I HAVE ADHD PODCAST - Episode #237
November 14, 2023
Going Back to the ADHD Basics (A Refresher on Adult ADHD)
Hello, my friend. I’m so glad that you’re here and that you’re taking steps to live your best life while you’re on this ADHD journey. Today, we’re going back to the basics of ADHD — because sometimes the noise can cause us to forget what’s *actually* going on inside these beautiful brains of ours. 🧠
Those of us who were diagnosed with ADHD as adults often try to mask our symptoms and hide them from the outside world because we are so used to experiencing rejection as children. If we don’t get the support we need, it can be easy to let these symptoms debilitate us and hinder our progress in life.
If you feel you have ADHD, I’m here to encourage you to talk to a clinician. Have a convo with someone who knows about the disorder and can help you navigate your symptoms. You can also visit my website for a full list of ADHD symptoms.
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LEARN MORE ABOUT THE TOPICS DISCUSSED IN THIS EPISODE
PRINTABLE ADHD SYMPTOM LIST
This totally free printable includes a psychologist-approved list of symptoms that adults with ADHD commonly experience. This could give you the answers you’ve been begging for your entire life.
Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B.
Hey, what’s up? This is Kristen Carter and you are listening to the I have ADHD podcast. I am medicated. I am caffeinated. I am regulated. And I’m ready to roll. I’m so glad that you’re here with me today. Welcome to the show. What’s up? What’s up? How are you come on in, get cozy, grab a chair, get comfy or multitask. If you’re like me, I listen to podcasts while I am driving while I’m doing the dishes while I’m folding laundry, basically doing anything that I don’t feel like doing. I’ve got a podcast in my ear. And if that’s you, too, hey, twins. Love it. Glad you’re here. So glad that you are going to hang out with me today.
I’ve been podcasting for almost five years. And in those five years, this podcast has really evolved. And what I realized recently is that it’s not super user friendly or accessible to the brand new ADHD ear. And so I decided to do a couple shows in a row, a series on the basics of ADHD. We’re gonna go back to basics for a couple of weeks, so that we can welcome in any newbies, anybody who is recently diagnosed, anybody who is curious about ADHD, or anybody who’s just kind of like learning about it. So if you’re a longtime listener, you’ve likely heard this content before. But I hope to say it in a new fun, fresh, adorable way. And if you are a brand new listener, welcome. Welcome to the show. This is the place where we talk about all things ADHD in a very clear and concise and what I presumed to be a very fun way.
Like I said, I’ve been podcasting for about five years on this topic. And my own growth has led to the podcast evolving into talking about really deep things like trauma and the ways that our past affects who we are now. And I remember in about 2014 2015 When I went looking for an ADHD podcast, and the ones that were available at the time had super long episodes. And do you know what I said? Yeah, no, not for me. I can’t sit for an hour and listen to something. And so I did not listen to podcasts because they were too long for my attention span. And so I just want to make this more accessible for you. So if you’re like, Yeah, I’m not gonna listen to an hour long episode, Kristen Carter. Well, then here you go. Here’s a nice short one. We’re going back to the basics to talk about what does adult ADHD look like? How does it present in adults differently than it does in children? Literally, we’re going back to Episode One because my very first podcast was called What does it ADHD look like? And I remember recording it over and over and over and over. Because I was way too scared to put it out into the world. I think it’s like 14 minutes long, like it ended up just being so short. And I just threw it out there in the darkness of the night, and hoped that nobody would listen to it. And here we are today with over 6 million downloads. So what are you going to do? But I’m glad that you’re here. I’m glad that you are on an ADHD journey.
No matter if you are recently diagnosed or self diagnosed, or you’re just curious. Or maybe you’ve been diagnosed as a child. And now you’re kind of trying to learn what does it look like as an adult? Who am I? How can I step into the identity of somebody who is thriving with ADHD? And that’s what we are going to talk about in this podcast. So let’s start here. What does ADHD look like in kids? That’s usually what society thinks about when ADHD is mentioned. What society’s brain and I just mean like the general population of people, what our brain goes to is a little kid in the classroom. Usually a little white boy is what we’re picturing in our minds and he’s bouncing off the walls. He’s talking too much. He’s been kind of crazy in classroom and throwing spitballs at his classmates, but it’s not exclusive to that. That’s a very narrow view of ADHD and children. For most little girls, it can look like totally zoning out in class or talking way too much in classes talk, talk, talk, talk, talk all the time. ADHD children are not able to follow multi step directions. So they need things kind of spoon fed to them one thing at a time, you’re gonna see a lot of meltdowns and tantrums with ADHD kiddos. They’re not gonna be able to sit and do their homework. They’re going to be up and down and up and down. or they’re maybe gonna fight you with their homework and say like, I can’t do it, it’s too hard. Or it’s so boring or I don’t have any homework when really they’ve got homework piling up, they’re gonna have trouble making and keeping friends.
