Recently I went to a psychologist because I suspected that I just might have ADHD. (note...the H or Hyperactive is not present in all ADHD but the clinical term is ADHD even if you do not have that aspect of it. However, from this point I'll refer to it as ADD to simplify it.)
When I mentioned it to a loved one, I was told, "Everyone has ADD." That stung. Because I was really struggling and that comment felt like, "Suck it up. You're not a special case and there's no excuse for your behavior. Just get your act together." Now, I had been telling myself those things for a very long time. So it was natural for me to hear those things in that simple sentence, even if that wasn't at all what my loved one intended.
Below is a funny email that circulated years ago from an unknown source. Maybe you'll relate to it like I did:
Recently, I was diagnosed with A.A.D.D. - Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.
(Use to be called "lack of FOCUS" - But I feel much better now that it is a "disease".)
This is how it manifests:
I decide to water my garden. As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car and decide my car needs washing. As I start toward the garage, I notice that there is mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mail box earlier. I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car. I lay my car keys down on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table, and notice that the can is full. So, I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the garbage first.
But then I think, since I'm going to be near the mailbox when I take out the garbage anyway, I may as well pay the bills first. I take my check book off the table, and see that there is only one check left.
My extra checks are in my desk in the study, so I go inside the house to my desk where I find the can of Coke that I had been drinking. I'm going to look for my checks, but first I need to push the Coke aside so that I don't accidentally knock it over. I see that the Coke is getting warm, and I decide I should put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.
As I head toward the kitchen with the Coke, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye--they need to be watered. I set the Coke down on the counter, and I discover my reading glasses that I've been searching for all morning. I decide I better put them back on my desk, but first I'm going to water the flowers. I set the glasses back down on the counter, fill a container with water and suddenly I spot the TV remote. Someone left it on the kitchen table. I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV, I will be looking for the remote, but I won't remember that it's on the kitchen table, so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs, but first I'll water the flowers.
I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on the floor. So, I set the remote back down on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill. Then, I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do.
At the end of the day:
the car isn't washed
the bills aren't paid
there is a warm can of Coke sitting on the counter
the flowers don't have enough water,
there is still only 1 check in my check book,
I can't find the remote,
I can't find my glasses,
and I don't remember what I did with the car keys.
Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today, I'm really baffled because I know I was busy all day long, and I'm really tired. I realize this is a serious problem, and I'll try to get some help for it, but first I'll check my e-mail.
- Author unknown
I think we've all had days like this. Which is what was meant by "Everyone has ADD." But I wonder how many of us have everydays like this? I remember the first time I read this I thought, OH. MY. GOSH. How did this person know about my day today? And yesterday. And the day before that.
Until very recently, a typical day for me would consist of getting up at the last minute (because I stayed up way too late the night before, reading just one more chapter...even though I said I was heading to bed five times between nine and midnight), stumbling bleary-eyed through getting kids lunches ready (a Nutella sandwich, bag of chips and a capri sun...check!) Yes, you heard me, I feed my kids chocolate sandwiches, salt, and sugar for lunch—Pinterest moms everywhere are feeling faint after reading that as they load up their chemical-free metal lunchboxes neatly divided in six sections with a fruit, two veggies, two proteins and a whole grain. I applaud them. I really do. I have other strengths—I'm really good at going on vacation and reading.
Now, a note...my boys are 13 and 16 and completely capable of making their own lunches. (And my older two never had the luxury of chocolate sandwiches homemade by mom...they had to buy crappy school lunches because making lunches was too much for me back then when I had four instead of two.) I make their lunches because I want to, not because I have to. Okay, back to my day...
So I plan to get my day started properly by making a list of top priorities and time blocking. But in reality, I start reading emails before the kids leave for school and then I'm replying and jumping from one thing to the next, scheduling showings, signing contracts and suddenly it's 2pm and I haven't eaten a thing. I've been working all day but don't feel like I've accomplished anything. And I can barely keep my eyes open so I'd better go take a 30 minute nap. Two hours later, I wake up not knowing where I am or what day it is as I hear the bus pull away after dropping off my middle schooler.
I jump out of bed and rush downstairs so he doesn't walk in to an empty-feeling house. And once I ask the standard, "How was your day?" and get the standard shrug in response, I get the inevitable question that every mom who's wired like me dreads: "What's for dinner."
