"I'm Smart, So I Should Be Able to Overpower ADHD. Right?"
High-IQ adults with ADHD seem to function well, but it comes at a high emotional cost. They feel burdened and exhausted, blaming their struggles on themselves, not on their ADHD. Here is a game plan for healing and hope.
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9 Comments: "I'm Smart, So I Should Be Able to Overpower ADHD. Right?"
Hey uh does anybody know what a good adhd community is for a highschool age girl i just learned my mom was hiding it from me last year so im really trying to understand my self
This is exactly me. Straight A’s all through school and 4 years of college, mostly effortlessly, but always with extreme procrastination, last-minute studying and all-nighters. Nobody ever suggested there was anything different about me except that I was gifted and capable. Expectations were very high. But I had serious performance anxiety and self-doubt that grew with life’s increasing complexity. I struggled as an adult ad executive VP – my own very successful company made it possible to hide a lot of my “flaws”, but anxiety and depression ensued for decades.
My partner (spouse and boss – yikes) was always angry and frustrated with my moments of brilliance being overshadowed by constantly interrupting, talking over people, and disrupting meetings, yet I’d be sullen, argumentative, overly-emotional, angry, defensive, reactionary and distracted, and neither of us understood why. My worst behaviors always came at the most stressful times – like every time we had to prepare a big pitch to win a lucrative account or present new creative campaigns to a client. I’d be both ill-prepared and belligerent about it, and ablsolutely unable to accept criticism (or what I interpreted to be criticism). But this was only known to the two of us – not my employees, not my clients. I was very good at appearing to be in control and in charge, and I always pulled it off in the wee hours, just like in college.
Multiple therapists prescribed talk and anti-depressants which never helped. Several said I was too smart to have ADHD, I’d never lost my car keys or acted hyper… and that I should just get out of my “difficult” relationship with a man that was clearly unreasonable in his expectations of me. But in truth, my husband was supportive, and spent an inordinate amount of his time worrying about my next explosion and covering for my issues. He grew more and more resentful, because obviously, I’m smart and capable of doing the work, but he felt like he had to be boss, leader, husband and parent all at once, all the time. I wasn’t the partner he needed. I felt like I was living my entire life running to catch up to him, failing at life and business, and that I must be an awful person to keep screwing up like this. Why couldn’t I just act right?
When I was 48, my husband was the one who figured out what was really going on. after observing me at my work for a couple of weeks, he suggested I get tested for ADHD, and so many things began to make sense. Like when I was in the 8th grade, and my teacher told my mom that I was the smartest girl in the class, but that I had “an 8-track mind”…I’d be carrying on a conversation with the kid in behind me, the one on my left and the one on my right, doodling and writing notes, all while doing my French homework under my desk and still keeping up with the class I was in. She would try to catch me not paying attention, but I’d get the answer right or be able to read the next paragraph out loud without skipping a beat. I’d get my whole desk dragged out into the hallway as punishment for talking in class and distracting the other kids who weren’t able to operate at that level. Truth is, I was bored, but I kept myself busy. LOL.
I also started remembering things like how panicked I’d get about writing a High School term paper…with notes and quotes and citations on little pieces of paper all over my floor – wall to wall disorganization and stress. I just couldn’t start writing it for weeks. Then, a couple of days before the deadline, I’d start writing and go for 23 hours straight and produce an A+ dissertation. Looking back, I see it so clearly, but nobody thought to get me help for my anxiety, because I aced everything and I made friends. I just didn’t do it in a neurotypical way.
So the school and work stuff came easy, albeit circuitously. But emotionally, I was crippled by fear of being found out, or doing something wrong. My perfectionism robbed me entirely of a light-hearted childhood and also of participating in the fun stuff, like really getting into sports or drama or music, etc. I was terrified of not being able to do something well, so I didn’t try at all. And after holding all these fears and emotions inside for weeks and weeks, I’d throw an all out tantrum that would end in tears of frustration. I also have always been hypersensitive to the point of distraction with itchy clothing tags, wrinkled socks, and bright lights, which makes sense now.
So sorry for the long (cathartic) comment. Ten years into diagnosis, I’ve figured a few things out. I still struggle seriously with impulsivity and interrupting, extreme sensitive dysphoria and anger issues. But now I recognize these things as my ADHD acting out, not a personality disorder. I’m learning to control it and to apologize when I don’t. And I can laugh at myself when I create a 50-page client website in 3 days of sheer mania. It’s a gift, after all. The vacuuming can wait.
