ADHD Voices: Kenny

Photo courtesy of Kenny Vasquez

I was diagnosed with ADHD in April 2018 at 36 years of age, but I always knew that I had ADHD. When I was four my mom asked the pediatrician to prescribe something that would calm me down. His answer was, “Ma’am, do you really want your kid to be a drugged-up dummy?” People would comment on how fidgety I was or that I was an excellent “multi-tasker”, and I would say that it was because I had ADHD. In fact, I would often tell people that I wasn’t going to bother getting diagnosed because it didn’t affect my life. Ah, the bliss of being young, dumb, and growing up in the 80’s.

Life between birth and 22 was full of ignorance and bliss. Aside from constantly getting in trouble for daydreaming and talking, life was easy and carefree. At 23 I got married and realized that having someone depend on you really puts a spotlight on how bad your ADHD is. Getting to places late, not paying bills on time, mounting to-do items at home, etc. Not to mention that ADHD also impacts my emotions and temper. This was the beginning of 15 years of fights, most of which occurred because we were battling my ADHD without knowing it. 

The day my first son was born was one of the happiest of my life, but I quickly became overwhelmed. Since my ADHD brain easily becomes bored and is always looking for something new, I accepted a job overseeing distribution in Central and South America, which began a period of traveling for work every two weeks. I also accepted heavy religious responsibilities within my local congregation. I didn’t know how to say no. I tried my best, struggling to be a good father, but really felt my failures as a husband.

At 29, I just couldn’t deal with my life as it was. I quit my job to find something that required no travel and I dropped all religious responsibilities. This allowed me to focus more on my family, but I still faced a couple of major problems. I was still living with undiagnosed ADHD, remaining the same unreliable person my wife had been tolerating since we got married. On top of that, this was the first time that I felt like I had truly failed. I didn’t realize it (or I was in denial) at the time, but I was suffering from secondary depression and anxiety as a result of ADHD. These would persist for the next nine years and would affect my family life, stunt my professional growth, and worst of all, cause me to strongly consider taking my own life. I came dangerously close to attempting it on more than one occasion. 

In October of 2014, we were blessed with our second little boy. Then in February of 2016 I was recruited by a financial services firm with the prospect of being a sweat equity partner and I accepted. This was one of the most emotionally and financially draining, difficult and disappointing experiences of my life. Not only did I not make the kind of money I was expecting, but it also caused the largest issues my marriage had ever seen.

However, it was also the catalyst that helped me turn everything around.

See, I had forgotten just how talented and smart I could be. ADHD made me think I was a failure because I started and dropped so many projects. In the words of so many teachers and employers, I was not working to my potential. Although that particular opportunity did not work out in the end, I excelled at my position and started feeling like I could be capable of great things. I had not felt like that in a long time. 

Finally, in April of 2018, at 36 years of age, I realized that perhaps my ADHD was affecting me a little more than I thought. I was diagnosed, started on medication, and things started to get better. Medication made a huge difference in my life. The first drug prescribed was a stimulant, which allowed me to focus and concentrate like never before. But I realized that it was only a band-aid, addressing some of the mental aspects of ADHD but not resolving the underlying issues it had caused.  

In August of 2019 everything changed. I was accepted into a clinical trial for a very promising non-stimulant ADHD drug. It allowed me to think clearly for the first time in my life. I started to give serious thought to major events that had happened in my life and the results were painful. My wife begged me to see a therapist. I resisted fiercely but eventually relented and went. I am so grateful to my wife because therapy has truly changed my life. I have begun the immense task of purging 36 years of pent-up feelings and frustrations, and although at times this is painful, I have never felt better.

Today, even on medication, I still have days where I am wholly unmotivated. I struggle with my emotions and self-confidence and it feels like I am trudging through mud. But at least now I know why and I know how to fight those feelings. I have the tools, the support, and the motivation. 

I have 36 years to make up for and I am just getting started. 

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Kenny can be found as @TheADHDExec on Twitter and YouTube

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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

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Improve Your Self-Care With the #10for20Challenge

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

The #10for20Challenge is all about self-care. The concept was initially shared by Dani Donovan three years ago, when she proposed it as an alternative to New Year’s resolutions. When I discovered the challenge on Twitter last month, I was immediately interested because I absolutely hate New Year’s Resolutions. Let me explain.

Whoever decided to say that the first of the year is the ‘perfect time to set new goals’ has obviously never been inside my ADHD brain. Sure. I went through the motions of setting New Year’s resolutions for many years, because it’s practically an expectation. But that also meant for me that every year I was expected by what…society? to come up with a list of goals to improve myself.

So for several years, yes I made the damn list and for each and every one of those years I did little to nothing to work towards the goals on the list. But it certainly was fun to tote it around for a month and tell everyone all the great things I was planning on doing.

Of course then came the feelings of embarrassment, anxiety, and shame around having not measured up yet again. But that is part of the problem. New Year’s resolutions feel like something that is forced on me from the outside. And that’s a great recipe for this ADHDer to say “screw it” and move along with my life.

The #10for20Challenge is different

10 for 20 is about you. It’s about taking back some of your time each day—20 minutes—in order to focus on something that already makes you happy or something that you want to do more of. Start by making a list of ten things that fit that description, and then pick any one of them to do each day. It’s as simple as that.

