I hate telling people I have adult ADHD. In the past, it’s been met with an eye-roll, a laugh, and, “God, everyone is diagnosed with that now.” <- This legit happened a couple of years ago, with very close friends. Others will laugh and say, “Oh goodness, I’m totally ADD!” Side Note: Doctors no longer diagnose anyone as ADD, as it has been dropped from medical literature. It is still commonly used, though, to refer to ADD/ADHD, which are medically defined as the same thing now. This has been true since the 80s.
Being a Christian, it’s frustrating on so many different levels. On the outside looking in, I’m just lazy, unintelligent, unorganized, and flaky. You wouldn’t think twice about what it feels like to be inside my brain (I’m sure it’s super unorganized up there). And it’s a serious problem. It’s not a joke, a phase, a season, or a discipline issue. It’s also not just a “children’s disorder.” Is this a serious problem that can’t be alleviated, and should just be accepted as-is? I don’t think so. Some doctors even argue that it’s a brain advantage when the symptoms are managed well. If they are, we are basically unstoppable. But it’s incredibly difficult to manage the symptoms without medication. Think of this like getting out of a life-long habit. It takes time, repetition, and from everyone else: GRACE.
I do believe Christians should be more sensitive to discipling people with Adult ADHD. If the person has never been diagnosed, I do not suggest you go around diagnosing people, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you avoid talking about sin or the person’s past experiences. I firmly believe that past experience can effect SOME (*not* all) symptoms of ADHD.
I’ve made a lot of people close to me, annoyed and sometimes angry. It’s hard to be patient with me. If I ever were to be married, I feel like I’d have to tell my husband when we got serious because it’s been so influential in my life, and not in a good way.
The things that happen to a “normal” person, happen to me at minimum, once a week. It’s easier for me to explain it this way than to list symptoms of ADHD.
- Misplacing keys? Every day.
- Locking keys in the car? 2-3 times a month
- Forgetting your destination while driving? Avg twice a week
- Going into a store and forgetting why you’re there? Every time I’m at a store, unless I have a list…but I forget to bring my list 95% of the time.
- Driving away from a drive-thru without your change or beverage? 50% of the time.
- If a task requires longer than 30 minutes to complete, I mentally check out and will errors will arise because my brain is beginning to focus on other things
- I start several things at once and rarely, rarely ever finish one
- I can’t sit in complete silence – my thoughts will become overwhelming and emotional for me (I’ll have so many at once, and they’ll pile up in my mind so high that I stop thinking and just cry for a while)
This is literally just a glimpse. A tiny snapshot. This doesn’t include how adult ADHD effects other things – like work, money management, time management. The only person I show up on time for anything for is my sister, Alex. I don’t know why. Ask any of my other friends or family how often I show up on time.
There is way too much science in regards to our brains and how they work. In regards to adult ADHD, there’s a lot of information, but in the end, the studies only show that medication truly alleviates symptoms – by about 80%! Psycotherapy, nutrition, etc has not had a huge effect, but has had some. Science aside, here are some ways you can disciple someone who has confessed they either have been diagnosed with Adult ADHD, or they believe they should be:
Stray From The, “Have You Tried _____?” Questions
Chances are very high that the adult struggling with this neurological disorder have tried everything. We have tried the planners. The neat filing cabinets. The apps. Oh, the apps. The diet, the exercise…name it…we’ve tried it. Because Adult ADHD isn’t taken very seriously still, there isn’t much knowledge out there about what actually works right now. And right now, all that actually has a huge effect is medication. Does this mean discipleship has no place? Absolutely NOT. Discipleship has helped me alleviate one major symptom of mine – which is my anger/temperament issues. Because I attend a church that reminds us that there’s a lie behind every sin, I’m able to work through these things with people. Whether they’re in a fight club, or they’re just a friend – I’m able to talk about what’s going on with me. Am I able to go a long streak without any anger issues? I’m not. I know as you’re reading this, you may think, “Well, everyone gets angry.” True, but this is not just “angry.” These are what I call, “mini-rage sessions.” Physically, my body will change. My heart pounds out of my chest, blood rushes to my head, my hands start sweating. Sometimes, I’ll cry because I’m so angry. I clench my teeth, and I can’t stop myself from going over the situation hundreds of times in my head. This happens more often than what’s considered normal. Through discipleship, I was able to ask myself what was triggering these symptoms. What sin was allowing my disorder to take over right now? What lie am I believing in these moments?
