I took my meds this morning. (She says, confidently). Wait…I mean…Did I take my meds this morning? I think I took my meds. Didn’t I? Yes. Was that this morning or yesterday morning? (She stares off into space and forgets what she was saying.) My brain says it wants to look at Disney World vacations instead of writing this. It’s cold in here. I’m hungry. I wish those meds would kick in so I can focus. This is like wrenching words out of my head with a crowbar, but first I have to catch the words and they’re going so fast it’s impossible to keep up. Now I know how Uncle Fester felt. I wonder if that last sentence requires further explanation. WARNING: my brain occasionally shouts arbitrary words and song lyrics at me. (Arbitrary…my brain likes that word. Arbitrary sounds like a bird. What was I talking about?)
“YOU WANT IT, BABY YOU GOT IT”
Sheesh! Writing is hard. Focusing is harder. (Don’t say harder. It sounds naughty.)
“HARDER HARDER HARDER”
Coffee sounds good, doesn’t it? My brother emailed me it’s windy outside I’m cold I should run today this probably doesn’t make sense I wish the meds would kick in. (Pause….zone out for what feels like several minutes but is really an hour.)
“MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION!” See what I mean. That’s my brain. It screams random words at me. I’ve learned to ignore them, but for the purposes of this short story, I’m including some of them. My brain is happy to be included. (Yayyy! The crowd goes wild!)
Are you still reading this? Good for you! A lot of people probably gave up in the first paragraph. It’s a long paragraph. (Sigh.) probably should edit that paragraph. But, what verb tense should I use (used, uses, will use)?
“BUST A MOVE”
I can’t blame you if you quit reading this. It’s gibberish! Nonsense!
“ My word, woman! You’ll never publish anything if you keep this up!”
Well…welcome to my world. Certainly you’ve guessed it by now. I have ADHD (ta da!!). I know, it’s a term that’s tossed around like a useless adverb these days. But, let me tell you…
And this little bit of atrocious writing is my way of guiding you through an experience of ADHD.—-crap. Everything just went blank and then all the words came at me at once and now I’m lost again. Deep breath. Okay okay let me tell you about the big D (holy cow…get your mind out of the gutter! This is not that kind of story!)
The DIAGNOSIS (insert foreboding music here).
First off, (we interrupt this sentence to warn you that this paragraph is, in fact, NOT about the diagnosis as previously mentioned. My brain took a slight detour and it’s dragging you along with it.Congratulations!) I should explain that I’m not stupid, although I often feel like I am. Before diagnosis and medication, I had to work so hard to keep up. Somehow, I managed to graduate from college but it wasn’t easy. It required a lot of panicked re-writing, last-minute cramming and self-dialogue. By that I mean, I berated myself constantly for being so stupid, “way to go, Einstein. You locked your essay in the car with your keys. It’s due in two hours. Better find a computer and rewrite it.” If only I would try harder. TRY HARDER!
Keeping up with important items was (is, will always be) a major challenge. My keys!! Oh my LAWD where are my keys? You know, some people (probably you) get to enjoy lazy moments of relaxation. Do you want to know what I’m doing while you’re relaxing? LOOKING FOR MY DANG KEYS!
“Why are you late, again, Sharon?”
“Couldn’t find my keys.”
It wasn’t (isn’t) only the keys that eluded me. I went years without watching TV because I couldn’t find the remote. My driver’s license, credit cards, wallets, purses, pens, notebooks, phones…Ugh! Phones were so much easier to keep up with when they were attached to the wall. And it’s not like I lose it in unfamiliar, public settings. I lose my phone in my house.
“Why don’t you answer your phone, Sharon?”
“Can’t find it.”
Sometimes, I know where my keys are, I just can’t get to them. Like, for example, inside my locked vehicle. Don’t ask me how it happened. All I know is, I stopped for gas, got out of the car, locked the car, closed the door and:
…oops I need my purse…oh the car door is locked. Where are my keys? In my purse. Where’s my purse? Inside the locked car.
I got pretty good at jimmying the lock with a wire hanger, though. Locking my keys in the car became so routine, I started keeping a wire hanger in my car. Genius right? Yep! Look at me. I locked my keys in my car and now I’m gonna demonstrate how bright I am by grabbing this hanger…wait. Where’s the hanger? Oh. It’s locked in my car. There it is…sitting on the seat next to my keys.
Although I have learned coping strategies, there are two things that don’t come naturally to me: organization and time management. That’s because ADHD is a deficiency of executive functioning skills. Organization, for me, requires hours of thought, planning, lists, and trial and error. Time management is a huge problem because I don’t experience time like everyone else; it depends solely on my brain’s access to dopamine. Time feels inconsistent to me.
