As I’ve mentioned before, I was formally diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.) The general reaction has been duh, even from me. But that response is to the stereotype of ADD/ADHD. Even I just assumed that all the diagnosis means is that I’m high-energy, talkative and scatterbrained as all hell. All of which are true. But now that I am finally (after much procrastinating and foot-dragging) learning about the disorder, I am discovering that it is a sprawling, underlying sensory clusterfuck that gives me both awesome benefits and terrible drawbacks. I am feeling crazier and saner and more hopeful and more regretful than I ever have before.
Admittedly, I’ve thought ADHD was kind of a load of shit for a long time. Back when it was new and hip when I was a kid, it was everywhere. I took all the quizzes I found on it and always ended up with duh as the result. Throughout school, I told teachers that I had it to excuse that I’d spend all of class doodling or making friendship bracelets. I really was listening; I just couldn’t focus unless my hands were busy! I have half-jokingly blamed it for an assortment of what I thought were just things that were wrong about me. This was definitely furthered by the way other people have always referenced me “probably” having ADHD to tease or demean me (e.g. “You’re so ADD you’re attracted by shiny objects”).
I believed that ADHD was a joke diagnosis, and treated it with such disdain that I didn’t bring it up with any doctors or therapists until this year. And even since the diagnosis, I have just assumed I know enough about the disorder. Yup, so I’m hyper and scatterbrained, and after E is weaned, I can try medication that will give me “focus” but keep me from getting “hyperfocused.” Right, right. Whatever. My shrink has been after me to read the books that he’s suggested to me. I procrastinated; can’t afford it, they’re checked out at the library, keep forgetting, etc. Same old lazy stalling. Well, I finally have some of the books (Specifically, You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! and Women with Attention Deficit Disorder), and I’ve seen the fantastic documentary ADD & Loving It?!. And OH MY FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER, I understand now why information was his first prescription. I know nothing.
There are things that I never imagined were related. My hearing problems have been a challenge all my life, and it turns out that “inability to isolate sounds from background noise” is typical ADHD. The fact that I kind of freak out if I get hungry, thirsty, hot or overtired. Or itchy. Its like I can’t tolerate the discomfort, and even if I hold it together on the surface I feel like a high-maintenence wuss. But hypersensitivity? Yup. Physical and emotional, which also explains why I’m pretty easily hurt, and care way too much what other people think. Or used to; I’ve developed a thick enough skin that I really don’t give a fuck anymore, unless it’s someone I care about.
I always kind of thought I was obsessive-compulsive. I’ve been described as OCD as often as ADD, but I don’t have the former. It’s a one-two punch of being hyperfocused, and of having developed routines and rituals just to get my scattered brain through the day. That’s why meds aren’t the only treatment; there’s a lot of support structure you have to build, and not everyone has already started that process when they get diagnosed. I’m lucky for my faux-OCD; I have learned how to handle a lot of “normal” life. It’s a much bigger struggle to get through the day for me though.
I’m fast, but I burn out. So I may get my whole house clean by noon, but I might not be able to do anything else. My mind is racing all day long so that when I finally sit down with quiet time, I am unable to focus enough to enjoy many activities. This crazy upbeat creative badass chick has a crashed-on-the-couch evil twin that just haunts me, makes me feel like a failure. Why can’t I get my shit together today, when yesterday I got more done than should be possible? I’ve been looking forward to (reading, taking a bath, doing something fun) all day, but now it seems like such a tremendous effort that I can’t. I can’t, and I can’t explain why I could an hour or a day ago, or why I might be able to tomorrow. And that’s ADHD too. The burnout and inconsistency that I berate myself for. Fucking normal.
The “short attention span” I joke about really doesn’t begin to cover it either. Someone can talk to me for an embarrassingly long time before I realize it, or before my mind catches up and starts listening. I might stop paying attention partway through the conversation, not realize it until I’ve missed crucial information, then be too humiliated to ask what I missed. I don’t know important facts about people I love because my brain started producing a dazzling side trip while I was desperately trying to listen, and the resultant intensity I focus on people with (so I don’t zone out) makes me kind of a creeper sometimes.
If I’m in the middle of something it’s almost impossible to stop. I have to stay up and finish the movie. I can’t stop cleaning, there’s still more dirt (on Earth). I must hem those drapes right now or I will go fucking insane. It’s like being driven by an outside force. This is also what my temper is like sometimes; as if someone has seized the wheel and slammed on the gas, and all I can do is hold on and watch.
I guess the thrust of it is that the inside of my head is a constant whir of activity. Thoughts and ideas and plans and impulses, a blurry, colorful carnival that I can’t slow down. Sometimes I love the frenetic activity; I can tune in to my own mind during unpleasant or tedious times and entertain the shit out of myself. These posts, stories, jokes, ideas, fantasy, trivia, odd connections…it’s a good ride. But it can be such an incredible burden, this unstoppable juggernaut of stuff in my head that doesn’t actually serve me, that I have to almost physically dominate to get through a normal day. I’ve never talked about how fucking hard everyday stuff is, because I’ve always assumed it was shameful personal shortcoming. Now that I’m discovering it’s completely normal for someone with ADHD, I have real hope that day-to-day life might not drain every reserve I have. One of the recurrent themes in my depression previously has been how can I fight through my whole life when everything is so daunting and exhausting. Now? I might not have to keep fighting. And that is pretty sweet.