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. 

~~~

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

~~~

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

ADHD Voices: Dan

Photo by Tomas Anunziata on Pexels.com

Hi, I’m Dan, a 44 yr old male from the UK, who was diagnosed with ADHD last year. This is my journey. 

Until recently I was foggy brained and burnt-out. Anxious and frustrated often by the simplest thing. Overthinking, catastrophizing, trapped in my head, either hyperfocusing or distracted. Being smart one minute, then struck dumb the next. As a teenager I self-medicated with cannabis. Academically I did okay (enough to get by), mainly because the courses I did were coursework assessed, with my coursework  usually completed last thing. School reports highlighted I was often ‘failing to meet my potential’ and ‘lacks consistency.’ My handwriting was awful – and still is. Like my brain was half a sentence or further ahead and my hand was rushing to catch up.  

This was MY normal. I’d seen therapists to discuss anxiety and stress – I also have IBS. However, since moving to a new country and having a kid, it became clear I wasn’t handling things as well as I had previously. Post diagnosis, I think family life and working in a dual language environment with a different culture exposed and crippled my  coping mechanisms. The impact of this had a significant impact on my life. My ups and down were trending downwards. Things at work started slipping more than usual and stress increased until a burnout made me look at things differently. 

Getting help and a lot of tests

It took some time, but, encouraged by my partner, I went back into therapy.

During one of these sessions we discussed ADD/ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For me that conjures up images of young kids, usually boys, disrupting class. This didn’t feel like me, but after some reading it felt familiar. So I did a quick online test. The results all suggested getting tested. 

I found a place where they specialise in ADHD in Adults. There, they asked me about my life, issues, and medical history. I spoke with a psychiatrist who asked me more specific questions which I now understand are the DSM diagnostic criteria for ADHD. 

Then came the Qb computer test.  With a tracking band on my head I had to look at a screen. If I saw 2 of the same shape and also the same colour after one another, I had to press a button. I thought this would be the test that would show I was wasting everyone’s time. Colours, shapes. Easy. When I left the room 20 minutes later, I was tired out and my head hurt. Man, that was a lot harder than I thought. 

The next step was to take a pill and then go for some fresh air and come back in an hour for the same test. Then we’d compare results. About 20 minutes after taking the pill I felt calmer. Like I’d been on a zen retreat. I could focus more. The almost constant busyness in my head was more distant, quieter. My focus was sharper. 

I went back and took the test again. It wasn’t so hard this time. Following this test I sat down with a doctor and we looked at the results. The differences between the tests were dramatic. On some sections for the first test I was off the charts. Way above or below the average. The second test I was within the ‘normal’ (my words, not theirs) range.

Coupled with all the information from the assessments, I was given a diagnosis of ADHD-combined. This surprised me. I thought maybe, possibly mild inattentiveness.  Hyperactive too, really? Of course, for me it’s normal that my foot is tapping. That my brain runs a hundred miles an hour. Oh wait, I see now. 

Managing my ADHD

That was the diagnosis. The next step was to talk management. The centre I went to use medication and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). The medication helps give you the space to work on the CBT. So we planned the first session. I was pleased to have what seemed like an answer and a path to manage my issues. 

I went home and ordered ‘Delivered from Distraction’ by Edward Hallowell. I read this over the coming weeks and find myself time and time again seeing things which to me were problematic but I figured just normal. I’ve now discovered many of these things are ‘common amongst people with ADHD’. The next few days and weeks were up and down and I was slightly emotional at times.  

I set up my twitter account and started following ADHD folks. I’m grateful to those who are sharing their journeys and offering guidance to others. This helped me process my own diagnosis. Folks like @HowtoADHD,  @blkgirllostkeys, @ADHD_alien, @DaniDonovan, @ADHDSurprise and countless others. 

Reading stories, I realised I had been lucky. For some folks, society’s bias meant they had not gotten the support they needed or they had a non-supportive health care system (yes, l am looking at you America). Looking back now, without realising it, I adapted and developed coping mechanisms to protect myself, which whilst not perfect, had, along with some white male privilege meant I’d got to 44 without major incident. 

