Many people assume attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) plagues only children. But up to 10 million adults suffer from this real, treatable disorder, which often goes undiagnosed. Rich Jenkins, a 45-year-old sheet-metal worker living in Weimar, Calif., deals with the frustrations of ADHD every day.
Rich realized in his mid-40s that his childhood attention problems had never really gone away.
| Credit: (RICH JENKINS)

Rich realized in his mid-40s that his childhood attention problems had never really gone away.(RICH JENKINS)

Im a happily married guy, a loving father, and a dedicated worker who enjoys his job. I like to paint, write poetry, and work with my hands. But heres the thing: I can rarely sit still. I have trouble sitting at a computer, filling out paperwork, or following written instructions. A nine-to-five desk job would never be for me. But its not because Im lazy or irresponsible. Its because my brain works a little bit differently. I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

When I was in the second grade, I was diagnosed with hyperactivity, which is now officially called ADHD. After a few years of poor test grades, lack of concentration at school, and frequent behavior problems, I spent two weeks undergoing tests at a local childrens hospital. My doctor finally put me on Ritalin—and, to offset the negative side effects of the Ritalin, like sleeplessness and restlessness, he also prescribed Stelazine, an antipsychotic often used to treat anxiety. I took both of those pills twice a day.
Treatment Options for ADHD at Any Age


You may consider medication, talk therapy, or lifestyle changes Read moreMore about Adult ADHD

It can be a little embarrassing to be the kid in school who has to go to the nurses office before lunch to take pills. It felt like everyone who knew I took medication was thinking, “Theres the crazy kid,” or was worried I would lose control if they made me mad. When I got to junior high, I didnt want to be considered crazy anymore, so I stopped taking the medication. I still did well in school, getting As and Bs, so I thought Id outgrown my ADHD.

Distraction remained a lingering problem
I finished high school, but didnt go to college. My parents split up, and I decided to join the Navy. After the Navy, I went to work as a sheet-metal worker, and Ive been doing that ever since. But about six or seven years ago, I felt like I was experiencing some lingering ADHD symptoms. Maybe I hadnt grown out of it after all. When I was younger, people expected less from me—I could put down whatever I was doing and go have a few beers with the guys, and no one really ever called me on it. But as I was evolving in my career and I had to be more professional, I started to notice that I still had a problem.

The best way I can describe what ADHD feels like, without you experiencing it yourself, is to think about when youre in school and youre doing a sheet of math problems. After about the third one, you think you already know how to do it and you dont want to do it anymore. But practice makes perfect, and you have to finish your work.

Most people have the willpower to trudge through the problems and get their work done. But with me, its almost like my mind wont let me finish my work. Take that feeling of not wanting to finish the work, and multiply it by 100. Ill think to myself, “Look at that yellow bird; look at that ant crawling.” My brain picks up on anything and everything else going on around me—anything to take my focus away from the task at hand.

[ pagebreak ]As an adult, its harder to ignore

Now that Ive got a wife and kids and I hold a lot of responsibility at work, my difficulty focusing became something I could no longer push to the back burner and ignore. Now its an issue that I have to take care of, because it started to affect the way I want to live my life.
Treatment Options for ADHD at Any Age


You may consider medication, talk therapy, or lifestyle changes Read moreMore about Adult ADHD

I once built a machine for my company from the ground up, and after it was finished I was supposed to do some tedious computer work. Im used to working with my hands, so to sit still and program codes, I just had a heck of a time staying in that chair. I saw a doctor who decided I do still have ADHD. The doctor prescribed Concerta, which is basically a time-released capsule of Ritalin, which I take five times a week.

Any kind of monotony is difficult for me to deal with. I like variety. Im the kind of person who throws away the instructions when I have to put together one of my daughters Christmas presents. I might have to dig them out of the trash after Ive put the thing together incorrectly the first time, but thats just the way I do things. Im definitely a very creative person. I paint with oils, I write poetry, and I build all sorts of sculptures out of leftover steel from work. It seems like some of the only times I can really sit in one place for very long is when Im physically creating something—which is probably why so much of my free time is spent on these types of hobbies.

Fitting in and living with stigma
As a male in this society, youre supposed to be able to control your emotions. Im lucky in that I only need to take my medication five days a week to stay in control. I dont take any medication on weekends, because my home life has never caused any problems; its only been in school or at work that Ive had difficulty. The pills help me focus and get my work done during the day, but once I get home I can relax and do things at my own pace, keeping myself occupied with different activities. If society was built a little differently, I could probably fit in a lot better. For example, the 40-hour work week? Not for me.

I dont think theres a lot of room for people like me in this society. If youre in certain professions, youre stuck in a box. The creativity and idealism of some people with ADHD lets us really think outside of the box. Someone with ADHD could come up with an idea no ones ever had before. But it would be hard to make money, as most people arent too hot on hiring someone who lets their creativity run wild like that.

A few of my friends and coworkers have come to me with questions about ADHD. Its not a secret that I take medication; if you know me, you probably know I have ADHD. Some people have even told me that theyd always wondered if they themselves had the disorder. I gave them a couple of books to read, so they could decide if they needed to see a doctor.

I guess I never did outgrow it, but I never really let having ADHD bother me too much. Im a little different than your average person, but Im happy for who I am and for what Ive made of it.