ADHD: what is it, what isn’t it?

Until I was diagnosed myself a few years ago, I knew little about ADHD. The image I had was what is shown most often in articles and the media: boys running around in a classroom. And extremely hyperactive people, who talk a lot, and quickly. However, it is larger, more complex and can have a major impact on your daily life.

Because of the many books and articles that I have read about it in the meantime (the general idea seems to be that people with ADHD have no patience to read, but I like to read), supplemented with my own experiences, now I have a clearer picture. But when someone asks me, “What exactly does ADHD mean?” I find it difficult to sum it up in a few sentences. I’m making an effort here.

Starting with the name. ADHD stands for “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, and it is described as a medical/neurobiological condition that leads to attention and concentration problems, impulsivity and hyperactivity. (*see note below)

Many researchers and practitioners believe that this name is no longer appropriate, but that’s how we know it now. One of the confusing things about the name is that it seems that people with ADHD have too little attention. However, there is no shortage of attention, but the attention goes where it wants and therefore it can take a lot of effort to focus on something purposefully. Or someone focuses all attention on a task and the environment seems to no longer exist. (This is known as hyperfocus, which, by the way, can also be useful).

Another word to stumble over: disorder. Because it sounds like there’s something very wrong that needs to be fixed. And for a long time, ADHD was really seen that way. But at least in recent years there has been a growing realization that not all brains work the same. And if your brain doesn’t work as standard, it’s not automatically a disorder. (See also my previous column on neurodiversity).

What ADHD is not: a lack of effort, laziness, the result of a bad upbringing or a made-up trend.

What it is: a collection of traits and symptoms that can cause you to run into all sorts of obstacles and problems, and severely hamper your emotional life/relationships/work/finance/self-esteem, especially while undiagnosed.

But a number of nice and fun qualities and skills are also common among ADHDers: originality, perseverance, charisma, empathy, creative, original way of thinking, intuitive, curious, special humor and problem-solving ability. And they often come out even better if you know how your brain works and what does or does not work for you.

In the book ‘Delivered from Distraction, Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder’, written by Edward Hallowell (adult and child psychiatrist specialized in ADHD, and he has ADHD himself), there are many beautiful, painful and clear examples in which I recognize a lot. I share one here:

“In other ways, ADHD is like being under constant stress. (…) You get an idea and you have to execute it right away, and before you know it you have another idea before you finish the first one, and so you throw yourself into it, but of course a third idea intercepts the second idea and and then of course you have to go after that, and before you know it people are calling you chaotic, impulsive, disobedient, rebellious and all sorts of unkind things that completely miss the point. Because you try so hard to do it right. You just have all kinds of invisible powers that pull you here, then there, which makes it very difficult to carry out your mission.”

Do you recognize something in this article? Or do you have questions or comments? You can write something in the comments, or contact me via my contact form on my Dutch site.

(This is the third column I wrote for the Dutch site about mental awareness Published at June 2022. Here you can read this column in Dutch. )

*: while translating my article from Dutch to English I noticed that ADHD is described slightly different in Dutch or English. And in English there are variations too.

Why it’s good to know if your brain works differently than the usual

What I really liked about my ADHD diagnosis a few years ago is that I finally understood why my brain, thoughts and actions often worked so differently than others. That doesn’t my brain is wrong, or stupid. But I tried, so to speak, to fit into a round shape while being a square figure. Of course that never fits.

Most people don’t even think about why things are the way they are. Because for most people how things work make a lot of sense, because everything connects well to their brain. There is an average, something that most people fit or meet, and that is what the usual school, work and living systems are designed for.

And that can be a problem if what is seen as ‘normal’ doesn’t feel so normal to you at all. Because you bump into things again and again. And you – usually unintentionally – do things differently than how it ‘should go’. And the weird thing is: most people somehow do know what the intention is. As if a great manual of life has been written, but you can’t read it.

For people who recognize themselves in terms like AD(H)D, autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, giftedness and high sensitivity, ‘the common way’ is not always logical, normal or easy. And that is why they – in all degrees – may have more difficulty in functioning well in the field of learning, school, work or everyday affairs. Not because they are dumber, lazy, or unruly, but because their brain really works differently and doesn’t connect well with things like learning methods, rules, workplaces and forms.

Fortunately, more and more attention is being paid to this, and the term neurodiversity fits in nicely with this.

