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Adult ADHD

Could you have this disorder?

For years, society thought only children suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD), which affects about 20 million Americans. However, studies now show that ADHD isn't something children necessarily outgrow. That means about 2 to 3 percent of adults are likely to suffer with ADHD's effects—and up to 50 percent of those adults are women.

The majority of these women have add—Attention Deficit Disorder without the hyperactivity—and are often misdiagnosed as depressed, since depression is one of its symptoms. They may feel as though they're spending all their energy combating a tendency to be disorganized; they struggle with feeling inadequate because they're constantly trying to keep life from caving in. Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist who works with ADHD patients, compares the disorder to "driving in the rain with bad windshield wipers. Everything is smudged and blurred, and you're speeding along, and it's frustrating not being able to see very well."

Many sufferers don't think they have ADD because they believe high levels of stress and disorganization are the norm in our fast-paced culture. But those who have ADD suffer from constant, severe stress and disorganization. Such was the case for former schoolteacher Katherine Bond, who discovered she had ADD after attending a workshop on the disorder for the children she taught. Here's how she copes. —The Editors

It was 2 A.M., and report cards for my junior high English classes were due at 8. I still had 40 stories to evaluate in order to complete the grades. My young children were sleeping, but soon they'd be awake and need me. Why didn't you start sooner? I screamed at myself. But I had started sooner. I'd begun the stories a week ago, only to be sidetracked by lesson planning. Now I couldn't find the plans and would have to "wing" today's lesson.

I was a good teacher; I loved working with kids and always had a million creative ways of getting my lesson across. But the management involved in teaching—the record keeping, organizing, consistency—left me constantly anxious.

It wasn't until I heard a speaker at a faculty meeting speak on ADHD/ADD that I was alerted to its symptoms in adults. "They have seven different projects going at once," he said. "They struggle with organization. They tend to be impulsive and have trouble finishing things and being punctual." I sank in my chair. He was describing a day in my life!

For example, I'd put carrots on the stove and turn it on high so they'd cook quicker. While they were cooking, I'd start a cake batter, then decide it was time to call a friend about getting together the next day. I'd forget about the food and get involved in conversation. Then our cat would start meowing at me. As I'd feed her, phone cord still dangling from my ear, I'd hear the smoke alarm. Now why was that going off?

It wasn't that I was consistently inattentive as much as I consistently focused on one task to the exclusion of others. While that was great for getting projects done, it wasn't so great when it was time to make lunch for my kids—and my brain was locked in laundry mode.

As I heard the speaker describe ADHD/ADD symptoms, I felt a rush of relief. For years I'd struggled with what I thought were "character flaws." As a Christian, I'd repent of the sins of laziness and lack of discipline. I'd read more time-management books, create more organizational systems—then revert to the same patterns. Now, at least, I thought I knew why.

After that workshop, I went to an ADD specialist who went through my history, noticed a pattern, and diagnosed me with ADD.

At the end of that year, I left classroom teaching and am now a stay-at-home mom to my four children. And I made it my mission to learn more about the disorder I'd always thought was for kids.

Hyperactivity's usually the first thing people think of when they think of ADHD. However, according to Dr. Grant Martin, Christian psychologist and author of The Hyperactive Child, "Many adult women tend to have the inattentive type of ADHD, or add. They didn't get identified as children and now they're running into the wall, sometimes as young mothers, sometimes in midlife, sometimes when they get into a job that demands what they have trouble doing."

An ADHD/ADD -type personality seems to fit right into the overloaded, high-tech lifestyle that characterizes America today. But, asserts Martin, it's unequivocal that "there are people who have trouble with attention that exceeds the ability of the usual environment, parenting technique, or educational method to help."

Research suggests people with ADHD/ADD have a shortage of neurotransmitters, the brain's message-carriers. Because of this, the available neurotransmitters get overburdened with messages. Picture a secretary dumping 50 phone messages on your desk and saying, "All these are urgent." The confusion you'd feel is what I experience daily.

Since distractibility is a real problem for me, I'm frequently late. I either lock into a project and don't allow enough time to get ready to go somewhere, or try to cram too many things into a given time slot and end up leaving late.

My husband, Andy, is a patient guy, but my tardiness is his biggest frustration. To me, "on time" means within 15 minutes. Andy, however, doesn't see it that way. When my flurry of last-minute packing made us late to a conference, Andy said nothing, but glowered all the way there. I sulked. I couldn't understand why he wasn't more understanding. But I also couldn't admit that it was my fault.

I've learned it takes a lot of humility to deal with ADD. I apologize a lot because my behavior affects other people's lives: I continually lose important notices from my children's school, or forget to attend parent-teacher conferences.

Some people have found relief through medications such as Ritalin. But this hasn't been an option for me because I've been either pregnant or breastfeeding for the last 10 years. I've learned, though, there are physiological factors I can control. Out of necessity, I've developed coping strategies.

