Monday, July 24, 2017


I feel like I have been going through a complete and total transformation and the best way to process all of it is through writing. I say that like it's news. I've been processing through writing since I was a young teen; I think there are times I think it's either not necessary, not important or that it's a habit better left with my young journals of angst. No. I'm learning to pick it up again and to stop overthinking how well it's written, what words I choose, whether they're the perfect words and whether anyone will care. It doesn't matter.

Lately, over the past month, my anxiety feels like it has peaked. I don't know why. I can't pinpoint a trigger or a reason other than a very broad and probably obvious indicator which I can only call, "growth".
Coincidentally, it's been one year since I went to India where I found myself stripped of all comforts, bandaids and familiar escapes. I was faced with just myself and this foreign world and it was awful and, as I'm discovering, necessary.
The anxiety I feel now is similar to that time. It's hard to eat, my chest is always tight, I become completely consumed with my thoughts, some of which are poison. I have to actively, consciously choose to step away from them. In doing so, I am moving forward in beautiful ways. Yet still, I type this with the nervous, upset stomach and bated breath. Why?

Here's one thing I'm processing through:

Through most of my school career, beginning mostly in 5th grade, I was very much below average. Truly a solid C student. I never felt smart, never retained information like I wished I could and never could live up to expectations of the school, teachers and overall academics. I was incredibly quiet, well behaved and not easily noticed so I could get away with the underachievement for a long time.

English class, though, is where I soared. It was the one time I would score high because of something I was actually good at (as opposed to Home Ec where I just had to show up and try). I remember two different occasions where I stood up to read something I wrote to the class and it was that movie moment where the class is looking at me in awe, like "Where the hell did she come from?" Once a teacher begrudgingly gave me a good grade on a story I wrote because she was sure I plagiarized it.
I wish I could go back and thank the English teachers (except that one) I had who helped me find that piece of magic that writing is to me.

However, I learned to hate school. It showed me everything I wasn't good at. 

I remember using different ways of trying to absorb information. I would write every word my teacher said down or repeat every word said in my head to keep me focused. I'm sure my internal dialogue was ridiculous and hilarious. I didn't mean to space out, I didn't mean to be distracted or disinterested. I didn't want to ignore homework or miss a deadline or fail. But I did consistently. I barely graduated high school.

Adult life has not been any easier. I struggle with relationships, I struggle with keeping a clean house. I struggle to plan and organize. I struggle to remember anything. I will be having a conversation with someone I love and, like a freaking computer, I'll be interrupted with a pop up window or spinning wheel indicating something is loading, only to be thrown back into the real world where I'm frantically catching up and fumbling through a recovery. It's the same problems I struggled with in school but grown up life was copy and pasted where class and homework was.

My husband began treating his ADHD a few months ago and as he was describing the symptoms and life with and without treatment, I began to recognize many things. Things books and websites were describing that I thought these last 18 years were just normal things everyone deals with except me were actually, in fact, not a healthy normal.

I scheduled a visit with my doctor and she confirmed my suspicions with a diagnosis of ADHD. I broke down into tears. My childhood finally made sense. My severe childhood anxiety and my adult depression even made more sense. I have been doing more research and almost every time I finish an article I have streams of tears down my face.

"I finally know I'm not stupid," I said to my doctor with breaking composure. 

I'm not lazy. I'm not immaturely disorganized. I'm not stupid and it's definitely NOT because I'm a female. I'm just misunderstood. I've misunderstood myself.

The irony here is I was one of those people for a while who rolled my eyes at ADHD. I criticized medicating kids for being kids and using a diagnosis as a cop out for doing anything. I mean, look at me, I had all those things too and I was a miserably depressed failing student - it's fine!

Here's what I'm learning that I wanted to share. ADHD is commonly associated with little boys and hyperactivity. First of all, the symptoms of ADHD are not isolated to just hyper activity, like I had thought for so long. There are "shades" to it, like most things, and a more subtle version of it is inattentiveness, anxiety, daydreaming, disorganization and under performing. Reading those "symptoms" was one of the things that brought me to tears. I had a teacher embarrass me once for my disorganization. She stopped class, took my folder to the trash can and began throwing away everything in it making a big deal out of how much stuff was in it. I learned to see that flaw in me and really hate it.

I can't really articulate the weird, conflicting emotions you have when as an adult you are processing through something seemingly small and unimportant, like a memory of a teacher being mean in first grade, and learning to forgive and have grace for your child self. Years ago I would have deleted all of that thinking, "WHO THE HELL CARES ABOUT WHEN YOU WERE EMBARRASSED IN FIRST GRADE. WHO CARES THAT YOU WERE MESSY EVER." But I do. And I really wonder how many women are still, as 30 year old adults, hating these little things about themselves that they just can't get a handle on.

Here's the other thing: Women are much less likely to be diagnosed because first of all, ADHD has not been widely researched in women. I just want to sit on that for a minute. Not to wag my finger at gender bias but to acknowledge it exists in many forms.


Ok. So there's been research revealing the differences in ADHD in girls and boys at a young age, determining it can manifest very differently between the two. Even with that knowledge, I'm reading more and more articles pointing out the imbalance between diagnosing and helping girls with their ADHD.

Further, women are more likely than men to grow into ADHD, developing it later in life and the traits are expected to be handled in a timely and efficient manner to keep up with the rest of the world. On top of that, the demands women are expected to meet are insurmountable when coupled with ADHD. The expectations our society has of women is a whole other conversation in general but more often than not, women are the primary parent at home, the caretaker of the home, the planner and the organizer.
Quick refresher on those ADHD traits which include the inability to be organized, difficulty recalling details and trouble staying on task conclude that that is, uh, yeah, not going to pan out well. And let me tell you, as a stay at home mother for 7 years and trying to work and parent from home for 2 months - IT DOESN'T WORK WELL.

My depression meds haven't changed my life, only evened out chemicals that are also flawed in me. But this discovery of myself has changed, and will change, a lot. I'm not taking medicine for it. Not yet. I would like to have it for times when I need to really work and stay focused (working at home with 3 kids is a nightmare for someone who is chronically disorganized and distracted) but because it's a medicine so abused they make it difficult to get. Right now what I'm doing is more self discovery, giving myself more grace, giving my child self forgiveness and talking about it. The idea that so many people, and women specifically, are struggling and learning to dislike these traits in themselves as flaws a lot of times at a very young age, breaks my heart.  I also think this will help me be a better, more patient parent. I will know what to look for. I will know when my easily distracted daughter is again NOT doing what I asked her to, it's not that she is disrespectful but that she likely spaced out like I do. Or when she leaves a total mess beyond just the "being a kid" mess that it's not because I need to teach her to clean better (not always at least) but that, like me, her mind just can't keep the clutter in check.

I am sharing this as part of the processing stage, like I mentioned. I'm also sharing this so that others  can hopefully understand me like I'm learning to understand myself. More than that, what I really hope for in sharing this is that someone else might come upon this same discovery. That they might see a reflection of themselves in either what I wrote or from the conversations coming from this topic. That someone else will glean insight into themselves and embrace that reflection as evidence that nothing is worth despising in them self. That those traits that create more obstacles than ease can be honed into tools resembling superpowers. That we'll be better equipping people to fully reach their potential despite those obstacles that disorders create. It is there that happiness resides and happiness is what equals success.

If you're interested, here are a few sources I've been learning from:

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