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by Darryl Peterson


William Collins is 35 years old. He has been married and divorced three times. He has difficulty keeping a job. Minor things irritate him; he loses his temper and impulsively makes remarks that get him into trouble. Such constant irritability has cost him 20 jobs and three marriages, At times he has been so angry that he stalks his wife, and whenever he loses his temper with his boss, he gets fired. The "explanation" he tells people is that he became bored with the job, that his bosses were all incompetent jerks, and that he "quit."

None of his jobs has ever amounted to much any ways because he always has trouble concentrating on high-priority tasks and projects. People constantly remind him to pay attention because he forgets easily. Because of this he did poorly in school and hated every minute of it. His teachers thought he was either "slow," "lazy" or unmotivated and they all thought his major problem was "poor self-esteem." As a teenager he found himself drinking and drugging to excess, and the only time he ever felt normal was when a friend gave him some "speed" (amphetamines).

Bill and his school psychologists blamed his problems on his parents. His father was chronically unemployed. alcoholic while his mother was always depressed and suffered many anxiety attacks The psychotherapist Bill consulted after his second divorce reinforced his tendency to blame his parents by claiming his problem came from a "dysfunctional family," and that he would "probably never learn" adequate coping skills. At one point the psycho- therapist wondered whether his anger wasn't really the result of sexual abuse so early in life that he could not remember. However, despite 5 years in insight psychotherapy (a.k.a.-"intellectual understanding cures") with extensive "dream work," his attitudes and behavior did not improve. Bill came to believe that nothing would ever be better for him.

Bill's problems are not caused by a "dysfunctional family" or sexual abuse. He has an inborn neurological disorder in the frontal lobes of his brain, most likely caused by some combination of pre-natal and birthing anoxia, prenatal and birthing traumas, and some genetic predispositions (editor's note: this is speculation as research has not yet shown what causes ADD) that caused a psychobiological imbalance in his neocortex that greatly interferes with how his brain should work when its "executive functions" must be effectively engaged. He has ADULT ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER with HYPERACTIVITY (ADHD). Ironically, it is a very treatable disorder. But because it was never diagnosed, Bill in essence lost the first half of his life.


Bill is not alone. Current estimates run as high as 15 million Americans with this disorder - most of whom, like Bill, have co-occurring problems which emanate from the untreated ADHD, or ADD.  These co-occurring problems include low self-esteem, existential angst and torpor, provisional lives, low emotional intelligence, pervasive relationship and marital problems, ineffective parenting skills, substance abuse addictions and failed recovery attempts, depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, pessimism addictions and "negaholism," "woundaholism," false-self/pseudo careers, Type A attitudes and behavior, erratic project completion patterns, bouncing-ball work histories and suicidal ideation. Even worse, such "adults," for as long as they do not become fully committed to a multimodal treatment program, will automatically predispose their children for, literally, all of the same problems.

After finally realizing that his attempts at both psychotherapy and marriage counseling were dead ends, Bill sought help from his family physician. Bill did so pessimistically, however, because all of his previous "health care treatments," and physical exams, had been "strictly physical," and because he'd unknowingly become a pessimism addict since early childhood, largely because of his untreated ADHD and his parents' and teachers' hypercritical reactions to it. In adulthood, his "strictly-physical illness" physician had never once explored with him the possible existence of any "wellness strategies" or "emotional problems."

On his next visit, however, Bill aggressively confronted his physician with a copy of Listening to Prozac, by Peter Kramer, M.D., a book which Bill unintentionally found on sale at his local drugstore while buying his latest supply of over-the-counter sleeping pills. After a five-minute interview, Bill's physician agreed with Bill's self-diagnosis of lifelong dysthymia and prescribed a trial on Prozac. After three weeks of considerably increased irritability and erratic sleep pattems (above his lifelong "regular levels"), Bill did become somewhat less depressed, but the Prozac had caused a substantial dampening of his already repressed emotional sensitivities and sexual interests. At this point, Bill's wife threatened him with divorce. Bill's physician advised him to "be more patient with the Prozac," but matters became progressively worse.

Bill's physician failed to discern Bill's core problem of ADHD, and how its non-treatment was both causing and maintaining his depression, irritability, other previously mentioned dysfunctional patterns, along with his marital disintegration. Quite dramatically, his physician was merely "treating" symptoms while exacerbating Bill's core problem.

Bill then landed in an expensive "detox program" for his ever worsening alcoholism. Never once, while there, was the possibility of ADHD explored by the addiction counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists or other M.D.'s involved or his A.A. sponsor. Several months into his progressively successful recovery from alcoholism, Bill learned about me from one of my past clients in A.A.Within the first thirty minutes of our initial meeting,  I  discerned many of the hallmark symptoms of ADHD in Bill's personal story, his speech and behavior patterns, and his body language.  Bill completed a comprehensive, two-hour personal history and ADHD/ADD self-evaluation interview.  My suspicions.were dramaticallv confirmed.   I  gave Bill an extensive anthology of articles on ADHD/ADD, including some special ones on addictions, Type A attitude and behavior, as well as workplace and marriage issues, to take home for reflection.

Within three days Bill called me to very enthusiasticaly announce that he was fully convinced that ADHD was his core problem in life, and that he was now feeling like "35 years of cobwebs have been pulled off my body." Bill's declaration echoes Dr.Edward Hallowell's, the reknown co-author of Driven to Distraction:

  • "The thing to remember is that if the diagnosis can be reliably made, then most of the bad stuff associated with ADD can be avoided or contained. The diagnosis can be extremely liberating, particularly for people who have been stuck throughout most of their lives with labels like "lazy': "stubborn," " willful," " disruptive," "impossible," "tyrannical," "a spaceshot," "brain damaged," "stupid," or just plain "bad."
  • "Making the diagnosis of ADD can take the case from the court of moral judgment to the clinic of neuropsychiatric treatment."

    I  referred Bill to a psychiatrist who  "truly" specializes in adult ADHD/ADD for a thorough clinical diagnosis and possible medication trial. Bill's evaluation with me was fully confirmed by the psychiatrist.  Bill is now in a progressively successful, multimodal treatment program of :
  • ADHD stimulant medication;
  • cognitive psychotherapy with a clinical psychologist who is truly specialized in adult ADHD/ADD;
  • physical care with an integrative, emotional and physical wellness and healing medical doctor;
  • daily aerobic exercise;
  • ADHD coaching;
  • holistic lifestyle counseling and
  • integrative career/life development counseling to find a new career/life path with a truly meaningful purpose, a transpersonal cause, and a careeer which will fully capitalizes on Bill's innate ADHD-driven special gifts and talents which he never fully-knew nor, much less,  self-actualized.
  • Bill's wife is learning about ADHD and is off her "divorce train." Both of their lives are improving considerably in all areas!

    Bill's story is a composite of a number of stories of adults with ADD. In some ways, his  history and patterns could be similar to yours or some of your friends, loved ones, patients, clients, or co-workers.  If so, I urge you to have them to explore a possible ADD diagnosis and then to seek the best ADD treatments available.

    This article was written by Darryl Petersen, a career couselor and personal coach, who specializes in adults with ADD.  You may call him at 510-284-9795 
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