If you've long dealt with frustrating symptoms, an adult ADD/ADHD diagnosis can be empowering. But when improvement seems impossible, inconsistent, or gradual, how do you stay motivated about treatment?
by Michael Laskoff
Knowledge is power, which is why I felt positively super-heroic when my attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) was first diagnosed. I was 39 already, tired of struggling against forces that I didn’t understand, and entirely ready for actionable alternatives. My diagnosis led to exciting treatment options -- medication, behavioral therapy, and codification of useful behaviors -- for relief and betterment. As I brought these approaches to bear, I started to feel genuinely powerful and capable of doing everything. But then, over time, that sense of mastery began to recede. To use an apt metaphor, I fell off the horse.
Falling off the horse is a normal part of dealing with ADD/ADHD. It’s what happens when our natural optimism collides with the restraints of the ADD/ADHD brain. Unfortunately, the harder you strive to control the condition, the more disappointed you will feel when you cannot do it successfully. The resulting jolt can leave you disoriented, disheartened, and profoundly frustrated.
When this happens, you have an obligation to yourself to get back on the horse -- to take measured, purposeful actions to keep working on symptom management and treatment. But before you can undertake such activities, you probably need to adjust a few of your attitudes about ADD/ADHD. Stated another way, better control over your condition starts with changing your thinking.
'Til death do you part. You were born with ADD/ADHD, and it has stayed with you into adulthood. If it’s hung on this long, then it’s absolutely not going anywhere. In effect, you and the condition are together for life -- 'til death do you part. Your first reaction is likely to be, That’s depressing. Actually, it’s not. Having ADD/ADHD is an immutable part of who you are, so you might as well learn to embrace it. Once you do, you’ll fret less and find it easier to manage the realities of the condition.
Progress, not perfection. When I discovered all that I could do to battle the undesirable aspects of ADD/ADHD, I came to expect that I would be able to purge the unwanted completely -- no more careless errors, goodbye to forgetting names, so long to being late. In reality, I reduced the impact these symptoms had on my life but could never fully eliminate any of the behaviors. But because my expectations were too high, I saw failure instead of progress. To say the least, it was demoralizing. Finally it dawned on me: Total elimination of unwanted behaviors was an unrealistic goal. Progress, not perfection, is the key.
Take the medicine that works. I’m compulsive about some kinds of organization. For example, I leave my keys, wallet, and phone in the same place every night. If I don’t, I’ll walk out of the apartment without them in the morning. It’s a simple and effective approach that prevents all kinds of problems. On the other hand, I have tried and failed to use a number of ADD/ADHD coping strategies that others swear by. My lists are terrible, my time-planning skills still stink, and I’ve wasted silly amounts of money buying into methods like Getting Things Done and project-planning software. What’s worse, when I would try a new treatment option and it wouldn't work for me, I would feel guilty -- like I was doing something wrong. And so I’d refuse to abandon them without actually quite using them either. It was like taking medicine that had been proven to help others but which actually made me sick. Eventually, I considered the old adage that anything that isn’t part of the solution is actually part of the problem. That realization made it easier to move on with life.
If you’re serious about not letting ADD/ADHD limit your career, then you already understand the wisdom of getting back on the horse. Slip-ups are inevitable; don’t read too much into them. Think pragmatically, act effectively, and whatever you do, don’t let your ADD/ADHD hold you back.
How do you get back on the horse? How do you overcome setbacks as you work to treat your ADD/ADHD?