A friend of mine has ADHD, and she wrote two different blog entries about approaching her diagnosis and treatment: one a year ago, and another a year into living with the diagnosis and treatment. I thought these posts were beautifully written and brutally honest, and I asked her permission to share them here with all of you. Part of the reason is that ADHD is a mental health condition increasing in diagnosis, and like so many mental health issues, it comes with its own stigma and rumors, making most people living with the condition prefer not to talk about it. As Alexandra was so willing and open to speak about her experience, I found what she has to say both brave and refreshing. If we were all more frank and open about our health, we would be better equipped to help one another and not remain so isolated.
Many thanks to Alexandra Welch for writing this and letting me share it. And thank you all for reading.
Written by Alexandra Welch on april 24th, 2018
Until fifth grade, my report cards typically read, “Alex is bright, but she talks too much.” My name appeared on the board with such regularity it became a stain in third grade, and once my teacher almost gave me a check mark instead of a verbal warning until my classmates came to my defense (they still liked me then.) Occasionally I was even “island boy.” I grew tired of spending part or all of recess next to the wall. I also started to feel competitive, but I was nonathletic. School was easy. I tested well, but struggled to turn in completed work. I learned to keep my mouth shut and get my work done. It kept me on the honor roll (pizza! ice cream!) and off the wall, but didn’t make me very popular with peers.
I had a hard time negotiating “girl world.” It seemed like everyone started playing a game to which I didn’t know the rules, and I don’t think I’d follow them if I did. And it wasn’t like I couldn’t read people, when I wasn’t in my own little world. Quite the opposite. I was overwhelmed. I also preferred books and video games to boys and gossip.At home, I could either be found in my room reading a book (several a day) with the radio on and the TV on mute, or pacing “like a caged tiger” (according to my dad.) I used to bite my nails until they bled, but kicked that bad habit the time I started to chew on a nail, and I forgot I was still holding the other end of a cord plugged into the wall. I ate out of boredom and because chewing helped still my restless mind.
I didn’t sleep well. My mind was always racing: either playing back the day’s events, trying to figure out where things went wrong, what I should have said but didn’t, and what I shouldn’t have said but did, or formulating my thoughts and opinions about every issue under the sun, making sure I was being as objective as possible, considering every side and angle.I was sick a lot, but I didn’t want to miss school because math was getting harder, and I knew if I fell behind, I’d never catch up again. Strangely, it seemed easier to concentrate even though cold medicines muted my senses, or maybe because they muted my senses. They also made me sicker, and nowadays I don’t take much more than ibuprofen, if that.
In college, I sometimes forgot to eat, but eventually it became a game of how long I could go. I was often running late because I would check and re-check my door to make sure it was locked (or maybe I only ever checked once – I could never remember.) I suspected what my problem was but I figured I’d gotten by so far, why bother doing anything now? (Except I wasn’t really getting by, and wouldn’t it be nice to do more than just get by?)All was forgotten until I had the boys, and they became mobile. I could barely manage myself let alone twins, especially one who stuck out like a sore thumb around other children. For the first time in my life, I was socially ostracized not because of me, but because of my child. But it was still because of me because I couldn’t manage him. We moved closer to family. He attends a good school with patient teachers that see his ingenuity and kindness, and some things have gotten better, but others…second grade, and he was already becoming socially isolated in a way I didn’t experience until middle school.
Meanwhile I’ve been climbing the walls, I can’t hold a thought for any length of time, except the bad ones, and I’m tired of sticking out like a sore thumb in my own way and having a target on my back, or losing my keys or my phone or my sunglasses, or injuring myself because I’m angry or lost in thought.(And while my husband is patient and understanding, having to repeat himself, sometimes twice, because I zone out or even wander away mid-conversation must get old.)I sought help for my son and I, and it’s still early in the process, but his well being is my main concern, as is maintaining his spark and creativity. While I should have taken care of myself sooner, and I wonder how different life would be if girls like me didn’t slip through the cracks for so long, I’m still proud I made it this far without too many negative coping strategies.
I doubt anyone who has made fun of me for being weird, or a “spaz,” or the “dumbest smart person” could withstand even a day with my brain. I have ADHD, a term used to describe a specific set of very real traits I’ve dealt with all my life. According to my diagnosing psychologist, there isn’t a place where it ends, and I begin. It’s a part of me, but not the entirety of me. Whoever that is…
WRITTEN BY ALEXANDRA WELCH ON APRIL 25TH, 2019
Last year my diagnosing psychologist said there wasn’t a place ADHD ended and I began, but in the year since, I’ve learned that’s not entirely true. While I didn’t see her until last year, I knew the time had come nearly a year prior. For the third time in as many months, I hit my head badly enough to break the skin. I parked my car and looked at my phone. I saw something that triggered my anger. When I stepped out of the car, I thought I’d forgotten my purse (it was already slung over my shoulder.) I quickly turned, smacked my head less than an inch from my temple, and saw stars. I had to sit for several minutes. The pain was so intense, it radiated to my shoulder.