The research shows that ADHD children are rejected way more often than their neurotypical peers, which is so sad. And those of us who are ADHD adults now are dealing of the fallout with that. But that’s a podcast for another day. There’s lots of negative feedback coming from teachers, from coaches, and probably from parents to these ADHD kiddos. And if you are someone who either has a child with ADHD, or you were a child with ADHD, this type of feedback is going to sound so familiar to you. For example, if Jimmy would just apply himself, he would do so well in this class, or Susan knows the material, but she needs to slow down and pay attention because she’s making silly mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times I got that feedback as a student with ADHD. Little did we know that I had ADHD I wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 21. child with ADHD is asked to have a lot of trouble with transitions, a lot of trouble with sleep a lot of trouble with following a schedule and just kind of fitting into a neurotypical society.
Now, what you need to know is that the diagnostic criteria for ADHD was developed for children. And so there is no specific diagnostic criteria for adults. So that means that most clinicians don’t really know much about ADHD. And the general population with ADHD, the general adult population with ADHD, also doesn’t really know much about ADHD, which is why I started this podcast because as I began to learn about ADHD when I owned a tutoring center, and I was researching ADHD, in order to help my students, I learned so much in that like two year period when I was on a research binge for ADHD, and I was reading all the books and I was just trying to discern how I could be most helpful to my students, I learned so much about the ADHD brain that I never knew, even as someone diagnosed with ADHD, and it changed my life. And what I’m hoping is that this podcast, and the information contained in it changes your life. So let’s talk about what ADHD looks like in adults.
The thing with ADHD adults is that they have gotten very used to masking their symptoms, meaning most ADHD adults work really, really hard to hide their symptoms from the outside world, we’ve experienced so much rejection because of our symptoms as children, that now as adults, we try. I mean, we’re working real hard to mask the symptoms, and to hide them from the outside world. This means that most adults with ADHD are presenting quote unquote, typically, most of the time, we can kind of fake it in a lot of ways. Depending on how severe our ADHD is. However, the behind the scenes is usually wild. So let me say it again, as ADHD adults, we work really, really hard to hide our impairments and our symptoms from the outside world because we don’t want anyone seeing it and making fun of us or rejecting us or firing us or not being our friend because of our pesky little symptoms and impairments. But what that means is that our homes, our closets, our cars, our bank accounts, anything behind the scenes is usually chaotic, and wild. So what we’re gonna do is we’re going to go through the ADHD symptoms as they present in adults.
Now, this is a list of symptoms that I have on my website. I have adhd.com and it’s compiled from the work of Dr. Russell Barkley Dr. Russell Ramsey, Dr. Ned Halliwell, and Dr. Ari Tuckman. So this is a compilation of how the symptoms present in our real life as adults. Okay, so we’re gonna start with the most obvious symptom, which is distractibility. Now, it’s really important that you know that ADHD has nothing to do with not being able to pay attention or too little attention. More accurately, somebody with ADHD struggles to regulate their attention, meaning I have just as much attention as a neurotypical human. However, I struggle to regulate where I put that attention, meaning anything that’s distracting.
For example, right now, there are literally landscapers outside of my window, super distracted by it. My brain wants to go there and I’m constantly having to pull myself back to the task at hand, which is speaking to you, dear listener. So the inability to ignore irrelevant stimulus like noises, conversations or visual things, or even like the tag in my shirt, if it’s very scratchy, that’s a stimulus that I really struggle to ignore. Inability to block out unnecessary thoughts. So the intrusive thoughts that come, they are very distracting. It’s not that I don’t have attention, I just struggle to regulate my attention. It’s hard for me to focus on the task at hand. So like I said, I’m sitting in my office, actually, that’s not true. I am standing in my office, and I am recording this podcast and I’m talking to you and I’m thinking about you. And I’m hoping that this is useful to you. And out of the corner of my eye, I’m seeing the landscapers with their leaf blowers, at my office building, I’m very distracted by that it is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter to me, it doesn’t matter to you, and yet it is happening and my attention is drawn to it. So it’s not an attention deficit. I don’t have too little attention. It’s just I struggle to regulate, where I put my attention.
