ADHD Voices: Laura

Photo courtesy of Laura @adhd_curl

My name is Laura. I was born in Japan, grew up in Texas, moved to Utah to attend Brigham Young University and didn’t leave. Leave Utah, that is. I have a degree in English Language and a minor in Editing, which I mostly use to tell self-described English experts that Shakespeare’s English sounded more like Captain Barbosa than Captain Picard. I am also married and have two children.

I have ADHD, and here is my story *insert Law and Order dun dun.*

Talk to me

For starters, I didn’t talk until I was 3 ½ years old as the result of ear infections. Because I was speech delayed, I received special education services through my school district. I had speech therapy from preschool until I was in second grade. In second grade, I was struggling in the normal large classroom setting and I was placed in Resource (small group classes) for specific subjects. Honestly, the fact I was struggling in my normal classroom for those subjects should have been a clue, but it was all (understandably) swept under the “speech delayed” rug. 

I had teachers call me a daydreamer. I also kept a messy desk. More clues. I still remember my second grade teacher dumping the contents of my desk into my lap when I was struggling to find a pencil for the spelling test. With enough guidance and engagement, I did quite well in school, especially in my Resource classes. In fact, I was transitioned out of the Resource program in fifth grade when it was decided that I was doing well enough. 

Then I started struggling again. Mostly I struggled with verbal instructions from the teacher. I would get in trouble for not paying attention, when I really was. I also got in trouble for forgetting small supplies, losing papers, or not getting something signed. In fact, my fifth grade teacher once kept me inside for recess for an entire week because I didn’t get a spelling paper signed. Let’s just say my second and fifth grade teachers were not very nice people.

Silence isn’t always golden

My family moved into an inner city school district the summer before I started seventh grade. That school district didn’t care about my history, which was kind of a blessing because I could have a fresh start. This district already had its own problems with behavior, overcrowding, and finances.

I became “the quiet kid” and the teachers LOVED me. All I did was behave myself and do my work. There came a point after I got to high school when I decided I wanted to try a few advanced placement classes because my regular classes seemed too easy, and I wanted to look good for college applications.

Ooooh boy did I get in over my head. You know how my “quiet kid” label was good for regular classes? Well, in these advanced classes, you actually got graded for how much you contributed to class discussions! Sometimes for as much as a test grade. WHAAAAAT????? This…was not ideal. Somehow I did enough to get passing grades, but I certainly didn’t excel. 

There was also the note taking. I had a hard time paying attention to the teacher and taking notes. How do you take notes when a teacher is talking? What do you write down? How do you decide what’s important enough to write down? These are just a few of the thoughts that went through my head when trying to take notes. Let’s just say I could never be a court stenographer. 

Put your shoulder to the wheel

College was another beast. I struggled. A lot. I had more than one college professor say, “You’re clearly smart, what the heck is going on?!” I had no explanation. I started going to the college counseling center, where I was sort of diagnosed with anxiety. I got talk therapy for two years, and I guess it was better than nothing. Did I mention that I got on Academic Warning not once, but TWICE?! I struggled with time management and getting my priorities straight. Also again, the note taking problem.

“Laura, you’re better than this!” I would tell myself. I would also wonder, “But…am I really better than this? Maybe I am just stupid.” My friends and roommates also commented on my ability to completely zone out, like I was in my own little world. Especially when I was using my computer.

I somehow managed to graduate from college in four years with under-treated depression and anxiety, and undiagnosed ADHD. My GPA was pretty bad and I had been in academic trouble more than once. How did I manage to graduate? Extreme stubbornness, most likely. I also got married the day after I graduated. Yup, I did that.

The next few years were one struggle after another. Partly because of the Recession, and also because I do not interview well AT ALL, it took me nearly a year to find a job, only to get laid off a few months later. Despite living in a small, one-bedroom apartment and having no children to chase after (except for the boy I nannied for a time), I still couldn’t seem to keep a consistent cleaning schedule and clutter was a problem. This was on top of adjusting to married life and everything that came with it. I finally started taking antidepressants during my first pregnancy, which helped.

When my first daughter was almost two years old, I decided to go back to therapy. This time, I found out I had moderate depression, severe anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD. I started doing EMDR, which honestly was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was able to make peace with some things and I was better able to manage my depression and anxiety. I also believe that this got me into a place to eventually accept that I have ADHD.

Despite the psychotherapy and antidepressants, I still struggled with basic daily living. Housekeeping was still an unending battle and the clutter was still taking over. I could have a really good day/week where I would be on top of everything, and then I would fall into a deep depression where I couldn’t do anything. Now I know that those “good” days were actually me forcing a lot of energy into doing the things.

