I’ve recently joined the Association of Speakers Clubs¬†and have decided that my A1 assignment (introductory speech) will be on a topic near and dear to my heart, ADHD. I’ll be delivering my speech next week and have, by some miracle, finished writing it already! I’m crossing my fingers and toes that I’ll find enough focus to write out cards and practice between now and the next meeting!

Title: I am ADHD (A1 speech)

Everyone has heard those letters, A-D-H-D.
It’s something that boys get labeled with just for being boys.
It’s kids just running around and yelling and having fun
It’s kids with lazy parents who want to drug them into being quiet and obedient.
It’s kids who mouth off, don’t sit still, don’t pay attention
It’s kids who are lazy; they’re just not trying hard enough.

But I, an adult, am ADHD.
It affects every aspect of who I am.
What I do, what I say, how I think, how I feel.
And it has since I was a kid; since I was born, actually.

I am Attention Deficit Hyperactive.
I don’t *have* ADHD because that sounds like it’s something I keep in my pocket and can take out and leave it at home on a Saturday.
Or like it’s a cold that I’ll get over and be fine next week.
That’s not how it works.

I find myself telling a really quite hilarious story about my period…
To my manager…
Who’s a bloke.
And as I’m nearing the punchline I can see the discomfort on his face.
I realise that I’m oversharing again.
I want to stop but the impulse to tell the punchline is overwhelming.
I finish telling my story, try to laugh it off, then spend the next few days obsessing over my embarrassment.
I convince myself that my inability to constrain myself is off-putting.
No one wants to be around someone who blurts out the wrong things at all the wrong times, all the time.
No one could ever like someone like me, I’m unbearably irritating!
I’ve tried again, and again, and every time I fail.
I’ll never be loved, no one loves a failure.
ADHD just an excuse for disorganisation and laziness, after all.
I’m just not trying hard enough.

Everyone reassures me that I am loveable.
I’m doing fine and everyone loses their keys.
Everyone has been late to an appointment.
Everyone has walked into a room and forgotten why they’re there.
Everyone has forgotten a birthday.
But, for me, well….

There are 365 — no, 366 — mornings for me to wake up and panic that yesterday was a friend’s birthday.
And I’ve forgotten it again.
And it’s now the third year in a row.

Clearly, CLEARLY I just need to be more organised.
I just need a system.
I just need to remember to set an alarm.
I just need to write it all down — and remember to write it all down.
I just need to remember to bring the notebook along with me.

The word “just” has become the bane of my existence.
I can’t “just” change my biology!

You see, the root of ADHD is not a lack of discipline.
The lack of discipline is a symptom.
ADHD is a lack of dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical in the brain — a rather fundamental one, too.
It’s often called the “reward neurotransmitter” because you get a burst of dopamine when you do something you like.
You’ve been hungry and just eaten something *BURST* Dopamine
You’ve finished washing the dishes that needed to get washed *BURST* Dopamine
You’ve just crossed something off your to-do list *BURST* Dopamine

But it’s also the motivation neurotransmitter — and if we don’t have enough, then we’re not motivated.
It’s almost like the very thought of doing something that will end with a reward gives us a taster of that reward to inspire us to get started —
But I don’t get enough of that reward kicker to get started.
I’m really hungry, but I don’t have enough dopamine to get up and make food. So I’m now hungry AND cross at myself.
But I’m still not cooking.
The dishes are piling up and I know I need to wash them.
I WANT to wash the dishes but I can’t.
I stare at the to-do list….
It’s like my brain is waiting for something, patiently waiting for inspiration.
I think to myself “I should really do this” but I don’t.
Sometimes I luck out and I get a dopamine inspiration hit to do things that I find fun or novel.
But then there’s not enough dopamine to inspire me to do anything else.
That’s where the “attention deficit” term comes from, because we can’t shift our attention to other ‘important’ things.

But I’ve asked around and we ADHDers are pretty amazing when there’s a deadline.
The adrenaline of a quickly-approaching deadline gets us over that motivational hump.
Imagine me at university.
I’ve got a project for class and, if I don’t do it, then I fail the whole degree!
I SWEAR that THIS TIME I’ll get it written early.
I write a vague outline within a day of it being assigned and I do some background reading…
But the weeks go by and I just don’t manage anything else.
And now it’s due in tomorrow. *BURST* HAVE SOME ADRENALINE!
And I get it done! An all-nighter and ten cups of coffee later…

In this way, it affects our sense of time — because either something is NOW or it’s NOT NOW.
If it’s NOT NOW then I don’t need to think about it, so it’s promptly dumped from my mind.
If it’s NOW then adrenaline gets it done or thought about NOW with an insane amount of urgency.
It makes it hard to prioritise things, though.
There’s a bunch of things that need to get done NOW — but they ALL need to get done NOW.
It’s pretty impossible to remember to do preparatory steps in advance for a NOT NOW thing when there are so many NOW things in my brain.

So we rely heavily on workarounds, tricks for our brain, whether or not we take medication to help.
I use checklists and calendars and reminder alarms to make sure I don’t completely forget about NOT NOW things.
I use timers and alarms to simulate urgent deadlines for most tasks in a day.

This speech was prepared by giving myself many artificial deadlines to work towards.
I offered to talk a month ago —
one week to write the speech, one week to practice in the mirror, one week to write the cards, and one week padding because artificial deadlines don’t always do the trick.

Of course, the most important workaround for me is to surround myself with understanding people — and if they don’t understand then I give a talk like this to explain.

ADHD is not just misbehaving children.
It’s a very real disorder which affects people of all ages, in all places, and it’s not a matter of “just” doing something.
When I was a kid I was physically and mentally hyperactive but, like so many female children and most adults with ADHD, I’m not really physically hyperactive.
My mind is still hyperactive, though, wading through a relentless stream of thoughts and feelings that want to be dealt with NOW.
I look like I’m neurotypical but I can assure you that I’m not.

But it’s not all bad.
In the paraphrased words of Winnie the Pooh:
“The gift of being a very forgetful bear is that every day is a new surprise.”