One of the ways that this plays out in adults is that we can’t seem to stick to one thing long enough to finish it. And so we we leave a lot of projects unfinished. Alright, the next symptom is impulsivity. For an adult. This means that there’s no stop and think moment before we act or speak. Dr. Ned Halliwell jokes. And I love this that the ADHD brain is like a Ferrari engine with bicycle brakes. We are fast and we go Go, go, go go. But we don’t have the brakes to stop. And think and consider. If this is a good thing to say. Or if this is a good thing to do. We just kind of go go go. So we interrupt people a lot. We make rash decisions, jump to conclusions, have very little patience for waiting our turn. We often react really quickly, and we’re impulsively saying yes to things or starting projects, we often take on too much because of that impulsivity. For someone who is considered hyperactive or combined type ADHD, there is a sort of restlessness or agitation that comes with that.
So as a kid, they may have been bouncing off the walls and like running around and really energetic but as an adult, you’ve probably learned to curb that and hide that. But maybe you fidget a lot or tap your foot or pencil. You’re chewing gum excessively, your leg is always bouncing, you have trouble sitting still, you get agitated sitting in your seat, maybe your thoughts are running a mile a minute. So ADHD, hyperactivity is now internalized with your thoughts running a mile a minute, you have trouble resting, relaxing, sitting down. And don’t even get me started on sleep, because that is a whole other podcast. But sleeping can be very, very difficult. So you’re thinking too fast, you’re reacting too fast, you’re driving too fast, you’re speaking too fast, you’re acting too fast. Everything is just like, go go go. adults with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine in their brain, or more accurately, fewer dopamine receptors. This means that our reward system is broken. So the things that make neurotypicals feel good like accomplishing a task like laundry. The cost benefit analysis for us ADHD years is not great. We really struggle to resist short term pleasure in exchange for long term reward. So a long term goal is going to be very hard to follow through on and also just like the stupid things around the house that you don’t really care about, but do need to be done. That’s going to be really difficult as well. So we can’t seem to make ourselves do the things that we know we want to do, but we hate doing. Did I mention laundry and dishes, you have no tolerance for boredom, tedious, menial tasks make you feel like you wanted to die. And if you don’t see the value in it, it’s very unlikely that it’s going to get done.
We are controlled by the now we want pleasure, dopamine now, that can make life really, really hard for someone who’s an adult because a healthy adult is able to resist the pull of the pleasure now and know like, Okay, I know the better option is to kind of be in pain here and do the dishes so that I can enjoy clean house. Yeah, that’s a skill that ADHD adults really have to develop. Time. Blindness is a huge, huge issue for adults with ADHD. And this is because we have poor working memory which we’ll talk about in greater detail, but our nonverbal working memory totally sucks. So we struggle to even conceptual realize what is time, we have no awareness of time. So we can accurately estimate how long a task will take us. We’re always running late, we’re always feeling like we’re behind behind behind, we usually think we have more time than we do. We procrastinate put up doing things to the last minute.
And I’m going to add in here that I believe we also have a form of like money blindness as well, where we really can’t conceptualize money either. And so we think we have more money than we have, we’re constantly overdrafting we don’t really think of money as a concrete thing. And so we really struggled to manage it. emotional self control is next. And emotional dysregulation is a big thing for adults with ADHD. And it really is a little known fact, right now, it’s not on the symptoms list. But I would not be able to record this podcast without mentioning it because there is a deficiency in the connection of our amygdala to our thinking brain, and we struggle great ly to manage our emotions. So we often get more upset than is kind of like normal for the situation, like everybody’s chill, and we are amped up, we can be explosive and unpredictable emotionally, we seem to feel things more intensely than the people around us, we get really frustrated really fast. And we have a hard time coming down off of those emotions. So the ability to self soothe is not one that we developed as children. And so we have to learn that as adults, so that we’re not always emotionally activated.
Now, I mentioned poor working memory earlier. And let me tell you, this is one of the most debilitating symptoms for adults with ADHD because we can’t seem to hold what we need to do, in our mind long enough to accomplish the task at hand. This is because working memory acts like a bulletin board in our brain, where we can just post a little sticky note long enough to accomplish the task, but just long enough to remember the thing that we need to do. Well, unfortunately, we don’t have one of those bulletin boards, our sticky notes are nowhere to be found. And our working memory sucks. So we forget to do the things that we say we’re going to do. We leave most projects unfinished, we get started on something and get distracted, and then forget to go back to it. And we can’t remember what our goals are, let alone like actually stick to them and follow through on them. So we’ll talk about this at the end. But this is one of the main reasons why there is a huge gap between our potential and our performance.