I think to myself, dinner? I haven't even had breakfast or lunch yet. And didn't I just feed you a chocolate sandwich? But I answer the same way every time, "I'm not quite sure yet," (as if I was planning dinner and just haven't quite finished my plan...yeah, he's not fooled) and then I go check the cupboards to see if I can pull something together with three potatoes, leftover elbow noodles, eggs and a handful of croutons.
"Pizza...we're ordering pizza for dinner."
After dinner we run to the fifty places they need to be and by the time we get home, it's after nine and I say goodnight five times before midnight, at which time I put my head on the pillow and tell myself I deserve a little reading time...some "me" time, if you will. And after reading "just one more chapter," the alarm goes off and I start the whole thing over again.
This is my normal. If you're horrified right now, you can just stop reading. It's okay, this is too long for you to read if you're not emotionally vested at this point. 😂
But if you're nodding your head in total understanding—while simultaneously thinking you have other things to do so you should probably stop reading...but you know you'll just end up scrolling instagram for the next ten minutes anyway—read on...
I never suspected I had ADD when I was young. I didn't fit the typical mold. I wasn't a hyper boy in the 80's who bounced off the walls if given a sip of kool-aid. I was actually a quiet dreamer in school. (While at home I was a non-stop talker...right mom?) I would look out the windows and let my brain take me where it willed. Or I would sit at the front of the classroom taking notes so I could pay attention to what the teacher was saying. And I did very well in school. I didn't get in trouble or have poor grades.
But that doesn't mean there weren't signs of ADD. I didn't have good study habits and I rarely did my homework on time. But I learn things quickly and my teachers liked me so they let it slide most of the time when I turned in homework late. (It was a daily occurrence to be doing my math homework—due that day—in french class...my history homework in math class, and my science homework during PE because I was sitting out...I forgot my gym clothes, again.) I was also a persuasive kid, so I could talk my way out of almost anything. I was using coping techniques from such an early age, no one knew that's what I was doing. So on paper, I didn't fit the standard for ADD.
And even as I moved into adulthood...I found ways to cope or, in effect, hide my symptoms without realizing I was doing it. Eventually, everyone with ADD hits a wall where their coping mechanisms finally fail them. The majority of ADD kids will begin to show pretty obvious symptoms by middle school and high school. And if not then, definitely by college.
So why didn't I hit those walls? Well, I did. But I talked my way out of them. For example, I took a full credit load my first semester in college and in most of my classes I was doing very well. But in two of them I was in danger of failing. So what did I do? Get help? Figure out why I couldn't seem to manage those classes? No. I dropped them. My GPA bounced back up to the top of the pile where I liked it and no one was the wiser (not even me!). Next semester? Same thing. Sophomore year? I started the year a bit behind because I had dropped courses the year before but I still only took 12 credits because deep down I knew I couldn't handle any more than that.
And then, after my sophomore year, Bill and I moved to Virginia and I didn't go back to college. In reality, I couldn't even consider myself finished with my sophomore year because I didn't have nearly enough credits. But no one knew that. I don't even think Bill knew. So to anyone watching from the outside, I didn't "fail" at college. I had a high GPA and could have finished, but my life just took me in a different direction. Even I was fooled by that line of thought. (Until very recently.) But deep down, I felt the truth...that I stopped going because I was overwhelmed and couldn't manage. I felt like a failure underneath all the well-crafted excuses...the smoke and mirrors.
You might ask why it didn't show itself in my career. Well, it did. And again, I masked it with other things. I am a slightly driven person. If I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it really well or not at all. So when I became a Mary Kay consultant in my early twenties, I worked hard until I became a Fabulous Fifties Sales Director. But within a year of gaining that hard-won position, I resigned.
Because I couldn't handle the overwhelm? No...not officially. Officially I resigned because my daughter was turning five and I wanted to home school her that fall. It was a very plausible reason to give up on a position that I think only 2% of the company had reached. But I knew it was because I was completely overwhelmed by life. I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression (a common diagnosis for undiagnosed ADD). I look at it now and think, well of course I was depressed. I had been dealing with ADD for years with no help in sight and no real idea that it was the root of my struggles.
And from that point until about four years ago (we're talking almost 15 years) I never again put myself in a position where I could be found out. I did this instinctually, not intentionally. It would have been obvious to anyone who had dropped by unannounced during those years, that I was overwhelmed in my role as "domestic engineer." A quick view into my life would have shown...laundry was piled up on the dining room table. Dust bunnies were having a convention in the hallway. And pizza was on the menu for dinner for the third time in a week. And no, I didn't remember that permission slip for my preschooler and, "Huh? You needed $10 for your class fund last week?"