While my daughters were loved and cared for, establishing and enforcing consistent boundaries were my weaknesses. I vacillated between being overly permissive or overly strict. I thought it was just my anxiety and depression, it didn’t occur to me that there was something else.

You think I have what?

My mom was the one who suggested that I look into getting diagnosed with ADHD, noting our extensive family history. I have a brother who was diagnosed with ADHD during childhood because (a) he was clearly “hyper” and (b) young boys in the 1990s were more likely to get diagnosed than girls. Several members of my extended family (even going back generations) have symptoms of ADHD as well, though few have been diagnosed.

At first I scoffed. How could I possibly have ADHD? I’m not hyper! I have depression and anxiety! Out of curiosity, however, I decided to do some Googling. The more I read, especially by and about women with ADHD, the more I saw myself. “Wait a minute, could it be ADHD?!”

So began my search for someone who could test and treat me (if I did indeed have it). Then there was actually making an appointment and then GOING to the appointment. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be taken seriously because of the stories of women having a harder time getting diagnosed. I was also worried about being accused of drug seeking, since many of the drugs used to treat ADHD are controlled substances. 

I feel incredibly fortunate that I was taken seriously. Both by my nurse midwife, who told me her husband had just been diagnosed himself and by the psychiatric nurse practitioner who evaluated me. The moment the words “Yes, you have symptoms of inattentive ADHD” were uttered, I felt so much relief. My entire life made so much more sense! I wasn’t lazy, stupid, or crazy…I had ADHD! 

However, there was also a grieving process of sorts. Missed opportunities, my failures and shortcomings, damaged friendships, etc. Also the anger over not being diagnosed sooner, but I try to remind myself that I grew up in the 1990s, and the phrase “it was the 90s, we didn’t know anything” applies.

What happens now?

I am currently taking medication for ADHD. We’ve had to tweak it a bit, but now I am seeing how good life can be. I am learning more and more about my diagnosis, and how I can better live my life with my diagnosis rather than fighting against it. My house is getting cleaner. I can honestly say that I am a much happier person.

Of course, I know that medication doesn’t always work for everyone. Even people who are related. Remember the brother I mentioned earlier? He tried all the available ADHD drugs in the 1990s (stimulants, mostly), but the side effects were much worse than the actual ADHD. As a result, he went unmedicated for about two decades. In the last few years, he has gotten on a non-stimulant drug that has been great for him. Me? I’m on an extended release stimulant that is working great. 

My point is, no two ADHD cases are alike. Sure there are the common traits, but everyone manifests them differently. If you’ve met one person with ADHD, you have met ONE person with ADHD. I personally don’t exhibit a lot of the stereotypical traits of someone who has it, which I will elaborate on at another time.

In conclusion….

If you suspect that you or someone close to you has symptoms of ADHD, I would look further into it. If it’s for say, a loved one, approach the matter with sensitivity. Respect their choices and be supportive. 

If it’s you, be kind to yourself. You are not defective–your brain just works differently, and that’s OKAY. If you are worried about taking medication, I would like to gently remind you that it’s no different than needing insulin for diabetes or an inhaler for asthma. It’s a tool to help improve your quality of life. 

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If you’d like to connect with Laura, she can be found as
@adhd_curl on Twitter and @curlymamaonabudget on Instagram

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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: Tanya

Photo courtesy of Tanya Polly

I’d always known I was different. Not in a Peter Parker spidey-senses-tingling kind of way. More like that feeling when you have a cold, your senses are dulled, and you know that you’re not quite hearing everything at full volume. But you’re very aware that everyone else is operating on Dolby Digital surround sound. 

There was the time I told a friend’s mum that I wore tights in summer because they “filtered the warm air” so it was cooler by the time it got to my legs. Or when we had to write about one of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions in a history class and I spent an hour praising how ingenious it was that he had created the world’s first trampoline. He hadn’t. It was a parachute. But my head had seen “cloth stretched apart by wooden poles” and it meant someone could fall from a height “without injury.” Interpreting things slightly oddly has always been my forte. 

Struggling with school

Then there was hitting age 15 and being surrounded by all my classmates studying for mock exams; I just didn’t understand. I knew what I’d been taught, and I wasn’t going to waste hours re-writing all of my schoolwork in the vague hope that I’d remember it all a bit better. 

I’d been a model student until then: I was a real-life Hermione (right down to the precocious corrections of everyone’s grammar) and loved to learn. I devoured books. I was always reading, writing, drawing, crafting. Anything to keep my hands and my mind busy. I just wanted to know everything. I would obsess for weeks or months on a topic. Pirates. Rainforests. Tornadoes. Dinosaurs. Jack the Ripper. I delighted in finding nuggets of trivia to drop into conversation. 