There’s a huge gap between our intentions, our good intentions, and our follow through and working memory is one of the main reasons why. All right, are you still with me, we’ve got three more left that we’re going to discuss and they’re really important ones. Actually, this one you might not even know about. Someone with ADHD really struggles to self reflect. So self reflection is an executive function that is really deficient for someone with ADHD. And this explains why people with ADHD make the same mistakes over and over and over no matter what feedback they’re getting this self reflection, this is the reason why someone with ADHD is making the same mistakes over and over and you just feel like such an idiot like why can I just learn from my mistakes. It’s because we don’t have the ability to look into the past, see what didn’t work, adjust our behavior, like course correct, and make changes for the future. It’s just not something that our brain is able to do naturally. That’s a skill that we have to develop. So we can organize our behavior over time and make changes. Most of the goals we’ve set have been forgotten or total failures. were controlled by the now which I mentioned earlier with impulsivity we care about now we struggle to even consider the future, or see how the past has impacted where we are today.
And so somebody with ADHD and adult with ADHD is kind of going to be pulled by the end of their nose so to speak, there is not much forethought, there’s not much reflection on the past. And that is not because you’re a bad person. That is not because you are making choices to be selfish. It is because your self reflection executive function is impaired, and it needs to be improved. Alright, two more. There is this cluster of skills with organization, prioritization, planning and problem solving. And let me tell you,
let me tell you, somebody with ADHD is going to be living a very chaotic life because organization prioritization, planning and problem solving are gonna be real, real tough for an adult with ADHD. If there is no methodology, there is no systematic way of living life, we’re just kind of willy nilly putting out fires everywhere, and just going from one thing to the next blown and tossed by the wind and the waves. So we have trouble organizing our thoughts, our emotions, our tasks, our schedules, our finances, our home, our car, our relationships, and everything else. Think about all of the areas that organization prioritization, problem solving and planning affect your life, I am talking from the boardroom, to the bedroom, every area of your life is affected by this deficient executive function kind of cluster of skills. And so I want to validate that if everything is hard, if everything is disorganized, if everything feels chaotic, yeah, it’s because you got ADHD, my love with, I just want to give you a hug, like, yes, it’s supposed to. Everything should be disorganized. If you have ADHD, and you’re not treating it, and you’re not on the healing journey, everything should be disorganized, it’s impossible to prioritize. Because everything feels important. I like to describe prioritization like this, it’s as if everything at your life is screaming at you at the same volume, everything just kind of yelling at you and screaming at you at the same volume, every task, every person, every little thing, every notification from your phone, everything your kid needs everything your boss wants everything your neighbor says it’s screaming at you from the same volume.
And as you are moving along your ADHD healing and self development journey, what you’re going to learn to do is turn down the volume on the lesser important things, and turn up the volume on the more important things. Now, this takes some deep work, because how do we decide what is most important? How do we decide how to prioritize, and we’ll get to that I’ve got a lot of episodes on it. And this is where coaching or therapy can be really, really useful to someone who wants to be on a self development journey with ADHD. This is why scheduling and making a plan and just crossing things off your list is so so hard, it’s because of this deficient executive function. It’s excruciating to manage money to manage time to organize your life, because everything is tedious, and and you just feel like I’m not sure what’s most important.
And so you’re kind of like the washing machine and the spin cycle, just wound going around and around to all the different things, never really finishing anything, never really following through with any one thing and accomplishing pretty much nothing. If that’s you, I feel it, I really, really do. Last one. Now, I mentioned already that we have low dopamine, and we have trouble regulating our emotions. And these are two big reasons why people with ADHD struggle with task initiation and task completion, we have trouble starting things that are overwhelming or hard or boring or scary, or make us feel a little bit insecure. And once we start we often have trouble finishing can’t do things just because you should do them, you need a deadline or a huge reward or a major consequence. And even then sometimes it doesn’t get done. And even when it does get done, it’s usually late, you have a hard time motivating yourself to stick with a project and see it through to completion.
