What is ADHD?

So what is ADHD? Most people have heard of it but much fewer have a good understanding of what it is. When the term ADHD is mentioned I’m sure many people’s minds immediately picture the classic stereotype of hyperactive, naughty little boys who are constantly full of energy and get distracted by anything and everything. Whilst it can sometimes present in this way, this does not describe the large majority of people with ADHD and someone does not need to be hyperactive to have ADHD. In fact ADHD can lead to many different symptoms and difficulties that differ greatly between individuals. In particular symptoms can present very differently between sexes and between adults and children. This post aims to outline the different forms of ADHD and highlight some common symptoms, beyond the typical ones that everyone has heard of.

There are 3 types of ADHD:

  • Hyperactive-impulsive type
  • Inattentive Type (formerly known as ADD/Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • Combined type

Symptoms of inattentive type include (DSM-5 criteria)1:

  • becoming easily distracted
  • trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities (i.e. getting bored quickly)
  • poor attention to detail or making careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • difficulty organising thoughts, tasks and activities
  • losing things, e.g. keys, phone, pen, homework etc
  • often appear not to be listening when directly spoken to
  • forgetful in daily activities
  • often does not follow through on instructions or fails to finish tasks

People who are impulsive or hyperactive often (DSM-5 criteria)1:

  • fidget, fiddle with things or feel restless
  • struggle to sit still or often leave seat when remaining seated is expected
  • talk too much and/or too quickly
  • have trouble engaging in quiet activities
  • are constantly “on the go”
  • are impatient and have difficulty waiting their turn
  • act impulsively without thinking about consequences of actions, e.g. doing something dangerous without thinking about potential for injury
  • blurt out answers and inappropriate comments
  • interrupt people when talking

May also (not included in DSM-5 guidelines):

  • struggle to process and remember new information or large amounts of information at once
  • have difficulty focusing on a single task, often switching between many different tasks
  • be overly sensitive and/or have exaggerated emotional responses
  • often appear to be ‘zoned out’ or daydreaming

People with combination type experience many symptoms from both lists.

To meet diagnostic criteria you must experience at least six of the nine key symptoms for a specific type of ADHD (or five or more if aged over 16 years)1. To be diagnosed with combination ADHD, you must show at least six (or five if 17+) symptoms from each group (inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behaviour). Additionally, symptoms should have been present before the age of 12, occur in more than one setting (e.g. home, school, work, or with friends), and significantly impact everyday functioning, e.g. work or school performance or socially. Finally, the symptoms cannot be better explained by another mental disorder.

Hopefully this post has helped deepen your understanding of ADHD slightly and highlighted that not everyone that has ADHD is hyperactive and that there are many other everyday difficulties associated with ADHD, such as memory, processing and organisational issues.

[1] American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Why I started this blog…and how it relates to baths!?

Well…the first, and main, reason I decided to start writing this stuff was as a form of ‘therapy’ for myself. My mind was constantly racing with millions of thoughts quickly passing through, jumping from one thing to another, with no structure or coherence. This gave me minimal time to process and understand each thought and left little to no mental capacity for important tasks that I needed to do, such as writing coursework and revising for exams.

Over the last few months I have found writing to be a great outlet and release and has allowed me to organise my thoughts in a much more structured and coherent way than what I am able to do in my brain. Getting things out of my head and down on paper (or screen) has provided me with a sense of relief, somewhat relieving the pressure building up in my brain. My brain was like a bathtub with the tap stuck on, constantly overflowing (see image below), and pulling the plug out didn’t help as the water was still flowing in quicker than it was emptying. The water flowing out the bath represented all the important things I had to remember slipping from my memory, or my ideas escaping from my brain mid-sentence, making me lose my train of thought. I could not focus on tasks and kept forgetting things as everything was overflowing out of my mind, never to be seen again.

How to Handle a Bathroom Flood

By getting some of the thoughts down on paper/screen it almost felt like the tap had been turned down slightly, not completely off, but enough to stop the overflowing and allow the bath to gradually empty to a more acceptable level (see below image; a slightly more relaxing, less hectic experience than before…). Writing things down allowed my brain to finally start emptying slightly, freeing up space in my mind, allowing me to focus on things for a bit longer, without getting so distracted, without losing or forgetting key information part way through.

An oval bathtub filled with bubbles in a … – Buy image – 11396864 ...

Now I hadn’t originally planned on sharing any of this stuff I was writing, it was simply just a strategy I was using to vent and free up some space in my mind for more important things. (DISCLAIMER: This is definitely NOT a ‘feel sorry for me’ thing at all and I don’t want people thinking that!). I was hesitant to make this public for that exact reason. However, whilst talking about it with a mentor I’d been seeing, I thought maybe sharing what I’d written could be beneficial, both for myself and others. I thought perhaps if people read it, they would not only understand me more, but it could help raise awareness and understanding of neurodiversity and mental health conditions and encourage people to seek help. I hoped that maybe such increased awareness could also allow people to be more understanding and accommodating of friends, colleagues and acquaintances, in workplaces, social situations etc. If this could help even one person, it would make it worth it.

Finally, I hope that increasing awareness will aid in busting myths and misconceptions surrounding ADHD and associated mental health problems. For example, people being labelled lazy, rude, stupid, useless etc. I hope this will make people stop and think before labelling someone as such and consider whether there may be underlying issues or that the environment might just not be right for them (yes, I’m looking at you school classrooms and 2 hour long lectures!!) and adjustments may need to be made to accommodate for this.