A Conversation on ADHD with Dr. Anna Roth

Health & Wellness

October is ADHD Awareness Month, and this week on the Wit & Delight Podcast Dr. Anna Roth and I are discussing our experiences with ADHD.

Both Anna and I are diagnosed with ADHD. In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about our personal experiences, what our diagnosis process was like, how we dealt with the diagnosis, and some of the ways we’ve reframed our approach to living with ADHD, viewing it instead as a superpower of sorts. I think it’s always helpful to hear people’s personal experiences because you might be hearing the causes or the indicators of ADHD in a very different way in your life than you will hearing us talk about it.

Read a portion of our interview below, and listen to the entire episode on The Wit & Delight Podcast! You can also listen to our first episode with Dr. Anna Roth here, where we discuss the topic of therapy, and our second episode here, where we discuss the topic of natural beauty.

If you’d like more insight about my own experience with ADHD, take a look at my most recent blog post, From Loathing to Loving My Crazy Awesome, Dangerously Fast Brain.

Name: Dr. Anna Roth
Occupation: Holistic PhD Psychologist and Registered Yoga Teacher
Website: Dr. Anna Roth
Instagram: @drannaroth
About Anna: Dr. Anna Roth is passionate about integrative and embodied treatment approaches to mental health. She thrives at identifying root causes and providing strategic intervention that is as multidimensional as the humans she helps. She is currently working in private practice in Minneapolis and accepting new clients both in-person and online. To learn more about her modern mental health program for women, click here.

Today we’re going to talk about ADHD. ADHD is something I’ve lived with for a long time. I think a lot of us feel the effects of distraction, but what it means to have a neural biological difference from what is the normal baseline is something that’s important to shed light on. Tell me a little bit about your journey with ADHD. How did you end up sitting in the chair getting tested?

Dr. Anna Roth: Most people probably wouldn’t think that you would have ADHD or ADD and have a PhD. I know my personal experience was always feeling dumb—that was one of the things I always felt in elementary school. I remember people evaluating me for high potential based on my reading ability, but then quickly pulling me out of that based on my standardized test scores. So at a young age, I was thinking, Oh, I’m not smart. That was really painful. And I really held that belief. But I wasn’t identified as having ADD or ADHD because I didn’t have the hyperactive component really strongly; I could sit in my chair in class.

I developed all these ways of compensating in school. I would hold myself accountable and ask to sit in my own room for tests, or I would bring my own earplugs for exams. I developed all these hacks and I just thought that I was weird or that there was something strange that all I could focus on was the student tapping their pencil during a test. What happened though is that eventually the demand and the challenge of the tasks outweighed my ability to compensate.

Yes. There’s a tipping point.

Dr. Anna Roth: Yes. And that happened for me in my PhD after I was out of formal classes. I was on my own with my dissertation and I just couldn’t do it. So I finally went in and was evaluated and actually diagnosed with a learning disability. I got accommodations, decided to take medication, and I could not believe the difference. I could focus for the first time in my life.

I remember the first time I took my medication, it felt similar to the first time I put glasses on and saw clearly. It was amazing to think without my mind racing. How did that feel for you?

Dr. Anna Roth: It was so helpful and shame reducing, because for so long I had felt stupid. I’d wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t finish things. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t complete things.

Basic things. Things that I had always felt should be so easy. You just put a stamp on the bill and you put it in the mailbox, right? And for me it felt like rocket science.

Dr. Anna Roth: Yes, exactly. And it was so important to have someone in the learning disability office at the University of Minnesota tell me that this is real. This is real. You get double the amount of time for a test. You need double the amount of time. And so I had a lot of compassion for myself for all of the years that I struggled and I fought and I tried to conceal what was happening and fake it and get by.

The diagnosis also triggered me to learn more about ADHD. All of the information I took in helped me channel some of the superpowers I had and also recognize some of my deficits and try to hack them and account for them. But the biggest shift that happened after the diagnosis is that it stopped feeling like a character flaw.

The diagnosis also triggered me to learn more about ADHD. All of the information I took in helped me channel some of the superpowers I had and also recognize some of my deficits and try to hack them and account for them. But the biggest shift that happened after the diagnosis is that it stopped feeling like a character flaw.

Yeah. I’m just getting there. That’s amazing that you were able to do that through learning.

Dr. Anna Roth: But it took until I was 27 years old. It took a lot of years. And I also had a conversation with my friends, my family, with other people in my life and I told them about the diagnosis too. Because in all the years prior I had missed details, forgot birthdays—all of those types of things. So I told them that I’m doing my best, but there’s actually a real reason why I struggle with some of these things.

