Dr. Ned Hallowell coined the term “the cough drop sign” in his 1994 book, “Driven to Distraction,” based on a story a patient told him. But the leading psychiatrist and ADHD expert, who suffers from the disease himself, has had his own side of the story many times in his life.
In the passage, which is going viral after ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), attorney Jesse Anderson shared on Twitter At the end of September, a woman tells Hallowell of a frustrating incident that happened while she was out shopping.
What is the cough drop sign?
Here is the patient’s full quote, as transcribed from “Driven to Distraction,” co-authored by Dr. John Ratey:
“Someone left (a cough drop) on the dashboard of our car. The other day I saw the cough drop and thought, I’m going to have to throw it away. When I arrived at my first stop, forgot to take the cough drop from a bin, when I got back in the car, I saw it and thought, I’m going to throw it at the gas station The gas station came and went and I hadn’t thrown away the cough drop. the whole day went like this, the cough drop still on the dashboard. When I got home Me, I thought, I’ll take her inside with me and throw her away. The time it took me to open the car door, I forgot about the cough drop. She was there to greet me when I got in the car the next morning Jeff was with me I looked at the cough drop and burst into tears Jeff asked me to Why I was crying and told her was because of the cough drop. He thought I was losing my mind. “But you don’t understand,” I said, “my whole life is like this. I see something I want to do and then I don’t. It’s not just sorting out bottled things like the cough drop; that’s great things too. That’s why I cried.
The patient in question was “a very intelligent woman with a very responsible job raising children and functioning in the world,” Hallowell recalled to TODAY. But like so many people with ADHD, she struggled with “little issues…the thing you intend to do, want to do, want to do, can do, and keep doing.” ‘ignore,'” Hallowell said. It’s what he calls “the cough drop sign.”
For the Harvard-trained doctor who’s written 22 books (most recently “ADHD 2.0,” also co-authored by Ratey), signs of cough drops in Hallowell’s own life range from leaving groceries at checkout after paying to wear two different shoes and socks, something he only noticed after a patient pointed it out.
“Attention deficit is a complete misnomer,” Hallowell explained. “We don’t have attention deficit. We have an abundance of attention. Our challenge is to control it. … Boredom is our kryptonite. , if not physically then mentally.”
“The cough drop is boring, so we just don’t see it,” he continued. “We can see it – in other words, it lands in our visual cortex – but we don’t understand it in the sense of (acting) on it.”
“Why can’t I remember a fucking cough drop?”
ADHD affects 4 to 5 percent of American adults and about 11 percent of children, about one-third of whom will retain the diagnosis into adulthood, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yet there is so much shame associated with experiencing the cough drop sign, according to Hallowell.
“Why can’t I remember a f—— g cough drop?” he said, recalling the patient’s thought process when she broke down crying. “There’s just a huge amount of shame and frustration in knowing that you’re smarter than your background shows, but you don’t know what to do about it and you’re just told to try harder. and that you try as hard as you can.”
He added that the outside world, including parents and teachers, often contributes to this shame. The cough patient’s father used to tell her, “You don’t have more sense than a blue jay,” Hallowell said.
Anderson, who shared the passage on Twitter, told TODAY via email that he read “Driving to Distraction” shortly after being diagnosed with ADHD six years ago and that the sign of the cough drop specifically “gave voice to my deep shame, my flaws that only felt broken within me. An answer to why my actions never seemed to match my intentions, why I was so often misunderstood.
“Here’s this random book, describing someone with the exact same flaws, and gave hope that maybe it wasn’t my fault after all,” Anderson added.
Replies to Anderson’s tweet echoed that sentiment. “This is such a familiar story,” one person wrote.
“That’s the part that people who don’t have this problem refuse to understand: often I can’t hold the thought long enough to write it down,” another replied. “I can have a phone or a notepad in my hand when the thought arises, and still fail. I forget things faster than I can open a browser tab!”
It’s been decades since ADHD diagnoses rose in the 90s, but the condition — which Hallowell calls a trait and never a disorder — is still deeply misunderstood, he said, adding that he wanted everyone everyone appreciates the “pocket of positivity” that comes with ADHD.
“I describe ADHD as having a Ferrari motor for your brain, but you have bicycle brakes,” Hallowell joked. “(People with ADHD) are naturally creative, original, think outside the box. … They tend to be very intuitive. … They have very big hearts and are generous.”
“If you manage it properly, it becomes a tremendous asset,” he added.
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