In this episode, Jamal talks to Aunty Kathy about being diagnosed with ADD at 27-years old. It's a casual conversation where Jamal answers Aunty Kathy's questions about why he got diagnosed in the first place, how it all started, and his experience with Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse.
12 minute read
28 minute listen
KD: Hey JB! How are you doing?
JB: Fantastic. How are you?
KD: I’m really well, thanks. I wanna ask you today about your ADD diagnosis. I know you got in the last couple of years, but I never really heard the story behind it. I’m curious as to how you got diagnosed and what kind of symptoms you had or what difficulties caused you to even go and search it out.
JB: I’m not sure where to start. This happened recently. I saw a therapist, a psychologist and she very quickly diagnosed me with ADD.
KD: What kind of symptoms of ADD did you have?
JB: I started noticing it at work. I would always make a to-do list for work, but I would have such a tough time looking at the items on the list by themselves. I would always look at the list as a whole. Trying to focus on separate tasks from that list would always stress me out and give me anxiety. Those tasks were easy, too, nothing complicated. It just seemed a little bit harder than it should be and it took a toll on my productivity. It stemmed from that.
KD: To rephrase that, you felt anxious because it seemed like a lot to do and you couldn’t focus on one thing at a time or decide where to start?
JB: Exactly! Also, I was drinking coffee every morning back then. I have now realized it doesn't help me at all, it just makes things worse.
KD: So is there anything else that you had noticed?
JB: Yeah, I would stop paying attention in conversations if I wasn’t interested and my mind would float elsewhere. Naturally, this lead to uncomfortable situations, especially on customer calls or in meetings at work where I would just totally tune out. It would be almost impossible for me to participate. It got to a point where I would have to go to a really quiet place and close my eyes. That's how I would take calls, because if my eyes were open and I would see anything, I would start thinking about it, no matter how mundane those things might have been.
KD: And this is out of your control? For instance you were set on paying attention at the meeting, but because it didn't capture your attention, everything else in the room did.
JB: Absolutely. That’s why I dropped out of college. I remember distinctly there was interesting content but sometimes the teacher was so monotone that I would have to prepare myself to be focused. I would usually get caught up in reminding myself to pay attention only to realize I was not paying attention at all.
KD: What I think is important to underline is that it’s not regular boredom, but really an inability to bring the focus back. I think you told me that when we talk you close your eyes? Is that the same thing?
JB: I do that sometimes if I need to, but it’s easier when we talk, because I am engaged and interested in that conversation. The other day we were talking and I saw my jeans on my bed and thought "Oh crap! I need to get new jeans" and I sort of drifted.
KD: And before you know it you are somewhere else, I get it.
JB: And my mom and sister would criticize me because I would often ask a question about dinner plans or plans for the weekend, and then I stop listening halfway through. I think you can attest to this as well.
KD: Sure I can. I remember when you came for a visit when you were teenager and you were a super nice guy. I didn't know you that well, but you were a lot of fun to be around. You asked me some questions at dinner and after I was almost done responding, you went "Oh! Sorry, no, I didn’t get any of that". So I started again, but you were like "Yeah, no, still nothing". It made me giggle at that time but I didn't realize that's what it was.
JB: It’s easy to poke fun at yourself in those circumstances, but there are situations where you’re actually trying to be productive. It’s frustrating not to be able to make an impact in school or at work.
Two or three years ago I went home for Christmas and my mom mentioned that her friend’s son and my cousin, both recently got diagnosed with ADD. She suggested I go see somebody because their symptoms sounded similar to stuff I usually do. I loved hearing that, because I had always thought there was an issue surrounding that diagnosis. If you say “I have ADD” to somebody their reaction is often like “Yeah, doesn't everybody these days.”
KD: No they don't. I can certainly relate to that. The idea that there's an actual name for what you’re going through is reassuring. You don’t feel like you are just a loser or crazy, but you have an actual condition.
JB: It was really cool. I got diagnosed late, around 27 and I was thrilled to hear the news. I did a bunch of research to educate the crap out of myself. I was excited to learn more about myself, but from what I’ve learned, a lot of people in my situation are upset they didn't get diagnosed earlier. They kind of feel like they wasted their time...
KD: Right, all the could haves and should haves...
JB: Yeah, someone even asked me if I was frustrated by the fact I could have done better at school, but there's pros and cons for everything.
KD: The cons are self-explanatory, but I would like to know the pros of a late diagnosis?
JB: Simple. I can focus crazy on things I love. There’s a book called "Driven by distraction", I believe it’s a best seller. It's a really good book! If you think you have ADD then you probably could diagnose yourself by reading the book.
Anyway, the father of one of my friends is a psychologist and he was the author’s student. He said the best piece of advice the author gave him was: "You need to find something that you love to do, because that's the only way that you are gonna have a sustainable career." And I thought, “that’s great, cause that’s all I’m trying to do.”
KD: When someone suspects they might have ADD, what’s the process of confirming it?
JB: There’s a questionnaire with a variety of questions. The first psychologist that I saw asked me questions about my childhood. The point was to see if it’s affected school, your friendships, relationships or if it affects your job, then that's a really good tell tale sign that you have it. Diagnosing ADD is tricky because all of the symptoms are common, I mean everybody loses focus, or gets anxious and distracted, but if it’s at a point where it’s impacting your life, then it’s likely you have a condition.