I lived my life in a constant state of running behind and a day late and never feeling like I measured up. Like truly...I felt this way ALL the time. Even when things were going well. Even when I had successes (like publishing a novel or starting a successful real estate career) in my mind, my failures were TEN FEET TALL and my successes were about three inches tall. And I knew that any minute everyone would figure out I was a fraud. In reality, I wasn't a fraud. I can see that now. I really did write a novel. I really did start a successful business. But these are only very new revelations for me.
Last year, after three years as a real estate agent I could feel the wall looming. The same one I'd hit in college. The same one I'd hit in my Mary Kay career. I was doing well...my clients were happy. I hadn't ever let my issues affect my clients. But every other area of my life was suffering. And I didn't even have time to care. I just had to keep running to keep up with my business because I knew I couldn't let that ball drop. Yet I also knew that I couldn't keep up that pace forever. I needed help.
I had already been told before (by a therapist) that I couldn't possibly have ADHD because I didn't get in trouble in school. I believed him. But just when I was reaching that breaking point I had lunch with a friend who understands me very well because we are often a mirror to each other. We've both joked for years that we must have ADD. And she had been studying women with ADHD, recently. So when I told her what the therapist told me she laughed out loud. She told me that very often, women, especially women who did well in school, aren't diagnosed until well into adulthood because they learn to mask it so well and they don't fit the mold and then when they do break down, they're usually misdiagnosed with depression or anxiety. As she shared all she had been learning I had chills. She was describing me and I felt a sliver of hope. Maybe I could actually find some concrete answers that would help me. Maybe I wasn't just a total screw up who couldn't figure out how to keep her house clean and her cupboards stocked.
So last summer, I went to a psychologist...a specialist in this field, and I took a series of tests, filled out evaluations, talked with her about my patterns in life, had my mom fill out a survey about me as a child. And lastly I took an IQ test. She explained that the purpose of taking an IQ test in this setting wasn't so much to measure "intelligence" as to uncover patterns that tend to show up when people with ADHD take an IQ test.
Official diagnosis? ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation (as opposed to hyperactive presentation). I left that office, got in my car and proceeded to cry (an ugly cry) tears of relief. I didn't want to have ADHD, I wasn't celebrating that. But I was celebrating the fact that now that I knew what I was dealing with, perhaps I could get some real help. Perhaps I could find a mix of solutions that would help me finally feel like I had control of my life.
And I'm getting there. Medication helps but it's not a cure. Learning how my brain works...learning tricks and tips to conquer some of my ADD tendencies, that helps too. And being gracious with myself. That's perhaps the biggest help of all. I used to push myself to work until 1 am many nights because it was the only way I could make sure I got my work done in a day...to work until it was done. And because I struggled with focus and prioritization, things took me way longer than they might take someone with a non-ADHD brain. But now, I know that I need to just put it away and finish it in the morning when I'm fresh. And I don't beat myself up over that. I'm kind to myself. That's a new thing. I was never kind to myself before.
I know this is a controversial subject for some. I know there are whole websites and books dedicated to proving that ADHD isn't even a real thing. I know that most people have some days that resemble the story above. I know there are people who don't think medication is an answer (not just for ADHD, but for depression, anxiety, etc.). I recognize all those things and if you are someone who falls in that camp, I completely respect your right to believe that. However, I am so thankful to have the help that I have now. I'm so thankful to know why my brain struggles with things that should be easy for an intelligent woman to accomplish. And I'm thankful to know that I'm not the first or the last person to walk this road. There are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, also struggle in the same ways that I do. And being real and honest about this fairly personal subject is my way to offer a hand up to anyone else who might be quietly struggling. You're not alone. I'm not alone. We are not the only ones...
who's car isn't washed
who's bills aren't paid
who has a warm can of Coke sitting on the counter
and flowers that don't have enough water,
has still only 1 check in her check book, (actually, what's a checkbook?)
who can't find the remote,
and can't find her glasses,
and I doesn't remember what she did with the car keys.
I will probably post on this subject again...going a little more detailed about how an ADHD brain differs from a regular brain. But for now...I just wanted to tell my story in the hopes that it encourages someone who may feel like they are about to combust. If you relate, I'd love to hear from you. And thanks for taking time to read this long story...it's longer than I like my posts to be but if you've got ADD you can hyper focus when you're interested in something, so the ones who really need to read till the end already have. And the others, well they are probably somewhere relaxing because they got their to-do list done by lunch and their clothes are laid out for tomorrow and their meal plans are done for the next month and...well...you get the picture ;)
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