Suddenly, I found myself stifled in a classroom learning dull facts that bore no relation to the technicolour world I learnt about in my encyclopaedias. I didn’t understand. Why was I being expected to learn all of this pointless information? I was bored. My mind wandered. My mum was called in to talk to my head of year about my lack of motivation and enthusiasm. But I was still doing well enough in all my classwork that they weren’t really worried – just a bit concerned that I wasn’t “applying” myself. 

I achieved a straight set of A and A* grades at GCSE. I hadn’t revised for even an hour. And clearly, it would have been a waste of time anyway, to my mind, given my stellar performance. I was excited to start A Levels, anticipating a new challenge, hoping that finally my schoolmates would have caught up to my level of enthusiasm for learning and that the materials we’d be studying would be a little less elementary. 

It took about a week for those hopes to drain away. I felt trapped in a world that was stifling my creativity, stumping out my curiosity. Lessons were a list of boxes to be ticked, stock answers to be memorised. And always, without fail: 
“You just need to apply yourself.” 
“You’re smarter than that.” 
“You have such good ideas, I don’t understand why your written work doesn’t reflect that.” 

I was surrounded by academic, conscientious girls who would sit in silence for an hour whilst I debated Shakespeare’s take on feminism, made jokes in French, questioned the benefits of our voting system. And then they would turn in full-mark essays whilst I could barely concentrate for half an hour when I got home to hit the minimum word counts. I was confused. I felt stranded. I desperately wanted to learn and debate, discuss and engage. My head was full of ideas and questions, but it just felt so pointless having to churn it all out so someone could match it up to a marking guide. 

Theatre was my saving grace. I joined a youth theatre aged 14, and I don’t think I have ever been as happy as I was every Wednesday evening, in the glow of the sconces on the wood-panelled walls, cocooned in the embrace of music and dance. Even now, the nostalgia of those rehearsals fills me at once with warmth and can bring me to tears for how much I crave recapturing that feeling. 

Into adulthood

Fast-forward to last year, and I’m struggling with a relationship that feels like it’s splitting at the seams, a diagnosis of severe anxiety and depression, and medication that feels like it’s doing more harm than good. 

I can’t keep track of time. I forget plans I’ve made. I get told off for constantly interrupting everyone. I feel like an outcast in every job I have, like everyone else was given the handbook for functioning in the workplace but I’ve got to work it out for myself. And it just doesn’t make sense. New friendships with colleagues feel forced. I can’t “just get on with” mundane, boring tasks. I start my day with the best intentions, and well-organised to-do lists and suddenly it’s 5pm and I haven’t done anything on the list. But I’ve been busy all day. Every day. 

I’m regularly describing my mood as “edgy”, “foggy”, “panicked.” Sometimes I’m speaking and it’s like someone else is doing the talking. My dreams are more vivid than ever, and I’m waking up every day exhausted from having already lived out an entire day in my sleep. Sometimes, I’m so hyper that I can’t sit still, my words tumble over themselves and I feel like a wind-up toy, a motor buzzing inside me, unable to think clearly until it’s juddered to a halt. 

And then come the days that I can’t face the world. It’s like there’s a slab of concrete pressing down on me, pinning me to the bed, clouding my mind until I can’t imagine ever being happy again. 

Making sense of it all

I spoke to my GP. I voiced my concern that I had bipolar tendencies, from all the reading I’d been doing. Luckily, she referred me and I was seen by a psychiatrist within weeks. I spent two hours unpicking my thought processes, my reactions, my instincts. It was cathartic in itself just to do that. Then came the magic words: 

“I think it’s very likely that you have ADHD.” 

My eyes were opened. 

True to form, I got home and scoured the internet for every morsel of information I could find on adult ADHD, specifically in women. I was reading about me. Suddenly, everything made sense. The overactive imagination. Feeling like time would speed up and slow down. That feeling that I was seeing the world through different lenses to everyone else. 

Life after diagnosis

It’s been 8 months since my diagnosis, and I feel like a different person. To quote Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo’s fantastic book, “You mean I’m not lazy, stupid, or crazy?!” 

It’s not that ADHD is an excuse for any of my frustrating traits (probably more frustrating to me than anyone else!), but it certainly explains a lot of it. And now that I have a reason, I can look into ways of mitigating behaviours that impact on other people. Or at least give them an explanation – that I don’t mean to interrupt them 7 times in a conversation, but I am aware of it and I’m working on it. That I’m really trying to be on time, but a 10 minute window where I can arrive without panicking is really helpful to my mental health for the rest of the day. 

It’s also made me realise that it’s ok to feel trapped in an environment where I’m stuck at a desk for 8 hours a day. It’s just not something my brain can handle very well. It’s helping me to focus my job-search, looking for things that will give me some scope to be out of the office, or to work from home a day a week. I’m stuck with the paradox of needing a routine, but also feeling suffocated as soon as I have a routine that is too structured. 

