Me and ADHD

Other than a few close friends, most people in my life don’t realize that over the last month I’ve been on a complicated, intensely emotional journey of self-discovery.

I’ve discovered that I have ADHD.

Part One: The Journey to Diagnosis

ADHD isn’t something I’d ever even contemplated before, because like most people, I understood it to be a disorder you mostly saw in hyperactive little boys. You could identify a kid with ADHD because they couldn’t sit still or focus on lessons, they had boundless energy, and they got in trouble at school all the time. They were “problem children.” That wasn’t me at all. I excelled in school, loved reading at a young age, and was an all-around model student.

Sure, in recent months I’d seem some funny ADHD memes and tweets floating around and found them weirdly relatable, but thought it must just be a coincidence. Everybody occasionally leaves a burner on and explodes their hard-boiled eggs on the stove while they take a shower, right? Having twenty hobbies and buying supplies for all of them just for most of them to sit in boxes for years was a common quirk, right? I didn’t know what these things had to do with hyperactive little boys.

It all changed when a relative happened to ask me if anyone in my family had ever been diagnosed with ADHD, because she recently had, and she knew it was hereditary. I said no, but I was intrigued, and asked her to tell me more about it. She told me about some of the struggles that led to her diagnosis: being chronically disorganized, distracted, forgetful, and losing things, to the point where it interfered with her ability to work and parent effectively. She explained how girls and women tend to go undiagnosed because they usually don’t exhibit outward hyperactivity. Until recently, many clinicians didn’t even think to consider it in female patients. She also pointed me to research that showed a link between giftedness and ADHD in children, which often made ADHD harder to spot.

This all sounded alarmingly resonant. It felt like she was describing me. I was assessed to be “gifted” as a kid, but struggled to function in just about every other aspect of life. I had spent my whole life losing and forgetting things, and failing to stay on top of everyday tasks, always feeling buried by everyday responsibilities.

The spark was lit. I need to learn more. So I dove headfirst into research. (Well, okay, it started with watching hours-worth of Tiktoks from people with ADHD describing their experiences, and me silently weeping as waves of validation washed over me. There are so many other people like me! This is an actual Thing! Over time it gave me the vocabulary to start to do actual research).

A few weeks later I called my family doctor and asked to be referred to a psychiatrist. A week after that, I was in a virtual appointment talking to a doctor about ADHD meds. (Spoiler: it’s contraindicated in pregnancy, so it’s not happening anytime soon.)

This new information is changing how I look at my entire life thus far. It explains so much about why I am the way I am, why I struggle with things the way I do.

Part Two: The Emotions

It’s been so emotional for me because it turns out that all these parts of me that I’ve always been ashamed of (I’m forgetful, disorganized, lazy, clumsy, unproductive, distracted, absent-minded…I suck at being an adult, I can’t keep a job) have a neurological explanation.

I’m not a shitty person, I’m just neurodivergent.

(Just writing out this sentence made me sob with relief.)

I have a whole new vocabulary for explaining and describing my unique struggles, and it has changed everything.

I’m not stupid, I just have executive dysfunction, which makes it hard for me to prioritize tasks, keep track of personal items, manage my time, and remember instructions.

I’m not lazy, my nervous system just doesn’t produce enough dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation. So I struggle to work up the energy to complete everyday tasks, no matter how important I know they are. I have atypical wiring — something called an interest-based nervous system – meaning I simply cannot be motivated by ordinary rewards/consequences, or understanding cognitively why something is important. I just CAN’T make myself do something unless I encounter very specific and stimulating circumstances to trigger that release of dopamine and get me off the couch.

I’m absent-minded because I have an inconsistent attention span. I can hyperfocus if my attention is activated by a momentary sense of interest, challenge, novelty, urgency, or passion; but I’m unable to focus on everyday details that don’t trigger these responses.

I cry all the time because due to my unique wiring, I regularly experience emotional hyperarousal, another feature of ADHD.

I’m messy and forgetful because my kind of brain struggles with object permanence and working memory. So I forget that things exist the minute they’re out of view, and I can’t recall basic instructions minutes after I’ve received them.

Having this new vocabulary helps me to understand how my brain works and why I behave the way I do. It explains how I can be a star student my entire life but then struggle to perform basic everyday tasks like keeping track of personal items, creating routines for myself, and keeping my house tidy.

Why a diagnosis was so important for me

Self-compassion.

It’s easy to be disgusted with myself when I misplace something important, come to the end a day without having accomplished a damn thing, or stumble upon yet another half-finished task that got abandoned when the dopamine ran out. Now I can offer myself some compassion, reminding myself that my brain has certain barriers in place which make these things hard for me.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you probably know I consistently struggle with feeling like a garbage person because I can’t seem to accomplish half of what a normal person seems able to accomplish in the same amount of time. Going forward, hopefully I can show myself a little more kindness.

