Insight is the magic ingredient that lies in between diagnosis and symptom management. No matter how good your doctor is, your ability to cope with ADHD will be determined to some extent by your understanding of how ADHD affects your life.
The good news is that, having lived your whole life, you’re well on your way to being an expert in knowing how ADHD symptoms impact your life! Still, people with ADHD often lack insight when they get diagnosed. I know that I was unaware of the full extent of my symptoms, and how many of the things I struggled with were tied up with my symptoms.
There are quite a few resources available that are helpful in building insight into what ADHD means in your life, and it’s worth taking advantage of them because doing so will make the rest of your ADHD treatment and coping easier. Some ways to build insight into ADHD symptoms are:
- Learning the basic symptoms: If you’ve been recently diagnosed, the first step is to get a feel for the basics of what ADHD is. That can be done with the usual methods: looking up lists of symptoms on Google and reading the Wikipedia page.
- Journaling: Once you know the symptoms of ADHD, the next step is to connect them to your own life. Try keeping a journal where you write about things that are issues in your day-to-day life, then look for ways ADHD symptoms could be involved. If you want to skip the writing, you can also do something similar by reflecting mentally on challenges in your life, “quirks” you have, particular ways your brain seems to work, and so on.
- Talking to a therapist: Working with a therapist, especially one who has experience with ADHD, is invaluable for untangling how ADHD has influenced your life in the past and present, and what you can do about it in the future! That’s one reason meds + therapy are a more effective ADHD treatment than meds only.
- Learning from others’ experiences: We don’t give out membership cards, because they’d just get lost, but the truth is that as an official ADHDer you join a community with millions of members. Hearing these people’s stories is great for gaining a more thorough understanding of ADHD and looking for parallels in your own life. This can be done online via blogs, social media, YouTube, Reddit, discussion forums – or in person if you have an ADHD support group in your area.
- Learning from the experts: Shortly after I got diagnosed, I picked up Ned Hallowell’s Driven to Distraction from my local bookstore, and it was useful for gaining a new perspective on ADHD. Watch some talks by different ADHD experts. If you look these up on YouTube, you’ll notice that people like Ned Hallowell and Russell Barkley, for example, have fairly different takes on ADHD, but it’s useful to hear both perspectives.
- Reading the science: Ultimately, everything we know about ADHD comes from research studies. If you want to get to the source of the knowledge, you have to look at the studies. There are sites like ScienceDaily and, of course, Psych Central, that regularly cover ADHD studies. If you want to dig into the papers themselves, you can find them on databases like PubMed and Google Scholar.
- Trying meds: Treating ADHD symptoms can help you understand them. If you’ve always had untreated ADHD symptoms, you might not even recognize that these things aren’t normal. Spending some time on a med that works can give you at least somewhat of a window into what life without ADHD symptoms is like, which in turn will increase your understanding of life with ADHD symptoms.
Gaining insight into ADHD is a gradual process of learning what ADHD is and connecting what you’ve learned to observations about your own life. It also involves untangling what the symptoms of ADHD are in general, and which symptoms have the most impact on your life.
As far as the above resources, I’ve found that an ongoing “all of the above” strategy is helpful. A little browsing online about ADHD, a little hearing other people’s experiences, a little diving into the science, a little therapy, and over time it adds up. If you have other tips for building insight into ADHD, please share them below!
Image: Flickr/Vincent Noel