I’ve always loved to sing. In third grade, my class combined with a few others to put on a musical about Johnny Appleseed, and I got the lead part as Johnny Appleseed. Every fourth-grader could audition for a Nutcracker musical the following year, and I was the lead in that one too. I decided to take the year from the fifth grade musical. The exact reason is a bit murky in my memory, but I told everyone at the time I wanted to give other kids a chance at the lead. When it was time to sign up for middle school electives, I didn’t hesitate and chose choir.
Fast forward to college, and I attended Panola College on a full choir scholarship. In my first year there, I was 19, and my choir was in Shreveport, LA, to rehearse with other college choirs and the Shreveport Symphony as we prepared to perform A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms. There are more risers on stage to hold two hundred plus singers, and as a baritone, I’m somewhere in the middle of this mass of singers. It’s our second night of rehearsals, and during a break, this super snobby baritone from another choir whips around to say, “Whoever is tapping your foot, would you please stop! You aren’t keeping the beat, and I can’t focus.”
His righteous indignation cracked me up, and I turned to my friend Tim Fleebe to make a joke. I don’t remember what I said, but I’ll never forget Fleebe looking at me and saying, “Dude, it’s you. If you can’t keep the time, you should stop because it’s messing up other people too.”
Embarrassed, I quietly nodded my head and stopped tapping.
No one knew that I couldn’t count beats when I sang because I didn’t realize it at the time. How did I get a choir scholarship when you can’t keep the beat? I listened and memorized the cues for my parts. My internal dialogue was a bit like, “Nothing happening for me here... we’re waiting on the altos to sing this little phrase, and then we come in a beat later.” Counting beats is not a big deal when you’re singing, but it makes things tricky when you’ve got a long break and need to know when to come back in.
Most of the best singers in my college choirs could sight-read music pretty well, but I always struggled sight-reading. I’ve only understood my problem keeping the beat for the last six months or so, and it all stems from a bit of neurodivergence in my brain.
I have ADHD.
Discovering I have ADHD
Growing up, my friends who had ADHD were all hyperactive, and I thought ADHD was a universal experience. We’ve learned more about how our brains work since I was a kid, and this helped improve the lives of neurodivergent people across the spectrum.
The journey of personal discovery kicked off when we discovered one of our kids experiences life with ADHD. They go through periods of intense focus when they’re interested in something while completely disengaging on topics they don’t enjoy. For them, this meant they could spend all day reading books but became antsy when it was time to study English.
There are other expressions for them too, but that’s what started our journey of discovery for our child. And as we learned more about how their brain works, I started seeing a pattern.
“Oh, I do that.”
“Huh, maybe I have ADHD.”
My partner, Jen, sent me article after article where I learned about how our child’s brain works and saw my own experiences reflected back to me. I also experience periods of intense focus, along with these behaviors taken from notes I made before visiting my doctor for a diagnosis…
- all or nothing mentality
- inconsistent sense of time
- hyper fixation
- inability to focus on tasks when I’m hyper fixated on something else
- difficulty switching tasks
- forgetting thoughts immediately
- extreme rejection sensitivity
- tendency to react first, then think
How do all these behaviors impact me? There are days where I don’t check anything off my to-do list. On those days, my inner monologue fixates on my lack of output and frames my behavior as being lazy. On the days where I don’t get anything done, it’s because I’m working on a task that’s new to me or writing and staring at a blank page.
On these days in the past, I couldn’t tell anyone I didn’t do anything because they would think I was lazy too. It didn’t matter that I always got fantastic performance reviews from my manager. I was afraid I was a fraud and not good at my job. If I was a fraud, how could I provide for my family if anyone found out?
That’s a tiny sample of the way my brain can spin out, and on the days where that happened, I distracted myself with TV, video games, or reading random Internet trails.
How did I live life before no with ADHD and not realize it? I built structures to help me cope with how my brain functions differently than neurotypical people. All of those scaffolds collapsed when COVID hit, and the behavioral trends of my ADHD ran rampant. My life completely changed after my diagnosis and starting my ADHD medicine.
Night and day difference with medication
I started taking ADHD medicine in early 2021, and I can see the change in my life during that time. First and foremost, I feel like a better version of myself.
Before my ADHD medicine, I would react then think when our kids needed correction. Thankfully, we didn’t spank or hit our kids, but my frustration would often express itself in anger. I’m not proud of those moments. My favorite change on ADHD medicine is that I think first then react now. My ADHD meds have also helped improve my relationship with Jen, as my ability to remember tasks and handle unexpected changes has dramatically improved.
Work is better now too. I don’t have days where I’m paralyzed by fear of failure, and I’ve adapted my workflow to include to-do lists I actually follow.
Going back to music, I still can’t count beats, but I started playing guitar regularly for the first time in years. I tried to learn how to play Blackbird for years without success. After a couple of months of practice, I can play and sing it all the way through now. It’s not as good as Paul McCartney, but I couldn’t be happier with the improvements in my ability to focus and learn guitar now.
The difference in my self-talk is the change that no one really sees, but that I probably feel most intensely now. In the past, this narrative would focus almost exclusively on my failures and why I was not good enough because of them. I still think about those failures today, but they live alongside recognition of all my successes too.
Why am I sharing this story publicly? First, because I like to share what I learn. Even more important to me is destigmatizing ADHD diagnosis and treatment.
We hesitated to give our child ADHD medicine because we believed those meds were often used as a compliance tool for kids. While they can be abused with kids in this way by adults, they also help kids in remarkable ways when properly used. I hope sharing our experience can help other children experience the difference we’ve seen in our child with ADHD. They struggled to start the day to the point where they would constantly run late and experience difficulty engaging in the morning. Now on their ADHD medicine, mornings are entirely different. They wake up on their own and follow a routine that helps them positively begin the day. We’ve also accommodated their needs in their environment and expectations.
For adults, my hope is that sharing my story will help some people identify their own neurodivergence and pursue treatment so they can experience the types of benefits I do now. Medicine changes my perception improves my ability to engage with my family, friends, and strangers.
We understand more about ADHD and other neurodivergent patterns today than ever, and we’re learning more all the time. Based on my own journey, I want to share a few helpful resources I found useful. If you think you or someone you love might have ADHD, I encourage you to check out additude.com. They are a trusted resource on ADHD, and you can find things like
- Symptom Checker *please consult with a medical professional for a diagnosis for treatment
- What is ADHD?
- The ADHD Brain
I’m happy to update this list, so send me any recommended resources on Twitter if you have suggestions.
Many creators focus on the ADHD experience. While their content isn’t always as rigorous as professional resources, they offer a window into the lived experience of people with ADHD. Instead of suggesting specific creators, because there’s no peer review for this group, I’d recommend searching for hashtags like #ADHD as a starting point to learn about other people’s experiences discovering and living with their ADHD.