There's having difficulty paying attention, and then there's having adult ADHD.
Everyone has problems staying focused, especially when there are several devices around at any given time all pinging every time you get a new alert, email, or comment on a post somewhere. Not to mention the difficulties of juggling work, home life, kids' activities, and making sure you've still got personal time for yourself and also for your spouse.
Life is busy, and it can be hard to keep yourself focused on a single task. But does your problem go beyond simple distraction?
But there's a difference between getting easily distracted and wondering if you have adult ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — which it is called in all cases even if you have no hyperactive behaviors — refers to something a bit different than just some trouble concentrating.
There is no quick way to tell if you have ADHD, even in a doctor's office, which is why so many adults go undiagnosed. A study from 2012 even suggested that as few as 10 percent of adults who meet the standard for being diagnosed with the disorder actually get their diagnosis and get treated for it.
How can you tell if you're having more than just a little bit of trouble finding your stride? How can you rule out stress factors, distraction, or just a simple over-estimation of your abilities for a single duration of time?
If you're curious as to whether or not you have ADHD, then you should look for these 4 signs that might be more than difficulty focusing:
1. You're constantly having trouble organizing everything, including your thoughts.
ADHD isn't something that you can turn on and off, and while kids can get diagnosed with the disorder early on by their behavior, adults know better than to act out and do all of the actions that pop through their heads. This might explain why so many adults go undiagnosed — because you're trained how to behave and even if something keeps popping up and distracting you, you're probably not going to act on it if it would be considered unusual or weird to do so in public.
Do you find yourself fidgeting all the time, unable to sit still? Do you make constant mistakes at work, or rush through things as you struggle to organize yourself? Do you often talk out of turn and have difficulty sitting through a conversation because you're already off on another mental tangent?
If you experience these issues and feel like you're on an emotional rollercoaster all the time, according to Patricia Quinn, an ADHD specialist, then you may have this disorder. While it's normal for people to feel scatterbrained at times, people with ADHD experience these difficulties all day, every day, and in many different settings.
In other words, if you have trouble focusing at work and come home and find it hard to unwind without issue, or can't stop being distracted while driving or even trying to go to bed, then it's possible you're suffering from undiagnosed ADHD.
2. You can't remember a time that you didn't feel like this.
It's certainly possible for people to not notice their symptoms until adulthood, but for most people with ADHD, they can remember times as a child when their inability to sit still and focus was detrimental. According to Dr. Quinn, people may have had these issues their whole lives but they weren't "obvious enough to reach diagnostic criteria."
She also goes on to suggest that people with undiagnosed ADHD may have found ways to control their issues, at least for a little while. "They've found ways to keep their symptoms under control (like by developing perfectionist personalities or working very hard). But as stress builds up in their lives, they find they can no longer cope, so they finally seek help."
3. No matter how hard you try, projects remain unfinished.
You might have only a few simple tasks to do for the day, like folding the laundry or cleaning your bathroom, but you've found it completely impossible to do any of it. Maybe you started folding the laundry and then got up to get a snack, only to find yourself an hour later on your way to the store to pick up some stuff for a craft you saw on Pinterest. Your laundry is still crumpled in a pile, your bathroom is still dirty, and somehow, your kitchen is now filthy, too.
For the average person, focusing on a task that is simple might be easy, but for someone with ADHD it's practically impossible to focus long enough to complete one deed without moving on to something else, perhaps even something entirely unrelated to what you tried to accomplish to begin with.
If you have ADHD, you might end up accidentally accumulating even more mess in the process of trying to take care of anything, which can be just as big an issue as it seems.
4. There are other mental health issues tagging along for the ride.
According to Toronto researchers, a study found that over one-third of women with ADHD have anxiety disorders in addition to their focusing issues. A third of those women have depression, and nearly half of them have seriously considered suicide at some point in their lives.
This might seem surprising, but to Dr. Quinn, this is a common occurrence, since undiagnosed ADHD can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and self-esteem issues.
It's quite normal for doctors to witness stress, depression, and anxiety start to fade when they begin treating the ADHD, since many of the drugs used to treat it (Ritalin, Adderall) can increase dopamine, which can lead to less stress and sadness. Basically, getting your ADHD treated could mean getting your depression treated, too.
Having an undiagnosed attention disorder can be a debilitating part of your life, but it is easily treatable. If you suspect that you have ADHD, make an appointment with your doctor and discuss your symptoms.