You know that saying, “time flies when you’re having fun”, well for me it’s “time flies when I’m highly focused”. Oh and one more thing…I don’t get to choose what to focus on. Nope! My brain decides that for me. For example, my brain decided to fixate on boots a few weeks ago (years ago? Yesterday?). I was supposed to be doing our taxes.
“You’ve been in here for four hours, Sharon. Did you finish the taxes?”
“What? No. But, I found fifty-eight pairs of black boots online.”
See what I mean? And it didn’t feel like I’d been scrolling through boots for four hours. It felt more like ten minutes. Here’s another example:
Let’s say, I have to be at work in two hours. My ADHD brain feels like that is soooo much time. It tells me that I don’t have to get ready right away. Instead, my brain decides to focus on rearranging my scented lotion…
FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF!
Finally, my brain says, “oh look at the time!”
AHHHHHH!! Panic ensues as I try to shower, get dressed, put on make up, and drive to work in thirty minutes. (By the way, I got nine speeding tickets before diagnosis and medication.)
For my ADHD brain, time slows down when I’m bored. It creeps along so slowly, that it feels like time is going backwards. I abhor boredom. Boredom and tediousness feel like depression; like slow torturous death in a pit of endless darkness and despair. Hopelessness and dread descend upon me. I can’t grasp a hold of my purpose and I’m left helplessly flailing and falling; exhausted and blank and alone. Wandering unfulfilled. Empty. Wasted. Stuck.
I’d rather die than force myself through a tedious task.
“Honestly, I have the plague and I’m happy about it because now I don’t have to fold that humongous load of laundry.” (Dies with smile on face; probably in a pile of dirty laundry.)
Do you see how this could lead to severe procrastination? The tedious task becomes an insurmountable mountain. I stare at it; knowing it has to be climbed but I can’t figure out where to start or how to proceed. I stare at it some more. I freeze and time feels like it freezes with me, (but it doesn’t). Everyone wonders why I haven’t climbed the mountain yet. They scream at me to GO! Just do it! But, I am experiencing ADHD paralysis.
(Dynamite. That’s what I need. Someone blow that mountain away. Please.)
“LUDICROUS HYPERPIGMENTATION!” (Thank you, brain.)
Unfortunately, I must add the number one source of boredom. It is a time-sucking void for me and I avoid it as much as possible. Don’t judge me, okay? It’s conversation with people. (Gasp! You horrible anti-social monster!) Yup. I admit it. I do not want to converse with people. Ever. That came out a little harsh. Sorry bout that. It’s not you, it’s me. Really, though…let’s see if I can explain what I mean. Okay. “Normal people” (don’t hassle me about that. You know what I mean. Crap never mind. My brain has something to say…)
“NEURO-TYPICAL” (thank you, brain.)
Neurotypical people can flow in and out of conversations with others without a second thought. They can multitask around conversations, too. My ADHD brain has trouble with that. Here’s an example:
-Let’s say Bob is neuro-typical. Bob goes to the store for bananas and runs into Martha, who he’s known for years. Martha wants to talk about everything in her life. Bob easily interrupts Martha, saying he needs to run, but good seeing her. He grabs the bananas, checks out and goes home. Easy, right?
-Now.Let’s talk about how Sharon handles this situation.
Sharon goes to the store for bananas but is distracted by the BOGO sale on cookies and looks at the cake-decorating book in the bakery for forty-five minutes. Her stomach growls so she grabs a rotisserie chicken and swings by the juice section to read the labels(yes, all the labels) before concluding they have too much sugar and going back to the bakery for donuts. But, now her arms are full. She returns to the front of the store for a cart and sees a discount on toilet paper so she grabs three jars of peanut butter and goes to the dairy section where she sees Martha. She tries to get away by pretending she didn’t see Martha but Martha saw her and Martha wants to talk. Sharon likes Martha but Sharon’s brain does not cooperate. Sharon zones out somewhere after Martha says something about her uncle Martin’s toe amputation and two hours later, Martha’s phone rings (Sharon left hers in her locked car with her keys, but she doesn’t know that yet) and finally Sharon says the words “I really need to go” but Martha keeps talking and Sharon backs away but she’s so exhausted (brain fog) now she can’t figure out how to get away without offending Martha. So Martha follows Sharon while continuing to talk because although Sharon’s brain has checked out, her face still seems engaged in Martha’s story. They wait in the check out line and Sharon buys a bunch of stuff that she doesn’t remember putting in the cart. The chicken is cold now, but Sharon doesn’t have the brain energy to make a better decision, so she buys it anyway. Martha follows her outside and laughs at Sharon when she can’t remember where she parked her car and continues to talk while Sharon wanders around the parking lot until she finds it. But where are Sharon’s keys? Sharon uses Martha’s phone to call her husband to bring her a wire hanger to open her car and Martha talks to her until her husband arrives and then her husband says, “ sorry, Martha, we need to get going” and Martha leaves. Sharon slumps into the car and drives home in a fog. Her daughter asks about bananas and Sharon realizes she didn’t get bananas. And her family says, “way to go, Einstein! You forgot the bananas!”
