It’s time to make the confession. I knew when I started this blog that this moment would come. My secret is so deep and so dark that no one knows it outside my immediate family. But, if this blog is to be what I need it to be, I have to be honest here. I can’t tell all my stories if I’m holding my secret back.
I am a 50-year-old woman with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
I first began to think I might have ADD when I read a magazine article about adult ADD about a year before I got my official diagnosis. I previously heard of ADD and ADHD as applied to kids, but I didn’t really know what it meant. I certainly never knew adults could have ADD. But the article really hit home. It could have been written about me.
I mentioned it to my husband who seemed to blow it off, so I did too. But, I didn’t realize that he started watching me a lot more closely… He is an elementary school teacher, and he knows what to look for in kids. Suddenly one day, a Sunday, during church, I was messing with the kids, fiddling with the bulletin, playing with the kids’ toys, fidgeting, digging in my purse, all very normal behavior for me during the service, and he leaned over and said, “You are not ADD. You are ADHD.”
After that validation, I started to consider the possibility a lot more seriously, I started reading as much as I could about ADHD and obsessively taking online self-diagnosis quizzes. I became convinced I had it, but I didn’t know how to go about addressing it. I tried to talk to my regular doctor about it, but all I got for my efforts was a thyroid test. For the record, I’ve had several thyroid tests over the years and the results have always been fine. Fortunately, my employer offered an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
When I called the EAP to ask for a referral, I explained to the person on the phone that I thought I might have ADHD. “What makes you say that?” the woman asked. I did not then and still do not now have any prepared response to offer anyone about what ADHD is and how I know I have it. I mumbled some vague answer like “I’m very disorganized,” to which she replied, “That doesn’t sound like ADHD to me.” Eleven years later and I’m still pissed off about that. I thought they were supposed to just give me the referral, not argue me out of it! I didn’t give up though; I stayed on the phone until I got the referral I needed.
The psychologist I was referred to was part of a family practice group. Her office was bright and cheerful. She treated me kindly and with sympathy. I had no idea how badly I needed that sympathy; how desperately I needed my struggles to be recognized and named. She asked me a lot of the same questions I was seeing in the online quizzes I had taken, as well as a lot of other questions about my childhood and young adult years, how I managed stress, etc. She spotted something in me no one else ever seemed to notice before. Anxiety. So much anxiety. Anxiety at a level so high that she suggested I might need to consider medication to treat it. I can still remember the shock I felt at hearing that and the relief as well.
Imagine that you’ve tried so hard to walk all your life, struggling to keep up with everyone else who is walking so easily and blaming yourself for failing to walk as well as everyone else, without you or anyone else ever knowing that the reason you can’t walk like they do is that you have no feet. Imagine the relief you feel when someone finally looks closely at you and says, “Oh my goodness Quirkella! The reason walking is so hard for you is because you have no feet!” I remember sitting in the psychologist’s office while she explained to me that along with ADHD, I also most likely had Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and/or Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). Then she said to me, “With all this against you, you’ve just kept soldiering on. You are like a super hero.” It’s no wonder I remember her office as a bright and sunny place. She was the first person to not only acknowledge, but also enable me to acknowledge, the scope of the obstacle I’ve fought my whole life with ADHD.
Her evaluation was in the form of a clinical interview. She sent me to another psychologist specializing in ADHD for follow up evaluation up to confirm her diagnosis. I spent an entire day with the second psychologist taking a battery of tests. One test was a computerized test of attention and reaction time called the T.O.V.A. (Test of Variables of Attention). I also took a lengthy personality assessment consisting of several hundred questions. The outcome you know already. My ADHD was confirmed. I was diagnosed with “moderate to severe” Combined Type ADHD. I was 39 years old.
The two bonus conditions, Anxiety Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress, were not anything I expected. However, upon hearing that I did actually have ADHD, I practically giggled. I was so happy! It seems inherently wrong to be thrilled about being diagnosed with a neurological disorder, but there it is. The psychologist seemed to take my reaction in stride. It’s probably a typical reaction – there is a real joy in finally knowing what the hell is wrong with you.
I needed one more referral from that point – to a psychiatrist for a drug prescription. Medication helps. It helps a lot. In fact, it’s the reason I decided to go ahead and write this post.
My prescription ran out last week. Being ADHD means I am forgetful, I procrastinate, and I don’t plan ahead well. I know perfectly well that when I take the last pill in my bottle I have none left and I need to get my refill. Knowing this, I watched the number of pills in my bottle dwindle to a few, then a couple, then one, then none. And I still didn’t go get my refill. I muddled through for a few days being painfully ineffective at work and home. Anyone checking my browser history on my office computer the past several business days would conclude I was the worst slacker employee ever because I was checking Facebook constantly and Googling things like “cat’s diary vs. dog’s diary” and Harry Potter parties and real estate I couldn’t possibly buy. I’m a mid-level manager in a company undergoing a merger. I’ve got a crazy amount of work to do. I don’t have time to be so distracted that I can’t get any work done, and worse, to be distracting my staff so they can’t get any work done either. Finally, I went to the pharmacy on my lunch hour today. As soon as I got back into my car to head back to the office, I took my pill. Sometimes I wonder if my meds are really doing anything for me. Today, I can answer definitively, YES. The difference between my work performance before I left for lunch and after I returned from lunch was pretty dramatic. I forget sometimes that when my ADHD is unmedicated, I teeter constantly on the edge of disaster. Thus, I needed to write this post. I cannot pretend here, as Quirkella, that I will ever somehow “get it together” without acknowledging the circus in the room.
This is my secret. This is what no one outside of my immediate family knows about me. I don’t want to reveal my secret because I fear the stigma, I fear the judgment, I fear the misunderstanding and ignorance, but most of all, I fear having the sum total of me being reduced to those 4 capital letters.