Video Essay: ADHD and the subtle ways it can make mountains out of molehills

By Andy Graham
Medill Reports

Patience, organization and focus are three traits that are invaluable in any working environment, especially for students at Northwestern University who are expected to meet frequent deadlines while keeping up with various other responsibilities. But for those who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, better known as ADHD, these traits can prove frustrating to maintain.

Being one of the nearly 8 million adults in the U.S who suffer from ADHD,  I know far too well how difficult it can be to manage the disability. It directly affects concentration, memory, organization and impulse control. Those difficulties can make any task harder to complete, especially for a student in a master’s program.

In this video essay, I describe how ADHD affects my daily life.

Misconceptions are common regarding ADHD, and many believe it to be a blanket term for a variety of other issues or conditions—such as depression, OCD and generalized anxiety disorder. This is because symptoms overlap. Those who suffer from ADHD often also have depression and/or anxiety.

For me, it feels like my brain is a broken radio sometimes. It’s like it is tuned to a hundred different stations all at once, and I can’t focus on any one of them properly.

Recent studies, based on neurological testing through brain scans (QEEG and SPECT SCAN), have shown that ADHD primarily affects the function of the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for organizing and processing information. It’s the same part of the brain affected by clinical depression.

The similarities between conditions that cause poor organization, fatigue, diminished mood, and poor memory, have led to ADHD being widely misdiagnosed by doctors. Roughly two-thirds of patients are misdiagnosed and medication is incorrectly prescribed—meaning there are many in the U.S who don’t receive proper treatment.

My condition, Primarily Inattentive ADHD, is even harder to diagnose due to a lack of external hyperactivity—a common symptom of traditional ADHD. In the Primarily Inattentive form of the condition, all symptoms present themselves through a deficiency in efficient mental processing and motivation.

I never understood what was wrong with me. I used to tell myself that I just didn’t want to try, even when I knew that wasn’t the case. I was embarrassed.

Like many, I continued to suffer undiagnosed throughout my adult life. The years of personal shortcomings lead to a lack of self-confidence. So when I got a diagnosis at the age of 24, and I was able to receive the right medical treatment, it was a “game-changer.”

It was as if everything suddenly made sense.  I still struggle, but I finally feel like I have a chance.

Photo at top: Adderall is a common mainstay for many with ADHD. The stimulant is taken daily to help manage symptoms. (Andy Graham/MEDILL)