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: Kristin

Photos courtesy of Kristin Paulson

I have always had this “I don’t care what anyone thinks” but also, “why does it seem like no one likes me” internal struggle as long as I can remember. I was a generally happy, active kid. I did dance, scouts, sports, etc. I did average to well in school. I struggled with friends, I had trouble “fitting in.” I had big ideas. I wanted to be a professional baseball player, President of the United States, or an author, to name a few of my elementary career choices.

Life in school

Middle school was okay. Same issues, just more hormones in the mix. I remember my biggest struggle academically in elementary and middle school was being assigned something to read that I did not particularly enjoy. It was so hard to read it; I found it literally painful and unable to be completed. I often got caught up in gossip in middle school amongst friends. My intentions were to be a peacekeeper but I seemed to have a knack to cause turmoil amongst my social groups.

High school was fun. I was in the marching band, I had some boyfriends, and I had a core group of friends throughout high school. One moment that sticks out in my mind is at band practice, we were practicing our routine and needed to freeze at a particular spot, like literally freeze and not take another step….I couldn’t do it. I always took one more step. The instructor was livid. Everyone was cracking up, and I had no idea why I could not freeze when I needed to. It literally felt like I had no control.

I struggled in school a little more. Things that did not interest me were awful. I struggled, resisted, and tried to make it work. At some point, my mom pondered if maybe I did have ADD and took me to be evaluated. I went to a psychologist or something and in one session, they concluded I did not have ADD so that was that.

Again, I had friends, I graduated high school with honors, I was accepted at Michigan State University. When I reflect on my childhood at home with my parents and 3 younger sisters, I was an asshole if I did not get my way. I would attempt to make everyone miserable if I was miserable. I would trash the house, yell, scream, etc. My mom could generally keep her cool, my dad, a fellow ADDer, would not always remain level headed. I was grounded quite a bit.

I did have the oldest child thing going for me, I had such an urge to attempt to do everything my parents asked me to do, that I did not often challenge major decisions, and usually respected rules and such. I often was accused of “parenting” my younger sisters. My next sister and I basically hated each other from middle school until we were adults. It was a working hateful relationship but we definitely did not respect each other until much later.

Finding my niche in college

My freshman year of college was really hard. I went away to school so I was learning how to manage my own time, going to class with 300-400 other people, and not having to show up if I didn’t want to. I struggled the first two years, netting a 2.0 GPA, and then I found my niche and became a Social Work Student—the program that required the least amount of science.

I graduated with honors, had an amazing internship in the Mayor’s office in Lansing, MI, and I got a grant job at the College of Nursing that had social work students and nursing students working together. I liked what the nursing students were doing better. I joke I went to college the first time to learn how to be an adult learner. I started chipping away at my science classes I needed to apply for Nursing school, they were so hard, but I wanted it, so I made it work. I graduated with my BSN in Dec. 2007 and have done well as a nurse…for the most part. 😉 You know, ADHD struggles.

Adulting

Here I am hyperfocused on my school story, during that time, I also got married and moved back to my hometown. ER nursing was my career choice. As my primary care doctor says, “I think most of you that work in the ER have ADD/ADHD, you can’t sit still!” As a nurse, there is always an opportunity for overtime, I could easily work 50-60 hour work weeks.

I burnt myself out. I started thinking about having kids and not wanting to be pregnant and working 12 hour shifts. I had a vacation request denied, and well, ADHD, abrupt decisions based on one heated feeling. I got a M-F nursing job at the same hospital in informatics, I helped build, train, implement, maintain the new Electronic Medical Record application for the inpatient setting, it was an amazing experience.

But I missed the ER and hated the Monday through Friday monotony. And I popped out two kids in 4 years. It was so mundane to get the kids to daycare, go to work, pick the kids up, go home, make dinner, put them to bed, do laundry, etc. (my husband was present and supportive, but this story isn’t about him). I kind of hated life and wanted to go to grad school. So I went back to the ER part time, and 5 years later made it to grad school!

I found out through parenting

My son struggled with school in 2nd grade, falling behind for the first time. After the first half of the year, his teacher was always redirecting him. I took him in for ADHD evaluation. Then I read it.

OMG, I am him, this is me, I have ADHD.

This explained so much: impulsivity, over-emotional response, ability to hyperfocus, messy house, hating cooking dinner or taking the time to eat, and so on. I got myself some Adderall and connected with some online resources like ADHDSurprise, ADHD Alien and much of the ADHD Twitter community. I also enjoy The ADHD Mama, Dank ADHD Memes and Authentically ADHD on Facebook. It feels so good to know I am not alone, the struggle is real, but it is not impossible to manage and be successful. The kids and I have all started counseling to give us the tools we need to be successful in life. I am getting my daughter, who is in first grade, evaluated this summer. I’m often tempted to toss one of her brother’s Adderall tablets in her mouth just to check. 😉

ADHD is a superpower if you can make it work for you and embrace your differences. It feels so good to know I am different and that is okay. Instead of feeling like I am wrong, I just acknowledge I am different and that is okay. I also feel like in the last few months with the Adderall, I have been able to slow down, not be so quick to respond, while letting stupid things go instead of getting fired up and firing off.

I feel like now that I recognize my thought process is different, it allows me to pause and reflect that whoever I am working with is often taking a different path. It is so important to recognize that because it allows me to have flexibility and not be upset if they don’t get my idea and also recognize why I may not understand their idea or thought process. I feel like my future is so much brighter and I will succeed with some of my big goals since ADHD gives me guts to dream big and go for it, and Adderall helps me think about it and make an effective plan!

~~~

If you’d like to connect with Kristin,
she can be found as @EDRN_Mommy_KP 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