October is ADHD awareness month. The neurobehavioral disorder, ADHD, is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity and presents in either a predominately inattentive type (formerly known as ADD) or predominately hyperactive type (there is also a combined type).
It was actually frustration with my inability to focus on prayer that drove me to finally seek a diagnosis for ADHD just prior to my 20th birthday. After being diagnosed with the predominately inattentive type of ADHD, I began to notice that there were certain aspects of having ADHD that made practicing my faith difficult.
I love my faith. It is the most important aspect of my life. With an attitude like that, one would think that I could hyper focus on prayer, but I can’t. It extremely frustrating to have an inability to focus stunt my spiritual growth.
Before I got diagnosed with ADHD, the fact that I could not focus on prayer made me feel like crap. I took my faith seriously, made a conscious effort to dress appropriately for Mass, went to daily Mass, Adoration, and Confession. Yet, whenever an old lady would approach me and say how much she appreciated my reverence, I would feel like a fraud. I would think, “If you only knew how little I actually paid attention today…”
2. “WHY ME?!?!”
Like any tragedy, illness, or disappointment, there is a temptation to get frustrated with God and ask, “Why me? Why do I have to have ADHD?” It is a question I have had to bring to prayer and try to actually listen for God’s answer rather than just get angry.
3. Feeling Different
Many people who get diagnosed with ADHD later in life will report always feeling different growing up. This makes it really hard to relate to others. We feel like no one understands our struggles, making it hard for us to reach out for help when our problems feel overwhelming.
4. The Debate Over Whether or Not to Confess a Lack of Focus in Prayer and at Mass
“How much is ADHD to blame for my distractions and how much am I responsible?” is a debate I have every time I go to Confession or any time I examine my conscience. The best advice advice a priest has ever given me on this debate is to examine whether or not I have given into my distractions. That has sort of helped me with figuring out what to do.
There is also the difficulty of not knowing what is normal. This makes it hard to know where we should be with our focus and how to describe to our doctor or confessor our struggles with attention.
5. Difficulty Transitioning into Prayer
Transitioning from one task to another is difficult when one has ADHD. So, when it comes to prayer or attending Mass, it can be hard to leave behind what one was doing just prior to entering into what is suppose to be a prayerful state.
When it is early, I use peppy music to wake myself up. Then, I find myself fighting off singing OMI’s “Cheerleader” in my head during the Gospel.
One helpful way tip I often read on the internet is to give oneself plenty of time in between tasks so as to have the time to mentally transition. Although, this can be difficult if one is constantly finding oneself running late.
6. Rushing to Get to Mass on Time
I can’t be the only ADHDer who has done this:
*Looks at watch* “I have plenty of time before Mass.” *Looks at watch what seems like two seconds later* “SHOOT! I need to leave NOW!”
Incidents like this are symptomatic of what has been given the nickname “time blindness.” Simply put, those of us with ADHD have basically no concept of time. We constantly underestimate how long doing that one last thing before leaving the house will take. This makes it difficult to be punctual. As a result, I frequently find myself stressed about getting to Mass on time and arriving right as Mass is about to start. One time, my pastor started Mass significantly early, and I am convinced he did so because he saw me arrive and assumed it was 8:00.
7. We Can’t NOT Make a Cross on Palm Sunday
It may sound counterintuitive, but making a palm cross actually helps me pay attention at Mass. Studies have shown that fidgeting helps ADHDers focus, so when Palm Sunday rolls around, I get excited because the odds of me paying attention during Mass is greatly increased. However, my palm cross skills have increased to the point where my palm cross is finished before the gospel, leaving me with well over half the Mass left without a palm cross to make.
8. We All Notice All the Things at Mass!
It is hypothesized that, in the early days of the human race when we were struggling, it was beneficial to have what is called “floating attention.” This behavior is characterized by not being completely focused on one thing, but rather having a little bit of our attention on everything around us. Scientists use this to explain how ADHD brains work. At Mass, I can see where they are coming from on this issue.
The kids squirming behind me, the mother telling them to sit still, the old lady whispering the words to the Eucharistic prayer, the altar server who clearly has no clue what to do, that guy with the cough who sounds like he is dying and is not covering his mouth like any decent human being would, that cute girl I’ve never seen before, people I know, people I don’t know, the priest’s new haircut, any change in the sanctuary’s decorations…..I. NOTICE. THEM. ALL.
9. “That Was a Great Homily; Wish I Could Remember It!”
ADHD causes major problems with one’s working memory. We can pay attention to a teacher’s instructions on an assignment or a parent’s instructions to keep the laundry moving while they go run an errand, but when it comes time to carry out those commands, we cannot remember a darn thing.
There have been many times I have been focused and listening to a priest’s homily and thinking it was amazing. Then, after Mass, someone will comment on what a great homily it was, and I agree. Immediately after agreeing, I find myself thinking, “Wait, what did Father preach about again?”
10. Only Catching Portions of the Homily
Most of the time, I’m not completely focused on the homily. I fade in and out of attention during a homily and will remember only bits and pieces of the homily.
11. Having No Memory of Certain Parts of Mass
Sometimes ADHDers can get so lost in our thoughts that we totally space out and can have gaps in our memory. This is especially likely when it has something we have done many times (e.g. driving to school/work, walking the dog, etc.). Mass is, more or less, the same every time. If we space out during Mass, we can have no recollection of certain parts of the Mass. This is especially disheartening when we have no recollection of the consecration.
12. Spiritual Reading Is a Major Struggle
Reading is problematic when you have ADHD. You can be reading through a page, but your mind is elsewhere. It is terribly frustrating to get to the end of a page and discover that you have absolutely no idea what you just read. You’re left with two options: Start the page over or give up.
13. Temptation to Give Up
The frustration we feel with regards to focusing during prayer or at Mass can get intense. Sometimes, it feels like too much, and we feel like giving up. However, I try to remember that perseverance can be a prayer in and of itself:
“If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.” – St. Francis de Sales