There are 9 different kinds of ADD, and the one that I have is ADD with anxiety. I read a book about it, and it was one of those books that felt like it was written for and about me.
KD: What are the other kinds?
JB: I know there’s ADD with depression, ADD with hyperactivity which is ADHD and I can’t remember the handful of other ones. The interesting thing is that most people think that ADD is that hyper kid...
KD: Absolutely, I would have thought that.
JB: That kid that comes to mind is the kid with ADD with hyperactivity, but there's a lot of people with ADD that will sit in a classroom or in meetings and just stop paying attention, that's more like me. A lot of my anxiety stems from not being productive, which is a direct result of being scatter-brained.
KD: Funny enough, you are one of the most focused people I know. When you do something you love, you are hyper-focused.
JB: I think that's where my advantage is.
KD: So now that you know you have ADD, are there any treatments available? Do you take drugs? What now?
JB: I did take drugs and I think both of the psychologist I saw were way too quick to give them to me. I didn’t like that at all.
KD: And these are street drugs almost or they can be used as street drugs?
JB: Adderall for sure.
KD: What are they called? They are opposite of a depressant?
JB: They are stimulants. Adderall is a very powerful amphetamine. I started taking a newer version of Adderall, and it took a while to get the dosage and type of release right. There’s extended release and immediate release. There are a lot of side-effects. It makes you moody, kills your appetite, mutes your motions almost. It enables you to focus but makes it hard to be social. You have to make sure you get a perfect amount of sleep, stay hydrated and have food in your system, which sounds like a breeze, but it’s not. There were times when I was starving but couldn’t eat because food was gross to me… It quickly became a problem.
KD: It almost sounds like the cure was worse than the disease.
JB: Precisely. It took me around six months to realize that. Ultimately I am glad I went through all this. It allowed me to figure out caffeine was making my life way more difficult than it needed to be, because it amplified the side-effects of the drugs. I quickly realized that adderall was too strong for me, and asked my doctor to prescribe me a milder drug instead. It was a six minute conversation during which he was basically treating me like I was trying to hustle him or trying to get drugs from him. It all felt crazy to me. At that point I decided not to take any drugs, caffeine, anything. And for the past year and a half, I’ve been great, absolutely great.
KD: But you haven't gotten rid of the ADD, right? That means you must have developed strategies. I’m guessing quitting caffeine is number one?
JB: Absolutely. There was a time in my life where I couldn’t imagine going through my day without at least 3 coffees a day, plus some energy drink before going to the gym. Obviously, I would come home and sleep terribly and then in the morning, I would be really groggy because I hadn’t slept well the night before. It was an enchanted circle. And now I am the complete opposite.
KD: What else? Luckily, we have now this podcast called Aunty Anxiety and we’ll spend a lot of time talking about all the different strategies for dealing with anxiety. Is there a specific strategy or is it just being conscious about everything you’re doing?
JB: I just constantly audit how I feel and why I feel that way. I prioritize sleep a lot, I don’t drink coffee and I exercise first thing in the morning. It’s essentially impossible for me to get anxious after doing that, because I am so relaxed afterwards that I don't have the energy to even have my brain go crazy or overthink things.
KD: The silver lining here is that these are all things that work for anxiety, but at the same time these are the things that work for health and growth as well. And there’s no reason not to find out if you have ADD, because then you can take care of yourself better. Especially as an adult, you can do things which might be harder to teach a child.
JB: And the other thing to be aware of is there are various degrees of ADD. There are extreme cases, some people have it really bad. I don't fall into that category. When I think back to elementary school, the teachers would give me my own recess basically before lunch, to go to the gym and burn off steam because I was always getting into trouble, not paying attention, getting detention and so on. I remember my mom had a book on "How to raise a bad kid" or something along those lines. The point is I remember those things and I am sure that the ADD was making my life a lot more difficult.
KD: Yeah, for sure. I remember when you were a little kid, you were lovely but at the same time pretty distracted and absent.
JB: All the time. Before I forget, I just wanna say that another thing that helps me is ear plugs. Allows me to focus much easier.
KD: Ear plugs are like closing your eyes. Thank you for sharing all of this with us. I think there is a tendency to hide our “deficits” in order to look our best in front of others. But I think we should all be doing exactly the opposite.
JB: Especially these days. It’s so easy to feel inadequate now because of social media, where everyone looks so happy and carefree.
KD: For those of you who have just tuned in, that's pretty much what our conversations are going to be as we go along. Our goal is to kinda bring our insides out and talk about things that matter.
JB: Oh and before we go, there’s another resource that could be useful to those interested to research more on the topic. It’s chadd.org. It curates all ADD information across the internet, so it's basically a go-to research hub for new information about it.
KD: That’s good to know. Well, I think it’s time to wrap his up and say goodbye. Talk to you again soon!
JB: Looking forward to it! Bye!
Want to hear more about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD / ADHD) in adults? Check out some additional resources below. Oh, and if you could take 18-seconds of your time to leave us feedback on iTunes that would be HUGELY appreciated! (it helps us reach more people)
- 'Driven to Distraction' by Edward M. Hallowell and M.D., John J. Ratey M.D.
- Chadd.org (check out the 'archives' in the news section)