Everyone has a story about That Kid in School from their childhood, right?
Whether it was eating paste, arguing with the teacher, or some manner of a Lovecraftian bathroom nightmare scenario, That Kid in School had scene-stealing outbursts on lock. Sometimes, we all wonder what happened to them, what they’re doing now.
Unless, like me, *you* were That Kid in School because you had impulse control issues from untreated ADHD.
Impulsivity, in the clinical sense, can be neatly defined as “action without foresight.”
I would speak without raising my hand, interrupt the class with emotional outbursts, and get out of my desk so often I’m surprised the use of duct tape was never bandied around the teacher’s lounge.
I would get asked why I was doing any of it and I never had a clear answer — even to myself. I didn’t like drawing that bad sort of attention to myself. It was humiliating.
It’s funny how often suffering in children gets them labelled as merely troublemakers. Part of this is shame-based masking in kids because they’ll do anything to deny they’re different, and part of it is how our school systems aren’t adequately equipped to recognize or act on these circumstances that are ultimately health issues.
But this is a column on ADHD and not on how we’re systemically failing our young people, so let’s keep it pushing!
Let’s go ahead and do our inventory of “jerk-type” behavior.
I was an impulsive child and I am a slightly less impulsive adult. We all have our moments of it, but for me it can feel like a dozen controllers are all in charge of my brain at once and nobody is checking in with each other before they’re pushing buttons.
Especially in stressful conditions, I find I tend to move first and then process and deal with my actions second.
It’s not the most efficient or effective process!
I’m not going to lie, impulse control is one of the trickiest parts of ADHD. Even the first step of admitting we’re someone who flies off the handle is tricky because it’s a real struggle session of the ego.
Fortunately, we’ve got a checklist for that — do you do any of the following?
- Interrupt conversations (even when you have nothing of substance to add). Why is it hard to not just shut up and let someone have a word in edgewise?
- Have distractions for your distractions? Often, the most straight-forward tasks can become arduous because the impulsive brain shifts our perception of priority like a spinning slot machine. You never know where your attention span is gonna land!
- Spend like you make money moves even when you’re broke as hell? We all know about those juicy brain chemicals that get released with the instant gratification of impulsive purchasing, and those with ADHD often find themselves in the trickiest of rabbit holes regarding what is a want and what is a need. I’ve even caught myself trying to justify buying ADHD management tools like planners and calendars and then realized the ones I have work fine. Late stage capitalism, baby!
- Find it hard to resist risky, self-destructive behavior like fighting or unsafe sex? I have a guy in my contacts that has about eight different emojis that all convey “DANGER! DO NOT TEXT HIM!” Anyone else?
- Want to Hulk out at the very thought of standing in a line that takes more than 5 minutes? It’s not (necessarily) that we feel our time is worth more than others, sometimes just the challenge of remaining relatively still and not fidgeting makes standing in a line for a long time positively exhausting! Too bad it’s one of those “part of being in society” things?
If any or all of these resonate, your impatient ass might need some professional intervention to deal with this symptom of ADHD.
So what can we do about it?
Some of us treat our ADHD with medications, but the jury still seems to be out on
Therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, may be useful if you’re going proactive on impulsivity issues.
Active mindfulness is like working out a muscle. You might start working out after a scenario of feeling particularly weak, and progress might feel impossibly slow at the start. Just like with getting physically active, I want to remind you to literally be patient with yourself as you try to be patient with others.
The more you flex that self-restraint and compassion, the easier it will come to you. And the better your results will be long-term!
Now if you’ll excuse me, this former Weird Kid in School is going to resist the impulse to look up Natalie from sixth grade who TOTALLY framed me for the bathroom horror story. That was your IBS, Natalie, YOUR IBS!
Reed Brice is a writer and comedian based in Los Angeles. Brice is an alum of UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts and was the first transgender person to ever be cast in a professional revue with The Second City. When not talking the tea of mental illness, Brice also pens our love & sex column, “U Up?”