Most people who walk into my office have had damn good therapy over the years. A lot of them have been very successful. Some have been diagnosed with ADHD, some are second-guessing a second, third or fourth diagnosis. They wonder if they really have it — or what “it” really means. However long it takes, the diagnosis comes with a sense of recognition and, at first, a deep feeling of relief.
But people don’t come to me for counseling to discuss how contented they are. They’re not content. Something is wrong. Some things are wrong! A lot of things aren’t right — everything from catastrophic lives to a vague sense of disconnection that persists, year after year.
Or maybe, even after being diagnosed with ADHD and getting on the right meds and working with a coach and learning where to keep their car keys, they somehow still don’t understand who they are.
Or maybe, even though they know ADHD hasn’t affected their IQs, or the knowledge they gained of the world as a kid — their mastery of how to climb a tree or ride a bike — they still don’t seem to reach their potential, even when they look reasonably successful to the outside world. Somehow, the ADHD disrupts it. There’s a grand canyon between their potential their performance.
Or maybe they lose their train of thought multiple times each day. They get physically fidgety. And it’s more than ADHD; it’s a creeping sense of overwhelm, a darkness rolling out of the dawn. They’ve screwed up, and not for the first or last time. The other shoe is hanging there, waiting to drop.
Or maybe they were diagnosed with ADHD but refused to believe it was true. Maybe they went into denial for one, two or twenty years, and the shoe kept dropping again and again, and their denial could no longer hold back the disruption.
Maybe this person is you. Or maybe you are trying to better understand someone you love. Or maybe you’re a professional in the field of psychology or medicine, wishing you had more to offer your patients with ADHD.
Somehow, the subject — and the reality — of adult ADHD is infused with a sense of incompleteness, accompanied by feelings that range from recurring dissatisfaction to acute despair. I get it. I have ADHD myself. After more than 25 years of counseling patients I can tell you there’s more to a diagnosis of ADHD than understanding, managing and scheduling. Because we’ve all done our best to manage all that — right? There’s also the constant, corrosive stress of a lifetime of wondering what the hell is wrong with you, what is still wrong with you, the scrambling to undo your latest damage, whether real or imagined.
A quarter century as a professional specializing in ADHD has shown me I’m not alone in living with this pervasive sense of dread and stress. I call it the Emotional Distress Syndrome (EDS) of ADHD, and I’ve come to believe it’s very much like post-traumatic stress disorder, except that it can’t be traced to specific instances of danger or trauma. Nevertheless, living with ADHD produces its own chronic, all-encompassing emotional stress until you learn to deal with it.
Deal with it, you ask? Isn’t that easier said than done?
Dealing with it is exactly what I plan to discuss in this space. I’ll unwrap the issues you and I face as adults diagnosed with ADHD. We’ll talk candidly about what may work for you and what has worked for the folks I see in my office in Austin, Texas. I’ll introduce you to some of the concepts in my new book, Focused Forward: Navigating the Storms of Adult ADHD.
I want to share what I’ve learned. My sincere hope is that it will be helpful to those diagnosed with ADHD, their families and loved ones and the professionals who treat them.