“Neurodiversity simply means that there are differences between people’s brains and thus different ways of thinking and learning. The standard brain does not exist. Just as we have biodiversity, cultural and racial diversity, so too there is diversity in brains and we call that neurodiversity. The neurodiversity approach invites you to look at the overall picture of a person’s capabilities. By approaching all brains as diverse, more equality is created.” (Source:, translated it myself)

So instead of trying to fit everyone into the ‘common box’, and label everyone who doesn’t – quite – fit as a problem, it can help if we are aware of and acknowledge that there are always natural differences people’s brains. And embrace that. Because we need all types and sizes of brains for a healthy, sustainable, fun, productive, pleasant and creative society!

(This is the second column I wrote for the Dutch site about mental awareness Here you can read this column on that site. )

Plodding my way through life

(I started writing columns for #ikbenOpen, a site about mental health-awareness. It’s in Dutch, so I translate them for this site).

The idea behind the site #ikbenOpen, openness about mental health, really appeals to me. Because I don’t always feel mentally healthy. But until a few years ago, I rarely talked about that with anyone.

The foundation of my life is fine. Two parents, a sister, a nice house. Sometimes things went a little bit different with me than with others. I was a sensitive child and I could experience things intensely. I was super curious and observant. Asked a lot of questions. But at home and at my nice primary school there was enough room for me to be myself.

In high school (for the time frame: that was early nineties) it took me a bit more effort to do what I was ‘meant to do’. After that: HBO study (college) and leaving my parents house to go live in a students house. In terms of studying and my small household, I didn’t handle it all in the best way, but I was young, resilient, creative and managed to do in my own way what was needed. My life was a bit chaotic, with studying, side jobs and a busy social life. I sometimes had melancholic moods. My head was often overflowing. But that was just what my life was like to me.

After graduating I went volunteering in Sweden for a year and then ‘real life’ started. With a job and having your things in order. I found a job, then another, and it went on like this… I couldn’t do it, the ‘normal’ things that seemed ‘normal’ for many people. Full of hope and optimism, a smile and a tear, I plodded through life like this.

For years I was tiptoeing through life, and I didn’t even realize it. Because I thought life was supposed to be that way. Because no one asked. Because I thought it was weak if you shared something like that. Because you only ask for help when something goes ‘really wrong’. Quite a shame. Because to me it seems healthier and more sustainable to pay attention on how someone lives and works best. Not only when things go ‘different’ or ‘wrong’.

Lots of pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me when I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. It helped me with figuring out how I could get my things more in order. And that journey is still in full swing!

Anyway, it would have saved me years of energy loss, uncertainty and hassle if there had been more openness to share doubts and obstacles. Then it would probably have become clear earlier that I have ADHD and then I could have tackled some things differently – with some help. Then maybe I wouldn’t have had countless jobs. Where I kept trying to adapt, or they found me whining when I indicated something, or I didn’t know how to name my concerns, and then I went looking for a new one again….

It would have helped if I, or someone else, sometimes paused with me for a moment: ‘How are you? What doesn’t work? How do come into your own?’. The thing is: I can do so much: I coordinated, organized and did a lot of work, but in the end I always got stuck. Small adjustments in working hours, workplace and slightly different tasks could have made a big difference.

I share all of this because I believe that being open about mental health can make all people feel better. Regardless of whether someone has a ‘mental health label’. As humans we have a lot in common, and we are all slightly different. It would be nice to be more open about that and to give yourself, and each other, the space to be yourself more!

The diagnose

Three years ago today I was diagnosed with ADHD. I, who never liked to be pigeonholed, was happy with this ‘category’, because it finally became clear to me why so many things were going so hard in my life. I am not crazy, not lazy, not pretending: there is an identifiable source for all this.

If, from your early childhood, you keep hearing and noticing that you do things differently ‘than they’re intended to be’, and you have no idea why that is – because you do it as is normal or logical for you – that does something to you. Whether something like this is presented in a friendly, impatient, loving or reproachful manner. You are often unintentionally contrarian, funny or complicated to others. Meanwhile, your head is working overtime because you are always trying to understand what the appropriate / ‘normal’ behavior is.

By the time you are in your early 40s -like I was three years ago- and you experience again and again that things are not going well in your life (in areas such as: work – living – finances – relationships – time use – health), you experience recurring obstacles that most people don’t seem to experience, seeming simple things cost you a lot of energy, and you just can’t get life on track: then that has made a lot of dents in your energy, self-confidence and mood.

ADHD in itself may not be a problem, but a late diagnosis is.

Today I am sharing my diagnosis online for the first time. At first I wanted to get used to the idea myself, give it a place, and learn more about it. Time passed and I found myself eager to have everything “fixed” and “in order” before I started to share it online. But it does not work like that. I will continue to deal with it for the rest of my life. But since I know that I have this, and thanks to the help I have received and receive, I do have clear and good handles to shape my life more consciously. And knowing myself, I think writing and sharing about it will actually help me move forward.