I’m not saying I have a handle on it yet. It’s a work in progress, and I’m sure it will be for quite some time. I might not know exactly where I’m going, and definitely not how I’m going to get there. But at least now I have a map. 

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Tanya can be found as @tan_pollypocket on Twitter
and you can check out her own blog, Polly’s Pocket as well.

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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:

Signs of ADHD From Before I Was 12

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

At some point in your ADHD journey, you’ll need to consider the subject of this post. It’s an important topic, and one your doctor or psychiatrist will likely ask you about if you’re seeking an ADHD diagnosis as an adult.

Why is this so?

ADHD doesn’t come out of nowhere. Yes, the symptoms can be masked and/or may not have a significant impact early in life. Especially those ADHDers with the inattentive sub-type like me can often go undiagnosed until we hit “the wall.” This could happen in middle or high school, college, or that first high-expectations job. But that wall will eventually present itself and you’ll realize something is wrong.

For me the wall came in college, when I nearly flunked out my first semester. That’s an easy enough thing to point to and looking back, the struggles I had were clearly due to undiagnosed ADHD. But as I mentioned, ADHD doesn’t just suddenly appear late in life. So as you examine your life before age 12, you should be able to identify symptoms of ADHD, even if they didn’t necessarily impede you from obtaining early success in school.

Possible indicators of ADHD from before I was 12

  • I was terrible at keeping up with homework
  • I was a heavy procrastinator
  • I would struggle with large projects, being indecisive about how exactly I wanted them to be done; initially wanting perfection, but often settling for whatever I half-assed at the last minute
  • I was drawn to screens. Typically video games or cartoons. Saturday mornings I would get up by myself (even though I had three siblings) and I would watch cartoons starting at 6:30am until about 11am (when programming switched to daytime TV). When I realized there was a cartoon at 6, I got up earlier. And then 5:30am. I had to get as much as I could.
  • I was prone to addictive behaviors with my fixations, which at various ages included Dinosaurs (ages 3-5), school, reading, video games (original Nintendo!), Cub Scouts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cartoons, Legos, baseball – both playing and collecting cards, and food – especially sweets.
  • Low impulse control overcame personal values. I would often lie in order to cover up school problems and I frequently stole items related to my fixations.
  • My room was typically a messy disaster
  • I struggled regulating emotions, and when I got angry I would slam my bedroom door and throw my belongings around my room
  • I was asked by peers about my showering habits (in 3rd and even 7th grade)
  • I had private violin lessons for years but only practiced independently a handful of times
  • I had very few friends
  • When given the opportunity I would play video games for hours. One day in the summer I played the original Legend of Zelda from breakfast until dinner, not realizing that I’d developed a painful blister on my thumb from doing it.
  • I was very sensitive to social rejection and would often cry because of it
  • I preferred my fixations to my peers, at times even reading on the playground rather than engaging with others

When you look at that list it can seem like a lot of negative. There were a lot of great things about my childhood – they’re just not the focus of this post. When I went looking for ADHD in my early life, that’s what I found. In an earlier post, I discussed why I didn’t get diagnosed when I was younger. That one covers the other side of things – the behaviors that helped cover up these symptoms.

In fact, when I first shared my ADHD with my dad and a couple of my siblings they were surprised to hear about it. Because as extensive as this list seems, and as much impact as ADHD actually had on me, it was covered up by early success in school and a lot of little lies at home.

So is everything on that list exclusive to ADHD? No. You can lie, steal, throw tantrums and love cartoons and video games and not have ADHD. But when all of this evidence is taken in the context of my life since then, as well as the continued struggles that emerged from these early indicators, it’s clear that they fit the pattern of ADHD and help to complete the puzzle that is my life.

Examining your childhood for ADHD

As you consider your life before you were 12 looking for signs of ADHD, some helpful questions might be these:

  • Did you have any fixations that lasted for months or years, where that was all you wanted to do or learn about or talk about?
  • Did you struggle with organization and planning at home and/or school?
  • Did you have low impulse control, possibly giving in to lying or sneaking and stealing to get what you wanted right away?
  • Did your bedroom look like a tornado went through it, even if you cleaned it earlier in the day?
  • Did you struggle with regulating emotions – where you were often overcome by anger, sadness, or even happiness to where you weren’t in control?
  • Did you have trouble keeping up with mundane tasks like homework, chores, and self-care?
  • Did you feel socially isolated?

Though this list is neither diagnostic nor exhaustive, I found some of these questions helpful in guiding me through the process. I hope they will also help you as you work to connect the dots between being an adult with ADHD and discovering the child you were with ADHD.

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