ADHD Voices: Sheena

Photo courtesy of Sheena Howard

My quick reflexes that come from laser sharp focus helped me save my son’s life when he was 18 months old. I have been reading since I was 3. I read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein when I was 10. My uncanny ability to pattern human emotions and energy has led to an enormously successful 15 yr career as nurse and health care leader.

When sitting next to strangers or standing next to them in a line, they somehow trust me enough to share their biggest secrets or their private thoughts…This has happened so many times my wife says I should write a book called “The Shit People Tell Me”.

Humour transcends suffering; I can somehow figure out the funny in the darkest part of peoples’ suffering and make people laugh. I’ve been praised for my abilities to perform well under pressure and pull brilliant solutions out of my head at the 11th hour.

And yet…

I was kicked out of the special once-per-day “enrichment” class in Grade 2 because I asked too many questions. I can’t call to order a pizza because I have to think about too many things at once. I count with my fingers and just recently discovered that 8+4=12. I can’t make my brain find simple words like chair or plate but I can speak like a snobby, academic asshole. 

I don’t know my multiplication tables…that sucks for a nurse…because, you know…people die from med errors. I nap at work because I get bored after 3pm. Replying to texts and emails makes me want to poke my eye out with a pencil. 

I used to think…What the hell is wrong with me?

Diagnosis  

Our eldest son’s pediatrician was the one who diagnosed me with ADHD. After confirming his diagnosis, she leaned over and said “So, you know you have ADHD too, right?” I looked at her and said “No fucking way.” Verbal impulsivity is part of my profile. 

I was diagnosed with ADHD-Combined Type and dyscalculia (think of it as dyslexia with numbers) when I was 38 years old and I was pissed off. The months after my diagnoses were filled with anger. I was angry about all of the shame I felt right straight through from Kindergarten to my university graduation and into my work as a nurse.

All I could think about was how much shame I felt as a result of my struggles in school. I felt so different from my peers and remembered in detail how all of those bloody stupid adults told me that I was “not trying hard enough,” “not working up to my full potential,” “easily distracted,” “too imaginative,” and “too talkative,” despite my success in school. 

Well, except for math. I cheated in math.

The sting of shame has followed me for as long as I can remember. I was never smart enough, clever enough, quiet enough, gentle enough or good enough. And I was really upset thinking that things could’ve been better and I asked what so many of us adult ADHDers have asked…

Could things have been different for me if I’d been identified earlier?

The answer for me was…likely not.  

After Diagnosis 

I really don’t think things would have been better for my spirited, loving, anxious, empathetic younger self. Being diagnosed with ADHD in the 80s as a girl would have carried much more stigma than it does now. No one knew what to do with us then. 

In fact, I think that my ADHD helped me nurture my “screw you all” attitude. That combined with my ability to make friends contributed to my resiliency. Had I been diagnosed back then, that would likely have been dragged out of me and I would be left more broken and shameful and struggling to put myself back together – likely trying to do that with booze and pot. Damn it. 

I couldn’t blame the adults for missing it. And it would have likely made me worse off if they did. Shit. I just wanted to stay in my self-righteous pity-party. That felt really good. 

Now what?

My wife gave me the answer. She asked me “Why don’t you work on embracing it? Your ADHD has given you so many amazing traits. Why don’t you celebrate them instead of cursing them?” Growl.  Sometimes she makes so much sense I want to call her a jerk. 

Our son was really the reason I began to embrace my diagnosis and start to heal my shame. We were working hard to help him understand and believe he was bright and not broken. Creative not crazy. Strong and not stupid. I couldn’t help him believe those things if I could not believe it for myself.  

So, I told him I had ADHD too and my wife told him about all of the amazing things I had done and could do because of my ADHD and how she was so happy he got my genes. That is what helped. Seeing my son’s relief that he wasn’t alone and seeing myself through my wife’s eyes gave me permission to really see myself and the gifts my ADHD has given me; for the first time ever.

And the shame started to melt. 

And because it melted, I went back to school and got my Master’s degree. Graduating with distinction in the top 1%. Screw you Mr. L who said I would never graduate high school…whatever, I am still angry with a few of the adults. 

And now I am a female entrepreneur. And I can embrace my choice to treat my ADHD with medication. And my eldest son can talk about his shame freely and we work through it together.  And now my youngest son and my wife have been diagnosed with ADHD.  And because my shame has been replaced with gratitude for the gifts my ADHD has given me, I can wholeheartedly support them to see the gifts ADHD has brought to them. 

Now that I know I have ADHD I can harness my strengths and use them to work around my limitations. I am not too sure I could’ve done that as young girl or even as a teen. The gift of finding out in adulthood is that I am not at the mercy of the beliefs and worries of adults who may or may not have been able to help me. 