It’s really hard to persist and finish things that are not interesting, or that you don’t care about or you that you feel are useless. And you really struggle to resist the urge to do something more fun when you’re supposed to be working or completing a project. Now, if you resonate with those symptoms, and impairments, I just want to say, same, this is what it looks like to be an adult with ADHD. Now you need to know that if you have ADHD, you were born with it. So as a child, it’s likely that you experienced some symptoms that kept you from functioning typically at school, at home, in your peer group in the community. And if you have parents that are lovely, maybe that’s something that you can talk to them about. Not all of you have parents that are lovely. They might dismiss your symptoms, they might say it wasn’t that bad. It’s important that you honor your own experience and your own memories. I just want to say that and if you have ADHD, the symptoms that I mentioned, like sure everyone struggles with those once in a while. But for someone with ADHD, they are debilitating, the symptoms and impairments will hinder you regularly in more than one area of your life like at home and at work with friends, family, in lots of different areas, volunteering at your kids school, etc etc.
And the last thing I want to say about this is ADHD is very in heritable. So if your kiddo has it, it’s really likely that you or your partner have it. Or if you have a sibling that has it, it’s really likely that you also have it. All three of my sisters and I have been diagnosed with ADHD. Two out of my three children have been diagnosed with ADHD. It’s just it really runs in families, my friends, it really runs in families. Now, I want to make the point that it’s not that you can’t get things done, it’s very likely that you’ve gotten some stuff done, you’ve probably accomplished some stuff, you’ve been to college, maybe or you have a job, maybe you have a family that you’re proud of. I’m sure that you do have accomplishments, and that is lovely. So it’s not that you can’t accomplish things. The question is, at what cost? Are you having to work harder than your colleagues at work to get the same amount of work done? Are you having to struggle so much more, to just kind of like volunteer at your kids school, or remember to pick up your kids on time than the other parents in your community? It’s not about what you’ve accomplished or not accomplished, because ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. The question is, at what cost so when I think of myself in college, I was a very intelligent student.
I excelled in the classes that I found interesting. And I got D’s, C’s and occasional F’s in classes that I thought were stupid. I was the one waiting to the last minute procrastinating and pulling all nighters in order to accomplish the same amount of work as my peers who are just kind of doing it during the day like a normal human being, and not stressing out about it. I’m going to create a whole other podcast and the stupid things that people say about adults with ADHD. But I do want to warn you that especially if you are accomplished, you might hear things like, well, you’re too smart to have ADHD, or you never would have made it through law school, if you had ADHD or you can’t have ADHD, you went to Harvard.
All of these things are direct quotes from people out there in the world, to clients that I’ve worked with, because people out there in the world are hella uninformed, including some clinicians, some well meaning clinicians, no shade to the clinicians, we love you, thank you so much for the work that you do. But listen, there are some clinicians out there who do not understand adult ADHD and they think that if someone were to be able to, let’s say, complete law school or med school or be a teacher, or whatever, you fill in the blank, then they cannot possibly have ADHD. And that is not the case.
The question always is at what cost? At what cost? Did you get through law school or med school or college or your corporate job? At what cost? Okay? Is the behind the scenes of your life really chaotic? Do you feel like you have to work harder than everybody else to produce the same amount of work? And here’s the key question, do you feel like there’s a gap between your potential and your performance? Do you feel like if you could just have a little bit more support, if somebody would just help you understand your brain, you would be able to accomplish so much more and advance in your career and get so much more done? If so, I highly recommend that you talk to a medical professional about the possibility of you having ADHD or something else. We’re not demanding a diagnosis from a clinician of course, but we are asking to be heard. And so I highly recommend that you do a little bit of research on the symptoms, you can go to my website and print them out at I have adhd.com If that works best for you. And I would circle the ones that you really relate to maybe jot down some notes of how it presents in your life right now. Take that information to a clinician and say hey, can we have a convo if you are dismissed, if you are ignored if you are denied, if somebody says to you like now women don’t have ADHD, no, like lawyers don’t have ADHD. Maybe you are a person of color. Maybe you are someone who already experiences medical gaslighting for other reasons. I just really encourage you to find a clinician that you can have a conversation with and that you can trust.
And listen if you love this podcast, like, share, follow, do all the things remember your working memory sucks, so you won’t remember to come back to it. If you don’t press that follow or subscribe button. So do that now I’m going to chat with you every single Tuesday. I can’t wait to get back with you here next week. A few years ago I went looking for help. I wanted to find someone to teach me how to feel better about myself and to help me improve my organization productivity time management, emotional regulation.
You know all the things that we adults with ADHD struggle with, I couldn’t find anything. So I researched and I studied and I hired coaches and I figured it out. None I created folks Ask for you. Focus is my monthly coaching membership where I teach educated professional adults how to accept their ADHD brain and hijack their ability to get stuff done. Hundreds of people from all over the world are already benefiting from this program and I’m confident that you will to go to Ihaveadhd.com/focus for all details