Recently I went to the doctor because I wasn’t feeling very good. It wasn’t physical or anything of the sort. My brain didn’t feel right. I had spinning thoughts that I could not control, I found myself constantly sucked into the drama, I over-reacted to every single situation, my rage was at an all time high, I couldn’t fall asleep or stay asleep, and my anxiety was creating panic attacks almost daily. Then there were the choices I was making, and they were doozies. Despite my need for order and cleanliness, I could not keep my home clean. I forgot appointments for myself and my child. When I was given instructions by my son’s therapists, I had trouble listening and implementing the strategies in our home. If my husband tried to start a conversation with me, I would listen for a moment and then zoom off because something was distracting me. There was in an incessant need for me to be online and updating my facebook status with little to no regard of who it affected or what it said. I felt like I had no control of any of my actions, thoughts or feelings.
As I took inventory of what was going on around me, I noticed I was pushing everyone away. When a conflict would arise between a friend and me, I would avoid the issue and the person because I didn’t know know what words to use. Any form of confrontation made my hands sweat and my heart race. It became easier for me to shut people out than it did to actually deal with the feelings I had or the anxiety it gave me. Soon I found myself completely alone because I couldn’t handle being around anyone. Interaction of any kind gave me so much anxiety and stress that I would be up at night panicking about what was going to happen. I had no faith in my mouth to have any control, and I always felt like I was just waiting to drop the next bomb on the people around me. I was drinking too much, overeating, spending too much, and seemed to have no control of any of my impulses. I just could not live this way anymore.
I scheduled an appointment with a therapist to discuss all the stress I was under. As I was chronicling my trouble with her, I mentioned to her that I have always felt like I had more than just anxiety. I had been diagnosed with anxiety in my mid-twenties, but it always felt like it was more than just anxiety. I told her I had no focus, and it was so hard to sit still because it made my skin crawl. She said that it sounded like I had ADHD. I had considered this in the past, but it never seemed to line up. Also, I was never honest enough with myself that every symptom did line up. As we talked through it more, we decided I should start testing for ADHD. Within a few weeks, I received the official diagnosis.
The first step of the process was identifying what was going on, and the next step was finding ways to treat the disorder. I was prescribed medication that would help stimulate dopamine production in my brain, and I was given anti-depressants and anti-anxiety med to manage the debilitating anxiety that accompanied the ADHD. It took a few weeks for the medication to regulate my brain, and it took some time to adjust to the stimulants in my body.
I will never forget the very first day that my brain was utterly void of thoughts that would not shut up. I found myself interacting with my son in an entirely different way. It didn’t feel impossible to play with him. I felt joy when he wanted me to read to him, and it was fun to help him make shapes out of play-doh. At his therapy, I could hear what his therapists were saying. Implementing the treatment strategies at home no longer felt like a task. My house was organized top to bottom. When I woke up, the beds were made. My son’s feeding tube and pump were always cleaned after his overnight use. I was actually getting things done. Everyday tasks no longer felt painful and taxing.
My drinking almost completely halted, my eating improved, and my spending ceased. All of the morals that I have always believed were becoming manageable and a reality in my life. The anxiety I felt on a daily basis about interacting with people completely disappeared. My incessant need to be a part of drama completely evaporated. In fact, I was finally interested in establishing healthy boundaries with friends. I no longer found myself upset about minor events, and anxiety no longer filled my day. Confrontation no longer felt impossible, and it actually felt empowering to be direct with my needs, wants and concerns. I had lived a very passive/aggressive life when I was in the thick of the disorder. I would pretend nothing ever bothered me, and then I would lash out in a complete rage with very little explanation. The differences I felt on a daily basis were completely overwhelming as I itemized the damage and the debris the ADHD had created in my life.
It has been difficult to not feel shame or guilt for the actions I have taken in the past. My therapist reminds me it was not me behaving in those ways, but my ADHD was completely out of control. As I begin this journey with my new self, I realize I cannot change my past and can only move forward. I could apologize to everyone, but it feels impossible and overwhelming. Instead, I will request friends and family to exercise grace with me, and I hope they will see the person I am becoming instead of the person I was in the past.
Now getting to the point of this entire blog – and it’s going to be difficult for some to hear. I am saying this with love and with the best interests of anyone dealing with ADHD. First, ADHD is not a disorder that everyone has, and it is not over-diagnosed. In fact, it is incredibly hard to be diagnosed with ADHD. A child or adult has to go through extensive testing, interviews with licensed practitioners, and they have to take tests to measure their attention span. Second, ADHD is not just a minor mental health disorder, if someone is diagnosed with ADHD it is generally because the disease has become disruptive in their life. People usually seek help when they have reached a point where they feel helpless, alone and very, very shameful and full of guilt.
Third, in my experience, the only effective means of treatment for ADHD is medication and cognitive therapy. I tried absolutely everything in my life to control the impulse control, the rambling thoughts, and the horrible anxiety. I tried yoga, essential oils, meditation, journaling, exercise, diet, and elimination of dyes in foods. Nothing ever made me feel better for more than a few moments. The actual way this disorder is treated is by increasing dopamine production in the brain and stimulating the brain to get the chemicals it needs. It is not something that is mind over matter, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. If you had another organ that was failing or lacking its chemical make-up, most of you would treat it with medication and ADHD should be no different. Medication doesn’t mean you are broken or horrible, it means your brain needs it to function properly. Finally, try to remember that there are two parts of a person with ADHD, the person, and the ADHD. When behaviors seem completely out of sync of the person you know and love, it is likely it is not the person but the disorder taking over. Being friends or loving a person with ADHD will never be easy because they can do some things that will be not only upsetting but at times downright destructive. Helping your friend or family member is the most loving thing you can do.
Getting an ADHD diagnosis can feel absolutely terrifying and overwhelming, but with the diagnosis comes treatment. I can tell you that in my short time being treated, the person I am becoming is the person I always felt like I was on the inside. I am so excited to see what I will continue to do and accomplish. If you know someone that is struggling, if you are struggling, please seek help from a licensed clinical psychologist. Taking the first step is the hardest part. Once you are in the door, the rest is a cake walk.