Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Holding It Together--ADHD a Year Later

“This backpack has lasted you four years, it will make it two more weeks,” I said very seriously. Then I searched through a drawer full of old suckers, receipts and chargers to who knows what and pulled out a safety pin. I pushed the pin through the dirty yellow-ish backpack canvas, pulled the open flap together, and pushed the pin closed to secure it. “There,” I said. “It’s fixed. It will work. Have a good day.”
My oldest son who is patient, calm, and mostly unconcerned with how old backpacks look as long as they hold all of his stuff looked at me skeptically and said, “Maybe.” 

As he slung the old backpack over his shoulder the safety pin popped open with gusto and the backpack fell open. “Annnnd maybe not,” he said. 

We laughed. I suggested various ways he could hold the bag so his crap didn’t fall out. 

“It’s all good, it’s fine, it’ll work,” he said as we laughed in an over-tired, end-of-the-school-year-beyond-ready-for-summer-vacation kind of high-pitched way. 

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A little over a year ago, this story would have made me cry. I was at a place where I couldn’t laugh at all of the broken parts of my life, even dumb old broken backpacks. I felt like a constant failure…to my kids, to my boss, to my dogs, to my husband, to everyone. I was a walking apology. I was sorry for being late, for not responding, for forgetting to bring the field trip note/passing dish/random thing that I borrowed/library books/etc., not paying the bill, being over-sensitive, crying, feeling frazzled, worrying too much…I was sorry for being me.  
It was at that time that I went to see a doctor and got the diagnosis that changed my life. That is when it was confirmed that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). 

I started taking medicine. It took a little while to figure out what medicine was right for me, but I found it. I also saw a therapist every other week for a couple months. And I read everything I could find about ADHD. 
Part of the past year and the process of managing my mind and life that has been truly fascinating has been looking back and understanding what was really happening, and why I still do some of the things I do. It has also been a little heartbreaking at times, when thinking about how misunderstood I was and maybe how things could have been different, better, less hard and confusing. But part of what I have learned about myself is that to make it this far without totally falling apart or becoming an addict or destroying my relationships is that I have learned to adapt. And ADHD actually has some good parts to it that have helped me along the way. 
Looking back and moving forward, I want to learn more, understand more, and find ways to do better and be better. More good parts, less apologies. More compassion, less confusion. I want that for everyone--people with ADHD and people who are parents/siblings/coworkers/friends of people with ADHD. 

Based on what I have experienced, read and learned, I believe ADHD is a spectrum disorder and can branch off in a lot of different ways and on different levels for each individual who has it. For me, it isn't just medicine that helps, it is a whole bunch of things and  always paying attention to how things affect me and my brain. 

Here is what I have learned about my ADHD past and present:
Running is my everything.
I pinpointed times in my life when I felt calmer and more in control, each time involved when I was moving. In fourth grade I had a teacher who infused exercise and activities like jumping rope into his classroom every day. Everything was clicking that year, I moved up three levels in reading, I actually understood math, I worried less about my parents’ fights and lives, I made some good friends. Years later when I was a grown up training for a marathon and pushing my body, my brain felt amazing. I could handle all the unpredictable-ness of parenting small children. The movement was medicine for my brain.  
After my diagnosis, I started running three days a week no matter what. I schedule my work, my volunteering, my appointments, my family around my three-day running routine as much as I possibly can. When I say it is like a part-time job, it really is. 

To get the most positive impact on my brain I have determined several variables—I have to run at the very least six miles, alone, and on the same path. It doesn’t always work with my schedule, but when it does I feel calmer, happier, and a million times more together. I read an interview with Jane Curtain that had nothing to do with ADHD, but she said that her friend, the great comic Gilda Radner, used to tap dance for hours to get the energy out of her body and feel calm. That is what running and moving does for me. 
Other days I jump rope in my basement and life weights. If I don’t move the energy comes out in various ways such as crying, snapping at people, anxiety similar to a panic attack, or eating or shopping or anything to stop or distract myself from the energy coursing through my body.

