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When did I know I had ADHD?
Although I cannot give you the specific moment in history I knew, I can tell you it was brought to my attention (pun-intended) many years ago by a client of mine who also had the disorder (Those of us with ADD/ADHD can spot a fellow member of the club from a mile away).This was at least 15 years ago when I was still working full time as a rock-star hairdresser. I remember being offended at first when someone suggested I read up on the subject- I was already used to people in my life telling me that I wasn’t “normal”, and I wasn’t ready to admit or entertain the thought they may be ”right”.
My offense over her suggestion quickly turned to awe when I discovered she was right and my awe then turned into thankfulness because it seemed I had finally found an answer for my particular brand of ’quirkyness’. An answer for my terrible grades in school when I knew I wasn’t stupid. An answer to my inability to keep track of my wallet, and why it was so traumatic for me to go to the grocery store. Answers to why I couldn’t keep my home clean or the laundry caught up. Now I knew why I would leave the refrigerator door open for hours and overflow the kitchen sink with water because I forgot I had turned the faucet on and walked away. The mystery was solved as to why I wasn’t “like everybody else”. I was made aware that there were others who existed with short tempers who were also cruelly labeled as ”crazy” or “mentally ill” by those closest to them- they knew what it was like to constantly hear “you need to get help- you have some serious issues”. An answer to the constant disappointment my loved ones felt when they were in my presence or in my home. I learned that it was normal for people like us to abhor being touched by others and to feel like your skin has ants crawling all over it all the time. My excessive need for movement like shaking my foot or swinging my legs like a child would, fingers tapping, touching my face or hair, rocking myself to sleep, the inability to have eye contact with someone for more than 10 seconds, or constantly shifting in a chair were found to be common traits for an ADHD-ite like myself. The “all or nothing” code I lived by was answered by the word “Impulsivity”. I began to see why my brain couldn’t remember your name even though I saw you every week at the salon. With this ADHD revelation, the shame I had wrapped myself in because I couldn’t be “more” was being challenged like a false prophet.
However, even though I was armed with this new found epiphany, in true in-attentive ADHD fashion, I completely dismissed my fresh findings and went back to ignoring the beast inside my brain. Denial is also a part of the ADHD survival mode. It was better to stuff it all back inside than to overwhelm myself with new information and inevitable change. I was still way too comfortable in the dysfunction and chaos to do anything about it.
Fast forward a few years to when I was starting to have babies, and with those babies (4 total in 6 years) came severe postpartum depression in addition to the un-treated/ ignored ADHD. My head, my life, my everything was out of control. Ending my life was not an un-common thought. I often thought my head would explode from the constant mumblings going on in there. I would go to many Doctors who would treat the depression and anxiety, but nothing helped the ADHD. The only thing the antidepressants did was to flatline me to where I had no emotion at all and still left me with no focus. I felt like I was damn near legally blind but had no corrective eye glasses to help me see. Everything I saw was “blurry” or “foggy”. My brain was simply asleep.
None of the Docs knew anything about the disorder. None of them could look beyond the obvious because they didn’t know HOW to do so. They didn’t know how to stop looking at the “what” and start looking at the “why”. And to be honest, by this point, I had decided to forget all about the ADHD. If the world at large kept dismissing it and saying that it wasn’t real, then who was I to argue with them? What was the point in pursuing something if the outcome was always a dead end?
Sometime in 2004, I found myself in yet another psychologist office trying to figure out how to be a better woman/wife/daughter/mom/friend/person because I was the defective one in all of my relationships. Of course I was. My thought was that I needed to fix myself before I was committed to an insane asylum, and since I could not get my shit together, that was the next “logical” option, right? It was there in that office, in the midst of another nervous breakdown, that my ADHD was actually addressed.
I finally found a Dr. who agreed with me. I wish I could tell you that I was relieved, but sadly, I was not. My world outside that therapist’s office was ignorant and could not comprehend something like ADHD. To them, it was just another excuse for my lazy/crazy/stupid/selfish behavior. The psychologist encouraged me to ask my regular MD for meds to treat the ADHD, but at that point Ginger was pregnant with baby #3 and not allowed to take any such meds.
And so the crazy cycle of me telling myself that I was worthless, stupid, and a menace to those around me continued.
I gave birth to Baby Boy in June 2005, and, since I was breastfeeding, no ADHD meds were allowed for obvious reasons. My thought was to get through 6 months of nursing him and then I could re-visit the idea of meds, right?
When Baby Boy was 6 months old, I found out I was pregnant, again. Oy vey. Another side effect of ADHD? Forgetting to take your birth control pills on a regular basis. Sigh.
Baby Girl was born in September 2006, and by December of that year, I had made an appointment with a new MD my friend had recommended who actually knew something about ADD/ADHD. She was the first Doc to tell me that I didn’t need to be treated for postpartum depression, I needed to be treated for ADHD! Hallelujah!
This is when I got serious about my ADHD journey.
I began with Adderall, which was a good place to start. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better. The choice to take meds/ not take meds is a personal decision for everyone and one that cannot be made in haste. While it was a good choice for me, it is not always good for others. Now, for the sake of time and blog space, I will just say that I stayed on Adderall until September 2009. It was around this time that another friend told me about a group of Doctors in town that specialized in treating kids and adults with ADD/ADHD. Although the Dr who had been treating me up until this point was awesome and had me moving in the right direction, I knew it was time for a change. So, per my friend’s request, I became a proud member of a place called The Affinity Center. My words escape me in describing what this center has done for me and for my family. The progress I have made in 3 years is undeniable, and it’s because of these amazing Docs and their committment to the ADD/ADHD community. When I began my therapy sessions there, I was switched from Adderall to Ritalin. The Ritalin was even better than the Adderall. I was confused as to why one worked better than another, and I remember my Doc explaining the dynamics of finding the right meds for a person this way:
Let’s say you go outside on a day when it’s 22 degrees, and all you have on is a t-shirt. You get cold so you go inside and put on a long sleeve shirt and then go back outside. Now, that long sleeve shirt is better than the t-shirt, but it is still not enough to protect you from the cold. In my case, the Adderall was better than nothing at all, but it wasn’t enough for what my body needed. I needed a winter coat, not a long sleeve shirt.
I stayed on the Ritalin until 3 or 4 months ago because, once again, I found my body going through some metabolic changes and I was not tolerating the Ritalin well any longer. I am now on a drug called Metadate and, so far, so good. For me, meds have been a great tool to add to my ADHD toolbox, but they are not the only thing in that box. Regular counseling/ coaching sessions, seeing the Neurologist on staff there, and physicals/ check-ups are also in there. All of these things are of equal importance. The Affinity Center has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me and I am grateful for what they do and for who they are.
Right now, I am learning to embrace both the good and bad sides of ADHD. Some days it feels like I won the lottery and I think I’m incredibly lucky to have it as it allows me to think outside the box as well as be a creative person. Other days it acts like a demon and the tapes of self hatred and insecurity play over and over in my head. I make friends easily and am often the “life of the party”, but I also piss people off just as easily and lose friends because of it. But who cares- it’s their loss anyway, right? ADHD has taught me to be a more accepting person as “we all are fighting some kind of battle”, I think.
So there you have it, a very condensed version of my own personal ADHD journey, becuase God knows I can only remember 1/4 of the details anyway!