Gamechangfebruari 5, 2020
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So this happened. I, a grown-ass 42-year-old woman, was (just! like yesterday!) diagnosed with adult ADHD.
I imagine a lot of people are reading that and thinking, “Well, yes, Amy. Have you met yourself? Ever read your writing?”
Other people who’ve known me for years, on the other hand, have already responded to the news with, “Huh. Really? Are you sure?”
Either way, it feels weird! I have two different children with two different flavors of ADD/ADHD, so you’d think at some point (like maybe while filling out my four dozenth Vanderbilt parent rating scale) I would’ve stopped and thought, gee, this feels familiar.
But it’s that “adult” bit, which is admittedly different. I don’t think I ever looked up that particular symptom list or that specific rating scale.
And why would I? I was a quiet, well-behaved child who earned straight A’s all through school and college. I landed my first real editorial job before I even graduated, and accepted my first big promotion the same day I left to go take my final exams. I used to churn out 10, 15. 20 blog posts a week for years without even part-time childcare! And I’ve spent more than a decade building a successful freelance career that depends on my ability to manage my own time and stay organized and motivated.
No, I don’t have ADHD.
Sure, I’ve also lived a life wracked with terrible anxiety about everything for as long as I can possibly remember. (Do you know what would happen if I DIDN’T behave as a child and/or get straight A’s and/or admitted I was burning out and needed help? Doom. Disaster. Death. Devil possession. Probably in that order!) And freelancing mostly appeals to me because I can jump from task to task and subject to subject without anything ever getting too boring or repetitive. And without the constant threat of multiple, non-negotiable deadlines, I would literally never get anything done.
Oh, and also because I don’t have to: 1) Leave the house on time, 2) find my keys and wallet on a regular basis. 3) show up on time for anything other an occasional pajama’d Skype call, 4) mask how quickly I zone out and start clicking around my browser tabs during meetings, and 5) filter out a million office distractions, from the person chatting in the next cubicle over to the overwhelming urge to reorganize a filing cabinet instead of tackling my actual work.
No, I can’t possibly have ADHD.
Over the last couple years, a couple (apparently crucial) puzzle pieces fell out of place, and my entire coping system collapsed.
My workload shifted from strictly deadline-centric to more fluid, ad hoc tasks. I slowly learned that nothing bad was going to happen if I got something done on a Tuesday vs. Monday. Then I learned nothing really bad would happen if I waited until…Wednesday. These were Very Bad Lessons to learn and no amount of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or my often underfunded bank account) could get me to unlearn them. I struggled with both the initial inertia of starting a new project (like typing That First Sentence) and with completing the final details (like remembering to click “send” on My Damn Invoice).
Meanwhile, my corporate client base grew but with each client came a separate email address/calendar/team collaboration tool to check and monitor throughout the day. The work was easy but repetitive and occasionally mind-numbingly boring. I had trouble keeping track of everything going on in a centralized way–despite the use of to-do lists and agendas and so many, many organizational/time management/productivity apps–so something I acknowledged on Monday and promised would be done by Wednesday would get forgotten about until Thursday and then my anxiety would paralyze me (YOU STUPID BITCH-style) about it until Friday.
One long-time client eventually opted to end my contract. I deserved it.
A couple important friendships ended abruptly and messily, while others faded away in typical Grown-Up Slow Death fashion. It was pointed out to me (both gently and not very fucking gently at all) that I talk too much in social settings and interrupt/talk over people far too often.
This is a lifelong tic/habit that I’d historically rationalized as growing up as the youngest of seven children (I HAVE TO INTERRUPT OR THEY WILL FORGET I EXIST), or as being an extrovert married to an introvert (I’M JUST TALKING FOR TWO OVER HERE).
I’ve defended it as a sign that I’m just super-excited and highly engaged in the conversation (YES I READ THAT ARTICLE YOU JUST MENTIONED AND AGREE AND ALSO ADDITIONALLY TOO), or as just Amy occasionally morphing into Amalah in public (ALL CAPS RUN-ON SENTENCES ARE FUNNY RIGHT?).
But no, suddenly I was painfully aware that this was a problem, that I was being rude and annoying, that probably my whole LIFE I’d been rude and annoying! I’d start talking and see someone’s irritated face and wish I could inhale the words I was currently speaking back into my chest and puddle into the floor. I’d give myself pep talks in bathroom mirrors in other people’s houses (SHUT. THE FUCK. UP.) and wear hair ties around my wrists to fidget and flick myself with whenever I felt the urge to interrupt someone (WHICH IS ALL. THE. TIME.). If I forgot the hair tie, I’d literally bite my tongue and dig my nails into my palms.
The only strategy I found that really works focusing solely on the other person’s mouth. If their lips are moving, I can keep mine closed.
Once their mouth stops moving, of course, I have no earthly idea what we’re even talking about anymore, because I’ve tuned the actual conversation out entirely.
Eventually, it just got easier to stay home.