Oh wait, routines are my everything.
When routines/schedules/things change, my brain and my body get wonkier than other people’s brains and bodies.  I have felt like a failure my entire life because of this!!!!!! And weird. It turns out this is a pretty common ADHD thing. It is all about a sense of control over our bodies, brains, personal space, and our lives, and fighting off the energy storm.
The reason I love routines and doing things in a certain order or certain way isn’t because I’m weird, it’s my brain craving order and calmness. When I was a kid I would come home from school I had a routine that was very important to me. I used the same Alvin and the Chipmunk’s glass for my drink, sat in the same seat, and watched the same shows (I’d turn the dial from General Hospital to Guiding light from 3:30 to 4 and then sit transfixed watching Oprah at 4 and Donahue at 5).  
It all makes so much more sense to me now. Of course I would have had a hard time with my parents’ divorcing and my mother’s volatile, erratic behavior when I was pre-teen. Going back and forth between homes and states where they lived was a lot of readjusting and transitioning. All of the change was too much for the way my brain was wired.
Now, I still feel a little weird, but I embrace my love of routines and understand that they give me comfort. I have a particular coffee cup I use everyday and I have a morning routine that is broken up into 15-minute increments that I like to go the same way every morning. Like I said earlier, I run on the same path or route every time I go for a run and it literally calms my brain by taking the same path. I try to forgive myself for feeling tense and wonky when routines and plans change, and then I find ways to feel calmer. The ways that work are deep breathing or crying briefly or walking away from a situation for a minute or rewriting to-do lists to adjust to the change (to-do lists are HUGE for me)...anyway I can take back a feeling of control and calmness.  


I feel things more than the average human.
My mother tells stories about my night terrors as a toddler and I can remember all the nightmares that kept me up when I was a kid. Life terrified me and it felt very, very real. Especially when I was trying to sleep. My imagination and my emotions have always been pretty intense. That has led to a life full of trouble sleeping, countless apologies for being "too sensitive" or "too much," and endless worries about deadlines, people getting hurt, wondering if I talk too much, is my headache a tumor or not, and holy woah, global warming. Finding out this past year that ADHD-ers feel things on a whole other level than most people actually comforted me. I felt less "crazy." I felt reassured that being an intense feeler was just how I roll. I also learned to be kinder to myself when I was feeling a little too much...instead of hating myself for feeling upset, I just try to go with it a little, it doesn't last forever. I also appreciate that being wired like this means I get to feel more joy than the average person. My joy is genuine and real. I feel it when I stop the car to get out and squeal about a beautiful sunset or when my kid scores a touchdown in the big game or I get the absolute best Greek salad at the diner down the street from my house. The intense joy and pleasure I feel about life is one of the best parts about being an over-feeler.



There is so much more to me and to ADHD...I feel like I am learning more all the time. Understanding how I work and react doesn’t give me a pass, but it does help me understand what I can do to help my brain and my body work. Instead of being aggravated, disgusted, embarrassed by and apologetic of my brain, I am learning to be compassionate, kind, encouraging, and more patient. I want to know more....I want to understand...I want to give my brain, and me, a chance to be okay....


Not being able to fix the backpack would have been just one more thing to a very long list of failures that I was keeping track of in my head and heart last year. But this year is different. This year I don’t see the backpack held together with safety pins that pop open and make us laugh as an utter failure. I see it as a metaphor for my life. I am pretty broken after years of adapting and apologizing and feeling awful about who I am. After discovering my ADHD, taking the medicine, doing all the work to find new coping strategies, and managing my life better I STILL have broken parts. In the metaphor I am not like the backpacks with zippers that work the way zippers are supposed to work. But it’s fine, it’s mostly all good really. 

No matter what, I’m still holding all the crap together like Peyton's backpack. I'm here trying every single day and loving my kids and family and my life. I still feel like apologizing to the world sometimes, but not all the time and that feels good. Instead of everything falling apart, I am held together with safety pins of love, self-acceptance, a sense of humor, medication, curiosity, and a determination to be okay for myself and my family.

Here is some more stuff about ADHD (links and thoughts...people that know me know I can talk a lot about this stuff because it IS FASCINATING!):
1. Teachers should do what my teacher Mr. McKee did in 1983...have the kids in the classroom move and move and move some more. Take a few minutes in between subjects and at the beginning and end of each day. It will help everyone!!!!

2.Phones make my ADHD worse. If you are a parent of someone with ADHD don't give them a phone or at least set some major boundaries. Phones and social media and texting and ahhhhh...it is distracting, anxiety-inducing, a set up for failure (I forget to text so many people back!) and overwhelming and can lead to addiction and complete sensory overload.

3. Medicine is good and bad. I know there are a lot of people who have a lot to say about medicine. I love mine. It has helped me so much. It calms the storm in my body. It does dull parts of me that I miss though, I don't dance as much as I used to. Honestly, I am okay with the dulling because the ADHD storm was raging so much right before my diagnosis, it was really, really awful. 

4. This is a REALLY useful, informative website to get ADHD information: www.additudemag.com

5. Do not be afraid of ADHD. This is an interesting, good time to be diagnosed with ADHD actually. Everyone everywhere knows so much more about the disorder and our brains. It is so much more than people thought it was in the 1980s! I am hopeful that all of this new research and knowledge will open doors and minds to help people with ADHD, and also help the teachers, bosses, parents, spouses and everyone else who knows and loves people with ADHD.

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