study by myself, to search for content and answers online or in books.
Grades started to get better and suddenly I felt like I had a brain (not an amazing one, but something). Yet I had suffered for so long with this, and it baffled me to understand why.
When I was 19, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD. 19!!! How could it take so long? But before we get into that, let's understand what it means.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a very complex topic and I am no doctor, so take this as a grain of salt.
Most people know the classic/stereotype symptoms of it, I guess the image below describes it. Excess energy, hard time concentrating and mostly affecting children.
What most people don't know is that 60% of children with ADHD keep having symptoms into adulthood, although symptoms do improve a bit. And most people also don't know the darker side to it…
ADHD is caused mostly by a lack of dopamine (the happiness hormone) concentration in the brain, meaning everything is less pleasurable. This means tasks that are boring to everyone, like paying attention to class, is even worse for us. This leads to concentration being much harder.
Not only that but things like paying attention to your girlfriend while they describe their day, listening to conversations and more are just really hard.
When under control, you tend to live a happy and normal life. The problem is most people still live with it undiagnosed, thinking it's just the way they are. As Edward Hallowell put it in "Driven to Distraction", diagnosing is the first step to treating it.
When I first got diagnosed, a lot of things in my childhood started making sense. For example, I hated school because I was being taught in a way that I could never learn, and doing that for many years, was hell. It's not that I was not intelligent, I just need to learn in a different way. And as soon as I started studying by myself, it became more pleasurable.
ADHD can really affect people's happiness but I've learned over the past years that the most important thing is creating systems and environments that truly allow you to achieve your goals. Let me break these down one by one.
How to get shit done
One of the classical symptoms of ADHD is to leave things unfinished. This happens because having the perseverance to take things to the end is hard, especially when everything is more boring. Therefore to get anything accomplished, you have to set guidelines.
The first thing is to set very clear objectives, this is crucial to know where you are and what you need to do. I normally set this into a funnel.
Start from the top and slowly head to the bottom. We need very granular tasks and clear objectives, otherwise, we derail. Every year, I update my yearly goal. Every quarter I update my quarterly goal, and so forth.
Where I feel the most difference is having this on a daily level. I use Notion to make sure I am creating granular tasks. My rule of thumb is to never have a task that takes longer than 2 hours. If I feel it'll be longer, I break it down, similar to agile methodologies.
Another reason this is important is that ADHD tends to come with imposter syndrome issues because we lack the ability to see the big picture sometimes, therefore we feel like we haven't done anything. Looking back on your goals and what you've accomplished is a great way to control that.
The tool you use is irrelevant, the most important learnings are:
- Set clear goals on all levels (10 years to daily).
- Have short tasks that you can complete within 2 hours.
- Keep track of your progress.
How to Learn
To be honest, this one is still a drag for me. During school, I learned that listening to a teacher definitely wasn't the way to go. Picking up exercises was the quickest way to get stuff done and learn. But that's much harder to apply to more complex subjects like product management or abstract concepts. My friend Mineiro has written a great article on it.
How to Interact with other people
Like I mentioned briefly above, interacting with people can be hard. I've always felt that talking to people was fine, but listening was a very hard thing. Controlling myself to not interrupt them or lose track of what they are saying, is really fucking hard. I constantly find myself turning off of what someone is saying to simply interrupt them. If I've ever done that to you, my sincerest apology.
Same as the one above, this still haunts me. The most important thing has been to tune down this fire inside of me. It's like a burning that needs to be controlled. Some hazardous things work, like alcohol, but you don't want to be constantly drunk. Meditation also helps and is a focus of mine currently. Apart from that making sure that you are "tired" is also good, by doing physical exercise.
Honestly, the best I've been at this, was when I was taking Vyvanse, a drug for treating ADHD. Those were some of the only moments I felt I could really concentrate on what people were saying.
How to control anxiety
If you're like me, I feel like I have this constant fire inside me and when I let it out of control, it consumes me. I become impatient to a whole new level, I have this inner war that makes me feel like shit. Controlling this has been a big goal of mine, as it feel it does me a lot of harm.
What has worked for me, is to simply breathe. Whenever I get into this state of mind, I start breathing deeply, slowing my brain down. I acknowledge this state and slowly control it. It's not always easy to do it, it becomes harder when other people are involved for example.
My next steps
I'm just beginning my journey in controlling this disorder. It's shaped me in ways I could never imagine, I see it in my mom, my dad and other family members. Acknowledging that it's here is a big first step, but it takes a lot of work to take into control.
I am constantly looking into the many aspects of my life and understanding where it has its biggest impact. It attacks silently, and when you notice it, it takes control of beautiful parts of your life. This much darker side is rarely talked about, yet it seems to be the ones that more strongly disturb our life.
If this resonates somehow with you, maybe you have it or a close family member has it. Feel free to reach out to me at LinkedIn. This is a topic I am passionate about and always open to engaging in interesting conversations about.