ADHD Voices: Patrick

Photo courtesy of Patrick Cornelius

My name is Patrick Cornelius. I’m 41 years old. I’m a professional saxophonist, composer, and music teacher. ADHD behaviors are baked into every facet of my personality, from the way I speak to the way I work and the way I live and the way I love. I used to consider many of my ADHD-influenced personality quirks and idiosyncrasies to be shortcomings or moral failings. I know I don’t have to tell most of you about the feelings of guilt and shame that often follow typical ADHD behavior patterns.

I was diagnosed as a child

I don’t recall ever learning precisely when I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. I think it must have been pretty early, like in Kindergarten or 1st grade. I’ve had conversations with my mother in which she relates being asked to withdraw me from several different preschools in San Antonio, TX due to my inability to conform to school behavioral expectations. 

Yes, behavioral expectations. IN PRESCHOOL. 

Anyway, I can remember having to remember to take my twice daily doses of Ritalin as early as 1st grade and as late as 7th grade. What I remember most about having to take medicine is actually not remembering to take it, and the resulting panic I would feel when my mom discovered several untaken pills rattling around my backpack at the end of the week.

In my family, my older brother was the gold standard for academic excellence, and frankly I was never going to truly be able to measure up to his accomplishments with my hopelessly ADHD-addled brain. But I didn’t know that, thankfully. I resolved to work hard and do better. BE better. I was convinced that I could WILL myself to excellence. But believing that meant that I couldn’t take Ritalin anymore, because taking it meant accepting that I needed help, and I didn’t want help.

I had a pretty successful high school career. I graduated with a 4.0 GPA near the top of my class, won a National Merit Scholarship and several awards for music and academics. I even managed to have a few girlfriends (this would have truly shocked Middle School me more than ANYTHING else). Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that I was able to pull off so many academic successes, because frankly my ADHD symptoms never really went away, and nearly derailed many papers, research assignments, and tests. 

I used to think procrastination was just something that everybody did. Sure I knew that there were highly motivated and organized people out there who got all of their assignments done ahead of time and somehow still found the time to be fabulous at everything else in life, but I really thought that the kind of procrastination that I ended up committing (and STILL DO, dammit!) all the time was common. 

But wait, there’s music!

Let’s back up a little. How did I manage to excel at music throughout high school with such reckless productivity habits? Doesn’t improving at playing an instrument require consistency and patient persistence? Why, yes. Yes it does. That’s where the famous ADHD superpower comes in. I know it needs no introduction.

I started taking piano lessons at 4 years old. I was more interested in playing with my piano teacher’s cat and infant son than in my lessons most of the time, but eventually I learned to make at least some effort to pay attention and practice regularly at home. By the time I was 11 or 12 years old, I had attained some technical facility.

At 14, moving to a new middle school to begin 8th grade in a new town (and country) left me with a choice: take gym class or take band. Tough choice, right? Haha, no. I caught on quickly due to my previous knowledge of music reading, theory, and fundamentals. And the saxophone, an instrument designed as an amalgam of sorts with an eye towards ease of learning, provided me the perfect platform to be a quick study.

I lost interest in the piano. As is so often the case, quick successes lead to increasing enthusiasm, and playing the saxophone became my hyperfocus obsession. This continued throughout high school and college and still persists to this day. I have always been able to shut out everything else when it’s time to practice and devote all of my mental energy into practicing and composing. 

College

My college experience was different from my high school experience. It was worse…but that’s a little misleading. I still ended up graduating Magna cum Laude from Berklee College of Music and Summa cum Laude from Manhattan School of Music. But my productivity and behavioral patterns never improved.

In fact, the freedom associated with having complete personal decision making authority brought even more psychological headwinds. I always had time for my hyperfocus “crush:” practicing, perhaps even more time than I was honestly able to spare. Meanwhile assignments that I was less than enthused about from classes not devoted to playing my instruments fell by the wayside until (almost always) the night before.

I remember writing an entire 17 piece big band arrangement in the 24 hours before it was due. This was before the widespread use of music notation software, so I had to write out every single part and recopy the score in ink. By hand. Ugh. Somehow, I was always able to be successful. And every single time, I told myself I would never let this happen again. And yet, it always did.

Managing ADHD in middle age

This struggle has remained the same over the years. Every writing commission, arrangement for a performance, collection of new tunes for a recording session, job application, grant application, etc. has been finished no sooner than a day or two before the due date. In fact, I’m finishing up this blog post days after I promised to send it to Jamie (insert even bigger facepalm than the one up above). HA.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone outside and downstairs to the basement to put the laundry in the drier, then realized in horror (thanks to the stink of mildew) the next morning that I never pressed “start” on the machine. That I would go to the store and come home with everything EXCEPT the one item that I needed to get in the first place. That my wife would give me three simple tasks to do and I would have to come back to her two minutes later and ask what the first two were.

I used to think of these episodes as moral and personal failings. I allowed those thoughts to define how I felt about myself. The very pursuit of excellence in any endeavor, particularly an artistic one where you yourself are the product, inevitably leads to some measure of self-criticism. That’s why recognition and success or failure can often seem so damn personal.

