“How did you deal with ADHD?” asked an old friend.
To start with, that question has a basic flaw – it should be, ‘How are you dealing with ADHD?’
This is because ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – is not a matter that one resolves easily, like healing from an ankle sprain or silencing the rattle in a newly acquired automatic-transmission electric vehicle.
There is no ‘aha’ moment. Or, if you like to be a little old-fashioned like me, no eureka moment.
Where did it start for me?
ADHD must have been in my life from childhood, but we may have missed all the signs. Looking back, I can vividly remember how I was mercurially active, always running, never walking.
A five-minute walk to a friend’s house turned into a one-minute sprint. Even trips to the store to fetch bread, coriander or anything else my mother needed, were taken at a run.
Run. I don’t ever remember walking, except to and from school, lugging our bag with textbooks.
Persons with ADHD can have intense focus when engaged in something that they delight in. Conversely, they simply cannot focus on something they have no interest in.
I detested mathematics, particularly algebra. Term after term, year after year, I grappled with exam preparation. It became a family affair, with my elder brother trying to din into my totally paralysed, terrified mind the basics of each theorem or equation…but all it resulted in were tears of non-comprehension and frustration.
My elder sister would hover around, holding a comforting tumbler of Horlicks, urging me to relax and push Pythagoras and company out of my mind. How I narrowly passed each exam confounds me to this day.
In contrast, I excelled in subjects that I loved: English grammar, literature and poetry; geography, history…I would be amongst the highest scorers, if not the topper.
I had a vivid imagination and read voraciously. Even at the age of around 12 to 13 years, I assumed the role of the storyteller in our circle of boys and girls, not only of my own age, but also among those older. Parents and elders would gather to listen to my latest narrative before shepherding their children home for their homework and supper. The tale would continue the next day – I was already running my own serialised story.
My stories were a blend of the tales I had read, with the films I had seen, and my own liberal dose of imagination.
This penchant for telling stories followed me into adulthood. Alas, my constant ADHD companions – acute distraction and procrastination – prevented my writing from progressing beyond a few pages, or at most, a single chapter. Numerous unfinished, misplaced and abandoned manuscripts languish within a dusty old suitcase. I also have many letters, written in my beautiful handwriting, which have my address, date, and…
Nothing else. Written luggage that serves as a reminder to rigorously follow the strategies my psychiatrist and I have devised to address my challenges. And of course, to not miss a single dose of my medications.
These difficulties, beginning with the challenge of initiating tasks, procrastination, easy distraction, and no sense of time have cost me dearly.
A five-minute chat would expand into hours, with me doing most of the talking and the other person(s) trapped without an escape route.
And that would be the end of that day’s plans. Well, there was always tomorrow…
Hyperfocus – ADHD’s somewhat better companion – ensured short-term concentration for just that day.
Which was fantastic for my chosen profession of reporter and sub-editor for a leading English newspaper, and then as a news correspondent for two major national TV networks.
But let me go back to that companion who usually accompanies ADHD – anxiety.
I suffered from acute anxiety attacks as a young boy.
My brother used to take me to the cinemas, to watch some brilliant English films. During the intermission, he would want to get me rose-milk, show me posters and stills from the film we were watching, or future ‘coming soon’ classics.
I refused to budge from my seat. What if somebody took my seat?
“Look at the tickets – the row and seat number. Nobody else can sit here,” my brother would explain patiently.
He would coax and cajole me into having espresso from a machine that hissed and frothed in a fascinating way, a new gizmo in cinema lobbies. I would hastily sip through the thick layer of foam, rushing to finish my coffee, always scalding my tongue in my hurry to go re-claim my seat. Relief.
But back to ADHD and how I understood it. With professional help from my psychiatrist, of course. Not Dr Internet.
“You have ADHD,” my psychiatrist told me each time I met him after finding myself utterly bewildered by my inability to complete writing assignments, repeatedly missing deadlines, and going into panic and anxiety modes.
That frustration led me to abuse substances that calmed me for a short while. But that temporary ‘relief’ would wear off. And I would go spiralling into another episode of substance abuse, another mental traffic jam…
Strangely, during this period, I felt fighting an addiction to substances was better than having a ‘mental condition’ like ADHD!
Impatience clouded my judgement. Once again, anxiety became my unwelcome companion, hindering my clear thinking and multitasking abilities. Over the course of many years, my current psychiatrist embarked on a patient journey alongside me, helping me navigate this complex landscape.
All psychiatric evaluations clearly established that I had ADHD, depression, anxiety and that I was bipolar.
I am going to tell you how I deal with each one of these. And how I cannot stop talking even when those whom I am addressing want to leave…
Which is also the hint that I should stop now and allow all that I have written to sink in.
Join me again the next time.
(The author is a writer, actor and filmmaker, and is actively involved in animal welfare.)