I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years living in awareness of my ADHD will bring. I will be 60-something and I really hope it means I can order a pizza. 

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If you’d like to connect with Sheena,
she can be found as @SheenaLGHoward on Twitter
or through her website, http://sheenahoward.com/

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ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @ gmail.com

The Opportunity to Create a “New Normal”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A couple of days ago I live-tweeted an Additude webinar called “ADHD Life: Reassessing Goals and Priorities after a Pandemic.” Since then I’ve continued to ponder what I learned from it and how the principles shared can help us as we continue to work through this life-altering shutdown. It’s well worth your time to listen to the whole thing.

Since a statewide shutdown due to Covid-19 was enacted in mid-March, my daily routine has completely changed. This includes the way I live, work, socialize, eat, play…you get the idea. Working as a school principal, I was used to commuting an hour each way. Because of the drive, I was getting up much earlier than I naturally do (5:30am- blech!). Having two hours of total drive time per day also allowed me ample time to listen to audiobooks. I probably went through 20 audiobooks during the first two-thirds of the school year. In the evenings I would return home, sometimes making it to family dinner, and sometimes not.

I now work out of our upstairs guest bedroom. I get to sleep in longer than I used to, and my truck has been sitting idle for nearly two months. I haven’t listened to an audiobook in that time, and I haven’t been face-to-face with any of my teachers or students, though I am still working with them every day. Work now consists of a series of daily Zoom meetings. And where I used to leave my office and walk through classrooms or run to help with a situation…all is now accomplished from my chair. So there are many days where I spend 7 or more hours simply sitting in the same chair in that upstairs bedroom staring at a screen while I do my work online.

Home and family are different too of course. My children no longer attend school. They are completing learning activities, some online, some not. But mostly they’re doing a splendid re-creation of Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat. Though we are surrounded by wonderful parks and beaches, nearly all are completely closed to the public. Restaurants and theaters are also closed, along with most stores. Life has basically become one long episode of Groundhog Day as we live and repeat the same, sad, quarantine routine every single day.

It’s time to reframe

I’ll admit that I’m grieving for the way life used to be, and I’ve spent many of these shutdown days sitting around wishing I could go do things I’m used to doing. This week my state governor extended our “stay home, stay safe” plan for yet another month and that hit me pretty hard. But then I was able to think back on this webinar that I’d watched just one day earlier, and I’ve got a much better outlook on things now. It all starts with reframing our situation.

Yes, this situation has dramatically altered our lives. And it’s not likely to get anywhere close to “normal” soon. So it’s time to accept that this is the “new normal” and figure out what’s next.

With work, we are no longer constrained by school buildings, traditional schedules, or even student groupings. It has opened up many new possibilities for tailoring instruction to students and giving teachers and students new opportunities to interact through technology that many had only heard about before. We are being encouraged to try new things, experiment with new ways of teaching and learning and connecting, and students and teachers alike have become more excited and engaged as they’ve begun to let go of how we used to do things.

At home the change has been slower. But I’ve come to the realization that being cut off from most of my regular routine means that I can literally create a new one. How many projects have I put off for years, and how many old hobbies did I give up simply because I didn’t have the time? Well time is something I happen to have a lot of right now!

So how do you start?

You’ve had virtually everything in your life cleared from the deck, and now you get to decide what goes back in, and what stays out. Start by dividing up your life into categories like these:

  • Health
  • Family
  • Finances
  • Social relationships
  • Fun
  • Career
  • _____

Once you’ve got what feels like a pretty comprehensive list, rate how you feel about your current status with each area. You could do this with numbers (1-5 as an example) or even with coloring a chart or graph where fuller and bigger mean better.

After rating each area, you can decide what to do about it. Feeling great about family? Perfect. Leave it as-is and focus on the other areas. Concerned about health? Perhaps you used to go to the gym but now it’s been closed for two months and you haven’t walked farther than from the couch to the refrigerator in that time? Why not start by talking short walks around the block? Do you miss connecting with friends and socializing as you used to? You could set up a video chat or a virtual game night.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that it’s not about setting and achieving goals. It’s about feeling better and finding peace and greater happiness in a pandemic. So whether you call it a goal or not, add in to your life things that will make you happy and let go of things that won’t. Find new ways to connect with friends and family members who you no longer get to visit. Work on a project that is fun and meaningful to you. Make plans to do things that you love that maybe you haven’t had time for in a while.

If you take stock of your situation you will find hidden opportunities that you’ve been missing. If all else fails, just try something new. And don’t worry about doing it perfectly. There’s power in simply doing. Jessica (@HowToADHD) put it best in song:

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