Kevin installed something on our website called google analytics. It’s really interesting, and gives me insights into which posts I write get the most views, etc. While it only gives data for as long as it has been installed (a few weeks), I was surprised to see that the most read post was this one, which is the first time I’ve opened up about some of my struggles with ADHD. It also got more comments than anything else I’ve written.
Now just so we are clear, this blog has a few specific purposes for me right now. First, it’s an outlet for me to process everything we have been going through. I find that in writing something out, I am better able to have a perspective on my feelings and to come out healthier on the other end. Secondly, it’s a way for me to share cancer updates and simply the goings on of our family with you our friends.
But since so many people seemed to enjoy reading about some of the other, non cancer and non direct family related things I have to say, and since I’ve wanted to write about other stuff for a while, I thought I’d try to share a little more on some of those topics.
As you know, I have ADHD. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 27 years old, and the diagnosis truly changed my life. I had struggled with years of feeling, well, lazy, crazy, or stupid. I had (and still do to some extent) struggled with poor social skills, which translated into challenges making friends, which translated into periods of my life where I’ve struggled with depression. Finding out I had ADHD was not exactly earth shattering news, but after I got over the initial shock and mourning process (I’ll write more on that later) I found that knowing I had ADHD gave me access to many many wonderful tools that have changed my life for the better. And the beauty of it all, is that anyone, even folks who don’t have a formal ADHD diagnosis, can make use of these tools in whatever way they serve you best.
Okay, just so ya’ll know, the title of this blog post was originally “How to Prepare for Guests… Guest Bedroom Reveal” but obviously I got off track somewhere, so that post will come next. I realized I’ve written my “intro” so long, that it pretty much deserves a full post. How’s that for distractable? But seriously, I’ve gotten SOOOO much better!
Anyway, back to ADHD as a tool. I want everyone to know that I do take ADHD medication. And I’m not ashamed of it. But I only started taking medication about eight months ago. Up to that point, I had done an intense amount of work non-medicinally. Some of that was diet and nutrition changes, like cutting out artificial colors and flavors as much as possible and taking a multi-vitamin and omega-3s. This is because there is some evidence that artificial colors and flavors can make ADHD symptoms worse, and I figured they’re probably not very good for me anyway. And the vitamins and omega-3s are because most people with ADHD have vitamin deficiencies, and there is pretty solid science for omega 3 fatty acids that shows improvement in focus as well lot’s of other health benefits. But beyond that, all of the other changes in my life were more “procedural”. They involved learning about how my ADHD brain works, figuring out what areas of my life I was unhappy with, and accessing ADHD tools to help me reach my goals or find contentedness in those areas.
I thought some folks might find it interesting to hear my ADHD story.
People have told me I talk too much. When I was little, I remember my siblings and cousins would sing the oldies song “You Talk Too Much” to me in a form of gentle teasing. But I remember that it hurt because the truth always hurts. But I was six, or eight, and I had no clue what to do about it! I would try really hard to just shut up, but that rarely worked. Thoughts would come into my mind and go straight out through my mouth. I interrupted people all the time (still do) and was not good at listening to what other people had to say. It was a vicious cycle, and the biggest thing I remember about it was that it seemed to be a big impediment to making friends. I have a twin sister, so I kind of had a “control” to compare myself by, even though we were not identical. She seemed very good at socializing and always had friends for as long as I could remember. My own memories are more of tagging along, feeling left out, or just being alone. Now who’s to say how things really were, but it doesn’t really matter. Just that I felt from early on that there was something “wrong” with me, or so I thought.
The other thing I can remember from very early was struggles in school. I always had a pretty good sense that I was bright. A lot of things came very easily to me, like reading. At the same time, one of my earliest school memories was having to sit inside during first grade (In Mrs. BeeBee’s class!) during recess because I hadn’t finished my work. I remember sitting there and thinking, “Why can’t I just finish this work? I know how to do it, it’s not at all hard. But my hand hurts, and I don’t want to write my words five times each. I already know how to spell them. I knew how to spell them before she gave them to me. Plus, I just can’t even figure out how to get started”. If you remember my post from yesterday, I lamented that I hadn’t written a post in nearly a week, despite wanting to and trying to every day. Yes, this is an area of my life, sort of a combination between procrastination and mental block, that still dogs me to this day. I’ll write more about coping techniques later.
That was the beginning that I can remember of school challenges. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed preschool and kindergarten. I remember liking them, and feeling on top of things, but from first grade forward, I always felt “behind.” I felt behind in my classwork and also in the social world. Ironically, I often tested into gifted programs or advanced classes. But I could never get my work done, especially homework. I would most of the time forget, or if I would remember, it would be the morning of, in the class, just minutes before it was due. I was smart, but I wasn’t that smart, and it was impossible to get more than a few problems scribbled through before I had to hand it in. I remember wondering how everybody else did it.
