Back in June I shared my dawning realization that I might have Adult ADD. I did have several appointments with a psychologist to get an accurate diagnosis, and within the first 30 minutes of my first visit, she had very little doubt that I do indeed have ADD. My initial reaction was a weight lifted from my shoulders – there is an explanation for my life long struggles. This was soon followed with a scrubbed raw feeling….what now? A lifetime of experience, and many, many failed attempts at getting organized, meeting my expectations and goals, being on time, not forgetting things constantly, too many projects going on all at the same time, with inconsistent follow through and completion. Further confirmation of my psychologist’s validation – I came across my report card from high school shortly after my diagnosis – I could not believe how many “C” grades I received! But now that I had a diagnosis, how in the world was a label going to help fix any of these frustrations??
In addition was the worry, would my family and friends be understanding of this? I think there is still a lot of skepticism regarding ADD/ADHD. Especially when it comes to the use of medication. I would love the doubters to inhabit my unmedicated brain for two weeks, and then see what they think. My progression of diagnosis and treatment have been this: an accurate diagnosis from a knowledgeable psychologist, by that I mean someone who knows about and understands ADD. I then visited with my primary care physician, who was comfortable working with me to find a medication and dosage that worked. I was very fortunate that right off the bat I found a good psychologist, and that my personal doctor had some understanding. Many people struggle to find people with the knowledge and willingness to work with a patient with this issue. This seems to be mostly from a persistent lack of current and accurate information. In addition, women and girls with ADD tend to go undiagnosed in greater numbers than males. Along with arming myself with a ton of information I also started medication in July. I kept a journal when starting the medication to track my ADD symptoms, and to note if the medication helped. In a nutshell – GAME CHANGER! Here is what I noticed:
- Instead of 100 thoughts and ideas ricocheting around in my head – only a few things at a time. My brain slowed down enough to focus on a few thoughts instead of everything all at once. Calmness.
- I was far less distracted and scattered and could stick to a task for longer amounts of time. Completing things that I had started.
- Prior to medication I had been muttering the F-bomb about 50 times a day, I noticed this one because later in the day when the medication was wearing off I muttered the F-bomb and realized it was the first time I had used that word ALL DAY.
- My brain slowed down enough that I could pause and think something through before just reacting or acting on a distraction.
- This one I think is the biggest deal, because eventually I was going to hurt myself or someone else – my use of my cell phone while driving had reached a scary and potentially dangerous level. Prior to medication I would tell myself out loud, “You must not text, check your email, or do anything else on your phone!!!” and then 5 minutes down the road I would have my cell phone out. I was out of control and couldn’t stop myself, despite knowing full well how dangerous my behavior was. Post medication I have no problem ignoring my phone until I reach my destination.
- I no longer self-medicate my brain with constant and mindless eating and nibbling. Prior to medication food was something I used to help calm my brain. But food only work briefly and temporarily, some days I felt insatiable. Instead of eating the whole bag of chips, I can now eat a handful and stop.
- I don’t feel as overwhelmed as often. This is another biggie. When you feel overwhelmed it is paralyzing. You don’t know where to start or how to break things down into manageable steps.
Unfortunately, while the medicine is a facilitator, giving me a chance to make better choices, it’s not a miracle worker. I still have trouble prioritizing – everything feels equally important. And when there is a lot going on, or my routines get screwed up I still deal with overwhelm. But now instead of beating myself up I have a new framework to view my challenges and struggles. This allows me to be more positive and proactive. I’m practicing treating myself as a friend instead of a failure. Something most of us, even without ADD, need to practice doing. I also have to back up my medication with good habits such as:
- Getting plenty of sleep. Without good sleep my brain is a very foggy place.
- Exercise – absolutely necessary!! For me running is meditation. 2 for 1
- Good food, lean protein, especially in the morning. Lots of vegetables and fruit. Minimal sugar. Minimal processed food. Complex carbs.
- Good relationships and support. Remembering that, even though I need a lot of solo time, to not isolate myself. Staying connected and in the now with my people.
- Strategies and simplicity. Not looking for the next, new, shiny thing to help with organization, etc. Keeping it simple and streamlined. Including my environment. Evaluating these frequently to make sure they are working.
My biggest struggle right now is how much I think about ideas, think and think and think, without actually doing it. Such as, since January I’ve told myself I was going to devote 10 hours a week to my artwork. Hasn’t happened yet, but I think about it all the time. I may need to enlist the help of an ADD coach for this one, because it really is having a negative impact on my mental health. Despite all the above this one is really frustrating me, and I think spelling it out loud in this space has given me a sense of clarity. May I ask a favor, will one of you gently keep me accountable on this one?