So, I firmly believe in asking questions over just giving advice. Only trained professionals in Adult ADHD are able to effectively communicate strategies that can help a person who suffers from it. It’s too tempting to hear, “I have financial issues” to turn around and say, “Gosh, so did I until I sat down for an hour, made this budget, and downloaded the Mint app!” Instead, you can help the person dig into why their symptoms are taking over them. What’s the bottom of the financial issues? Also keeping in mind that it’s a long road for us to completely change things. We tend to get off track quite quickly, and even thinking about “what’s at the bottom” is incredibly overwhelming. I’d recommend asking more specific questions.
Giving advice right away also continues to break our confidence down. As I’ve said before – we’ve tried everything. Trust that we have. Even if we sit and say, “I’m looking for a way out of this…please tell me what to do” – only advise someone to see assistance from someone who is more educated in this area (or even suggest a really good book on the subject, written by a professional). I wouldn’t be approached by someone wanting to lose weight and then write down a diet and exercise plan. I’d point them to doctors I’d trust and personal trainers. You’re not passing them off, though. You’re still able to love them! Let’s say you had a cousin who suffered from Adult ADHD. They read a book that completely changed them. Or you have adult ADHD as well, and the only thing that worked for you was medication. Whatever direction you encourage them to go – you can love them along the way. Ask them how the book is coming along. Ask them if they’ve seen a psychiatrist about this condition. If you know they have something important coming up, shoot them a text about it. Don’t forget about them just because you felt “under-qualified.” I’ve pointed my friends to married elders in the church to help them through their marriage and I’m still able to ask them about how it’s going. How their marriage is doing, etc. I don’t consider myself to be qualified to advise, but God put them in my life to love them. If anyone needs support and love, it’s adults who suffer with this.
Encourage, Encourage, ENCOURAGE
I can’t stress so much how important this is. A lot of adults with ADHD aren’t diagnosed until they are adults. This means, they went years believing they were just stupid, lazy, and a mess of a person. They also probably had people in their lives along the way that encouraged those lies. What adults with ADHD really need are encouragers. We don’t need empty compliments. We need specific things that encourage us. To further explain, let’s make up a story about a boy named Sam.
Sam loves writing screenplays. This is his passion. He also loves playing guitar, painting, and watching Star Wars. His number one love is screenplays, though. He has no idea how he’ll do it, but he wants to be recognized for it. He has other great traits too. He’s a good cook, so whenever his small group serves his neighborhood homeless, he usually is in charge of the food. He’s also hilarious.
Knowing Sam is incredibly important. If you don’t know Sam, you’re going to encourage him in a way that won’t effect him. “Sam, you’re so funny!” Maybe he is. But he wants you to recognize something that he loves but that he doesn’t feel totally gifted in – YET. Your encouragement towards these specific gifts and passions can go a really long way to helping him pursue his gifts.
My buddy Elias kept complimenting me when we were in New York, shooting stuff for the documentary. I get a great amount of encouragement from people.
“You’re so good at serving!”
“Thanks for being encouraging.”
“You’re an awesome person.”
I’m so thankful for these words, and I frankly don’t deserve them. But none of them felt as good as when Elias was complimenting my work. He kept telling others how talented I was. He saw my passion, and he complimented what was most important to me. Because of this, I felt “empowered” to be better in all those other areas: serving, encouraging, etc.
We Are Dreamers. Let it be.
Those of us with ADHD have my favorite “symptom” – we’re dreamers. We grab onto ideas, we tell the world, and we rarely follow through with them. I know – there’s entrepreneurs out there who are “dreamers.” The difference between us and them, is they (majority) don’t have a disorder that completely diminishes their ability to follow through with these dreams.
The dreaming “symptom” is not a favorite for everyone. It sets us up for disappointment. How can you disciple someone who’s a dreamer?
It’s hard to not want to say, “Whoa…easy there tiger!” when someone with ADHD comes out and tells you their new plan (dream). What we don’t need is a “shut it down” remark. We need to be reminded, though, that we are already playing a huge part in God’s plan for the world. Sounds cheesy, I know. But it’s a lie for us to believe that we have to do all these things to feel fulfilled. We are excited about all of our dreams and plans. We are passionate about them. Perhaps we even hold the skills to accomplish them. But we need to be encouraged to pursue what God’s given us now and encouraged to ear-mark the other plans.
“That’s an awesome idea! Would you say that God has given you the resources you need for that now, or has he equipped you now for something else? I’m personally excited about what you’re working on now!”
No need to shut anything down. No need to express your “opinions” about plans we may or may not follow through with. Remind us that He’s doing something awesome with us now.
Like I said many times, I’ll say over and over again. Adult ADHD is real. When someone has it, and they aren’t diagnosed, it can leave the person feeling pretty worthless. Don’t diagnose people, don’t dismiss people. Encourage them to see a professional, read a book by a professional, and encourage them in their current life. They need to hear it.