If a concert I’ve given or an album I’ve released gets a bad review, it’s literally ME that’s getting the bad review. At least, it feels that way most of the time. I always try to remind myself “We are more than what we create,” but honestly keeping that in mind when the chips are down is aspirational at best. Stack decades of self-doubt caused by behaviors beyond my control on top of all that, and there’s a sure-fire recipe for depression. And I was often depressed.

But anyway, things are different now.

It has been 9 months since I stumbled upon adult ADHD support communities and podcasts on the internet. Connecting with and learning from all of you has completely changed the way I see myself. Yes, I have ADHD. I have always had it. Other members of my biological family have it. My daughter has it. It’s a big part of who I am, and I’m not ashamed anymore. Being able to speak about this freely and publicly (sometimes VERY publicly) has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life. It’s also helped me become more productive, more honest, a better father, and a better husband.

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If you’d like to connect with Patrick,
he can be found on Twitter and Instagram
or through his website, http://www.patrickcornelius.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

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Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms:

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. 

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

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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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Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms:

ADHD Voices: Delaid

Photo courtesy of Delaid

Hi my name is Delaid and I am 45 years old and amongst many other things diagnosed throughout my lifetime the most recent was a diagnosis of ADHD in September of 2019. The diagnosis of ADHD in my case is quite interesting from an objective perspective and I thought it might be of interest to other people who are late in life receiving an ADHD diagnosis.

Let me go back a few years to when I was 13 years old when I was diagnosed and treated for narcolepsy with dexamphetamine (Adderall in the USA). In July 2018 this stimulant therapy was ceased due to complications with other health conditions which appeared around that time. Absolutely nothing prepared me for what was about to occur when the stimulant therapy ceased. 

The first thing I noticed were tasks that I previously could tackle on my own and competently were falling to the wayside, to the point that I found myself in bed with Netflix on yet not watching anything just inside my head panicking about what the hell I was supposed to do and what was happening. 

I was not able to articulate to my psychiatrist or my medical team what was occurring because I had never experienced anything like this. All I could communicate was that in the last six to nine months I felt my depression was becoming so bad that I was unable to do even the most basic tasks. 

From July 2018 though to June 2019 I had multiple admissions for severe depression to a mental health unit. Each time I would describe simply that my depression was getting worse. Finally in June 2019 my husband advocated for me confirming that there was just not usual depression. 

Let me give you some examples of what was presented to my doctor:

● In the space of about six to nine months piles of paper that contained bills, important documents such as birth certificates mixed up with all sorts of other documents appeared 
● Baskets of unfolded laundry 
● Family members asking me for items and I had no idea where they were 
● Constantly running out of food in the house as I would forget to do the shopping 
● My home had become chaos and despite support from family members it would return to chaos
● I was being charged fees for missing medical appointments
● Some of my medical team discharged me as I was not turning up and therefore losing out on much needed support 
● I was constantly re-purchasing items because it was easier than the anxiety of searching for them 
● Hours spent in bed distraught as to how to fix this despite being surrounded with to-do lists 
● Yet I could plan a perfect snowboarding holiday & this seeming paradox really confused me and added to my deepening depression. 
● I would get deeply focused on an activity and easily angered if interrupted. 
● I couldn’t explain where hours of time had gone and got very distraught if asked about it 

It was noted that although there were elements of these aspects before my medication was discontinued, this was a huge change in my life that was noticeable by my husband. 

Discovering ADHD

During my June 2019 Admission my psychiatrist performed what I describe as a “reverse diagnosis”. I was prescribed Modafinil and monitored for 6 months and provided information on ADHD, Executive Dysfunction, Hyperfocus and Hyperactivity. 

Whilst Modafinil is not as effective for me as dexamphetamine, it has fewer side effects and has made a huge difference to my life. It treats both ADHD and narcolepsy. Immediately I was able to manage my day to day appointment schedule, which was a huge win for me. This meant no more missed appointment fees and I could rebuild my support network, including a peer ADHD life coach who has been awesome. 

I was no longer confused why I could organise some activities and not others, which lifted my mood. I joined an ADHD Discord group, and rather than sit in bed in angst I surrounded myself with support and ideas and I am slowly overcoming the challenges that medication doesn’t resolve.

I gained more confidence in asking family members (all adults) to take responsibility for their own important belongings. I accepted that sometimes it is just easier to order a new certificate if needed than to put myself through the stress of finding it, and then I put the new certificate in its new home. I have learned the art of throwing stuff out, ruthlessly. 

Yes my house is still Chaos. There are still baskets of laundry to be put away. There is still decluttering to be done. Each day I do at least one small thing to make my home a cleaner, more organised space. Yes some days it still gets me down, however I find the use of photographs really helps me see the progress. 

In September 2019 I was formally diagnosed with ADHD with my psychiatrist adding that I place the “H” in ADHD. 😀 

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

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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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Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms: