Adult ADHD

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Mental Illness and Greatness

Published June 12, 2013 by Tabby

lincoln

Lately as I’ve been struggling more with ADHD, depression, OCD tendencies, and corresponding medication, etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of people have mental illness. Contrary to societal stereotypes, we are not all people rocking in the corner muttering to ourselves and unemployable. Some have struggles that interfere with their lives more than others.

I had some sort of an epiphany this week. I had always felt quietly bad about myself about starting medication when I reached the point that I had difficulties functioning without it. Then last week, out of the blue (as is always the case with my revelations), I realized that some of my most favorite and most educated, intelligent, hardworking people I know have some form of mental illness. I read an article that argued those with ADHD usually have a slightly higher IQ than the average population. I am curious as to why that is. Sure, I used aspects of my ADHD and anxiety to finish a master’s degree in eight months but I always thought it was an obstacle-that everything in my life is harder for me than everybody else because of the mental illness I live with. But after these realizations I started thinking, what if these “issues” are part of what makes me successful? Where would I be if I didn’t have ADHD that forces/enables me to seriously multitask? What about the anxiety that keeps me from procrastinating? The fact that I have to be super organized to function? Even though I still have days that I am frustrated when I can’t focus or have to take medication, maybe this is part of what makes me “me.”

I saw this article on another blog and it furthers my revelation. A study believes that 49 percent of former US presidents had a mental illness. I wonder if with greatness comes mental illness, or, the one I prefer, that despite issues one can still reach great heights. The study is listed below.

Hoffman, Haley. “Study Posits Presidents Had Mental Illness.” The Chronicle. February 21, 2006. http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2006/02/22/study-posits-presidents-had-mental-illness (accessed June 12, 2013).

“No one would ever expect the general who led the Union army to victory in the Civil War to have a debilitating fear of blood. But Ulysses S. Grant was among the 49 percent of former U.S. presidents afflicted by mental illness, according to an article published recently by psychiatrists at the Duke University Medical Center.

Jonathan Davidson, professor of psychiatry and director of the Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Program, has a particular interest in history, especially U.S. presidents. After culling data from presidential biographies, Davidson was joined by Kathryn Connor, associate professor of psychiatry, and Marvin Swartz, professor and head of the social and community division of psychiatry, to analyze the information. Together, they diagnosed the commander-in-chiefs from 1776 to 1974.

According to the study, published in January in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, of the 37 presidents researched, 18 were found to suffer a mental illness of some form. Depression was the most prevalent disorder among presidents, occurring at a rate of 24 percent. The researchers wrote that the 49-percent rate mirrored national mental illness statistics, but the rate of depression was high for a male population.

“A fairly high number of people have mental disease at some level, so it would be surprising if presidents didn’t,” said John Aldrich, professor of political science. “Certain things, like depression, are associated with artistic accomplishment.”

Other diagnoses included anxiety, alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder and social phobia. Howard Taft apparently suffered from sleep apnea.

At least 10 presidents were affected by episodes while in office, and the study found evidence that symptoms interfered with their performance in almost all cases.

To make their diagnoses, the researchers used the criteria of the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual all psychiatrists use to treat patients. They examined the data to identify symptoms, determine if they were persistent and caused dysfunction and then establish their own levels of confidence that mental illness existed.

Such remote diagnosis through secondary research, however, can be problematic. “Using biographical materials may be an imperfect way to gauge mental illness,” Aldrich said. Swartz explained that detailed analysis of primary sources, while ideal, was outside of the scope of the study but that the published article elaborated on its own relevance and weaknesses. “You have to rely on what historians reported based on their research,” he said. Still, Swartz estimated that their sources erred on the side of undercounting illness among presidents.

The troubles of certain presidents are already very well known. Abraham Lincoln famously suffered from symptoms of depression, though he triumphed politically more than Franklin Pierce, whose more modest legacy the study attributed greatly to his illness.

Having witnessed the violent death of his son in a railway accident just before he assumed office, Pierce suffered from symptoms indicating depression or post-traumatic stress during his term. The study noted that his associates accused Pierce of being a different person than the one who had energetically campaigned for office.

While personal tragedy and the weight of the presidency may have incited the problems of some presidents, others were apparently afflicted long before they moved into the White House.

According to the article, contemporaries of Grant, James Madison, Rutherford Hayes and Woodrow Wilson who watched them as young men would have thought that these men would do very little with their lives based on their seeming mental problems or deficiencies.

Whether they were suffering from an illness before they entered the White House or not, presidents’ afflictions raise questions about their ability to do the executive job.

“The extensiveness of Richard Nixon’s alcohol abuse was pretty remarkable and alarming, given the authority he had,” Swartz said.

Though Calvin Coolidge’s hypochondria may not have had the most profound effect on affairs of state, Coolidge, Grant and Thomas Jefferson were diagnosed with social phobia by Davidson and his associates.

“Social phobia is kind of remarkable in a president. It meant he was shy and avoided social circumstances, and yet he was president,” Swartz said.

The study noted among its implications that no national calamities seem to have been a result of presidential mental illness.

It also considered the possibility that knowledge of these afflictions might lessen the stigma of psychological treatment. But there remains a question about the public’s right, and need, to know the psychological state of the president, in an age of increased psychological vigilance.

“It’s obviously about as stressful and physically demanding a job as there is for mature adults, so it has to at least exacerbate any [already existing] problems,” Aldrich said. “You know, the president is not a person, he’s an institution…. There are a lot of checks and redundancies to make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish.”

What do you think?

We are not alone 😉

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Common Myths about Adult ADHD

Published January 30, 2013 by Tabby

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I have noticed several articles lately that have painted those with ADHD in a poor light and furthered false stereotypes. Contrary to these articles, all of us are not running around stealing everything we can get our hands on and spending the majority of our lives unemployed or in prison. Also, the disorder affects people differently. There are two types of adult ADHD: hyperactive where the person is more physically impulsive and inattentive: where we just can’t pay attention and the disorder is more about internalized chaos.

 In this post I simply hope to raise awareness, foster understanding, and counter the recent articles that imply we are all hopeless and will always be a menace to society. The following myths are ones I’ve encountered, heard in conversations, and read in articles. I have cited the sources and recent myth-busting articles after the text.

 Myths

 -ADHD is not a real disorder

I’d really like to smack someone every time someone says this-I hear it often in my presence as I don’t have a neon blinking light on my forehead that I suffer from it. Several medical studies consider it a biological disorder, meaning that it’s connected to genes often passed through offspring. Recent studies have shown that kids with ADHD have genes that their more attentive counterparts don’t have (see Note 1). ADHD has been recognized as a legitimate diagnosis by major medical, psychological, and educational organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education. The American Psychiatric Society recognizes ADHD as a medical disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the official mental health “bible” used by psychologists and psychiatrists. You could read these articles, or you could just observe me or anyone else suffering try to work a desk job without any medication.

 -ADHD only occurs in children    

ADHD does not magically disappear once you turn eighteen. Several American health insurance companies seem to think so in their coverage of treatment for children and cutoff of treatment once that person has turned eighteen. The symptoms do appear differently in adulthood, such as less hyperactivity and more inattention. In a way, ADHD can be more debilitation for adults because children are expected to have shorter attention spans and be hyper while adults are expected to deal calmly with all the still, boring, and minute details of life. For adults, sitting down to do bills (as an example) is fine for a short amount of time but once that person has reached their limit they get an insatiable mental itch to get up, do something else, be more active. Or perhaps that person has already been distracted by absolutely anything and has now forgotten what they originally sat down to do.

 -All adults with ADHD are hyperactive and bouncing off the walls

I personally do not always have the urge to randomly start running a marathon (although sometimes I do). I once described it to my boyfriend: I drew up a picture from several cartoons that show miniature versions of that person inside their brain running its operation-I said that sometimes having ADHD is like having all those little people running around with their heads on fire. While hyperactivity is and can be part of it, the less visible and more common component is inattentive. In the inattentive type, the person is more likely to struggle with distractions, forgetfulness, poor time management, disorganization, etc. For example, we are notorious for losing our car keys, even if we just had our hands on them and/or they are in our pockets.

spongebob-brain-fire

 -People on stimulant medications are addicts

Ok, first of all I want to say that yes some medications are overprescribed. However, this does not mean that absolutely every single person taking them does not need them and only does so under the advice of drug-happy doctors or because of an addiction. This medication does help people that need it. As someone who needs the medication, I greatly envy those who can make it through a day without it. For myself and many others, getting through a single day is a panic-inducing struggle without help. It is true that if quitting a medication, such as Adderall, the person must step down slowly so not to experience withdrawals, but that is more from chemical issues rather than personal ones. Some do get addicted to these medications, but those are more often illegal users and not what this article is focused on.

 -People with ADHD are drug or alcohol abusers

I have read/heard a couple of times that people with ADHD are more likely to be addicts because they take medication. Actually people who are not medicated or do not receive help with the disorder are the ones more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs (see Note 2).

 -“Everyone” has ADHD these days

Yes technology and our fast-paced lives have decreased our society’s attention span but that does not mean that absolutely every single person has ADHD. Those with the actual disorder have it much worse than being distracted by Facebook or a text message and suffer in their everyday lives. Everyone has problems focusing at some point or other but those with the disorder have it every day. For example, if you’ve ever been sad for a short amount of time that does not mean that you have clinical depression.