Since the diagnosis, I’ve made changes, minor changes and am very much a work in progress. The main change being medication. I take dexamphetamine three times a day. This has helped calm my mind down and I’m less stressed about things. I explain it as the chaos in my mind is still there, but now it’s outside waiting in the car, not banging on the door. Within a week of starting medication my wife commented that my energy was a lot calmer. Who knew stimulants could calm you down. 

The CBT helped too. Understanding why I struggled with some things and what structures I’d need, helped. At present I’m out of work and the coronavirus has meant my schedule has been thrown with the family all being home. Now though, I’m more aware of needing time for myself and self care. My relationship is better because we discuss stuff and have a name for it. My awesome wife has unconsciously had to deal with my undiagnosed ADHD. But at least now, we’re able to communicate better.

I’m still learning about how to manage my ADHD but being aware of it helps. I’ve always been self-deprecating so that helps. I’m utilising technology to support me. I love my Apple Watch. I’m slowly joining the ADHD community online. All this helps. 

Some people say ADHD is a gift – that it makes you special – that’s BS. It’s tough, it’s painful, it’s nasty. The diagnosis is the gift, understanding you can’t use typical solutions on your non-typical brain. That helps. 

~~~

If you’d like to connect with Dan,
he can be found as @RockstarMonk on Twitter

~~~

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

ADHD Voices: Tirnom

Photo courtesy of Tirnom Dangiwa

Before I got diagnosed with ADHD, I never really thought I had a problem, even though my academics and social life suffered greatly. I was always told that I had potential or I was smart but I was unserious or too playful so I always assumed that was the problem.

After I got into university, I began to notice that I had some major challenges. Every time I tried to study or concentrate during lectures, I always found my mind wandering and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t. I still didn’t think I had a problem but I kept trying.

After my first result came in, I was devastated. I could not understand why I put in so much effort and got so little results. It was not just my academics that suffered, I was (still am) very hyper and I always tried to figure out why but I never really thought it was linked to a mental disorder. I also had a hard time prioritizing, planning, being consistent, sustaining friendships or just being myself around people.

The more I struggled with these challenges, the more I started asking myself, “what is wrong with me?” I did not have the answer and I did not know who to talk to about what I was going through because I was deeply ashamed and no matter how much I prayed or how hard I tried it never seemed to help. I did not quite understand how to explain it to myself to talk less about explaining it to other people. I thought I would sound stupid so I just kept it to myself.

By the time I got to my final year, it became very apparent that I had a major problem. I was struggling. I could not bring myself to meet deadlines for any of my projects no matter how many times the deadlines got extended. This made me extremely anxious and I tried asking for a little direction from people who were handling their projects well, but I did not know how to explain what I was going through so it was very difficult for me to get the help I needed to complete my project at the right time.

It was during this time that I found out about ADHD. I was in the library working on my project when I came across a book that looked very childlike and colorful and I was somehow drawn to it. The book was about ADD/ADHD and before then I had never heard about ADHD. I don’t know why, but I started going through it and I was in deep shock as I read through every page. The book perfectly described every single challenge I was going through and it was like a breath of fresh air.

Right there and there I knew I had ADHD. I felt seen. I was going through a series of emotions. From happy; knowing I was not alone with my challenges to mad because, “why isn’t this talked about more?”, “why don’t people like me get the help we need earlier?”  These were some of the thoughts that ran through my head that day. I was relieved though, I finally had the answer and for the first time in a very long time, I got very optimistic about my future.

I finally got diagnosed with ADHD in 2019 and it has been a crazy journey. I found some helpful videos online, I started therapy and I also found a large community of ADHDers online. This has made my journey a little bearable but it is still very challenging. I am not medicated and had to stop therapy towards the end of last year.

I am still struggling but I am learning every day, I am also very hopeful. I still get comments like “There’s nothing wrong with you” or “Just pray about it”. I don’t get mad, I just really want to educate people about it. It’s extremely hard initiating these conversations, especially online because I always think I’m not smart enough to do it. But I am a work in progress and I will keep learning and figuring out ways to help myself and the people who are just like me.

~~~

If you’d like to connect with Tirnom,
she can be found as @call_me_Tinom on Twitter

~~~

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