A way forward.

Now that I am starting to understand what those barriers are, I can look for tools to help me overcome them. That could mean medication, and/or it could also mean seeking out apps, strategies, and therapies that are specifically designed to support neurodivergents (or just happen to be really helpful for us).

An opportunity for loved ones to have compassion.

Of course I can’t control how other people are going to react to any new information I can provide about why I am the way I am. But I hope it might help.

The other day, in a moment of frustration, Ben accused me of “not having any motivation, not being a go-getter,” and it really hurt me. These are real sensitive spots for me. Later he apologized, understanding (because I’ve explained it) that this is due to a real deficiency in my brain, not some kind of moral failing. “I know it’s not your fault,” he said.

Community.

I’ve recently connected with a couple of friends with ADHD, and started following ADHD Tiktok, Instagram and Twitter accounts. It has been so incredibly validating to hear their experiences that are so like mine. We send each other memes and share our latest ADHD mishaps (burned food we forgot about on the stove; important paperwork we left on the counter for months) and share tools we’ve found helpful. It just feels so good to be seen by others who get me.

Fun side note:

One of the hallmarks of ADHD is hyperfixation, which is an intense, prolonged (many would call “obsessive”) fixation on a certain subject or task; and my hyperfixation over the last month has centred on everything related to ADHD. I’ve hardly been able to think about anything else for the last month.  I have filled pages of my notebooks and journals with facts and observations about myself and the disorder. I could talk for hours about all the things I’ve learned over the last few weeks about brain chemistry, neurodiversity, motivation, and attention (but I will try to spare you most of it. Unless you ask. Then I will be HAPPY to talk your ear off.)

On Trying and Failing (Thank Goodness!) to Become an Online Influencer

Hey! I haven’t written anything here in forever! I’m kicking it old-school with a stream-of-consciousness blog post.

It was 2008. I was 23. I’d been married for three years, I was just wrapping up my MA in English lit, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

I wanted to be a writer. I’d always wanted to be a writer.

I was also a very “on fire” Christian, and was specifically interested in being a Christian writer, like breakout star Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz), or maybe Jonathan Acuff (Stuff Christians Like).

But how did one even begin to break into something like that? So I did what any millennial in the late aughts would do: I googled it.

I stumbled upon the CEO of Zondervan (the most prominent publisher of Christian books), who had a whole online business teaching people how to get into the Christian writing scene. He advised that if you wanted to get into the business, you absolutely needed to have a social media presence. At the time, that meant you needed a blog and a twitter account.

So I devoted myself to blogging. I dabbled with a Blogspot blog, but soon made the move to WordPress. I knew I needed a niche, so I decided to focus on the topic of Christian marriage. I thought I had a unique perspective, having married at 20 before I even finished my undergrad degree.

Over time I did manage to get a little bit of momentum. My readership grew to include people I didn’t know IRL. It was exciting.

After a couple of years I grew dissatisfied with my chosen limited topic, and eventually started a different blog exploring topics that were becoming more interesting to me: the ethics of being a follower of Jesus. I was especially interesting in such areas as caring for the earth, gentle parenting, and radical nonviolence. I was interested in how to be a good person, not just believe the right things. More than a little bit of self-righteousness crept in as I started to get involved in minimalism as a lifestyle, zero-waste living, and “natural” living. I wrote about organic cooking, sustainable shopping, and the like.

I had my first child, and I had less time to devote to my writing, but I tried to still post a few times a month.

My readership continued to grow evvvver so slowly. I was collaborating with other bloggers. I had a modest Facebook page, with a few thousand followers there. I was starting to contemplate bigger projects.

And then Felix was born. And absolutely everything fell apart.

My family, my faith, my confidence in myself and my work. The little bit of free time I’d had for creative expression was completely obliterated as all my energy turned towards keeping this fragile creature alive.

One crisis followed after another. Just as he was recovering from treatment for his life-threatening disease, his other disabilities became more obvious, demanding more and more time and attention. Therapies, assessments, appointments, mobility tools, you name it. Caring for him took over my entire life. The trauma I experienced also completely mangled my ability to create.

And since then, I’ve just…never recovered. Not after six years. I’ve never recovered my vision. Never got back into the groove of creating content.

Meanwhile, the Internet changed. Blogging all but died. Facebook changed, and the page I’d diligently built up became basically useless. Instagram increased in prominence, and I found I like the platform better, but it’s not suited to long-form writing, and I never managed to get much of a following there.

And so here I am. Still no closer to being a writer than I was 13 years ago.

And honestly? In some ways, I’m GRATEFUL.

I knew so little about how the world worked, back when I was dispensing advice. But I was so confident. I thought I knew stuff. I was healthy and thin and had read a lot, and I had a healthy, smart little girl. Surely I must know stuff? I was still in love with my husband of eight years. I cooked everything from scratch and I was killing it at minimalist and zero-waste living. I was in a position to be a guru, right?

