Hi there! If you didn’t drop in yesterday, click here to catch part one of this story.
After that first diagnosis, I began what I would call my conscious ADHD journey. I’m now 33 years old, so it’s been six years of learning and growing. I originally bought a few books on the subject of Adult ADHD, and I wouldn’t say I exactly devoured them. It took me a full year to be able to read through any of those books without breaking down and crying with regret for the pain and lost years. I would read the case studies in the books, and they would just hit so close to home that it hurt. That is what I referred to earlier when I mentioned a “mourning” period. Even though I now had an answer, or a name at least, to describe how my crazy little brain works, it still just took time until I was ready to really begin active “work” on utilizing ADHD resources and tools.
After about a year, I was finally ready, and so that would have been about summer of 2007. I probably spent the next year or so really actively reading different books and articles and trying to put things into practice in my life. By fall of 2008, I felt like I had gone about as far as I could without professional help, and was starting to also be open to learning about how medication could help. But we decided to start our family instead, and pretty much since fall 2008 until fall 2011, I have been either pregnant or nursing, so no ADHD medication for me.
But I continued reading books and trying new things, particularly in the area of time management and understanding my own abilities. I figured out that while some moms
are appear to be supermoms, I was just not the type of person who was ever going to be able to “do it all” and I started to get to a place where I could just be okay with that. Understanding my own limitations led me to start developing more healthy expectations for myself and my various roles as wife, mother, home-maker, photogapher, etc. This was a really really huge turning point for me.
I also started really working on getting a better sense of time passing. I was surprised to read several times that people with ADHD have a lot of trouble with time. I wasn’t someone who was really chronically late to meetings, etc. but I was always rushing to make sure I was on time. And as far as projects and other things with deadlines, I was often late with those, or struggling at the very last minute. I would also make these grandiose lists and plans for my day, and then feel like a failure when so little of it got done. Even when I was feeling really focused, and worked really hard, I rarely made a dent. But in reality, I had made a plan that would have been impossible for even supermom to complete in any given day!
I started to understand that I had a lot of trouble knowing how long a given activity or task would take. So I did a few simple things like putting a clock in every room of the house (even the bathrooms!) and utilizing timers to keep me on task or to see how long something really took. The biggest thing that came out of this was me having a renewed understanding of how much less I was able to accomplish in a day than I thought I should be able to get done. I learned to adjust my expectations, and to also know when my high and low energy times were. I realized I’d been constantly setting myself up for failure by not taking these very real aspects of who I was into account.
I also started working on rhythms and routines. One of the best things that ever happened to my ADHD was having two colicky children. Both of them struggled with reflux, thrush, and just plain colic. Out of sheer desperation, I put them each on strict, age appropriate schedules, because they were crying all day anyway, and at least this way I knew that I was feeding them enough and giving them enough opportunities for sleep. They both eventually caught on, and life got better when each of them reached about six months of age.
But because of those forced schedules, my days had a rhythm imposed upon them that I probably wouldn’t have had the discipline to do myself. During Jude’s first year, there were times when he was up at 6AM. After nursing and getting changed, he was wide awake and naptime wasn’t until 9. So I would toss him in the stroller and we would go to the park at 6:30. I ended up getting outdoor time, quiet time, and time management, all because I’d put my kids on these crazy, strict schedules. (Please know that I am making no comment on others’ ways of handling that first year of babyhood. This is what worked for me, taking into account our place in life and the realities of the way I’m wired. I know plenty of other folks who’ve done things very differently and their kids are totally awesome. Don’t let yourself get “should on” or think I’m preaching about parenting or anything. This is just part of my story).
So, by the time each child was about a year, I had a rhythm in my life that had a set wake up time, set times for eating, diaper changes, and naps (read, mommy time). This was nowhere near as specific as the schedules I’d tried to outline for myself numerous, numerous, NUMEROUS times in my life, but it was the first time I’d had ANY type of schedule that I stayed on for more than a day or two. You could set a clock by my kids. 12:50 would roll around and they’d be yawning, rubbing their eyes, and ready to go down.
It made it hard because I sometimes felt tied to the house, especially with nearly three straight years of someone needing both morning AND afternoon naps. But I guarded their naptime religiously because it was just so bad in the early days before they learned how to sleep, and they were just so miserable when they were tired. So, a schedule was created that persisted. This schedule gave me and the kids very real tent poles to hang onto when the storms of the last few years have hit. And I absolutely credit them for keeping me from checking myself into the looney bin (just kidding. well maybe a little.)
In the fall of 2011, when pretty much our whole world fell apart, Evie was done nursing, we knew we were done having kids, and I knew there was no way I was going to make it through the impending storm if I didn’t get some extra help to take care of myself. I saw my regular doctor and got referred to a psychiatrist. She felt that my feelings of overwhelm and anxiety were completely normal, given that we’d moved cross country just one year before, Kevin had started a new job, we’d had another baby, we’d moved three times in a little over a year, and my husband had just been diagnosed with cancer. And those were just the big things! She felt like she was seeing some depression as well, and so decided to try me on Wellbutrin first, because it has shown some positive effects for adults with ADHD as well as being officially prescribed for treating depression. Of course, I was one of the less than five percent for whom the drug made my symptoms worse, and after figuring that out, we gave Adderall a try.