In my case it was a good friend who gave me the idea to get tested.

In the summer of 2018 I was in a black hole for the umpteenth time. Just had my own place to live after my Ireland-letting go-adventure and the restlessness raged through me. “I’ve been gone for a year and a half and now this deep restlessness again? Will this go on for the rest of my life?” I had had many jobs, moved frequently and was always so restless inside. I was despondent. And tired. I had a blood test at the doctor’s office, but nothing came up. Fortunately, that good friend then suggested the idea of ​​me being tested for ADHD, I had never thought of that myself. Neither did the GP, luckily he referred me immediately when I asked.

A few months later I was able to go to a diagnosis center. Some preliminary work had already been done and I was there for a few hours that day, for interviews with several researchers, a psychiatrist, and tests. And I turned out to have ADHD. The H stands for hyperactivity and I believed it had something to do with busy boys running around, but that turned out to be a very one-sided picture. The hyperactivity manifests itself in, among other things, that my body is always in movement. A hand, a foot, an arm, I straighten my glasses again, look where a sound comes from etc. And of course a busy head.

In the past three years I have learned a lot about the wonderful world of ADHD and it has also become clear to me how it is possible that it was only diagnosed so late in my life. Much less was known about it when I was in elementary school, plus it was associated only with boys for a very long time. Furthermore, it was long thought that it only occurred in childhood. And because it manifests itself differently in boys and girls, it is unfortunately often overlooked in girls and women.

And although there are of course many common characteristics and interfaces, it manifests itself differently in each individual. Because no one is exactly the same, which is partly due to differences in background, family members, upbringing, interests and character.

For example, I love to read, and I’m practicing meditation and mindfulness for years. And those aren not activities you usually associate with ADHD. But reading is my superpower (hello hyperfocus!). And my strong need for peace and quiet is because I have a naturally busy head.

All in all a fascinating subject, which I will write and share a lot more about in the near future!

Also, I am of the opinion that it helps you if you – whether or not you have a diagnosis of anything – knows how you are put together, what works (or does not) work for you and how you can achieve your full potential. That seems to me to be something to emphasize in this world, rather than trying to fit everyone into the same pattern. That’s such a waste of all the diversity in people and all the different – and thus complementary – qualities and characteristics.

  • Do you have questions or remarks about this blog? Feel free to contact me at katja @, or leave a reaction here on the site.
  • Do you want to know more about ADHD? Find reliable online or offline resources in your own country. I live in The Netherlands myself.

About a tiny fly, dwelling on living beings and a mindful moment

There is a very small fly on my shirt. Minuscule, at first I thought it was a piece of dust. The door in this coffee shop is open, but it is really very far away, seen from the fly’s point of view. I wonder if I can help. As soon as an animal, no matter how small, comes into my field of vision, I feel responsible for not accidentally crushing it when I put my coat on. Or put my hand on something and it happens to be under it.

Now it’s on my writing pad.

People sometimes find it strange that I worry so much about the wellbeing of small living creatures. I find it strange that it is so common for many people to kill large and small animals in many ways without giving it any further thought.

Sometimes consciously. (Because they want to eat it, or want the skin, or it’s sick, or they don’t have the space for it, or it’s commercially useless, or they’re bothered by it.)

Sometimes carelessly. (As they watch it fly or crawl or move).

Now it’s on the table.

I want to get it on my hand or napkin so I can take it out, but I hesitate for a moment. To others, it probably looks like I’m obsessively staring at a table to then get something imaginary on my finger. Not that I should care what others think.

Now I don’t see it anymore.

One moment before I saw it spreading its wings on the edge of the table, so I’m assuming it’s on its way to another spot and has a great day.

I am grateful that I took the time to focus my attention on this little fly for a while. And that spontaneous writing inspiration has sprung from it. As an example that – even without an app or tool – there are many possibilities in daily life to find a-mindful-moment in the moment.

(And what you can do with insects that ‘really bother you’ instead of killing them? Catch them. Carefully place a glass over them, slide a piece of paper under it, and take them outside.)

Less distracted by your mobile phone

I shook my head back and forth in amazement. Why would you leave everything on your mobile phone on if it is your intention not to use it? Why would you make it so difficult for yourself?

I watched a documentary. It contained a piece where a teenage boy had agreed not to use his mobile phone for a week. It is in the kitchen. Switched on and online. After a few days he sees a notification from the corner of his eye that catches his attention and of course he can’t help but look. After that he becomes completely absorbed by his mobile again.