I know my parents tried to help me. There were parent teacher conferences, with the constant refrain, “Rachel is just not living up to her potential.” That word dogged me all through elementary school. It was yet another indicator of my failure, and somehow it was now a personal failing, because, you know, if I really wanted to, I could do my homework, complete my classwork, and be able to interact normally with the other kids. Because, you know, I had all this potential. I know of course that those words and many others were said with love, but they constantly stung, again and again, because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t measure up. I often felt like a broken record… “I’m sorry Mrs. Bradlely, I forgot.” I would almost always have zeros or incompletes for homework or projects, and then 100s for tests. Like I said, this only served to reinforce my feelings that I must be lazy.
There were highs and lows throughout my K-12 schooling, sometimes with me hitting a successful patch, where I did well in an advanced class, but then other times, I would utterly fail and have to take a course in summer school. The entire time, I read voraciously, and that became not only an escape, but a parallel education of my own. If only there was the internet in 1990, I might have done enough googling to figure out what was “wrong” with me and find some answers!
But this was a time when ADHD was not often diagnosed, and there was controversy as to whether or not it was even a real thing or just kids with behavior problems. Add to this that I didn’t exhibit some of the famous signs of ADHD, like hyperactivity. I talk a lot, and I fidget a lot, but I can also sit for hours reading a book in which I am engrossed. Plus, I think I read somewhere that even now, girls and women are much less likely to be diagnosed than men and boys.
Okay, so enough background from my childhood. I struggled through and barely managed to graduate from high school. The irony is that, while I had a 2.8 GPA (and even that was bolstered by high grades in music and drama classes), I had a very high SAT score, and a perfect score on the verbal section. And I had failed two classes in high school! Plus, I had been kicked out of the gifted program not once, but twice in elementary school, and I had been placed in advanced math and science and then been “downgraded” more than once throughout middle and high school.
In college, though, something started to click, and I think it had a lot more to do with the way college works. First of all, it was my choice to be there, and secondly, I was choosing what I wanted to study. Add in that the teachers didn’t care a whit whether I’d done the reading and there was no homework in most classes, and I was in heaven! For whatever reason, I did so much better in classes where there was only a paper and a final exam. I still struggled with procrastination, with many a paper started at 10PM (or 2AM) the night before it was due. But I managed to get through on the strength of my writing skills, and I was also unwittingly learning something about the way my brain worked… It actually did better under pressure. Now, I hated writing my papers last minute. Every time I pulled an all nighter, I swore I’d never do it again. But the one time I actually paced myself and wrote a paper the “right” way, by brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and re-drafting over a period of several weeks, the paper wasn’t very coherent and I received my lowest grade. What I was learning, though I didn’t have words to describe it, was that I had a powerful gift of something called “hyperfocus”.
This is a trait that many people with ADHD have, and it can be a blessing and a curse. Hyperfocus allows a person to “get in the zone” and often do incredibly creative things like edit movies or write books in these crazy long spurts. And I have been able to use it in those ways at various times in my life, but in my struggle to get “in the zone” I have also hyperfocused on less “productive” things, like hours spent browsing pinterest or copiously researching some new tool that I’ve decided I need. (Case in point, last night I believe I researched timers on amazon for two hours. Seriously.)
Anyway, I took a long and ambling path through college, laced with a semi-successful acting career. I think I went to seven colleges in as many years. It took me about ten years, but somewhere along the line, I was able to get it together enough to get accepted into and graduate from UCLA. I ended up getting married to Kevin in between my “junior” and “senior” years of college. I was almost 27 years old. During my senior year, which was also my first year of marriage, and a year in which I planned a wedding in two and a half months and moved not one, but three times, I started to have meltdowns. It was the spring of 2006, and I was struggling through my final quarter at UCLA, and almost every morning that Kevin would leave for work, I would end up in tears somewhere in our apartment. I couldn’t figure out why or what was going on. I was stressed out and struggling to get focused, but that was nothing new. After several false starts at student psychological services, (the first two psychiatrists interrupted me and simply asked what kind of medicine I wanted) I ended up in the office of the head of the department.
I had broken down in a professor’s office just days earlier when I was yet again late on a project. After sharing a little with her, she asked me if I thought I might have ADHD. I told her I’d wondered at times, but I didn’t think I had all the signs, primarily because I assumed people with ADD or ADHD were always bouncing off the walls and had tons of energy. I often felt completely sapped of energy, and no one had ever described me as hyper. But after she shared with me the traits of her son and daughter, who both had ADHD, albeit in very differing forms, I was convinced enough to pursue things further.
Which brings me back to the psychologist. After about ten minutes of talking and then going over some simple ADHD checklists and questionnaires, she told me that I was absolutely textbook ADHD. I had every single trait in the DSM except for those regarding risky behavior. Her prescription for me? At least an hour of outside time every day. At least an hour of physical activity every day. At least a half hour of some sort of focusing, meditative, and prayer work. And a time management schedule. That was it. Nothing magical. In fact, these are practical things that are good for most anyone. I was able to put some things into practice immediately, like being outside and getting a little physical activity. I was amazed at how much of a difference it made just to get outside, even for a minute. I have since managed to prioritize at least this one thing in my life. Sitting outside has such an amazing, calming effect for me. And I often feel energized at the same time.
Check in tomorrow to hear the rest of my story.