This article was difficult for me to read, it really hit a lot if thing very close. But beginning to understand the how and why of my brain and nervous system is such a relief.
Great article, my husband calls me the smartest most illogical person he’s ever met. He refers to my hyperfocus especially when I’m writing an academic paper but also the superb procrastination skills and feeling of guilt.
Spot-on in terms of lagging emotionally and socially – I have also always been more comfortable with younger kids or adults. I was an A student at school and uni but always felt as an imposter and would compensate by obsessing over every detail over and over again to feel in control.
My 7-year-old daughter has ADHD too and really struggles with her emotional regulation so we often talk about her special brain and how to use it and love it rather than despise it (as I often did). Definitely knowing how your brain functions is really important. I have a full-time job, kids and a master’s degree and I try making a start on my assignments well in advance (although I can easily identify my procrastination tendencies).
I’m so happy for you- that you discovered a huge piece to your life-puzzle! Congrats on making it so far under such difficult circumstances. It is heartbreaking AND inspiring to know you- and many others- were suffering and yet courageously functioning and moving ahead despite not understanding the impact of ADHD on your everyday life, year after year. It takes such courage and endurance.
There are few words that describe the feeling one gets when little by little, the “lights come on” and understanding and empathy replace confusion, bewilderment, frustration and shame. Even now, years later, I still tear up when I read articles like this one as they remind me of my own journey of discovery. It’s nice to be reminded that there is a community that is on that journey together, and there is hope, and there is help.
Thank you for sharing your story.
Thank you for this article, And
Thank you ADDitude Mag for bringing us together… There is no greater ‘calling’ than improving and saving lives!
This article really resonated with me. When I was younger I did really well in school. I got straight A’s in high school without even applying myself. I was always told by my mother how smart I was and how successful I would be. Things started to become more difficult for me at University. I did end up with a Bachelor of Science, but my marks weren’t high enough for Medical School. I couldn’t seem to manage as well as my peers. I was always feeling inadequate. After University I was really depressed and struggled deeply with feelings of failure and shame. I felt I had potential and I knew I was smart, but I just couldn’t seem to do what other people could do. I struggled most of my adult life with depression. I took antidepressants, saw psychiatrists and psychologists for years, trying to treat this nagging depression and figure myself out. There always seemed to be something missing. I thought that a person shouldn’t have to work so hard just to feel ok. Finally, at 47 years old, my psychologist whom I’d been seeing for 4 years suggested we do testing for ADHD. I thought she was crazy. I ran a busy household with 4 children, I couldn’t possibly have ADHD! After hours of testing I was Diagnosed with ADHD and Giftedness. I was absolutely floored. My psychologist felt that my ADHD and Giftedness interacted reciprocally, essentially hiding one another. Growing up I felt like I was constantly underachieving. I always felt that I was inherently flawed. This diagnosis was the missing puzzle piece. I started taking Vyvanse and the difference is unbelievable!! Now I’m in the process of learning how my brain works and it’s so fascinating!
I can definitely identify with this. I always did well in school (struggled more when it got more complex, but managed). But I struggle constantly at work.
I’m yet to be diagnosed (thanks Coronavirus 😒 for the psych cancelling all new appointments) but I’m glad I’ve discovered ADHD. It explains so much! But at the same time I think of the ways I could’ve done/been better if only I’d known. Of how it wouldn’t have taken me 6 extra years to finish my Intensive care medicine training due to procrastinating my fellowship exam and my research project. About how studying might have been easier. About how I wouldn’t be nearly 40 and still struggling to maintain a home and unable to do things like my tax or work out what people owe me for various things. Or why I’m always incapable of paying bills on time unless they’re set as auto payments. And why now that I have a job with non clinical duties I’m struggling. Looking after patients is easy and I’ve got my processes well in place to make sure I don’t miss the mundane and repetitive bits but now I’m expected to write guidelines, go to meetings and do “boring” things. These I really struggle with/just cannot do as there’s no fixed deadlines to hit. I’m worried my boss with eventually find this out. But in 6 months on my job I don’t feel I’ve achieved much at all. Partic in comparison to my office mate who has the same job who’s got all these projects on the go.
This author nailed it. I was a successful high functioning adult only because if rigid structure and self monitoring. When I retired at age 72 I lost the focus of my structure and developed symptoms that, I thought, indicated progressive dementia. I saw a psychologist who did appropriate tests. What a shock to realize that my brain was different but still ok. With the help of CHADD, books and online resources, like ADDitude magazine I am back to functioning well with much needed compassion for myself and others who struggle as I did.