First, I've started taking better care of myself. On days when my brain is feeling foggy, I ask myself three basic questions: Have I eaten? Did I get enough sleep? and Do I need to exercise? Certainly good nutrition, adequate sleep, and physical activity are essential for everyone, but they can make a noticeable difference in a person with add.

It helps to start the day with a protein and a carbohydrate (such as egg and toast), and if I remember to take a brisk walk, the fog begins to lift.

I also begin my devotional time with a few pages of journal-writing and prayer. During this time, God often reveals strategies to help manage my day. While organization and time management are extra tough for people with add, what I lack in internal structure, I make up for with external helpers. Every day I make a list. Under A, I put the essentials: pay bills, make a salad for the potluck. Bs are important items such as doing the laundry or the dishes. Sometimes following the list is the only way I keep from wandering aimlessly around.

Besides my list, I use a daily planner. I carry it wherever I go. I often jot my responsibilities into time slots in my planner, then set an alarm to remind me to change activities. I've also found it helps to set my watch and car clock ahead 10 minutes to "trick" myself into arriving places on time.

Every few months, I have a moment of reckoning when I have to admit I have too many activities. At this point it's time for 3x5 cards. Doggedly I drag them out and on each one, I list one of my activities. I write down everything I can think of, including the obvious: worship; teach; volunteer at school; spend time alone with my husband; eat; sleep. Then I assess which things I can eliminate or cut down on. The cards hold me accountable for what's truly important. I've found, for example, nurturing my family's more important than a spotless house. And if I forget, my family gently reminds me, per my request. "We need another date together, Mama," my 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, said to me this morning. "Just you and me."

I've also learned to delegate. Maybe I can divide up that list of calls with someone at church. Maybe I can let Sarah make sandwiches for dinner one night. Sometimes, I just have to go to my husband, Andy, and say, "Help me think. I can't put my thoughts in order." I appreciate his orderly mind, patience, and encouragement more than I can say.

On the days when the laundry's a foothill to the Cascades, the toys have reproduced all over the living room, the dishes are hosting living organisms, and I'm late for a meeting with my child's teacher, I send up a distress signal to God. I could easily spend most of my time feeling guilty about what I've left unfinished, and anxious about what I have yet to begin. But I'm learning this guilt isn't from God. He loves me as I am—and his grace makes change possible. Although the term Attention Deficit Disorder sometimes causes me to squirm, I've decided that having add need not be a liability in my life. In fact, my creativity and periods of intense attentiveness have allowed me to do things I might not have done otherwise, such as professional storytelling. With structure and God's grace, I'm making peace with life with add.

Katherine G. Bond, a freelance writer, lives with her family in Washington.

How Do You ADD Up?

• have a lot of trouble sustaining attention.
• make careless mistakes and don't pay attention to detail.
• tune out during conversations, lectures, sermons.
• have difficulty keeping track of schedules.
• constantly are losing things—such as your purse, papers, keys.
• can't remain still—physically restless, fidgety.
• have trouble completing projects and jump from one activity to another.
• were told by parents and teachers you should have tried harder in school.
• are frequently forgetful.
• are frequently rushing, overcommitted, or late.
• make impulsive decisions or purchases.
• frequently blurt something out before you think.
• feel overwhelmed and disorganized in your daily life.
• are easily distracted from the task you are doing.
• go off on tangents in conversations.
• tend to interrupt.
• have trouble balancing your checkbook or doing paperwork.

Having difficulty with one or two of these things doesn't mean you have ADHD. However, if you responded "yes" to several, you may want to seek help from a qualified health professional.—Ginger McFarland

Get Help Getting a Grip

People with ADHD often know what they want to accomplish or change, but don't know how to get it done. Enter the ADD coach, a hired professional to help you get a handle on your life.

ADD coaching is a one-on-one, nontherapeutic intervention for managing ADHD symptoms. Like a personal trainer, the ADD coach is equal parts listener, cheerleader, teacher, and standards-keeper. First, a coach helps a client identify goals and values. Then she develops individualized systems for organizing, following through on tasks, or managing time. Unlike most consultants, an ADD coach provides high levels of emotional support and accountability through frequent, ongoing contact.

For example, if you or your spouse needs a system for paying bills, a coach might suggest the use of a calendar with pockets. Bills and time-sensitive items can be tucked in an appropriate date to keep them from being lost or overlooked. In addition, your coach might encourage you or your family member to deal with any correspondence at the same time every day.

Coaches work over the phone, by fax or online service, at the workplace, or in the home, depending on your needs or preferences. Some clients prefer short, daily phone appointments, while others gain more from longer, less frequent contact or in-person sessions.

Coaching can be an excellent complement to medication and counseling in an overall ADHD treatment program. To learn more about ADHD and ADD coaching, check your local library, ask your healthcare provider, or visit www.add.org. —Amy Chapin

NOTE: For your convenience, the following products, which were mentioned above, are available for purchase from the ChristianityToday.com Shopping Channel:

The Hyperactive Child, by Grant Martin

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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