Lately it seems like everybody I meet was diagnosed as an adult. I was actually diagnosed in the 90’s in the beginning of the ADHD craze. So I have had knowledge of my diagnosis for a long time.
I didn’t always believe that I had ADHD. In fact, I only really accepted the fact after looking back at my personal history and some of my patterns of behavior. I also though a little bit about my family history.This is my #adhd story. Unfiltered. http://wp.me/p60iCk-1b Click To Tweet
Or at least what I remember of it. This is written based on my point of view. Maybe my mother will read this and comment. 🙂
The Early Years
I was formally diagnosed around age 11, but I knew something wasn’t quite right at a remarkably young age. I remember sitting in church and tapping my toes. I remember the nervous energy that made me bite my fingernails and the inside of my cheeks.
Every little hangnail, or piece of rough skin on my lips was totally distracting. Sitting in class, or in church, was uncomfortable for me.
I remember the first time I zoned out in class. It was second grade and we were working on long division. I recall some practice problems, and I think I went through the motions and wrote all of the numbers down. While working independently I felt like I had no clue what I was doing.
When it was time to go to lunch (or recess or wherever we were going) we lined up. I went to the teacher’s desk and told her I “didn’t understand.” She replied something to the effect of, “there is nothing to misunderstand.”
I remember this conversation well. I also remember that I never asked for help in school again.
I also recall taking notes in 6th grade math class. (Does anyone but me notice most of my ADHD issues in school centered on math?) Everything the teacher said and did made sense. All of the notes made sense as I followed along.
When I got home and looked at my homework problems, taken from the same book, I drew a blank. I felt angry with myself. “What is wrong with me? It made sense just a few hours ago?” Looking at those pages of notes felt like trying to read Chinese.
I knew that that sort of blank space in my memory could not be normal. Other people didn’t go home and feel this way when doing homework.
My mother took me to a Psychologist to get my diagnosis. I cannot recall exactly how it was explained to me, but I know that I went on medication almost immediately. I don’t really think the medication helped me in the way it was intended, but I will write more about that fiasco later.
What I do know is that having that label, or diagnosis, changed everything. All of a sudden I was some kind of special case, who got called down to the guidance office during lunch for extra practice. I found the whole thing humiliating. I couldn’t stand so much attention on my every move.
My diagnosis coincided with my stepfather passing away from a brain tumor. For some reason losing her husband drew my mother’s attention to her children’s shortcomings. I am not sure if I would have been diagnosed had I not been shuttled to a psychologist immediately after his death.
It was also decided for me that I was depressed. I took some type of anti-depressant along with what I assume was Ritalin. I took these medications throughout most of middle and high school. The drugs might have masked some of my obvious symptoms, but they didn’t take care of the fundamental problem in my neurochemistry.
It has taken me over 20 years to realize I wasn’t really depressed. I was simply struggling to come to terms with my limitations. I should say, I was coming to terms with being told I had limitations. Nobody ever asked, “how do you feel about this?”
An ADHD diagnosis is a huge hit to one’s sense of self-efficacy. Particularly when you are told that you will take this medication and you will see this doctor and you have no choice in the matter.
I felt like I was incapable. If I couldn’t control my own attention and learning process, what could I control? I was in a position where choices and decisions were made for me. I was only 11 but I definitely felt like I was not permitted to be in control of myself. I was told I NEEDED this medication.
Hmmm I wonder why I seemed depressed? (insert sarcasm here)
The College Years
I went off to college immediately after graduating from high school. In all honesty I was not ready. This was a time of both tremendous personal growth and tremendous confusion for me.
I joined a sorority, I drank copious amounts of cheap beer, I skipped classes, and I made bad decisions about men. I was off my meds. My mother definitely wanted me on them, but it was my decision.
Being off meds was not all bad. I felt more in control of myself than I had in a very long time.
Yes, I had trouble focusing on the academic stuff. But I also learned that I was not depressed and I did not really need medication all the time to get by. The medication was helpful when I had to study for a test or focus on writing a paper.
Ritalin was not helpful for me to go to mixers and meet new people. I think I started to develop confidence as a result of my failures academically. It didn’t matter that I was a mediocre student; for the first time in my life I was free to just succeed or fail or drink beer or whatever without anyone telling me I was doing something wrong. It felt fantastic, albeit a bit scary.
I transferred to a different school 2 years into college and moved to Philadelphia. I still had my emotional ups and downs but my self-esteem and sense of control over my world continued to improve. Living in the city was the first time I started to really try to take care of my mind and body.
Philadelphia is still a special place to me. I feel “free to be me” there. It was the place where I figured out who I was and what I wanted from my life without any outside interference. Walking around the city was healing for me.
I started to eat differently and think differently. I was interested in my physical and emotional health. I was growing up. Finally.
Studying something I was passionate about helped me to graduate despite the obvious distractions. I even worked in that industry for a while before losing interest and moving home.
Yes, I moved home in my 20’s. It sucked.
After what I considered to be a failed first career, I moved home and took paralegal certification courses.
In retrospect, my first career wasn’t really a failure; I just needed to figure out the hard way that working retail is for the birds. I never even finished the paralegal certification, but I managed to get a job at a PI firm in my hometown.
