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Continue Reading ​My ADHD

Everyone's ADHD is different. Even in my own family, with my parents, brothers, and sisters having ADHD, we all presented differently. Some people will have additional learning disabilities which will also impact the way their ADHD looks. I can only write about myself, since even in my work with dyslexia, I don't have daily contact with others who have ADHD. So here is what I have learned about my ADHD.

I live on a tightwire between complete confidence and debilitating insecurity. Will I make it through today, or will it be the end of me? The voices in my head tell me over and over, “Who do you think you are? Everyone will find out what you are really like. Stop pretending; you can’t do this!” While part of this is residue from narcissistic abuse in my childhood and young adulthood, part of it is also my ADHD—because there’s a part of it that’s true. And part of that truth is my inability to rightly discern who I am, what my strengths are (really) and what my weaknesses are (truly); and sometimes I want to do things I just should not be trying to do—because I have ADHD.

My ADHD comes with wonderful gifts, along with major stumbling blocks. I can be brilliant and imbecilic in one sentence, without blinking. I can be compassionate in one breath, and then heartless in the next. It’s not a problem of intelligence, since I have a high IQ, and it’s not a problem of emotional aptitude, since I am also highly sensitive, intuitive, and empathetic. But it is definitely a problem of the impulsiveness and inattentiveness of my ADHD.
I struggle constantly with a cluttered house and a cluttered brain, all in a state of barely-controlled disarray. Embarrassment and shame have not forced or inspired change in this! And my finances can sometimes be a nightmare. Without the help of my patient husband we would not have been able to buy—or keep—our lovely home. My time-blindness keeps me living in the moment and unable to plan for a financial future; future effects of immediate actions just don’t register in my ADHD brain. When something needs to be done—whether making an appointment or researching a new product for our home—I know what I have to do, but for some inexplicable reason it just doesn’t happen. I forget (again!), or I get distracted (again!), or it’s not a convenient time, or I get wrapped up in intangible anxiety.
Sometimes I cannot communicate. I want to tell you what I’m thinking, what I wanted to happen, what I thought was going on—but the words stick in my mouth and I can’t get my thoughts to make enough sense to allow them to form words. Or I simply don’t trust what I want to say, and I remain silent in fear, choking on my thoughts and emotions, fearful of rejection.

Some days I seem to be running into things everywhere. I trip on the door step, drop my phone and spill my hot tea all over my hand and shoes. Sometimes, though, I also bump into walls mentally: the data I need for the report that’s due has gotten lost in the piles on my desk; the help I was counting on from my coworker dissipates in a rush of last-minute busy-ness; the phone won’t stop ringing and I haven’t time to answer. I try to write my article but my mind is blank, and I can’t recall any of the research I’ve been pouring over. I don’t know where to start or how to figure it out. I am stymied. Then I yell at my young son for some minor infraction of some stupid rule I’ve laid down—and immediately repent and tell him how sorry I am for yelling at him! He smiles at me, grateful that the aliens have released his mommy from their tyrannical control.
There can be meltdowns. There used to be meltdowns: I can remember all the way back to my childhood the overwhelming frustration and overstimulation that left me literally screaming for an escape. I was completely convinced that everyone in my family (all 7 of them, without me) would congregate in the middle of the night to decide what they would “do” to me the next day. Some of my days were THAT bad. My ADHD gave me a low frustration tolerance, which applied to everything from cooking to relationships. Burned potatoes? Disastrous. Offended friend? Catastrophic. Thankfully I have learned techniques to manage my emotions, and I don’t believe I’ve had a meltdown for a few years…although I’m not swearing to that. And who knows what could happen tomorrow?

The effort required to manage an ADHD brain—undiagnosed and/or untreated—often leads to self-medicating behaviors. I don't have "things," I have "collections." A pretty decorative tin for my kitchen? I have a dozen, at least. A beautiful doll? Unfortunately I now have several dozen. Books—DVDs—pictures—even apps on my iPhone, hundreds. My collecting is a way to stimulate my brain, increasing the dopamine that I am lacking. But there are many other behaviors that do this: eating sweets, especially chocolate (many, many people with ADHD are overweight); video games; smoking, alcohol and drugs; the list can go on and on (I am writing more on this in another section). It's an actual "thing:" the dopamine reuptake doesn't work properly and requires dopamine reuptake inhibitors—the drugs most used to manage ADHD symptoms.

I need quiet, calm and peace to maintain equilibrium. Not all the time, but when I need it, I need it. Sometimes that’s inconvenient for others, or they see it as an excuse to escape responsibility. I need regular schedules and set times and all the stability that is at all possible: routines are often my salvation. Perhaps that is why, before I was married, I was so happy living alone: I could set and maintain a regular schedule. And when I had to change it, it didn’t interfere with the plans of someone else, so I didn’t have to answer to another person for working late or comforting a friend at all hours of the night. I could adjust the next day’s schedule easily enough.
Sometimes I fail (astoundingly), though I usually succeed (even spectacularly), but it’s exhausting and painful to fight this daily battle. So I hesitate, hovering between boldness and inaction: afraid to move forward lest I fail, but compelled to step out and try. And yes, this can last for days, weeks and even months. It’s not laziness or fear; it’s my ADHD. So far I’ve always overcome and been able to step out in faith. But it takes time for me. And I’m finding that as I age, it does take longer: longer to recover, and longer to win the battle.
So yes, sometimes I am my own worst enemy. But then sometimes I am my own best advocate. Having ADHD means I can love passionately, freely and without limits—regardless of the response. I can see an array of colorful solutions where others see only black and white, or shades of gray; I am living outside the boxes and drawing my own lines. I can see a way through where everyone else can see only blank walls. I can make connections that others would never consider—because my ADHD allows my brain to work differently. When things work, I am flying high, walking on air. Change excites me and challenges me, and I embrace it. (Of course like nearly everything else, this has become somewhat mitigated by age!)
There are still rough edges, but it’s a diamond in the rough nonetheless. By guarding this gift and polishing and smoothing the hard edges, I find my life to be enriched and a blessing to those around me. I embrace my ADHD and live with its challenges, bravely facing each new day. And trembling at the same time.