My 10 for 20 Challenge list looks like this:

1. Talk with someone about something that matters
2. Write
3. Move my body
4. Listen to music
5. Organize something
6. Help solve a problem
7. Play a video game
8. Sing
9. Play with my kids
10. Learn about something new

When I look at that list, I don’t get worried about not measuring up, I get excited by seeing things I love and things that make me feel better after I’ve done them. It looks like a list of friends waiting to greet me at the end of a long day, as well as a few acquaintances who make me feel better the more I get to know them.

How the challenge improves your self-care

Where it really shines is when taken in the context of the following illustration I found on Twitter. It shows how all too often we try using just one thing for all of our self-care. And when that one thing gets stale we are left without, and end up just providing more fuel for anxiety and depression.

The strength of the #10for20Challenge is in its flexibility. Its a menu of “can-do” items rather than “to-do” or “must-do” items. And when you are able to make this time for yourself, odds are good that with a list of ten you’ll have something to do that’s also available at the time you want to do it..

As someone who has struggled with self-care for most of my adult life, I implore you to explore this idea. Try it out. Make a list. Post it where you can see it or have easy access to it. And then set aside 20 minutes a day to do something on that list. For you.

And screw the fact that it’s already February—these aren’t your mom and dad’s New Year’s resolutions. There is nothing that says it’s too early or too late to start anything. With ADHD you’ve got to strike when the iron is hot, not when some arbitrary date rolls around. So get started now and enjoy the positive change that comes to your life.

Have you tried the 10 for 20 Challenge? Are you going to try it now? Feel free to reach out and share your experiences with it by commenting below or sharing on social media using the hashtag:

#10for20Challenge

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Why I Didn’t Get Diagnosed With ADHD When I Was a Child

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One of the most difficult things I’ve been dealing with is this question: Why didn’t I get diagnosed with ADHD when I was younger? My older brother was diagnosed with ADD when we were kids. If this had happened in 2020, the doctors would have looked into the rest of our family, at the very least to parents and siblings. That little check would have significantly improved the lives of at least three of us.

The fact is, I was not diagnosed as a child. And as far as I understand it, Adult-onset ADHD isn’t a thing. However, ADHD often isn’t diagnosed until well into adulthood, and there are many, many ADHDers who live their entire lives simply never being diagnosed.

So how did I make it for so long?

One of the factors is that I have ADHD-Inattentive, the classic “ADD,” without the big H of hyperactivity. The lack of hyperactivity has left many boys and even more girls undiagnosed in childhood. On top of that, many folks with the inattentive sub-type do well enough to get by in the early years of schooling. And they continue to excel until they “slam into the wall” as described by Dr. Amen in his book, “Healing ADD.” Where this wall is differs from person to person.

Elementary School

I was one of those who excelled early in school. Reading and school itself were both early fixations in my life and my super power of hyperfocus was actively at work in both areas. It’s basically a perfect setup for an ADHDer to do well. In elementary school my love for reading propelled me to near the top of the class academically and kept me there until middle school. I had few friends, though I got along well enough with my classmates. I self-isolated through reading, and even at recess I might be found sitting alone reading rather than playing.

Since I loved school, I adored teachers. I always tried to be my teacher’s best friend. When I did schoolwork and took tests, I wanted them to be proud of what I did and I thrived on positive feedback and recognition that I got in return. I was also natural friends with the librarians in my schools and frequently spent extra time in the library.

Middle School

But by middle school I could no longer compete with the top of my class. I struggled with coursework that I found boring like language arts where we were learning parts of speech and syntax. This was the first time I can remember not being able to read and learn from a text. I still did very well in math and literature and was also active in band and choir…though I never practiced at home. Because I had already developed a reputation as a top student, I did everything I could to maintain that. I frequently lied about my academic progress and never shared my struggles with anyone because the prospect of admitting to that struggle was too embarrassing.

High School

I did fine through high school. I tested well enough to overcome my problems with homework and I relied on impressive procrastination skills to get through classes where late homework was accepted and long projects were staples. I filled my high school days with working in my parents’ store, playing in sports, bands, choirs, plays, musicals, and just about anything else I could join. I got good grades in classes I liked with teachers I liked, and I struggled in the others. I wouldn’t “slam into the wall” until my first year in college. But that’s a tale for some other day.

Another factor that worked against me getting a childhood ADHD diagnosis was that my family moved frequently. Between preschool and 12th grade my family moved ten times. Three times these moves involved changing schools in the middle of the year. The moves made it all the more difficult for any teacher to have enough time and data to see through my mask and find the struggling child beneath.

So why wasn’t I diagnosed as a child?

TL/DR: I was born in the wrong decade. I have ADHD-Inattentive, and without hyperactive symptoms you don’t often stand out. I absolutely LOVED school and reading throughout my elementary years, which set me up for many years of success. When I started to struggle I was too embarrassed to talk about it and lied to cover up all signs of struggle that I could. Moving ten times during my school years also prevented educators from having enough time to really get to know me.

Having been diagnosed as a child could have dramatically changed my life. My diagnosis is still new and I’m struggling to manage the grief I have over all of the time and opportunities that I lost to ADHD when I didn’t even know I had it. As I work on moving forward, I am trying to take to heart a quote written on a small plaque I was given by a teacher when I was just seven years old: The past cannot be changed, but the future is whatever you want it to be. 30 years later it has more meaning than ever.

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