“I Have a Tough Time Being with Myself.”
“When I was growing up in the 1960s, my symptoms didn’t have a name. So, in my case, they were called ‘Howie.'” The famous mental-health advocate shares his story of living with OCD, ADHD, and anxiety.
I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as an adult, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have them.
Back in the 1960s, when I was growing up, my symptoms didn’t have a name, and you didn’t go to the doctor to find out. So, in my case, they were called “Howie Mandel.”
As I grew older, those quirks found their way into my comedy. Deal or No Deal works nicely with my ADHD symptoms. I show up, meet the contestants, and move around the set. I’m not stuck behind a pedestal reading trivia questions. I’ve always had problems sitting still and listening for long periods of time. The show spares me these challenges. I can live in the moment. It’s like a standup act.
Doing a scripted television series is tough, because my disorders make it difficult to write or read a script. I can do it — I was in St. Elsewhere back when — but it’s challenging.
Thankfully, my parents accepted all of my quirks and differences. I have the best family — everyone shows me nothing but love, support, and strength. Even with all that, it can be hard — sometimes terrifying and dark — to manage the symptoms of my disorders.
I have a tough time being with myself, so I can imagine what it’s like to live with me. I’ve been married to my wife, Terry, for 30 years — she was my high-school sweetheart — and, God knows, she’s patient with me. If you asked her about my ADHD, she would say it’s difficult to deal with. She can’t get through a conversation with me without having to reel me back in. Every talk we have is peppered with, “Howie, Howie! Are you paying attention?” I would love to have an adult conversation someday. My wife and children have been through therapy because of the problems my disorders have caused.
When our children were young, it was hard for them to corner me and to share their day. One of the great pleasures of having children is spending one-on-one time with them. Sadly, I could do that for only a few minutes at a time.
I’d never say that ADHD is a gift or a blessing. And if someone says it is a gift, I’d love to return it.
For me, there is no cure. I will always have to manage symptoms and develop coping skills. I take medication and I do psychotherapy, but I won’t tell you the specifics of my treatment. People might read it and think, “Well, that works for Howie. I’m gonna take that and I’m going to do that.”
The thing about mental health is that there isn’t one answer for everyone. Everybody has his own brain and body chemistry, and what works for me may not work for you. Managing symptoms is a lifetime commitment. Certain treatments that worked for me a few years back don’t work now. You have to be willing to experiment. If one thing doesn’t work, another will. There are alternatives and there are answers.
If you suspect that you have ADHD, you should find out — get diagnosed and get help. Your life will be much better for doing so.
I have to admit that, at times, I’ve been afraid of being labeled “crazy.” In middle and corporate America, if you say, “I need Thursday afternoon off to go to the dentist,” nobody raises an eyebrow. If you say, “I need an hour off Wednesday morning to run to the psychiatrist,” your coworkers may not show their surprise and disapproval, but you may experience blowback later on. They might see you in a different light. You go twice a year to get your teeth cleaned, but God forbid that you go to a counselor and ask, “Is it normal that I’m reacting this way or thinking these thoughts?”
After I impulsively revealed that I have OCD on a talk show, I was devastated. I often do things without thinking. That’s my ADHD talking. Out in public, after I did the show, people came to me and said, “Me, too.” They were the most comforting words I’ve ever heard. Whatever you’re dealing with in life, know that you’re not alone.
Adults should know that it’s never too late to seek help for ADHD. I hope that sharing my story encourages people to get that help. I didn’t let ADHD prevent me from achieving my goals, and neither should you.