By Rick Green.
Many adults who have ADHD, myself included, don’t feel that their emotions are a problem. We don’t feel we are overly sensitive, anxious, moody, mercurial, easily upset, or quick to anger.
But talk to our friends and family. See what they say. (Awkward clearing of throat.)
After interviewing a lot of ADHD specialists for our videos, I’ve discovered that yes, we can be overly-sensitive. Touchy. Easily alarmed. Prone to panic. Worry warts. (OMG! That’s terrible!!!)
ADHD isn’t just a problem managing focus. It’s a problem with managing everything.
Gradually I began to see that I too was overly sensitive. To criticism. To bullying. To anger. To… anything upsetting. Seeing this about myself was absolutely mortifying!!! (Whereas someone without ADHD would probably have been a bit surprised and said, “Yeah, I suppose that’s true.”)
When I was younger I never saw myself as a worrier. Cautious? Sure. Thoughtful? Good at planning ahead? Yes. But overly emotional? Never!
No, I was prudent and sensible, reacting appropriately to a scary, unpredictable world where at any moment I could lose my job, lose a loved one, or be turned into a lump of charcoal by a sneak attack from the Russians! (Who said the 60’s were about love, peace, and understanding?)
Certainly no one would have seen it as a sign that my Pre-Frontal Cortex was easily overwhelmed.
At most they’d claim, “You’re too sensitive.” Or, “Don’t worry about it.” (Right? And how do I do that.)
Or, my favorite, “It’s just a movie. No one really died. No one actually had an alien burst out of their chest and eat everyone. It’s special effects.” I know it’s just a movie. My short-term memory isn’t great, but I do recall buying a ticket and some popcorn.
What I couldn’t understand why was how anyone could find pleasure reading horror stories. For five years I hosted a TV series about alternative fiction called Prisoners of Gravity, that celebrated comics, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In all those years I never read one ‘horror novel.’ Other members of the production team did. Thank goodness.
Fretting? Fearful? No, just cautious.
I didn’t like horror or feeling scared. But I didn’t see myself as overly anxious.
When I was on a two lane road, with oncoming traffic, I was a smart ‘defensive driver’ who anticipated that every oncoming car might blow a tire and swerve into me. I was surprised to learn most people didn’t focus on that possibility.
How reckless of them!
Sure, I could see my mom was a worry wart. But me? Never!!!
If pressed, I might have admitted that, yes, I did have a bit of an imagination. But I would have explained this was a real gift because it meant I could plan for any possible emergency by imagining every possible way that anything and everything could go wrong.
Growing up in Toronto in the 60’s there were no earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, wars, gun crime, drug wars, famines, civil war, terrorists, or alien invasions. But I’d seen all those things in movies and on TV so I worried about them.
Being the good Boy Scout that I was, I’d learned to ‘be prepared.’
A Gift and a Curse
A runaway imagination served me well writing comedy. Being able to come up with complex physical gags for The Red Green Show was easy. I can picture how it would look, and how it would work.
And yet, that same ability to visualize hilarious stunts allowed me to imagine all kinds of horrible things when my kids were out and hadn’t called home and weren’t answering their cell phones. (I can’t even begin to describe the scary scenarios that would haunt me, or I’ll spend the next two days thinking about them.)
After I was diagnosed with ADHD I still didn’t make the connection. I could see how this disorder made it difficult for me to manage my schedule, workload, commitments, time, finances, and even my family obligations. But it was only as we interviewed more and more experts for our videos that the idea that this could be a real problem with managing ones feelings, a problem with overreacting, and even being super sensitive to physical sensations—noisy places, bright lights, strong smells, or large crowds.
We cover all of this in our video on ADHD & Emotional Sensitivity. Or rather a dozen experts cover it, explaining the reasons, the triggers, and the solutions to emotional sensitivity.
How Can I Stay Calm?
One of the strategies I’ve used, which coach and trainer Barbara Luther talks about in the video, is avoiding scary movies. If it’s got guns and violence, cruelty or people being sadistic, I’m not watching it.
Rather than try and become numb, or less sensitive, I’ve learned to avoid the stuff that triggers me. It’s a simple strategy.
So I’m happy to talk about a whole bunch of subjects. But I’ve got nothing to say when talk turns to Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or Walking Dead. (Which I’m sure are great shows. Just not for me.)
More recently I’ve stopped reading people’s comments on FB. (Except on the TotallyADD page.) I’ve blocked a lot of people. Far less needless stress.
And yes, I do read your comments here.
Turn It Down, or Turn It Off
And for physical sensitivities? If an ADHD conference is noisy I find a quiet corner to chat. If a restaurant has banks of TV screens I sit facing the other way. Or I avoid the restaurant completely. Spicy food? I’m getting more adventurous. Shirts with itchy tags? I cut em off. Wool? I avoid it completely. The video has many more strategies, and I’m sure you’ve developed your own ways of coping, consciously or not.
I mention this only because I assumed that dialing down my emotions, managing my over-sensitivity would involve meditation, coaching, aversion therapy, or living in a cave, when in fact there are simple ways to create calm.
By clicking “Unfollow”, or choosing an uplifting documentary over a slasher flick, or catching myself before one awful thought, one “What if…” spins out of control into an frightening but totally imaginary catastrophe I avoid the possibility of upset completely.
How about you? Do your emotions get the best of you? And have you found ways to manage them? Or perhaps even turn them to your advantage?