Ups and Downs of ADHD

This short blog article looks at the ups and downs of ADHD, how individuals with ADHD can have variations in their abilities to focus, concentratrate and plan, and can have variations in mood.

Individuals with ADHD often have "ups and downs" from one day to another. A good day, then a bad day. Sometimes it's an up and down during the same day. For anyone with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADD as it is sometimes called) the first issue is to make sure, if these ups and downs are frequent and severe, that you do not have a co-morbid mood disorder. This is usually looked at during the initial ADHD diagnosis. Often a family doctor doesn't have the time or expertise to look at possible mood disorders, so a visit to a psychologist familiar with ADHD is suggested. (This is another reason to make sure, if you are using the services of an ADHD coach, that they are supervised by a licensed mental health professional and not simply working as a "certified coach" which is an unregistered/unlicensed and unregulated field in BC and most other provinces and states.)

The other issue is that often parents, teachers and co-workers (or worse yet, your boss!) take these ups and downs to mean that 1) you CAN keep your symptoms under control and simply aren't trying hard enough, or 2) see, there really is no such thing as ADHD, it's just an excuse. Both of these are untrue and counter to the scientific evidence, and the ups and downs ......they're proof of the real nature of ADHD as well.

ADHD symptoms do vary, they vary at different times and of course in different situations. The daily fluctuations may be related to the daily activity you are engaged in. Dr. Barkley says, "If the tasks required on a specific day demand lot's of self-control and organization as well as time management and persistence, then those days with A.D.H.D. will generally report that their symptoms are worse that day. If on the other hand, it is a vacation or weekend day and they could do more things they enjoyed, they often report their symptoms were less pronounced that day." (See Dr. Barkley's related article on the New York times Health page.)

So, if you need to focus on work that is difficult and holds little interest or reinforcement, expect problems. And if your going to an action movie after a quiet morning and lunch ...things will go well.  Novel situations go well much of the time, and do one-on-one encounters. The more planning and self-restraignt necessary, the less well it is going to go. All of this should make sense, knowing what ADHD is.

But there is also those days that just seem to go wrong. We start the day, some incident happens, anxiety builds and nothing seems to go right after that. We find ourselves in a downward spiral. Something we could do yesterday not becomes a difficult and sometimes  impossible task today. Again, to some this is proof that ADHD isn't real, or that you aren't trying hard enough.  Don't get caught in the definition others put on your behaviours based upon their preconceived (and wrong) ideas. It is simply the nature of ADHD to change like this.

What you need is a Plan B. Plan A  may not be going well, and it may not work out at all. So have a Plan B, a plan that gives you 1) A time to help yourself "switch mental sets," and change the way your brain is thinking and working (like taking a walk, having tea, doing a cross word puzzle or reading a book or listening to a podcast). Do something to change your mental direction. Maybe go to the gym. And then, 2) if you need it, spend time on an alternative but constructive activity. This might mean setting a timer and using the time to straighten out your papers, clean your office, get ten phone calls done.  What's important here is to have a structured Plan B and not to reinforce any avoiding behaviours - procrastination - that might be going on.  Keep a record of when and where this happens, and while you need a Plan B remember, your goal is to stick to Plan A. Ask yourself: "What about Plan A went wrong?" Was it where the activity/task took place, the time, what happened before or will happen after? If you have multiple experiences with Plan B - it's time to check in with your psychologist, doctor of mental health coach. But don't take changes in ability to be anything more than ADHD doing what ADHD does. Your question is: "What can I do to deal with this specific symptom of ADHD?" And then come up with a new and better Plan A AND Plan B!

For information concerning the services I provide for children, adolescents and adults with ADHD please visit my web page at www.relatedminds.com or www.adhdhelp.ca  In addition to working with individuals, providing diagnosis, treatment plans and coaching services, I also provide school based training and consultation services as well as work place services.