Meanwhile, the day-to-day responsibilities of a larger house and more housework, the competing schedules and needs of older children (all three now officially slapped with the special needs label!), four pets, various foster animals (an admittedly impulsive and entirely self-inflicted burden) made it impossible to stay on top of all the things, and even if I aimed to finish out a day declaring victory over some of the things, I still dragged the weight of the other things to bed with me every night.
And of course, all of this was happening in lockstep with my worsening generalized anxiety symptoms and depression. (And, you know, DONALD TRUMP.) The pain and hopelessness that culminated on the night of June 2, 2018 stemmed from an overwhelming, crushing sense of failure. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t hack it, whatever “it” even was, because I was failing at everything. I was letting everyone down. I was an inadequate mom, a lazy burden of a wife, bad at my job, a terrible friend and basically a helpless peon in a universe spinning out of control.
(“The recent rating scales also indicate a high level of perfectionism.” – Ike’s school psychologist)
Mentally and emotionally, I’ve crawled far, far out of that place, away from that night. But the reality is that the many of the problems that dragged me there in the first place are still problems.
“I AM feeling better,” I’d report to my doctor, “But I still feel so far away from where I was before.”
I’ve asked multiple therapists and five million Google tabs how can I stop procrastinating and get shit done and how to minimize distractions while working from home and why can’t I stop interrupting and STFU sometimes and is this what self-sabotage looks like?
I’ve tried paper and app-based to-do lists, time-wasting app- and website blockers, meditation, mindfulness, and S.M.A.R.T. goals, I stash my phone in a kitchen cabinet on days when I realize I simply MUST finish something. I sync my calendar with Jason’s because he’s much better at entering appointments and events than I am. (But if he forgets to add something — like Noah’s high school band audition last week that he needed specific sheet music for (that we needed to remind him to take because NOAH HAS ADHD) — we’re screwed. Noah went to school without the correct music and I beat myself up about it for days because how did I forget that? Jason’s job requires him to keep seven million balls in the air at all times and today I got stressed out over having to send two whole emails.) I have tracking devices on my wallet and keys and set appointment reminders 15 minutes before everything and the clocks in the kitchen are set five minutes fast.
And of course, I’ve tried treatment and medication for both depression and anxiety.
I spent most of my 20s and early 30s thinking that life was like this for everybody. Then I spent the last few years worrying that it was like this for NOBODY. I told my therapist (in my patented super-jokey self-deprecating way) that maybe I was just hopeless.
“Maybe,” she said, “You have ADHD.”
I sputtered and repeated, “What? No. What? No. What? No.” That’s never been brought up. Never mentioned.
And I would know, too, wouldn’t I? I have two children with ADHD! I’ve been through this song and dance! Twice! And I’ve seen the life-changing, night-and-day effect that the right dose of the right medication can have. Twice.
(Ezra brought home straight A’s this semester without even trying. He’s been promoted to the advanced band ensemble and is loving it. He had a paper due on a Friday and had it done by Tuesday, so he’d have time to make revisions. And he wrote it in immaculate, beautiful cursive.)
But that’s them. Not me. I’m…way more complicated than that.
She sent me off with some rating scales and articles as homework.
I missed my next session because my car battery died, and then she moved offices, I forgot to make a follow-up appointment, and then I was like, she wasn’t even that helpful tbh, six months of work and I’m STILL not where I was before.
But I had a standing check-in appointment with my doctor set for yesterday, so I decided to at least read over the stuff she gave me.
- Did you know that people with ADHD are six times more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression or another psychiatric disorder? And that untreated ADHD can make anxiety worse and deepen depression? I did not!
- Did you know that questions 15 – 18 on this rating scale were even a thing, and that thing is literally me, and also a major source of my social anxiety and self-loathing and why I dream of creating a “mute microphone” button like in Skype but for real-life dinner parties? I did not!
- Did you know that Wellbutrin, one of the few antidepressants I actually noticed an improvement on (even at a very low dose), is often used off-label to treat ADHD? Okay, I did know this one, but totally forgot.
- Did you know that other thing where you’re like, “I can’t have ADHD because I can totally get laser-focused on things when I want to?” Like when maybe you were technically supposed to work on your taxes but you organized the linen closet or watched the entire season of Cheer in a single sitting? Or maybe back when blogging was new and shiny and fun it was just a lot easier to write 10, 15, 20 posts a week than it is to write just one or two about Azure blob storage? Did you that’s called hyperfocus and it’s also an ADHD thing? It’s like when we told my in-laws that Noah had ADHD, and they were like, “But that can’t be; he’s so good at Legos?”
So at the risk of sounding like every pharmaceutical commercial ever, I asked my doctor about adult ADHD. She updated my script for Wellbutrin and added Vyvanse, and reminded me sometimes this stuff takes a lot of tweaking.
Did you know I wrote this entire blog post today, in one sitting?
Just like I used to. Before!