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Having ADHD is a 24-hour experience, so there’s more to it than struggling to focus in the classroom or at work. Luckily, it’s easier to thrive with ADHD the more you understand it. With that in mind, let’s explore some effects of ADHD you might not expect – and no, they’re not all bad.

1. ADHD can make you socially overcommit

Having ADHD can mean you might struggle to meet social expectations. Arriving at dinner late. Taking weeks to reply to a text. Skipping a party because you can’t decide on a last-minute ‘Hunks & Punks’ costume. But it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this means you’re a bad friend or ‘not committed’.

In fact, you could actually be overcommitted. Since ADHD impacts your self-control, memory and flexible thinking (mental health professionals call this ‘executive function’), you might be impulsively saying ‘yes’ to things without thinking them through. Even when you do stop and think, ADHD changes how you perceive time. That can make you seriously underestimate the hours required for a new commitment or how busy you already are.

The result can be a social calendar so jam-packed you’d need a cloning machine to get through half of it.

Suggestions:

  • Block out time to recharge, and defend that block with your life. Even if it’s only for an hour a week, you’re building the skill of setting the boundaries you need.
  • Masking ADHD in social scenarios can be draining. It’s okay to leave an event earlier than you were planning. Friends who respect your needs will understand.
  • Check in with yourself after a social event. Are you happy you attended? If not, think twice before committing to similar stuff in the future.

2. ADHD can impact how you process emotions

About half of people with ADHD have difficulty managing their emotions. This is known as ‘emotional dysregulation’ and isn’t a well-known symptom.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is one type of emotional dysregulation you might experience with ADHD. RSD is characterised by extreme emotional pain in response to rejection.

Even if you don’t experience full-blown RSD, having ADHD means you may still be more heavily affected by rejection. Fear of rejection can then cause people with ADHD to develop people-pleasing tendencies or to stop trying altogether.

Memory problems may also contribute to emotional issues. If you’re having to use up more of your mental energy to remember and process what is happening, it can leave you with less energy for dealing with your emotions. You might also struggle to identify your feelings and express them to others. This is known as ‘alexithymia’ and is also common with people who have ADHD.

Suggestions:

  • A UCLA study found that naming negative emotions when they arise is helpful for regulating and understanding your feelings. For example, telling yourself ‘I’m feeling scared of rejection’ might help you to manage that fear.
  • If you’re not sure how to feel, pause before you react. You’ll be less impulsive and have more time to remember important details and to process what has happened.
  • Remember that ADHD is an explanation but not an excuse.

3. ADHD can make you funnier

Many comedians, including Jim Carrey and Hannah Gadsby, speak openly about having ADHD. And while ADHD might not guarantee you a Netflix special, there are reasons it could help.

People with ADHD score very well in ‘divergent thinking tasks’, which are exercises to create ideas using your imagination and lots of possible solutions. (List all the ways that flowers are like windmills. You just did a divergent thinking task.) You need divergent thinking to make any joke, whether it’s just for your mates or if you’re performing to a sold-out crowd at the Opera House.

Of course, the daily absurdities of ADHD can leave you incredibly frustrated. For many, the best way to deal with that frustration is through humour. 

‘I’ve used humour as an ADHD coping mechanism for most of my life – that’s a lot of practice!” says Australian comedian Bec Melrose. 

Suggestions:

  • Share your experience. Doing so in a safe place can be entertaining and liberating. The best stories are those about doing things differently.
  • Have a creative outlet. Improv comedy classes are one way to hone a skill that celebrates lateral thinking.
  • It’s normal to worry that medication could reduce your creative impulses. Fortunately, the evidence says that’s not the case.

4.  ADHD can make you a great role model for kids

Young children develop by observing how they are similar to and different from the people around them. But when a child notices that they are different from their peers, it can be distressing.

Having ADHD means a whole lot of feeling ‘different’. Because of that, you’re well-placed to respond with empathy when younger kids you know have similar concerns.

Kids – especially those with ADHD – might worry that their differences will hold them back. You can share your successes with them to set a positive example. On top of that, you can discuss the extra effort you have put in to overcome ADHD obstacles. It turns out children actually try harder when adults demonstrate how their efforts have led to success, rather than just talk about their successes.

You can also help older kids grapple with modern distractions – video games, cat videos, cat video games … Being able to navigate distractions is a skill that is likely to be just as important for the next generation. You already understand that different things work for different people, so you can encourage kids to find strategies that work for their brains.

Suggestions:

  • If this doesn’t sound like you, that’s completely fine. Young kids demand a lot of attention and your having ADHD can obviously make it hard to provide that. 
  • Even if attention isn’t an issue, you might simply not want to spend lots of time with kids – there’s nothing wrong with that either.

5. ADHD means you’re part of a community

Having ADHD can be an isolating experience. You might have experienced criticism from parents, teachers, friends, and that girl whose jacket you accidentally picked up last year at a party and keep forgetting to return. 

It can all make it feel like your struggles are unique. But the truth is that ADHD is relatively common. About 1 in 20 Australians have ADHD. That’s enough people to populate Canberra three times over! 

And while no one experiences ADHD in exactly the same way, it’s pretty likely that someone out there has faced similar challenges to you and made it to the other side. 

Suggestions:

What can I do now?