Looking back on my smug little self, I’m so glad no one gave me a massive platform to share my tiny, limited perspective. I would be so ashamed now of everything I would have put out into the world in my twenties. It would have all been tinged with misogyny, ableism, white supremacy, homophobia/transphobia, snobbery, and ignorance. Thank goodness that never got released into the wider world.

I honestly have very little confidence in my own wisdom now. I wouldn’t dream of advising other people how to live their lives. I know nothing. In fact, I’m rather allergic to anyone giving life advice en masse. I have no faith in self-help books any more, especially if they’re written by privileged people like me.

So while a part of me (okay, a BIG part of me) still craves the validation that a real writing career would (theoretically) give me, I’m kind of glad I never got one. I did not (and probably still do not) have the wisdom to use it well.

Postscript:

Okay, in all honesty though, while everything I said above is true, I still struggle EVERY DAY with feeling like a failure in life because my writing career never took off. Many of the other bloggers my age who started out around the same time as me now have multiple books published, are hosts or regular guests of podcasts, have flourishing email newsletters, and tens of thousands of followers on social media. I have absolutely nothing to show for my early work. I still make zero dollars, which is something I joke about regularly, but actually makes me feel like garbage.

I still kinda wish I was a successful writer.

Let’s talk about politics: Our experience with government done right

Note: I shared this on my social media the other day, and thought I’d share it on the ol’ blog as well.

Friends: I want to talk for a few minutes about politics. But not in a way I’ve heard much. I want to talk about government done right. I want to share a bit of my personal experience with the province of Ontario.

Our province has its problems, of course. Our country has its problems. I don’t want to diminish the ways our government has harmed and continues to harm certain marginalized communities. But I also want to talk about how the province of Ontario has cared for this little boy from day one.

Felix was born without a functioning immune system and with an atypical brain. Of course this was not his fault. But it means he was born incredibly vulnerable in every way possible. He was born with a body vulnerable to illness and infection, and as a disabled person, also to abuse and neglect. He was born with complex needs, and Ben and I absolutely could not have supported him through his life all on our own. Not in ten lifetimes could we have acquired all the necessary resources to care for all of his unique support needs. Thankfully, the systems in place in our province have managed to support our entire family through his first five years.

First there were the six months in the hospital, and the experimental medical treatment that gave him a functioning immune system, which came at zero cost to our family, thanks to Ontario’s health insurance plan (OHIP). We have continued to have his health monitored and supported by excellent local doctors all these years later. I have never stopped feeling awed gratitude about that.

But it didn’t stop there. When his intellectual and developmental disabilities became evident, we were immediately granted access to all the therapies he needed. When we discovered he had hearing loss, the system made it possible for us to get him hearing aids and audiology support, again at no personal cost to us. When we realized he was going to have long-term mobility issues, the system made sure he had orthotics and a wheelchair/stroller to get around. Even though he can’t walk, he can go anywhere that anyone else can go — parks, zoos, stores, forests, the beach.

We’ve seen dozens of specialists in multiple fields to make sure he has access to all the supports he needs, all paid for by the system. All his medications have been covered. And recently, we started to receive funding to employ a respite worker and housecleaner to support me as a mother, who has struggled with the added labour of caring for a medically-complex, multiply-disabled child with disordered sleep and eating.

Now he’s school-aged. The doctors and therapists taking care of him made sure he got into the necessary programs so that he got into the right classroom, where he would continue to get the support he needs. He gets picked up by an accessible bus, even though for the first few days this year he was the only kid on the bus. He’s in a wonderful classroom with caring adults who have tailor-made a curriculum just for him. He’s surrounded by other kids who love and accept him, because they’re loved and accepted, too.

I know that governments have to power to commit incredible atrocities. But they also have the power to do tremendous good. I have seen it myself.

I realize that government systems doing the right thing is not as sexy or exciting to hear about as, say, wealthy individuals volunteering to do grand acts of kindness. But I believe a strong democratic government can do infinitely more good than any individuals can, no matter their character. Vulnerable people like Felix NEED strong systems in place to protect and support them. They can’t rely on the power, wealth, or goodwill of their parents or do-gooders alone.

I used to not care that much about politics because I didn’t see what it had to do with me. I figured I could take care of myself, and others should be able to, too. But I have learned in the last five years that not everyone can take care of themselves or their own children, and no one can take care of themselves all the time, and that’s okay. Collectively, we can and should take care of each other.

We still have a long way to go in Ontario. We need to keep fighting until every vulnerable person has access to the level of care that my boy has had, regardless of age, ability, race, or sexuality. (And I hope to see humane policies spread to other countries as well. Looking at you, USA). But I have seen what we’re capable of as a community. I know what’s possible.