The great thing about this type of work is that there is a rhythm to how you maintenance files, and the steps of the process are the same for 90% of your clients. This is the reason I still do paralegal work on a part-time basis. I was able to learn quickly and for the first couple years I got a lot done.
The bad thing about this type of routine is that it breeds boredom. We all know ADHD = distractibility = boredom = low productivity.
My 20’s is when the ADHD-induced anxiety started to be noticeable for me.
I recall being on a date with this perfectly nice guy. I had met him in a bar when I was out for drink with a friend. He was decent looking and professional. We were having dinner and I was so nervous I could not eat. As he was talking to me I could feel myself drifting off into irrational territory.
I had these paranoid thoughts, “I bet he thinks I am disgusting, I really shouldn’t eat in front of him.” “I feel myself sweating, my whole body feels like it is sweating, I need to keep my arms down in case of have pit stains.” I went out with him a couple more times but then he stopped calling.
Deep down I was glad. The idea of kissing anyone or being intimate in any way was frightening to me so I would jump out of the car as fast as I could.
It was a strange paradox because my friends were all getting married, and I was in weddings and attending weddings constantly.
I have no idea where this anxiety came from. It started in my 20’s after I moved back to my hometown. All my friends were involved in these serious relationships, but I just couldn’t deal with it. Sometimes I think it has its roots in sensory sensitivity.
My home life was a bit dramatic as a kid and I was never very physically affectionate. When I moved home and first started working at the PI firm I was living in the same environment that had made me “depressed” as an adolescent. Coincidence?
During this time period I met my now husband. We both volunteered with the same community organization. He was completely different from most of the men I had been interested in. He was short and bald and funny as hell. He was older than I and very involved in our community.
I cannot recall how or when I told him about my ADHD. Maybe he just figured it out? I don’t hide it well.
Hubby is good at all of the things I am not. He can do math, remember dates, organize a room, and manage filing cabinets of important documents. From the beginning he has always been completely tolerant of my neurosis.
We were married in 2008, the year I turned 29. The same year I decided to go back to college for my teaching degree.
Around the time I got engaged I was starting to get bored with working as a paralegal. As I contemplated my decision I had a hard time coming up with any usable skills I could offer. I just knew I wanted to do something that impacted the lives of others.
The only thing I have ever been marginally good at is writing. I also do well with research. After much thinking, I decided that I enjoyed young people and literature/writing and I wanted to teach. Since PA has excellent state schools with teaching programs I enrolled in the one nearest to my home, and then transferred my credits.
College at age 29 is very different than age 18. Not just because I was paying the whole tab this time, plus my original student loans. I was older and more annoyed with the antics of my younger classmates.
I took a public speaking class, which with my anxiety was tough. I would spend hours rehearsing my speeches and writing my note cards. I actually chose my outfits so that if I was a sweaty mess my classmates couldn’t see perspiration under my arms.
Suddenly I became a perfectionist. Every test I took and every paper I wrote had to be perfect. If I got a B I was devastated. I cut my hours at work so I could spend more time studying. Who would have thought someone with my brand of ADHD could ever spend 5+ hours per day studying?
I would do math problems over and over again until I did each one perfectly. This is where I idea of hyperfocus comes in with my diagnosis. I just didn’t notice it at the time. I had a completely one-track mind; I wanted to be the best secondary English teacher.
I even convinced myself that I would be the exception to the rule and actually get a teaching job.
I got married and had my son while I was still finishing my BSE. I actually returned to class 10 days after giving birth. I would pump, feed him before I left, and then rush home to nurse at 9pm as soon as class ended.
My hyperfocus caused me to miss out on many of the milestones of my son’s first year.
He screamed a lot, so my senses were sort of overloaded between that and my anxiety with school. My husband would care for my son on Sunday afternoons so I could study, interrupting me only for feedings. I actually paid a babysitter so I could study a couple times.
All of this really was necessary. As a person with ADHD I could not handle the pressures of motherhood and school on my own. Sometimes I am ashamed of that, other times I admit it freely. Getting through that first year really did take a village.
After all of the drama and stress I graduated. My son was 2 by the time I finished student teaching. As much as I regret my inability to handle everything when he was tiny I needed to finish that degree.
My son, my degree and my marriage are the things I am most proud of. Though I have never found a teaching job I plan to continue working with and around young people.
Today I am a part-time paralegal in a small PI office. The work is not stimulating or fun. But, I love my coworkers.
I also have this little website thing going on.
I am still heavily motivated by the need to help others, or add some kind of value to their lives. This website is slowly morphing into a community complete with parenting, ADHD and career advice.
My ADHD story is hardly unique. It is personal and it is honest. I have come through the tough stuff unscathed. I have learned some things, I have made mistakes. Now I want to use my experiences to help other women living with ADHD.
Join us over in the community. Life can be chaotic, disorganized and often frustrating. Lets create a community of dynamic, fun and supportive women that totally “get” each other.
I hope you will comment on my ADHD story.
Have you ever shared your ADHD story?
If you wish to keep them private let me know and we can communicate privately.