I am pretty happy lately.
I know that might sound silly- but not when you consider how long it’s taken me to say it, and mean it.
I had a friend ask me recently to describe the ways my life has improved since being diagnosed and treated for adult attention deficit disorder eight weeks ago.
The undiagnosed ADD was wrecking havoc on my life in more ways than I even knew until I verbalized them for her. I felt like I wanted to write another post about positive changes that have happened in my life, especially since 3-5% of the adult population still lives a life undiagnosed.
Before the diagnosis and treatment, I was on an a non stop roller coaster ride of thoughts, and although I’m not super emotional on the outside- I tend to get anxious and dark on the inside in a quiet kind of way. Thoughts have the power to trigger emotion, and in the past, any given thought could trigger a myriad of emotions that were wrecking havoc on my adrenal grands- making me tired all the time. The volley of thoughts I could think in any given hour could give a person whiplash. I never even knew how much I was spinning until I took the med for the first time and felt the world stand still. For the first time in my life I could actually control what I wanted to pay attention to, and this, my friends – was such a beautiful thing.
In the past, what most people would consider an ordinary experience; like grocery shopping, could send me into a panic. I would dread the thought of having to go because i was already anticipating the challenges that most people don’t experience. Walking into a brightly lit grocery store with lots of choices on every shelf and colors and words and people and noise and all the different smells? Oh… forget it. I would literally plan my grocery trips based on the times of day I thought they would be the least overwhelming. Ask me to take my kids in and manage them in addition to getting a weeks worth of groceries and I would have rushes of anxiety that would rival getting held up at gun point. I would have to have a strategy for dealing with them should anything go south.. you know, like a bail-out plan.
I should probably mention that it wasn’t until I understood that there was a name for the way I felt and that I am now able to articulate and share these things simply because I no longer feel like a freak for feeling these things. These facts about myself have been carefully hidden for years mostly because any attempt to try to explain the magnitude to which I would avoid certain things would be met with a really strange look. I began to hide these phobias early on- either that, or adapt as best as possible and keep my mouth shut.
In one of the books I have been reading they liken the experience of ADD to walking into a room full of television screens that are all set to a different channel but at the same volume level: LOUD. The information that is coming into your awareness all seems to be with the same level of urgency making it impossible to filter out the more relevant or important information from the less important. If exposed to highly stimulating events or anything that involved lots of noise and people I would *Bing*! which is what I called the feeling I had inside- like a pinball getting bounced around the interior of a machine *bing! *bing!*
Even a quiet house and solitude- isn’t really. The house creaks, the wind blows, the lamp buzzes, thoughts think, itches itch, dogs bark, children laugh… everything, and I do mean everything has the power to distract me from whatever I am doing especially if it is nothing. Getting household chores done? A joke. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve have a load of laundry in the washer-meaning to put in the dryer all day and then realizing I’d forgotten to even run the wash cycle! I would leave the fridge door open while going to get the toast from the toaster only to find that I’d burnt that ages ago, oh wait, the phone is ringing! hello? ”Oh- shoot! can I call you back I forgot I have the baby in the tub”…
OK? like, madness. I could not stay on the task at hand.
EVER. EVER. EVER.
Then the flip side of this level of distraction is called “Super Focus” or “Hyper Focus”which is also why it is so difficult for people with it to understand what the heck is going on. Known as the disorder of paradoxes, these huge dips and gaps in energy and attention could then be offset with moments of boundless energy and brilliant problem solving. Highly capable with the ability to muti-task like no other undermined by days of lethargy and brain fog.
An example of hyper focus:
If I was going to clean the house? I would clean the whole house and I mean CLEAN IT. People with ADD i’ve discovered also don’t know how to stop once they really get going on a project. Once hyperfocus kicks in – it’s almost impossible to get me off the given task. It would start out as a simple run through to clean the house inch by inch and before you know it I was emptying drawers, rearranging furniture, reorganizing the closets and never finishing one thing before starting on the other and by the time I was finished- usually twelve hours later, I had overdone it to the point where i would throw out my back or end up needing to sleep the next day. If I was writing an article, or reading something that was very stimulating to me – it would be almost impossible to break my concentration. I have been known to read a book in a couple of hours, and stay focused on what I am doing while the equivalent of a tornado is happening outside only to snap out of it and wonder where all the trees went.
One of my close friends who has ADD sent me a hysterical article where they describe the syndrome as “living in a constant soft rain of post-it notes” and another excerpt from the article describes the way the ADD brain will just pick up on something completely random and then it’s off and running….
As such, if we’re in the middle of some particularly important mental task, and our eye should happen to light upon… a doorknob, for instance, it’s like someone burst into the room, clad in pink feathers and heralded by trumpets, screaming HEY LOOK EVERYONE, IT’S A DOORKNOB! LOOK AT IT! LOOK! IT OPENS THE DOOR IF YOU TURN IT! ISN’T THAT NEAT? I WONDER HOW THAT ACTUALLY WORKS DO YOU SUPPOSE THERE’S A CAM OR WHAT? MAYBE ITS SOME KIND OF SPRING WINCH AFFAIR ALTHOUGH THAT SEEMS KIND OF UNWORKABLE.
yep, pretty much this is how my mind was binging all the time, even when I was trying to sleep.