Yeah. I bet that felt really freeing. And I know there are going to be a lot of people listening who are married to someone with ADHD, because I do hear a lot from people who say, “Oh, my husband has it. How can I support him or be there for him?”

I think it’s totally normal to feel very overwhelmed by the diagnosis and to think you can’t change it. I can’t change the way that the blood flow is happening in my prefrontal cortex. I can open it and close it with medication, but what’s next? And I think that this is probably a good thing for us to talk about. Let’s break it down into some very simple ways that you can do a little bit of an intake for yourself.

Dr. Anna Roth: I do want to address the testing piece. People’s experience with ADHD is not always super straightforward, especially in women, because I think that women and little girls are often not diagnosed. When we think of ADHD, we think of little boys who are very hyperactive. (And that’s a very controversial topic, too, about overmedicating little boys. But that’s beside the point.) I think that women in particular can suffer in silence in this area. But the point is that there’s many ways to identify ADHD. One of them is standardized testing, and I passed that test because I was in hyperfocus; I was locked in like a video game.

And then there are these written tests where you take one and you also have several other people in your life fill them out about you. These tests cover several different domains of your life—work, home, and school. And when I took this test, I tested positive for ADD with flying colors.I was still diagnosed and I still got all the accommodations at the University of Minnesota, but not because of the standardized test. So, listener, you might go into a clinic, do the standardized test, and they might say you don’t have it.

And in our culture and society now, we’re so overstimulated and so wrought with distraction that I also have a lot of people come in to see me and say, “I think I have ADD because I can’t focus. I can’t concentrate. I can’t get things done.” Well that could be because they’re depressed. It could be because they’re chronically sleep deprived. It could be because they’ve been so stressed for so long that their brain isn’t working optimally. There could be so many reasons for it.

So when you’re asking about the intake, something that is typically present and the way that we’re taught as psychologists to see it, is that there often are some indicators in childhood. There are some signs indicating that you’re not able complete tasks, you’re impatient, you show impulsivity, you have some difficulty with your performance in school. There’s all these different domains that you can see it. And that’s not to say it’s not there in adulthood, but usually it shows up earlier.

Yeah. And we’re all not perfect, so all of us are going to lose our keys. All of us are going to forget things from time to time. What I like to look at as the indicator is, is it affecting your life in a way that is irrevocably negative? For example, is there a loss of money, like a significant amount of money from late payments? I remember losing my keys so many times in one year that I ended up spending $300 replacing them, and at the time, I didn’t have that money. There’s a difference between beating yourself up for not being perfect and looking at a real issue that is affecting your life or your relationships in a detrimental way.

Dr. Anna Roth: So some of the challenges that people with ADD or ADHD often have is impatience, difficulty following instructions, challenges waiting, losing things, seeming as though they’re not paying attention, impulsivity, and interrupting. Those are some of the places you’ll see it. But like you’re saying, it’s also about the degree to which it’s impairing your life. And there’s this debate about taking medication or not. I think that that’s an individual decision for everyone, but there are so many different hacks and so many different things you can try to do. And there are times when the challenge increases in life for whatever reason. Like maybe your work demand increases. Or the demand of a project increases. That might be a time where you need added support.

Or you’re managing people. It’s a completely new skill that you don’t have the confidence in, and you have to build all that confidence up again. For me, that’s really when my ADHD began to show.

And even with kids too. I’m now managing my kids. I’m managing myself in a way because I need things that toddlers need. Actually, in fact, I think all of us need things that toddlers need. The more that I’m living with toddlers, I’m realizing, oh, we’re all just toddlers. Some of us have learned how to parent ourselves and some of us are still throwing tantrums.

That perspective has really helped me not feel so resentful to the things I have to do to manage my life—managing my time, writing everything down, giving myself gold stars. I’ve realized that this is about being able to show up for myself, plan out my days, do the things that I say I will do because I care about who I am, and I know that when I do those things, I’m caring for myself. I’m doing things that are going to make me feel better. That was such a mindset shift. A lot of this stuff that I’ve learned through having ADHD is just really good for everyone—especially people who are dealing with this world of distractions that we live in.

Dr Anna Roth: Absolutely. And it’s this question that we have to ask ourselves around the label of ADHD. Is the label helpful to me? Does it free me up? Or is the label shaming? Use it if it works for you. Don’t use it if it doesn’t work for you.

Hear more of our conversation with Dr. Anna Roth here:

And please share with your friends and subscribe to the Wit & Delight Podcast wherever you listen!

BY Kate Arends - October 23, 2019

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[…] more info about my experience with ADHD, have a look at an essay I shared earlier this week, and a podcast I recorded with Dr. Anna Roth. Have a great weekend, […]

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