Not wanting to watch your mobile while you hear and see all kinds of things happening there is very difficult. And unnatural. We humans are made to respond to stimuli. And all apps aim to constantly grab our attention.

You can teach yourself to be more aware of your own reaction to stimuli. By observing your own behavior. Through meditation. Practicing mindfulness.

But of course you can also just ensure that there are fewer stimuli.

I myself am always working on figuring out how to best stay in balance. How to keep hearing myself in this busy world that wants attention on many fronts. And after years of practice, trying and fine-tuning, I know the following things help me with my mobile phone use :

  • The internet on my mobile is turned off by default and I sometimes consciously turn it on.
    Someone once asked me why I don’t switch off my mobile phone more often, but that is really different for me. First of all, I want to be available when someone calls me. And secondly, I feel that my energy is drawn to my mobile as long as the internet is on and therefore messages can potentially come in.
  • Almost all of my notifications are off anyway.
    Except Whatsapp. Because bleeps and moving things on a screen only distract me and anyway: is it really necessary that I know immediately when I receive an email? Someone likes an Instagram photo? I received a message on LinkedIn? The answer is: no.
  • I don’t need my mobile for everything.
    For example, I have a separate alarm clock. I listen to music via my laptop, stereo or tablet. I also have a paper English-Dutch dictionary (I read a lot of English books and every now and then a word comes up that I don’t know).
  • Offline Sundays.
    I have them intermittently. The last few months almost every week. A day like this helps me to use my mobile phone and the entire internet more consciously on other days. Because I change the habit of immediately needing/wanting to do something online. And it gives me peace of mind not to have the option to watch a movie or an episode of a series for a day anyway.

A mobile phone and social media are simply addictive. At the same time it makes a lot possible and it can be extremely useful, and fun. Often you just don’t realize how much it takes up your attention, until you spend less time on it.

How aware are you of the amount of attention, time and energy you spend on your cell phone?

The documentary I watched is called “The Social Dilemma“. This documentary includes interviews with technical experts who have worked at companies such as Google, Facebook and Instagram and who have become aware of the dark side of their own creations. It shows how social media reprograms civilization (also offline!). Recommended!

Do I let this sound bother me?

I’m very sensitive, especially when it comes to sound. I have good hearing too, so I often hear a distant sound that people next to me don’t hear. Or notice.

There were times that I wanted all sounds and noises that annoyed me to stop. Ofcourse that’s not how it works.

Luckily I found other ways. Thanks to meditation and all sorts of mindfulness.

I take a deep breath and feel if it really bothers me, or of it’s just an old automatic reaction.

If it does bother me I can choose from a variety of options:
– focus on something else so it diffuses
– go sit somewhere else
– stay were I am and put headphones with music or affirmations on

It feels so much better to know that I have a choice in how to react and respond, instead of feeling overwhelmed. Or putting energy in directing negative thoughts towards the sound/person(s) while hoping that it stops soon.

I choose how I direct my attention. I choose how I direct my energy.

The invisible line that plays a major role in life

There is a – often invisible – line that plays a major role in your life. And in how you experience the world. On the one hand, there are things that concern you, that touch you, that you notice, that you pay attention to. On the other hand, there are things you do not know, do not see, do not notice, do not find interesting or important.

How a person’s line is formed is a combination of personality, social circle, education, environment, experiences, habits, phase of life, family members, friends, neighbors, education, sites, books, magazines, films and TV series. This line also shifts during a person’s life. How often and how far and which way all depends on the aforementioned things.

My line has shifted in recent days. In the field of black oppression and white privilege.

Where it all started for me: Pentecost weekend I participated in an online meditation retreat. Except for those sessions, I was offline. No news. No social media. No Whatsapp. Nothing. That Monday afternoon I spent some time on Instagram, for the first time in days. I saw a lot passing by about the BlackLivesMatters protests and demonstrations. And to be honest, something in me found it all a hassle at first.

Until I kept watching. And reading. And couldn’t stop anymore. I was curious. Sad. Angry. Surprised. Shocked. I viewed personal stories and experiences. Documentaries. Facts. Pieces of history. Intense videos. Heartbreaking stories. Opinions. Opposing opinions. Silent protests. Screaming fighters. Defeated people. Frightened people. Brave people. Angry people. Hopeful people.

I watched the documentary “13th” and I was taken aback by it. This documentary clearly shows how the American legal and prison system works. And how much it is intertwined with racial inequality, which has been consciously built and maintained throughout long history. And the major role of the political and commercial world in this.