Being treated for ADD has meant for a huge noise reduction in my head allowing me to pay attention to the things that need attention and prioritize more easily. Because I can filter and finish my tasks and thoughts I find I am no longer exhausted, and needing a nap by 1:00 pm every afternoon. I’ve also found that I have so much more patience for my children, and have enjoyed being able to read to them and play with them much more frequently and for longer durations. I’m not as distracted or irritable as I used to be and I know this discovery has made me a much better mama to them.
I seem to have more of an ability to keep a routine going than I ever have in the past. In the past, I would create a structure but then never seemed to have the discipline to follow it. Now I know it had little to do with discipline and everything to do with the maddening neurological symptoms that would never allow for a clear and linear pathway of thought. I feel happy and at ease knowing that I am able to count on my brain for the everyday things that everyone else might take for granted, and although I have never been one who was enamored of medications – I realize that there are exceptions for those who have the option to take something to improve their quality of life. The suffering one experiences with ADD is unnecessary, the same way people with blurry vision can have a better quality of life with glasses or contacts.
It’s a strange thing to have something like this discovered so late in my life because now that I have some perspective I truly wonder how I even made it this far. I’ve been reading about so many people who experience horrendous challenges in life and have ended up on drugs, in jail, or worse due to avoidable accidents, impulsive behavior, or out of desperation. It saddens me to know how many people are currently in emotional pain or heartache from something that could be easily treated with the correct attention and care.
Next week I will begin sessions with an ADD Coach who will help me to develop a few systems to help me address some of the executive functioning skills I have difficulty with. The most difficult thing for me is staying on top of things that need to get done consistently. I know it sounds funny but opening mail has been a pass time I avoid like the plague. Mostly because I never had a system with how to deal with it. Don’t get me wrong – I can and have done these things all my life- but I’m pretty sure it takes me three times as long and has taken up way more brain power than it should.
Although I am trying not to look at the past 35 some odd years of my life with regret- I do still have anger and sadness for myself that I struggled for so long. I failed my way through school after school and yet was never even tested for learning disabilities because they said I was “very smart- just lazy”. When I reflect on all those years, it makes me want to share what I have learned with others who may benefit, and I am so grateful for those of you who reached out to tell me that my posts on this subject has led to evaluations and treatments. If anyone out there reading this has a child who currently struggles in school – but has a tremendous intelligence or creativity, then I would invite you to consider ADD as a possibility. I took this quote from Dr. Hallowell who is an expert on the subject and who also describes ADD as a gift – not a disfunction. His perspective has taught me that people with ADD are some of the most creative and brightest out of the box thinkers there are. The ADD brain is like a race-car engine with insufficient brakes. He worries for children who go undiagnosed because many of them grow into adults with a broken sense of confidence in themselves, and low self esteem.
“Keep those faces in mind, the little girls and boys in the early grades, all trusting the adults to show them the way, all eager and excited about life and what will come next, and then just follow those faces over time. Follow the face of a little girl who doesn’t read very well and is told to try harder; who tends to daydream and is told she better pay attention; who talks out in class when she sees something fascinating, like a butterfly on the windowpane, and is told to leave the class and report to the principal; who forgets her homework and is told she will just never learn, will she; who writes a story rich in imagination and insight and is told her handwriting and spelling are atrocious; who asks for help and is told she should try harder herself before getting others to do her work for her; who begins to feel unhappy in school and is told that big girls try harder. This is the brutal process of the breaking of the spirit of a child. I can think of no more precious resource than the spirits of our children. Life necessarily breaks us all down somewhat, but to do it unnecessarily to our children in the name of educating them — this is a tragedy. To take the joy of learning — which one can see in any child experimenting with something new — to take that joy and turn it into fear — that is something we should never do.”
— Edward M. Hallowell (Driven To Distraction : Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood)
It’s so important for parents to get a diagnosis for your child if you suspect he or she is struggling. ADD/ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of or scared of. In fact- it might help you to know that some of the most brilliant and gifted people in the world have or, have had it. The real issue for those who have it, is the constant level of needless frustration and struggle. Kids who have ADD/ ADHD feel incredibly helpless, and lonely. They know something is different about them, and yet can’t find their way to any answers without the help of an educated adult. They deeply want to succeed and do well, but over time- will give up trying because they will be forever living with the inconsistant firing of neuro transmitters that don’t allow them to focus on the things they want to. They realize that their behavior frustrates those around them, but just think about how they must feel.
I know I am one of the lucky ones, and that although I have lived undiagnosed for many years, I am also very proud of what the adversity has taught me. I have a tremendous amount of compassion for myself that I did not have previously. Finally having an answer has given me freedom to rewrite the history of my life and look now from a perspective that I can now also offer help so that others can gain freedom as well.
As always, thank you for reading. I’d love to hear from you so please comment in the box below. XO