Just a week later I managed to get a goose egg on the other side from my locker at the gym. Again.Anyway, my first step was mentioning the possibility of ADHD to my husband. As expected, he looked at me like I was crazy. Then I could see something click into place. He finally had an explanation for at least some of my quirks that confounded him since the beginning: my impatience, aimless wandering, random outbursts, spacing out, procrastination……It only took several months later to seek help. I worried she would say nothing was wrong with me; I was just crazy. Even when she confirmed my diagnosis, I still asked if I was crazy. She assured me I was sane. Given her profit model , I felt safe taking it to heart. After all, it’s not in my nature to sugarcoat personal failings; what would be the point?
Then I saw my physician and started taking 40 mg of a non-stimulant proven to ease ADHD symptoms. Even if it worked, it would never be as effective as a stimulant and it would take longer to have a noticeable effect, but it would work 24/7 once it did. The only side effects I’ve experienced were temporary. Synthetic food tasted bad, and I didn’t crave sweets and salty foods as much (Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese still tastes sugary and gross.) I have a theory it’s not so much that our medication kills our appetites; rather, so many of us eat for the wrong reasons, like boredom and sadness, we have to learn how to eat to live instead of living to eat when the compulsion is gone.After a couple weeks, I was driving to the gym with nothing on my mind except the next lyric of the song I was listening to, and anything directly related to the drive. It freaked me out. I told Michael, and he just looked at me like, “and?” It turns out everybody else doesn’t have three or four trains of thought at all times, even and especially while driving.“Y’all don’t do a lot of thinking, do you?” I asked, at once envious and horrified.
I worried the medication was doing what so many naysayers claim it does, and robbing me of my personality. As it turns out, I can still juggle multiple trains of thought; I just have control over when I do instead of being at my brain’s mercy when I should focus on driving or working, or when I want to sleep.I felt better rested, and even though I still loathed chores and the daily minutiae, they became more tolerable. I almost never lost my keys, sunglasses or phone anymore.Everything was great, until late summer. Michael noticed a decline, too. Normally the dosage is increased from 40 mg to 80 mg after a few weeks if there’s no concerning side effects because 40 mg isn’t enough for most. I’d been fine at 40 mg for several months, but part of me was scared. What if increasing it made no difference?After months of enjoying a sense of normalcy I never knew I was missing, I couldn’t go back. I kept thinking about the novel Flowers for Algernon. Yeah, it was about a guy that went from an IQ in the 60s to a genius before his treatment started to wear off, not someone who just had ADHD and an above average IQ to compensate, but his loneliness resonated with me.
Fortunately the increase helped. Michael worried I was slipping again in December, but I was confident it was just the holiday excitement.One day I came home on a lunch break and watched my favorite YouTuber talk about ADHD and accidents. I realized the last time I hurt myself was breaking my toe in karate a couple months before, a totally normal sports injury. I was excited to share my progress, but then I realized I was running late, so I ran out the door and hit my head getting into the car. Not hard, but I was embarrassed and didn’t want Michael to know. I can be increased to 100 mg, but that’s the highest allowable dosage. The alternative is trying stimulants. They are called stimulants because they stimulate production of chemicals we don’t produce as well as people who are neurotypical (stimulants function very differently in NTs who abuse them.) The downside is they only last so long and we can still be plagued by problems like insomnia, which exacerbate symptoms.I’m not a zombie. Medication didn’t change my personality. If anything, I have a better sense of who I am. I’m still very much go, go, go, and I want to do all the things – but I’m actually competent and stick with them. My abilities are starting to match my ambitions. Who knows what I could have accomplished had I done something sooner.
I’m also less of a danger to myself and others. No, we aren’t ALL a little ADHD any more than anyone who is sad now and then can be said to suffer from actual depression (that was one of those short term side effects – holy crap! – glad it was temporary.) And it’s not just whimsical personality quirks to be celebrated and embraced either (though understanding from others certainly helps.) Depending on severity, we’re at greater risk for injury (including car accidents and self harm) and death. Emotional dis-regulation, inattention, and impulsiveness can be dangerous. Who knew? I don’t even have legs riddled with mystery bruises from bumping into stationary objects (in my own home!) anymore. All my life I thought I was clumsy and uncoordinated, but maybe that’s one place where the line between ADHD and me can be drawn.
I also have a clearer sense of where I fit in my problems, and while ADHD poses challenges to maintaining friendships, it’s not always my fault when things go wrong, though it does make me a convenient scapegoat just as I sometimes observe happening to my son or others with neurological differences.The biggest disappointment about medication is that while it can help what’s wrong with me, it can’t do anything about anyone else. I foolishly imagined I’d suddenly know all the right things to say at exactly the right time to fix…well, everything, but I have to settle for being less of a walking disaster.
Thank you once again to Alexandra Welch for allowing me to share her words.
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Alexandra Welch’s blog: alywelch.com
CHADD — Living Well with ADHD: https://chadd.org/
Attention Deficit Disorder Association Resources: https://add.org/adhd-resources/
American Psychiatric Association — “What is ADHD?”: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/adhd/what-is-adhd