Crowds, fairs, and ADHD
Sunday, I went to the Wisconsin State Fair. I didn’t take my ADHD medicine. I didn’t think I’d need it. I was wrong.
The last time we went to the State Fair was before I was diagnosed with ADHD and I remember that I didn’t eat much.
This time I realized why. There are just too many choices. I was overwhelmed by the selections. Dozens of items on a stick. Things with bacon. Things fried. Weird combinations. All sorts of animal jerky. In addition to the everyday fair fare of hot dogs, hamburgers, corn-on-the-cob, and so on.
So I kept saying I was hungry and my wife kept saying, “Get something!” and I kept responding, “I haven’t seen what I’m looking for” which is ADHD code for “Help! I can’t make a decision.”
I also came to realize that my childhood fear of crowds was actually an ADHD-reaction to being over-stimulated. As a child, it manifested as anxiety and a feeling of claustrophobia (being smaller than everyone around me, I felt boxed in, like the walls were closing in on me).
Yesterday, however, I realized what it was. Just too many damned interesting people and an inability to focus on just one. As a kid it caused fear because I couldn’t recognize my parents among all the other giants since I couldn’t focus long enough on one face. I kept losing track of where they were and felt panic each time.
I no longer have a fear of becoming lost, swept away by the relentless stream of humanity, but I was still anxious. Non-afflicted people have no idea how unsettling a crowd of thousands can be to someone with ADHD.
And there was a moment when the crowd stopped moving, boxed in somehow by large flows from different directions on streets too narrow, that I felt overwhelmed. Trapped. Concerned I’d be separated from my kids. My younger son, also ADHD, would hold my hands in those moments and only now does it occur to me that maybe he was feeling panicked too. Or he was comforting me.
So the lesson is, next time we’ll take our meds. I don’t like that feeling of losing control. Of being overwhelmed. The fair should be fun, not an anxiety attack waiting to happen.