I’m a 44-year-old mother and educator with ADHD, Combined subtype. My ADHD made my adolescent and teenage years miserable. My impulsivity and hypersensitivity left me an outcast who was bullied at school, contributing to constant tensions at home. I wasn’t diagnosed as an adolescent or teenager. Late in my teens, I was misdiagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder, anxiety, even OCD, but I realized none of these fit. And when I tried medication for the misdiagnosed mental illnesses, they made things worse.
Because of my difficult time growing up, I wanted to become a teacher to help other kids avoid some of the horrible things I’d experienced. This is actually what led to my correct diagnosis. While in college, I read about ADHD in children, and I thought, “This all describes me… Exactly.” I told this to a psychiatrist who assessed me and realized I was right. I’m not sure if my lack of diagnosis was because it was the 80’s and 90’s, because I was never failing in school (although I was surely working below my ability), because I was a girl or a combination of all those things. Even now, girls and children who are “getting by” in school are under-diagnosed.
I tried a stimulant medication in my early 20’s, but I stopped taking it because it gave me insomnia. Also, I think part of me mistakenly thought that an adult should manage themselves without medication.
But–every day was so hard. I was spending my life in a continual state of emergency. I constantly felt like there were ten things I had to do. I was sometimes forgetting things and always worrying about forgetting other things. Worrying about forgetting things made me feel like everything I had to do was urgent. I had to either do it immediately or write it on my ongoing to-do list on my phone. And, since thoughts were constantly racing in my head, I always felt like I had to do something or at least make a note of something every waking minute. I felt like I was turned up to 11 all the time.
Also adding to the busy-ness in my brain was the fact that all my senses noticed everything. I noticed how my socks felt on my feet, the tag on my shirt, and the texture of every fabric. If my clothes weren’t comfortable, it’s one more thing trying to fight for space in my brain. When someone walked by with perfume, it accosted my nostrils. And I heard Every. Single. Sound. If I was at a restaurant and people talked at the table next to me, I would know every detail of their conversation, even though I didn’t care, but the person sitting across from me would feel like I wasn’t giving him my undivided attention. But that was the problem. I did not have undivided attention! My attention was always divided…in many different directions! At home, when I was trying to eat with my kids, I’d hear the chewing, the glasses being set back down on the table, the forks clicking, the swallowing sounds. I would be trying to focus on a train of thought, maybe something my husband said, but it was so hard. So many things were in my head, and focusing on one of them took so much effort, so I would feel on edge. If I was trying to explain something to my husband, and trying to remember the thing I just remembered and wanted to write down, and trying to push through the clinks of the glasses and the sounds of swallowing, and a kid interrupted me, I’d feel like I was going to snap!
It was an exhausting way to live. I knew who I wanted to be. I knew what I wanted to accomplish. But, getting there seemed impossible. Even being close to that person required an extraordinary amount of effort.
When I work with children with ADHD, I have sometimes recommended parents consider medication when therapy and other accommodations aren’t enough. If a child’s brain is moving too fast to utilize the skills, then skills won’t help them.
So, after years of saying this, I decided to listen to my own advice. With the help of a psychiatrist, I decided to try medication for my ADHD again.
The first day I took it, I didn’t think I noticed anything, even after it should have “kicked in.” But when I was getting out of the shower, I thought that I should text someone. I finished drying off, and then I sent a text. After I finished, I realized how amazing the occurrence actually was. Normally, because I had so many thoughts, I would have wrapped that towel around me and quickly texted while dripping wet so I didn’t forget. And, I would have noticed something else on my phone first and ended up opening my email or a news story before I would have actually gotten to the text.
Sometime in the late morning, I had the thought, “Do I feel a little out-of-it?” but after a while, I realized that wasn’t at all what was going on. It was just that I was only thinking a couple of things when I usually noticed EV-ER-Y-THING.
When I’m on my medication, everything is just a bit easier.
I can do something without having all that background noise. And things feel less urgent. I realize I have time to do them. I’m not grasping at everything while things try to slip through my fingers.
I’m also not so on edge with my kids because I don’t have to work so hard to push everything else in my mind aside so that I can listen to them. As I was writing this, my daughter came in and talked to me. I stopped typing, talked to her, and then went back to typing. Twice. Before I started on medication, I was so resentful of interruptions because it took so long and so much effort to get back my train of thought. But now it’s so much easier. And the little clutter of toys or school books that used to make me crazy because it added to the constant clutter in my mind doesn’t bother me as much because my brain can navigate around it.
My medication doesn’t change the situations in my life and it doesn’t change who I am, but it has changed my life. It settles down the things in my mind that were out of control. It enables my mind to work as it’s supposed to so I can do the things I want to do and be the person I want to be.