I want to start this very long personal story with Allyn’s part in it, not mine.
When we got together he knew he had ADHD. He was diagnosed with it as a child but his parents refused any medication or treatment, so he dealt with it on his own.
At this time I had no opinion whatsoever on ADHD or medication or any of that; I know it’s a topic that causes polarizing opinions, but I wasn’t affected by it personally so what did I care? (If only I knew…) After a few months, it became clear what having ADHD meant, at least for Allyn. He was forgetful, disorganized, and had a hard time with linear stories and was chronically late. He could hyperfocus on something for hours…or the opposite, get so distracted and fidgety during a conversation that he would distract me. As I do with everything, I took the Tony Stark approach to learning about ADHD. You know the scene I’m talking about.
I began researching the brainy stuff about the disorder. I learned the fun parts, like the theory that ADHD is evolutionarily beneficial to a species despite being detrimental to the individual. Spock would’ve loved it! I read about the science of stimulants and how they cause different reactions in different brains. I could identify so many symptoms in Allyn after I learned more about these things. Eventually due to the problems this caused (communication, financial, personal, professional) like I mentioned, he opted to seek treatment.
I developed an opinion about ADHD; like a lot of other disorders, I don’t see it as a flaw or defect in a personality, or objectively negative at all. The “negative” of mental health disorders has a lot to do with behaviors or actions being unacceptable/unaccepted in our modern society, and I care very little for that. I abide by the rules (for now…) paying taxes and wearing clothes and all those boring things, but I hardly think our society should be the judge of what is normal or right, brainwise.
This might be a good time to inject that I absolutely love Allyn’s brain. He is one of the smartest humans I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and the lack of dopamine didn’t affect his kindness, his humor, his creativity, or anything of value. It really just meant that life–being a part of society with its calendar dates and hours and minutes and social cues– was hard. Last year, he started medication. Over the months I noticed the changes in him. He’s far less restless, he seems happier, he’s organized, he can sit still and not fidget with ten different things in his hand while talking to me, he’s more confident, his communication is better and I don’t think he grapples with the anxiety of wondering what he’s forgetting 100 times a day.
Thus, I had a second part of a developed opinion about ADHD: medication treatment is legitimate and wonderful! I’m sure as a parent it’s still a scary choice to look at, but I learned that this is a real thing and there is treatment. Since ADHD is so common in boys and it is genetic, I feel confident that if and when our son shows symptoms (more on that later) we will have an informed and empathetic opinions on how to help.
So, armed with my new knowledge of ADHD, I began to notice something after hanging around my dad this year. He and Allyn are a lot alike; they both love cars, they’re tinkerers, they have bizarre social tendencies which are often unintentionally hilarious, and they’re both super, super smart. But finally looking at my father, with whom I’d been estranged the better part of two decades, I now noticed that he is also inattentive. He spaces out often and had horrific time management. No clue about this bill or that bill or sometimes, what day it was. His own “system” for life is uniquely maddening and I honestly have no idea how he gets through the day; his brain is like a huge unsorted bin of Legos.
It’s easy to write all that off as drugs or alcohol or his long list of head injuries and motorcycle accidents, but that isn’t the case. He’s so simultaneously sharp and coherent, but with the chains of distraction and recklessness of ADHD. He and I spent time together and I began to notice small, subtle things that now stood out to me. His afflicted mannerisms and distractions and hyperfocusing were so eerily similar to Allyn. I talked about it with Allyn and he agreed with my super amateur diagnosis.
I didn’t really do anything with this knowledge either. I just found it fascinating that I could now identify a lot of traits and symptoms that I assumed were some other illness (my dad is 100 percent insane and is also probably the Grim Reaper, so I never considered ADHD).
In a totally unrelated chain of events, I started having anxiety in the late summer and fall. I consider depression a close family friend, but I completely loathe anxiety, to the point of having fear about anxiety. It’s a disease. It rots your brain. I am not friends with it. In fall I had multiple panic attacks, which is unusual for me, and plenty of days where I could actually feel the thread of my sanity cutting into my fingers while I struggled to hold onto it. I was a mess physically and emotionally, started to eat bad again and struggled through the EMS conference wondering why everyone sounded like the adults in Charlie Brown.
As you do, Allyn and I talked about this. His mental health and mental clarity were on the rise, and mine were on the fall. Why now? We had no idea. His improvements came from medicine management. We joked that I had “caught” his ADHD because so many of the confusing, panicky moments I had (do I work today? do I have any money? am I forgetting something? WHEN’S MY APPOINTMENT) that devolved into panic attacks were things he could relate to. I still had no answer for why I was getting anxiety, which I assumed was the root cause for my disorganization and distress.
So when I couldn’t figure it out, I went to therapy; I hadn’t been in a long time and was managing just fine (haha, no I wasn’t, but whatever) until this handicap. Unsurprisingly she asked me to pinpoint what was causing all of my fear and terror. I worried about money. I worried about nuclear attack. I worried that we were going to get evicted or become homeless (leftover trauma due to the flood of 2017.) I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t even sit still because I was so worried about what might happen out of my control because whatever reins I hold onto normally had fallen out of my hands. I stress about clutter, I stress about digital clutter, I stress about stress. Anxiety was amping my anxiety.
A few minutes into my rant she asked me if I’d ever been diagnosed with ADHD.
I sputtered out a few HAHANOWAYs. I was not the loud, obnoxious kid at school. I sat quietly. I was smart and often read ahead. I wasn’t reckless. I previously had a planner that was my entire life; with it, the system worked. (Without it I’m driving blind.) I was neat and tidy. I knew what ADHD looked like, because of Allyn and my dad. I was definitely not in that club. I was in the PTSD club. During this post-rant rant, she nodded as though she knew something I didn’t, and suggested that I make an appointment with their psychiatric practitioner to just go over my symptoms. I told her I would amid my bewilderment and we moved on.
Afterward it was all I could think about. I hate to admit it but I was almost insulted. How could she think that me, the girl who reads Harry Potter books in a matter of hours, had ADHD? I took pride in not only my love of school and learning but also what my mother’s favorite trait about me was…. that I could “sit still for hours with a book and not even move.” But, that wasn’t a great argument. I’ve seen Allyn sit still with something for hours and not move….while he was hyperfocusing.
Conversation after conversation about our pasts floated into my head. His teachers and parents called him “smart but lazy.” I got that from everyone…parents, foster parents, caseworkers, teachers. Why didn’t you do this worksheet, Alex? I have no idea, Ms Smith, can you just leave me alone, I need to go doodle on my desk and get in trouble for that instead. How did you pass the test without doing the homework? Wait, there was homework? I passed the test because the material is easy. I was the first one finished because I read fast. You aren’t at the right spot to read aloud because you were bored? No, it’s because I was reading another chapter. Why can’t you focus and do what the class does? BECAUSEEEEEE THIS CHAPTER IS BETTER?!?!?!?!?
I decided to look up ADHD symptoms in women and I was completely shocked at what I found. Every single symptom sounded exactly like me. Women aren’t as frequently diagnosed for a variety of reasons, but now there’s suspicion in the medical community that women are heavily underdiagnosed, and more of the population is finding out as adults that they do in fact have the same root issue as the jumping beans from elementary school.
I didn’t jump up and down in class but I stared out the window and forgot what I was supposed to be doing. I never did boring mundane homework. I was easily frustrated and reckless. If i did turn a project in it was last minute and sloppy and maybe 20% of its potential. Smart but lazy, so they said. All these things I attributed to my rough home life. When thinking about why I scraped by as a child and teen, it wasn’t because of a learning disorder, so I thought–it was because of trauma. If I had a nice, clean place to sleep I could probably focus on my homework better, right? Again, so I thought. And I’m not saying that the trauma helped or anything, it totally didn’t, but it’s almost comforting to think that the fancy clean place to sleep would’ve had me turn out as the same wasted potential bonebag in the end.
This followed me into adulthood, obviously. I left jobs repetitively. My relationships fared similarly. It was easier to give up when that mental fog crept in–which it did, my entire adult life. I really thought I was stupid because there were so many basic things I could not grasp. These were the simplest things like paying bills on time. It took me over a decade of being an overdraft, poverty-stricken ramen-noodle eating adult to pull my financial shit together as well as I have, and while I’m proud of where I am, it’s still not great. Again, I attributed that to foster care exclusively. We’re not known for our Swiss bank accounts, right? There was so much more. I hated loud, distracting places like malls and concerts–something odd considering my age, and that it didn’t seem to bother others. I watched artists of a similar skill work for hours, days, weeks on a piece. My “style” was “get it done in forty minutes because after that I know I’m not going to touch it again because meh”.
There have been so many days where I begged myself inwardly to just make a phone call or set up an appointment, something that should be checked off a to-do list in minutes. It would take me weeks or months instead. Before my recent love of cleanliness, I was a complete slob who would make the worst basement dweller cringe in horror. I started new projects and gave up so hilariously soon into them. Sugar was my crack and sometimes the only thing that allowed me to function for an hour or so. (Sugar is a stimulant, so it gives a good minute or two of focus plus dopamine to people with ADHD, which is why this group often abuses it.)
My adult life looked just like someone with ADHD, but for years I thought a) that I was stupid and inefficient and b) all of my problems were PTSD-related. I realized too, that I had “pulled it together” to some degree in the past few years only to have a (wonderful, majestic, amazing) kid and fall behind in laps where I was barely keeping up in the first place. No wonder I was anxious. You’re probably already figuring it out by now, but I did get diagnosed with ADHD. Recently, and nobody is more surprised than me. Just when you think you know somebody! And that somebody is yourself. Based on Allyn’s success with medication, I accepted the proposition to try it, and that’s the last thing I’m going to talk about before I wrap up this novel.
I hopefully don’t keep it a secret that I adore geology and chemistry. In the future I’d love to go back to college for one or the other, but that statement always comes attached with “if I’m smart enough for chemistry.” I have studied it on my own and obviously it’s a difficult topic, so I just figured I was an idiot haha. I worried my knowledge and ability to learn might be questionable when it comes to getting a degree in it. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thought to have, but I digress…Allyn said he noticed the mental change “day one” of medicine, but I doubted that I would.
On the first night I took my medicine, I was at work. Overnights when it’s quiet I put on Youtube while doing random tasks. I have never been able to listen to audio books or podcasts because of the frequency with which I go “wait, what were they talking about” because I have ten other things going on. With Youtube though, it’s pretty pain-free to just skip back and listen to the same damn few sentences three times. I know, I know. 31 years.
That night I decided it was time to have some background noise, and clicked on a random video from my subscriptions. It caught my eye because it mentioned my number one personal hero, Madame Marie Curie. Comprehension or no, I will always listen to anything involving her. The topic was actually on the methods of her research on dividing the atom, which was some heavy stuff for 2am even on my best day.
But this day, I actually dropped stuff out of my hands to go sit and listen to the lecture. I didn’t stop to pause or rewind. I didn’t have any problem understanding the complexity of what the lecturer was saying…in fact, I was blown away that I was comprehending everything so well, so easily. Studying (when I did it, which was never) was like pulling teeth for me and it took ridiculous measures for me to get as far as I have in understanding radioactive physics. The only reason I know anything about it at all is because I have a genuine love for it, but it has always been so, so difficult to learn.
But there I sat just enjoying the information and understanding it, which blew my mind. I know this is going to sound SO ridiculous but I can only compare this amazing feeling to listening to music or eating really good food while on psychedelics. That’s the example I used when telling Allyn about it. Thankfully he understood, and said he too had that experience. Like wait a minute….am I not stupid? Is this a smart pill? Am I smart now? That’s essentially how it felt. And it was fantastic.
There’s a whole world of information to get into about this as well as plenty of other things I’ve noticed, but I’m still new to everything, so I just wanted to share my ridiculous novel of a story about everything that’s led up to this diagnosis. that’s all bye!