Episode 17: Plot Twist, part 2
by Lori Archer Sutherland · Published · Updated
Life loves to throw us curve balls. Like getting diagnosed with ADHD in my 40s.
Hello and welcome to Tonal Diversions. I’m your host, Lori Archer Sutherland, and this is my journey as a multifaceted musician. I’m a composer, clarinetist and more who is navigating the world of is classical music, and I’d love to share my adventures with you.
Looking back, I definitely had signs in childhood. I mean, hindsight is 20-20, right?
Picking at my nails was probably one of the biggest indicators. I honestly cannot remember a time when I didn’t pick up my nails. And of course, Mom just telling me to stop didn’t actually help me to stop. I just hid it better. Related to that, I must have learned early on that sitting still was expected of me. So I learned how to mask my restlessness and present a calmer face to the world.
And I had a disaster of a room. Oh, Lord, my room always looked like a hurricane went through. I could appreciate when it was clean and how nice that looked, but it would quickly get destroyed again. While I’m happy to say this has improved for me over the years, I do still have plenty of messy spots and doom piles of papers. Just ask my husband.
Even as early as elementary school, I remember having a difficult time falling asleep. I think I’ve honestly been tired my whole entire life. What I didn’t know is that sleep issues affect a large number of ADHD folks, and that’s just something I learned by doing all this research.
I was very shy, and I didn’t have a ton of friends, a few close friends here and there, and I could kind of drift between groups, but I definitely wasn’t a social butterfly. I’m still quite shy when initiating conversations, and in some other situations, it pops up at me.
I was very sensitive to teasing and criticism. I still am. I’m working on this, and I think I’ve gotten at least marginally better with it. But boy, does it rear its ugly head sometimes, and not always with warning. This type of issue is another thing with ADHD that seems very particular to ADHD, even though it’s not part of the official diagnosis. It’s called RSD, or rejection Sensitive. Dysphoria.
I was often off in my own little world, and I wasn’t always aware of what was going on around me. And yes, that still persists to this day. My husband and I have a joke where he will move something in the house and just wait to see how long it takes me to notice that it’s different. Sometimes I surprise us both, but usually things sit around for a while before I actually notice.
While this isn’t a specific symptom, I don’t think my mom knew what to do with me. Looking back, I feel like I was always aware that I was just different from Mom, and my sister, for that matter. I think it went beyond simple personality differences. I got along fine with my dad and in some ways got along better with him than Mom. But he worked a lot when I was a kid, so most of my time was spent with Mom.
Continued in adulthood
As you’ve probably deduced, these issues have followed me into adulthood. Part of the ADHD myth is that people just grow out of it. There are some who do, but they seem to be the minority. And learning to manage ADHD doesn’t mean you don’t have it anymore. It’s an actual neurological difference that you can’t just be cured of.
ADHD is now considered one umbrella with three different types under it. There used to be a distinction between ADHD and ADD, but they’ve consolidated everything, and now they look more at the entire picture. The three types are hyperactive, inattentive, and combined. I’m combined. I first thought I was just inattentive type because those were the things that I first related to when I was doing research. But then I learned more about how hyperactivity manifests in subtle ways, and that has convinced me that I am both. And it sounds like most people are a combined type.
While the hyperactive part is the stuff that everybody associates with ADHD, there are other things that go on with it. Fidgeting doesn’t have to be jumping out of your seat when you shouldn’t. Fidgeting is stuff like picking my nails, constantly shifting positions, and stuff like that. Certain meetings and classes have been very difficult for me, especially when I feel that I’m not allowed to move, and that actually makes it even harder to concentrate.
Another example is having a hard time savoring the moment and feeling like I need to move on. Like with visiting museums. I absolutely enjoy them and I love learning about things, but I do tend to rush through to get to the next exhibit. Those are a couple of the big ones for me. There are other ways that it manifests, and there’s plenty of research online that can guide you through what some of the other examples of hyperactivity are.
Some of those are obvious as well, like not paying attention, not following directions, that kind of stuff. But also things like task initiation. So for me, finally making an appointment to get diagnosed that took longer than it probably needed to. And yes, most people have experienced procrastination on a task they don’t want to do. Everyone has procrastinated at some point in their lives that, in and of itself, isn’t exclusive to ADHD. The catch is I also find it hard to start on things I want to do, not just the things I don’t want to do.
Time blindness is a big one for me. I need clocks and timers around me so that I can be more aware of the passing of time. If you ask me how long it takes to do something like load the dishwasher, I really can’t give you an answer. And I do much better if I know when I have to leave for something versus when that thing starts and stuff like that. And while in a lot of ways I got to where I appreciated not wearing a watch because I don’t particularly love wearing stuff on my wrist, I did end up going back to a fitness tracker that has a watch on it. And I think that’s working out for me to be able to check the time a lot easier than pulling out my phone.
Transitions between tasks can also be challenging, and I think this falls more under the inattentive umbrella. And especially if I’m engrossed in something, it can be really hard to pull myself away to go do something else, especially if that’s something else is something I don’t want to do.
Hyperfocus doesn’t neatly fall into either category, but it’s something a lot of ADHD folks experience. But we can’t always control it. So all that reading about ADHD leading up to my diagnosis and in preparing this episode, that has totally been a hyperfocus for me. So, yeah, it’s not that ADHD folks can’t focus, it’s that we don’t always have control over it or what we focus on. I can think of quite a few times in my life where I’ve shifted into hyperfocus mode, and sometimes it’s been completely unintentional.
So how do you treat ADHD? The two main things are therapy and medication. I’m currently working with a therapist, and I’ll explore whether I want to medicate. Medication helps 70% to 80% of people with ADHD. I’ve heard it explained as glasses for your brain, in that it helps your brain focus. Just like if we put glasses over our eyes, we can focus better on what we’re reading.
But with therapy, the referral to talk to a psychiatrist for medication is still a few months out. So I’m doing what I can with therapy to start, but I do still have to learn skills and further coping mechanisms so that I can work with my brain. Medication alone doesn’t do that, as it turns out.
Whether we want to admit it or not, folks with ADHD do need structure, though we also resist the very structure that we need. It’s rather a cruel joke. I’m working on adding structure to my days. I’ve been teaching private lessons at one of the local high schools, and having a workplace for a couple of days each week to go to has been good for me.
I’m working on my time blindness. Being aware of it has already made a big difference for me, I think. I’m setting alarms. I heavily use my online calendar. I use a Pomodoro timer. I love my fitness band because it has a built in Pomodoro timer. I’ve tried using my phone’s timer, but I’d inevitably look to see how much time was left and get distracted by notifications. Even though, honestly, I have a lot of my notifications on my phone turned off, and that’s something I did even before I was diagnosed. But with the timer on my watch, I can still see how much time is left, but there are no other distractions. Then my wrist vibrates when the timer is up.
There are other things I’m trying out to see which tools help. It’s definitely a work in progress, and I’m learning what works best with my brain. The idea is to help my brain and not work against it by forcing it into doing something that, while other people do it that way, so that must be the way I have to do it. No, I need to find out what works for me.
Thank you for listening. It’s probably way more than you bargained for, so I appreciate you sticking around. And I’m sure that there are things I forgot to talk about because, well, that’s me. So I may revisit this topic in the future. Until next time.
Thank you for listening to Tonal Diversions! Subscribe wherever podcasts are found and share with a friend. Until next time. Bye!
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Underdiagnosis of Adult ADHD (HCP Live)
Books (Amazon affiliate)
- ADHD 2.0 by Edward Hallowell and John J. Ratey
- Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell
- Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell A. Barkley
- A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD by Sari Solden and Michelle Frank