By Mohani Niza
ADHD, which stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a common mental condition that strikes children, as well as adults.
Adults who live with ADHD experience a wide-range of symptoms, such as:
In the U.S, about 4% to 5% of adults have ADHD, though few get diagnosed or treated for it.
In Malaysia, the documented prevalence rate of ADHD is 3.9%, but experts think it could be higher due to unrecorded cases. More males than females are thought to have it.
I recently spoke to three Malaysians who live with ADHD to understand this condition further.
Robert is a 35-year-old sales engineer living in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. He works in a family-owned water equipment company that supplies pumps, filters, and irrigation tools.
Growing up, he faced difficulties at school. He routinely went for counselling, before ending up in Canada and being transferred to a senior psychological counsellor for issues in schoolwork. He was officially diagnosed with ADHD in 2010.
“I routinely miss deadlines and have problems with communication, as my priorities shift constantly and by the hour on top of having problems with procrastination and distractions,” he told me.
Selma (real name withheld), a 43-year-old lecturer in a private university in Kuala Lumpur, told me that she easily gets bored and hates monotony. “I was given a task that I do not like and found myself just surfing the internet to avoid it. I also find it very difficult to focus on my professional studies and failed my professional papers several times.”
This led her to see a psychiatrist in 2011, which led to a diagnosis.
Aside from the symptoms above, people with ADHD also tend to be perfectionists. Perfectionism has caused a rift in Selma’s relationship with her family who is unhappy with her specific ways of cleaning. “I prefer to do my house chores alone while listening to podcasts when everyone is asleep,” she said as a solution.
My third interviewee is Lainie, a 39-year-old communications consultant based in the Klang Valley, who mainly works with arts and cultural institutions. Her friend was diagnosed with the condition and Lainie suspected that she herself might have it due to certain shared traits. A health professional diagnosed her in May 2021.
“Impulse control makes it difficult for me to not interrupt people, because I want to voice one of my thoughts before they fade into the ether,” she described one of her more obvious symptoms.
How people cope with ADHD
People with ADHD usually undergo a series of treatments for their conditions. There are 5 types of medicine licensed to treat ADHD. Aside from medications, people living with ADHD also opt for other treatments encompassing education, skills training and psychological counselling.
Robert is not on medication, though he used to be. Meanwhile, Selma used to take a medication called Concerta, but because of cost issues, switched to Ritalin instead, which she takes each time before she begins a difficult task. Lainie too takes medications, and like Selma, finds them expensive.
The both of them told me they devise creative ways to manage their ADHD.
“I implement very simple reminder systems and check lists. Not everything needs to be categorised, or have its own colour. Just put it all in one place and make it a habit to check at the start and end of the day,” Lainie said, sharing some tips.
For Selma, it meant moving out from her family home and living in her own place. “My family is not happy with my alternative ways of cleaning the house despite the clean results so eventually I moved into my own house in late 2021.”
She also counts the pandemic lockdown a blessing. “I don't get along well with micromanaging bosses and tend not to stay very long in that kind of environment, so I love working from home because I can be productive the way I want it to be.”
She also makes sure she gets a good night sleep and takes naps during lunch hours. “For me, rest is important to tackle the tasks ahead. I try to avoid disrupting the circadian rhythm, and I list down tasks to do and bills to pay.”
ADHD can be something difficult to live with, but for many, it can also be a blessing in disguise.
Robert said that ADHD gives him a keen eye to detail and allows him to be a good problem solver. He calls himself a “problematic perfectionist”.
“I’d describe ADHD as having a brain that never turns off, constantly consuming one thing or another, and requires constant stimulation to really utilise it as a skill,” he said.
Lainie too finds ADHD helpful at times. “The nature of my work requires me to generate creative solutions, be knowledgeable in a wide range of issues and technologies, and collaborate with people in various countries on cultural projects of very different character and contexts. My raging ADHD makes it fun to keep up with everything that is going on, and I love hearing people talk about their projects, and thinking of ways we can work together.“
“I see ADHD as making my daily life really interesting, and it has been a strength in my career more than a hindrance."
If you think you might have ADHD, seek the help of a professional and do not rely on your own diagnosis.