I live in The Netherlands. And everything that happens in Amerika may seem far from here. But everyone in the world is influenced in many ways, consciously and unconsciously, by everything that can be seen in the news, TV series, movies and online. In any case, I found it clarifying to gain more insight into the history and background of what is going on now by watching that documentary.

For me, apparently it was necessary to see a lot of people – worldwide – write or tell about this subject before it really came to my attention. And I started to study it. I am looking at news and social media messages with a different view now. Against the background of what I have heard and seen in recent days. It has my attention.

My line has shifted visibly.

For those who want to learn more about this topic:
– The documentary 13th (on Netflix and they made it (temporarily?) available on Youtube.)
– Document: Anti-racism resources (booktitles, movies, articles, podcasts and other resources)
– And do look around for good resources in your own country/your own language (in The Netherlands there is for instance a site Wit Huiswerk (‘White Homework’)

(I also posted this blog in Dutch on my Dutch site. )

To go within, especially in times of change and uncertainty

Always, but especially in times of change and uncertainty, it can be helpful to go within.

To take a step back from the world. To even take a step back from what you think you know and believe and feel. And be aware of what’s happening inside yourself. Beyond the surface. With as much kindness as possible. No matter if you like what you notice, or not. Try not to judge. Even try not to judge if you’re noticing that you are judging. Just notice and observe. Be aware.

That can be unsettling and scary, at first.

Most people are conditioned to always keep moving. To suppress feelings that come up, to directly form an opinion, to only aim for happy and joyful experiences. It can lead to feeling disconnected from yourself and others. It can lead to feeling stressed and incompetent. It can lead to feeling scared and angry. It can lead to feeling confused and tired.

So if you start (again) to make some time to just be, you have to adjust to that. At first your thoughts might roam wildly. Or your body gets very restless. Those are actually signs that you don’t have enough just-be-time.

I do believe that it is crucial for us human beings to take some time to go within. It is not a luxury. It is not selfish. Quite the opposite. It helps you to see things more clearly, to feel more grounded, to make room for more kindness. It helps accepting that life is always changing and includes everything: the good, the bad and the ugly. So go within. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

Take a few deep breaths. Meditate. Stare out of the window. Write down some thoughts. Read a bit in a book that feels good. Listen to a nice song with your eyes closed. Make a drawing. Go for a little walk.

“The path to unshakable well-being lies in being completely present and open to all sights, all sounds, all thoughts – never withdrawing, never hiding, never needing to jazz them up or tone them down.”

Pema Chödrön – Living beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

How are you doing?

“We might have to, sometimes,be brave enough to switch the screens off in order to switch ourselves back on. To disconnect in order to connect.”
Matt Haig – Notes on an nervous planet

For a lot of people it seems normal to pay attention to other people first. To watch and read how things are going with all kinds of people, that you may or may not know, before you focus on yourself. And because of things like a smartphone and tablets, all this information is always within reach.

Do I have mail?
Have I already received an app message?
What is happening in the world?
What has everyone I know and don’t posted on Instagram and Twitter?
How many likes do I have?
What is everyone sharing on Facebook?
Where have others been on vacation?
Which series everyone is talking about?
Which celebrity said what?
What are they talking about on the news?
What events are happening everywhere?

By starting your day like this, and often continuing like this throughout the day, you barely have time left for yourself. You pay less attention to how you feel. And to what there is to see in your garden, your street, your neighborhood. And you have little room left to let everything sink in, to process things.

Your dreams of that night.
That weird gut feeling that lingers.
The impressive film you’ve seen.
That one remark that touched you..
What you need, deep down.
That good idea that you suddenly came up with.
The beautiful book you’ve read.
The people in your life that make you feel good.
Why you are “suddenly” feeling so tired.
That funny conversation you had in the supermarket.
That memory of the past that suddenly came up.

And if you do take a moment for yourself, there is also a tendency to immediately share your experiences online. Instead of first really feeling them, let them sink in, think about it for a moment, talk about it with a good friend.

Give yourself some space first. Before you slowly stuff yourself with the messages and experiences from other people.

(The book ‘Notes on a nervous planet’, written bij Matt Haig, is also about this topic. There are so many great sentences that I would like to share from it, but I restrain myself and only share a few.)

“We can’t live every life.
We can’t watch every film or read every book or visit every single place on this sweet earth. We need to find out what is good for us, and leave the rest. We don’t need another world. 
Everything we need is here, if we give up thinking we need everything.”
Matt Haig – Notes on a nervous planet

“To be comfortable with yourself, to know yourself, requires creating some inner space where you can find yourself, away from a world that often encourages you to lose yourself.”
Matt Haig – Notes on a nervous planet