ADD and Why My Brain is a Loud Neon Rave

When we think about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), most of us think of loud, obnoxious, young boys, getting into fights, not paying attention and just generally acting up. Alternatively, we probably have flashbacks to 90s and 2000s headlines about parents dosing up their kids with amphetamines in order to make them behave. Both of these ideas, though may have some truth to them, are such a small picture of ADD and are in fact so misleading that they constantly cause countless issues for those Australians living with this condition. Australians like myself, a woman in her late 20s, just trying to launch her career and manage the chaos that is in her brain.

The first thing to know about ADD, and ADHD, is that it is a condition stooped in bias around gender and age. Like many mental health issues, most of the diagnosis’ criteria is based on how it manifests in its most identifiable demographic. For ADD, this demographic is young boys. The way boys are socialised and typically behave, and how ADD affects that, is what leads to most early diagnosis. The loud, brash, almost obnoxious behaviour typical in ADD boys, tends to be noticed; so if you go looking for ADD resources and support, these are likely the only demographic that resources exist for.

Girls on the other hand, though often a bit louder and hyperactive then their peers, are often far more withdrawn and better at not being disruptive as they struggle to maintain focus. Many girls with ADD rely on the routine, rhythm and the deadlines of schooling as a way to work around their shortcomings in a neurotypical world. As a result, many women aren’t diagnosed well into their 20s when those safety nets are cut and the world becomes too loud and chaotic. Once someone reaches this stage of life, even getting a diagnosis can be an uphill battle, as most psychiatrists specialise in treating those young boys mentioned earlier.

They say ADD is a cousin to autism, both co-existing on a similar spectrum. I see this every day, as for people living with either or both conditions, sensory input rules our lives. The world is a sensory mess. Just take a moment, close your eyes and pay attention to all the sounds around you: the distant traffic, the wind, the construction next door, and that yippy dog across the street. Now bring in the smells: the smell of the grass, the scented candle near your desk, the neighbours cooking. Now add in the physical feelings: the warmth of the sun, the cold air, the feeling of your woollen socks, or the way the hood of your jumper bunches up on your neck. Now lastly open up your eyes, see every single word on the computer in front of you, every icon, every object in the room and its relation to every other object.

Take all of that in and power it with a mind that is trying to draw connections between every other sensory input. Compare that with everything you have ever leaned or read about the world, everything you have to do this week, as well as everything you could be doing right now. This sensory soup turns every moment of your day into a loud neon rave, and you are sitting there trying to do your taxes or proof read a report.

So, where does that leave people with ADD?

It means that our brains are always working on overdrive all the time and will not stop, because we cannot always control how we process all that input. Sometimes I find it like my own little super power.

On a good day, I can balance dozens of tasks, think of big ideas that draw from all the resources my distractible brain has gone off and absorbed over the years. What is a few more tasks on an already overworked brain?

Down days, though, are different. Some days I cannot focus on anything for more than a few seconds at a time; words fly off the page as my brain tries to read every letter at once, and not in a readable order. It is a bit give and take.

So why am I writing about this now? Because I, like every other Melbournian, am currently in lockdown. My brain is adapting to a completely new paradigm of isolation and I do not have access to any of my usual outlets or structure that keep my brain ticking. Suddenly the world is too quiet, too open for distraction. However, I am powering through, finding new ways to cope, some of which are for the better. I think that a lot of us can feel alone right now and that our needs are not being met. Maybe writing this and having other people read it, may at least shine a light on the specific issues faced by some of us, and tell others going through a similar situation that they are not alone.