Thursday 18 January 2018

Katie Byrne: Over the years, many armchair psychologists have diagnosed my personality type as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

Over the years, many armchair psychologists - friends, colleagues and one boyfriend - have diagnosed my personality type as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

When I read about the symptoms, I'm generally forced to conclude that they might be on to something. Impulsiveness - tick. Hyper-focus - tick. Easily distracted...

If I was writing this for a US newspaper, I would at this point talk about the 'aha' moment or the epiphany. It was as though it was written just about me / It was then that I realised I wasn't alone / For the first time in a long time, I cried.

Nah. The truth is that it took me approximately 15 years (difficulty completing tasks - tick) to read about the symptoms in their entirety, and the self-diagnosis made me more confident in my abilities than aware of my shortcomings.

Of course, it's comforting to have a label to put on my personal peculiarities, just as it is to have a ready-made excuse for the next time I zone out.

The long-distance lover calls this "Katie-land", which is considerably more compassionate than the people who wave their hands in front of my face when I begin to daydream.

Zoning out "without realising it, even in the middle of a conversation" is a trademark symptom of ADHD. As is excessive fidgeting, which is my excuse for the time I set a menu on fire and got my schoolmates and I barred from a cafe we liked to frequent.

These days, I can't sit in a bar without ripping a coaster into a million pieces, tearing open a sugar sachet and swirling the granules into pretty little mandalas or constructing origami birds out of fliers. Ironically, it helps me focus.

I recently read a study that concluded that children with ADHD perform better when they are allowed to fidget. I don't think I would have been able to stay in my chair during my schooldays if I wasn't toe-tapping and leg-swinging.

Of course, ADHD wasn't common parlance back then. You were described as "hyper" by your peers and "hugely disruptive" by your teachers. Back then, it wasn't common to be prescribed an amphetamine like Ritalin (which has a paradoxical effect on hyperactive people) either.

I have since calmed down immensely. My pals still nickname me "The Intensifier", but the symptoms I readily identify with have declined with age. I mostly attribute this to discovering holistic modalities like yoga and meditation, and adopting a one-thing-at-a-time approach to tasks.

Giving up alcohol also helped - you should never put petrol on a fire - although I sometimes still cringe the morning after the night before. "Blurting" is another ADHD symptom. Tick!

At least I've developed something of a filter, just as I no longer interrupt conversations. In saying that, I often walk into the bathroom to wash my hands and end up applying a facemask, and I can't walk past an advertising hoarding without deeply considering the cultural implications of the typography.

I once went food shopping with a pal with a similar personality profile. My basket was empty, save for a skipping rope, and her basket was empty, save for a Kenwood smoothie maker when we bumped into each other in the frozen food aisle 10 minutes later.

There's a fridge magnet that reads: "I wish I could sleep, but then my stupid ADHD kicks in and well, basically, one sheep, two sheep, cow, turtle, duck, old McDonald had a farm, heeeeey Macarena." That sounds about right.

I can spot another member of my ilk a mile off (something to do with the electromagnetic field) and I immediately know that we can skip the small talk and get stuck into a hypersonic non-linear conversation. We'll become best friends within the hour, swap phone numbers and then never see each other again. People with ADHD get bored easily.

They are also monomaniacs and non-conformists by nature. This is why they thrive in dynamic, fast-paced environments where they are unbridled by traditional structures. They are creators, entrepreneurs, system-busters and leaders, just as they are class clowns and college drop-outs.

ADHD is often diagnosed when a student becomes disruptive. There's one in every class, according to the teaching community. What tends to follow is an attempt to push a square peg into a round hole.

Perhaps they should consider more engaging, multi-sensory forms of teaching. Surely every student would benefit from lessons that don't involve regurgitating text books and underlining sentences.


Or why don't we label the people that cause ADHD personalities to drift off? Why don't we identify the symptoms of the chronically dull: difficulty forming opinions of their own, seemingly oblivious to subtle energy shifts and body language, monotone voice, liable to say things like "you wait for ages for a bus and then three come at once".

Maybe they should be dosed with amphetamines?

It makes me sad to think of all the children medicated for having high energy. Why would you suppress a force of nature? It's akin to quelling a wave or containing a flame.

Granted, some parents and teachers just can't cope, but I would hope that Ritalin and Adderall are the last resort rather than the first line of defence.

The focus should be on developing coping skills, grounding exercises and relaxation outlets. Help them discover their passion and you'll discover a super-human level of focus.

Yes, there's one in every class, but what would a classroom be without them?

'It makes me sad to think of all the children medicated for having high energy'

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