 -People with ADHD don’t want to focus and are lazy and/or stupid

I would loooove to be able to sit still, not take medication, not forget things, etc. It’s not that we don’t want to focus, it’s that we can’t. We simply do not have the ability. Some people have said that those with ADHD just need to try harder: would you tell someone with poor eyesight to just see better?

People with ADHD are of above-average intelligence, recent studies show. They certainly aren’t lazy. In fact, many well-known, high-achieving individuals from the past are thought to have had ADHD, including Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, George Bernard Shaw, and Salvador Dali. The list of high-achieving ADDers in business today includes top executives, such as David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways, and Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s. People with ADHD tend to be higher in intelligence than a lot of the average public. ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. It is a disorder of regulating attention, and affects how well you can sit there and get stuff done.

 -ADHD isn’t a big deal

People with ADHD struggle in all areas in their lives: professionally, personally, and everything in between. ADHD is also very tough on relationships because of inattention during communication, irritability from having to sit still, frustration with conditions, miscommunication, and/or a lack of experience with or understanding of the disorder.

I’m sure I’m missing some myths-feel free to include them in the comments. Have you had a hard time dispelling these myths? Have you never heard of these?

 Notes and Further Reading

1. A study published in Molecular Psychiatry in 2009 identifying specific ADHD genes: http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/v14/n5/abs/4002139a.html.

2. A study on substance abuse amongst those with ADHD: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18316421.

3. Margarita Tartakovsy, “Nine Myths, Misconceptions, and Stereotypes about ADHD,” Psych Central, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/06/24/9-myths-misconceptions-and-stereotypes-about-adhd/ (accessed January 30, 2013).

4. “Seven Myths about ADHD Debunked!” ADDitude, http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/873.html (accessed January 30, 2013).

Bummed…Depression and Suggestions to Beat It

Published November 14, 2012 by Tabby

I found this article on a wonderful website for quitting Adderall for adult ADHD. Since I’m currently experiencing this, I find it very helpful and comforting that other people have the same symptoms. However, this article focuses on tips to beat depression, which can happen to anyone, regardless of the reasons. I hope it helps.

Mike, “How to Beat Depression,” Quitting Adderall.com, http://quittingadderall.com/how-to-beat-depression/ (accessed November 14, 2012)

Depression is often a huge part of quitting Adderall. Most people know that creation and productivity is good, and that idleness and sloth is bad, so when you temporarily strip yourself of your ability to produce, you understandably feel worthless for a while.

The two key points to remember about post-Adderall depression are: 1. It can help you keep moving and 2. It is not permanent.

You must constantly fight your depression. Do not let it take you. A great philosopher once said “you are either moving forward, or you are deteriorating”. Remember that and live by it.

Step 1: Identify Depression Triggers

For most people, depression does not occur randomly, even though it feels random sometimes. You’ll feel like “oh, now I’m depressed again…out of nowhere”, but if you look closely, you can trace most bouts of depression back to a cause or a combination of causes.

Here are some examples of depression triggers

1. Direct triggers: Your ex calls and tears your heart out, unknowingly kicking you while you were already down. You were having an alright day but now you feel like total shit…and every negative thing starts piling up…you start spiraling downwards.

The Antidote: When you get a direct deperession trigger, remember that this bout of depression is just about the trigger event. Don’t let your brain invite all of these other horrible thoughts into the mix. Keep yourself focused on the one thing that triggered the depression.

Direct triggers can be avoided if they have a consistent source. For example, if half of your conversations with your ex girlfriend/boyfriend end in your severe depression, don’t talk to them for a while, or have one difficult conversation to put yourself on better terms with them.

2. The un-epiphany: You suddenly realize something that totally blows. Maybe a memory hits you and you suddenly understand the full, terrible implications of it. Or maybe you realize that a current effort is going to be much more difficult that you originally thought.

The Antidote:  The most depressing thing about un-epiphanies is that you feel helpless to do anything about them at first. The instant you figure out something you can do to address or accept the facts revealed by the un-epiphany, you depression about it will start to go away. That’s the key with un-epiphanies:  Find out what you can do about it and start doing it.

3. Culmination events: Sometimes all the little fears and doubts that nip at your heels every day will build up to fever pitch and body-slam you. Then you must fight them off before you can stand up again. Sometimes that takes days or weeks.

The Antidote: Culmination depression is like an evil potion, made up of a slew of painful ingredients. The key is to make the depression potion less toxic by cancelling out the ingredients one by one. Put literally: The only cure for a culmination event is either to shove it back down (it will come back later) or make significant movement on your goals…towards being a better, happier, more accomplished person….towards shutting one of those negative voices up once and for all.