Oh my word, I cannot even begin to explain to you how much of a magic bullet adderall was. When I first tried it, I was understandably scared. I mean seriously, it’s speed! In fact, if you don’t have ADHD and take it, you’ll get high and be bouncing off the walls. Trust me, the irony of giving amphetamines to someone with ADHD was not lost on me. But the basic idea behind the science is that people with ADHD have a part of their brain that is under-active. ADHD drugs rev up that part of the brain and bring things into better balance, thus enabling more stable energy and better focus, etc.
Well, Adderall did that for me and more. I started taking it in January, so we’d been dealing with cancer stuff for about three months now, and Kevin was just starting radiation. The first thing that I noticed was that I was no longer just exhausted by the energy it took to simply make it through the day. I felt like I could focus more and everyday distractions didn’t derail me as much. But I truly believe that the biggest reason that Adderall made such a difference was because I’d done so much other work before ever taking it. Most people, when diagnosed with ADHD, start medications as their first lifestyle change. For me, it was my last. So I feel like I was probably 75-80 percent of the way there, and the medicine was the last piece of the puzzle.
The kids and I have a high deductible HSA health care plan, which in short, means that we pay the first $10,000 worth of our healthcare before insurance kicks in (Kevin is on a different plan with his employer now). So Adderall, even the generic kind, was costing me about $250 a month. Plus we were paying full price for the psychiatric visits, which were about $300 each, and she wanted to see me monthly while we worked on getting dosages, etc. figured out. But I’m telling you, even at $550 a month, I felt like the difference was worth the expense. Still, I feared the cost was not sustainable, and so I researched less expensive drugs, and then brought them up with my psychiatrist to see if she thought any of them would work as well. Turns out you can get generic Ritalin at Wal-Mart for four bucks! Four bucks versus two hundred and fifty? You bet we both agreed it was worth giving it a try. It seems to have been working just as well, and now I am down to seeing the doctor just once every six months, which is much easier on the pocketbook.
So that’s where I stand today. This is a continuing journey of self-discovery, brought on only because of the sheer desperation and sense of failure that ADHD can engender. But the thing is, I heard several of you commenting that you thought you might have ADHD, but weren’t sure. Or you figured you didn’t, but could still really relate. The amazing thing is that, besides ADHD medication, you can make use of any of these tools, even without a formal diagnosis. I have really seen that most everything I read has practical applications for everyone. And simply deciding that you aren’t happy with a certain area of your life, or aspect of yourself and knowing that you can go DO something about it, well that is a really great, healthy thing for anyone to do.
This does not mean you have to read and study and obsess every day about yourself or your environment. It does not mean you have to buy a ton of stuff to “get organized”. It does not mean that there is anything “wrong” with you (or me!) I no longer see ADHD as anything other than a label. I refuse to define this label as good or bad, a gift or a deficiency. It simply is a pretty good description of how I “tick” and gives me a really helpful google search term to find resources that help me make my life better and help me to be be a happier person, and a better reflection of the God who created me.
Here are some books, articles, and resources that I’ve found very helpful:
Delivered From Distraction by Ed Hallowell My favorite comprehensive ADHD book
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson Oh my word, I cannot tell you how much this guy’s teaching changed my life. The very concept of choosing to build margin into my life was so radical for me. It felt like the opposite of productivity! But it actually gave me the ability to do so much more, be so much more, and just be happier and less stressed. This is not an ADHD specific book, and I recommend it to ANYone who feels like they are always overwhelmed, super busy, or that there’s never enough time. It will change you and give you valuable, specific tools for carving out margin in your life.
ADD Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Kathleen Nadeau THE best book on organization I have ever read. I have put more things into practice from this book than any other, and most of them have “stuck”!
Untapped Brilliance A really great “beginner” book for ADHD. I really felt like this book covered all the bases without being overwhelming. It was not as in depth as Delivered From Distraction, but often that’s not what you need. I got a lot of great things out of this book.
You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, Or Crazy? By Kate Kelly Not the best book in the world, but great case studies, and the title is just sooo affirming!
ADDitude online magazine with tons of great resources for children and adults living with ADHD. Horrible design for an ADDer to navigate, but the content is so good, I keep coming back. Really good articles.
CHADD local Atlanta ADHD support groups I haven’t been yet, but I keep trying to! I went to a support group a while back and was so surprised at how helpful it was
Disclaimer: I used our family’s amazon affiliates code in the links to the books above. If you choose to make a purchase through those links, a small percentage will go toward our family’s finances. But I recommend the books regardless of that! These are definitely my top picks for ADHD reading material!