And Sharon says to herself, “TRY HARDER!”
Wait a second wasn’t I going to talk about my diagnosis?
Basically, I didn’t really know how bad it was until I got married and had a baby. The consequences for ADHD behaviors were suddenly astronomically higher. Misplacing my keys is one thing…misplacing a tiny human being is another. Do you see how ADHD could be a problem for a mother? Sleep deprivation made it ten times worse, too. Plus, I had a full time job.
“WINSTON CHURCHILL!” (Sorry. That’s my brain again.)
My husband, poor guy, is a natural born neat freak with superb organizational skills. He thought he married a girl “with a good head on her shoulders”. Ha! (Checks to see if head is, in fact, still on shoulders).
“Sharon. Why is the remote control in the freezer?”
“I don’t know but are my keys in there, too? I can’t find my keys.”
“Sharon. Where is the baby?”
“What baby?” (Just kidding. I never lost the baby. But I was constantly in fear of misplacing her or forgetting to do something important for her. This caused me great anxiety and depression. I could write a whole other novel on the anxiety and depression that result from ADHD.)
After marriage and child bearing, the running mental list of things I had to keep up was (is…had become) unbearably long. Something had to give, or I was going to really lose it. But, I still thought, “if I could just TRY HARDER.” Luckily, I met a friend who recognized my struggle for what it was.
She looked in my purse and said, “girl, you have ADHD. Like…bad.” Apparently, my purse was a mess. (Oh look! A Cheeto.) So, I went to see a doctor and got tested…(after several months of procrastination and forgetting and rescheduling, of course.)
“You’re very bright, did you know that?”
I started to cry. I thought he was going to dismiss my issues and tell me to try harder.
“People with ADHD are often very bright. The problem is, you have to put in so much more effort to get the same, mediocre results as others because you can’t focus your attention at will.”
(He probably said some other stuff here, but my brain was wondering about my friend, Will.)
“…so see, with ADHD, your brain tunes in and out uncontrollably. It’s like trying to hear a song on the radio while someone is turning the volume up and down randomly. You get some of the words, but not all of the words.”
There was more, and I’ve learned a lot since that diagnosis. But mainly, I needed to know how to fix it. By this point, I had two children and ten times the stuff to keep up with.
“Medication will help and therapy. It would also help to talk to other people who have ADHD. Find out what works for them.”
As I gathered all four of my overflowing satchels that I carried with me everywhere, because I cannot stand to be bored, I muttered something about my kids.
“You have children? Be forewarned…(something something percent which I interpreted as mostly all) children of parents who have ADHD usually have it, too.”
All the way home, I thought about my daughters. They were still pretty young at the time, but I didn’t want them to struggle like I had. If they had ADHD, I wanted to get them help as soon as possible. Hmm…what behaviors might signal an attention deficit…
-Suspect behaviors observed in first born daughter:
Painting the cat? (The cat is now a lovely shade of green, dear. You’re very creative.)
I wasn’t sure about my older daughter. She came out of the womb more organized than most grown adults. The little one was a different story. She showed obvious signs of ADHD at an early age. She also has dyslexia, which can be co-morbid with ADHD.
So, the little one was diagnosed by the time she was six. Now, she’s seventeen and just finished high school. We bond over our struggles with ADHD. She watches videos and listens to helpful podcasts and I read and write about it. Neither one of us ever know what day it is and time gets away from us, but we set reminders and ask for help. We both take medicine that helps some, too. She keeps a running list of words her brain shouts at her, which is hilarious. Humor helps both of us a lot.
So far, this writing is extremely disorganized and I’m not even sure if it says what I set out to say. Now I have to decide whether to edit it or just leave it in its natural, raw state. Like a beautiful wild flower…
My heart sinks when I look at the time. Have I really been sitting here that long? I can do better. I just have to try harder! TRY HARDER!
Maybe I’ll go get a coffee before I start the editing process.
Now…where did I put my keys?