Step 2: Develop Your Own Anti-Depression Tactics

The name of the game with fighting depression is Change your Mind. You have to figure out ways to trigger a mood shift, like your own natural antidepressant. Most tactics involve distracting yourself, or throwing your brain into a different, happier, more productive perspective.

Here are some examples of anti-depression tactics…

Go to work: Even if your job sucks, it still forces you to act rationally and keep your chin up for appearances sake. This is why it’s important for depressed people to fill their life with some obligations. Obligations, though stressful, can keep you sane and moving by default.

Go run an errand (go outside): Depression tries to keep you indoors, isolated in your cave with your worries. Sometimes breaking the cycle is as easy as stepping outside or taking a drive, even to do something mundane like going to get groceries.

For the love of God, get the fuck out of bed: You’ll be tossing and turning under the covers, telling yourself that nothing is possible, and from that position, nothing is.

The depression nap: Let the depression carry you to bed, kill a couple hours of the day, then wake up and reset. Make sure you have something to do when you wake up or your funk will continue. Note that this doesn’t work if your depression has lasted longer than a day.

Force yourself to hit bottom: Sometimes you’re expending so much effort trying to fight the depression and you know you’re losing the battle. Then you hit bottom, and you start climbing up again. If all else fails, dive, dive, dive. Until you crash. Then rebuild. Note that this is painful and should only be a worse-case tactic.

Small moves on your goals: You’ve heard me say else where on this site that “A success per day keeps the depression at bay”. I’m a huge believer in this. When the depression voice calls you a failure, succeed, and silence it. You have no idea how small a success it can take some time. Hell, sometimes just cleaning your room will do the trick. Other times it will take something bigger like submitting a job application.

Face festering problems: Sometimes you can use your depression to move yourself radically forward crazy acts of desperation. When you’re in medium-spirits, it can be scary to send a job application in that you really care about. When you’re wallowing in misery, you can say “fuck it something pull me out of this” and click the button with your last breath. You can also redirect your depression into physically productive tasks like “move crap out of old house” when you don’t feel like doing anything mental.

Google your fears: So much of what the depression voices say is a lie; truth can often be the antidote. If the source of your depression is worry, do some research. Google your fears and more often than not you’ll feel better afterwards.

Step 3: Avoid Depression Accelerators

For all the activities that help you beat and conquer depression, certain activities will make your depression worse. Here are some examples.

Drinking Alcohol: Using alcohol to escape an emotion is a dangerous slippery slope. It’s terribly easy for this response to depression to become habitualized. Even if it helps you feel better for an hour or two , you’re pre-screwing the next 24 hours of your life. Being depressed and drinking alcohol pretty much garuntees that you will be depressed when you wake up the next day hung over.

“Fuck it” mentality: Do not let go of all the noble things you have commited yourself to just because you’re angry at your depressed state.  Many professional organizations like NA and AA warn against the “fuck it” mentality, and rightly so. Doing this for more than one day will engender failure at things you were previously succeeding on…thus prolonging your depression.

Mental cutting: “Cutting” is the practice of physically cutting yourself. Teenage girls seem pretty into this these days, but it’s been around for a while as a psychological compulsion…long enough to be diagnosed, investigated, and treated. Having dated a cutter who was also a psych major (and thus could explain it to me in technical terms), I’ve learned that most people cut to feel alive. Some people do this in their brain. Especially depressed people. They bring up painful thoughts and memories because they are painful, like a cutter slicing into their arm. If this applies to you at all, you must stop. It’s totally abnormal and unhealthy for you to drag yourself down unnecessarily like that. Normal, healthy people do not think like that.

Evading big problems: You must make a habit of making small moves on your goals…you must make little successes frequently. If you let your problems linger and fester, they will grow so sore that they consume you. This is where Culmination Events come from (discussed above, under depression triggers).

Step 4: Condition your reaction to depression

The ultimate goal in fighting depression is to change your perspective as quickly as possible so that it naturally puts you in a happier, healthier, more productive mental state. The quickest way to do this is movement. Once you are aware of your depression triggers, and of the activities that help you fight them, then you must condition yourself to react to depression with your depression-fighting tactics, instead of wallowing in the crappy feelings.

You have to train yourself to recognize that depression is starting, and immediately take steps to beat it back and come out on top.

Step 5: Understand the natural purpose of depression

Depression has a natural place in the human mind. It is like pain. It lets you know when you are injured, and when you have a wound that needs to be treated.

Depression is a hunger…for movement, for fulfillment. Feed it.

 

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