One of the biggest shifts over the last three years has been seeking and receiving an ADHD diagnosis as a 45 year old. That diagnosis put so much of my life into a whole new context.
As a child and teen, I remember being a daydreamer. I’d spend hours in my room by myself just dreaming up story lines and pretending to act them out by myself. In some of them, I would be a kick-ass CIA agent, saving the world from the latest villain. Some involved being the victim of a terrible car crash and waking up from a months-long coma. Sometimes I would be a movie star, or an astronaut, or a prima ballerina, or a rock star. But I was always dreaming. Distracted.
I had insomnia a lot. If I fell asleep, I usually stayed asleep pretty well, but if I woke up for any reason, my brain would go into overdrive, and I’d lie awake for hours thinking about anything and everything. Hyperactive.
As I got older and into junior high and high school, my grades started to slip. I hated homework. No matter how hard I tried, I could not organize myself enough to turn things in on time. Or if I did, it was a last-minute, late-night furious effort. I had no clue how to study because reading anything made me fall asleep. I did not want to do anything required of me. Lazy.
My eating habits became volatile and unpredictable. I’d completely forget to eat. Then I’d binge. When I got to the point that I had ignored my hunger for too long, I would be completely unable to control my emotions, and the smallest thing would set me off. My mom thought I had some hypoglycemia issues. She’d tell me to eat, but she didn’t know that my brain absolutely could NOT put together enough executive function to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Ordinarily, I was a pleasant, friendly person, but when hunger struck and I postponed eating, Mr. Hyde would come out. Emotionally Unstable.
I felt so much shame over my inability to regulate my food intake that I developed terrible ideas about my body and my relationship with food. Because it was my fault.
I think that because I wasn’t bouncing off the walls, no one considered that I might have some hyperactivity going on.
I hid an awful lot from my family and friends. That may come as a surprise to some because I’m a very emotional and open person. But there were things I held in my mind and heart that I never shared.
Most of what I hid was fear. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of success. I was afraid of demands. Of being too much of something and too little of something else. I was afraid of venturing out into a career path because what if I wasn’t good enough or what if I couldn’t stick with it? What if my laziness, distractibility, or emotional instability caused problems? Also, IMPOSTER SYNDROME. Because of my hyperactive brain, I knew chunks of information about a lot of different subjects, but it would never be enough to be considered an expert. Why would people trust me?
So, I just sunk into things that were easy for me. When I dissociated during an audition for a vocal performance major at Arizona State University and completely bombed the interview and audition, instead of trying again, I completely distanced myself from a career path in music. I chose political science instead. When I returned home from my LDS mission, I took the first job that presented itself—an assistant to an old high school friend at a company I had already worked for previously. I stayed there for 12+ years and only asked for a raise once. I didn’t have ambition for a career. I didn’t have the motivation to return to school and get an MBA or any kind of career certification. Unmotivated.
All these issues that impeded my ability to find and pursue a career path made it very easy for me to fall into the belief that I was “made” to be a wife and mom. The instruction I had received at home and at church was so heavily misogynistic that stay-at-home motherhood was the only conceivable “career” path for a woman—a righteous woman, that is. And my black-and-white brain could only hold space for the one right thing.
So I put all of my worth and all of my destiny into waiting for the job of “wife and mom” to open up.
Fast forward to age 38 when I finally meet the man who would love me as much as I would love him. Things were finally happening. My career was getting started! Except… it wasn’t.
I’ll probably write an entire post on infertility and the mindf**k that is for a believing latter-day saint woman. But for now, I’ll skip that part and pick up on the adoption of our incredible daughter. Finally. Finally, I would live out my dream of stay-at-home motherhood. We even moved out of state so that my husband’s teacher income could be sufficient for us to live on one income. So as the mother of a 15-month-old, I quit my job, moved to a state where I had two friends, neither of whom lived close to me, during a global pandemic shutdown, with nothing but a supportive husband and the Inception-esque belief that I was made for this.
To say that I was unprepared for what this would do to me is a huge understatement. Suddenly, being home alone with a young child, being the only one in charge of our schedule, our progress, our meals, our playtime, our education… My brain went into some kind of existential crisis mode. I was horribly overstimulated physically and simultaneously understimulated mentally. I had too much to do and not enough to do. I had this exhausting freedom that completely robbed me of any motivation to accomplish anything. I became woefully depressed.
It was during these years that I became completely unmoored. The only thing that my brain could focus on was the cognitive dissonance I had been feeling with all things church. So I started tugging at strings that ultimately led to a massive faith/trust/identity crisis with a hyperfocus that could rival any ADHDer. I have written more about my faith journey in other posts, so I won’t rehash that trauma here.
I think it is safe to say I was not made for stay-at-home motherhood. It has been hard. And not just regular “raising kids is hard.” It was existential crisis hard. It was a complete inability to function. I literally could not. My procrastination was at an all-time high. I discovered what sensory overload felt like. I spent entire days wandering the house not knowing how to put laundry in the washer or how to get myself showered. All I could do was listen to audiobooks and podcasts, and when my daughter needed me, I had no idea how to show up for her. I was absolutely lost.
A friend of mine had been sharing on her social media some of her experiences being a late-diagnosed ADHDer. I followed her lead in researching allllll the things. I saw myself and my life and my brain in so many of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, that I finally got up the guts to be tested. Online. During one of my 2 am bouts of insomnia.
For those curious about the test I used, I went to www.ADHDOnline.com and took their certified, official diagnostic test for adults. They asked detailed questions about my history and then put me through a test of my focus and retention. I took the test in the wee small hours of the morning, and by the time I opened my email at 8 am the next morning, I had an official diagnosis from a licensed, clinical psychologist.
I finally had a name for everythingthathadbeendifficultformyentirelife. Dissociating during the audition? ADHD. Daydreaming during class lectures? ADHD. Insomnia and racing thoughts? ADHD. Sensory overload? ADHD. Hyperfocus? ADHD. Task paralysis and procrastination? ADHD. Imposter syndrome, self-sabotage, and forgetting simple things? ADHD.
My personality wasn’t defective. My intelligence is not deficient. I have a neurological developmental disorder. And there was help. Medication, therapy, work-arounds. Maybe I could not only function better, but I could thrive.
I went through an intense grieving period for the time lost not knowing why I could never do certain things. Could I have been a CIA agent or a theatre star or a doctor or an attorney if I had been medicated or support systems in place? How different would my life have been if I had known what was holding me back? If I had not developed such a destructive inner monologue that reminded me how lazy and ditsy and unmotivated and weak and stupid I was… If I had only known that it WASN’T MY FAULT? If I had understood that my brain worked differently, and I actually could do things?
Being diagnosed at 45 years old, I had a lot to mourn. I spent a lot of time in therapy rewriting my inner monologue. And even a year later, I still have moments of letting that old negative thought pattern come through. Just today, I had gone to get dinner for my family. My husband had given me a screenshot of his order, but somehow, I had gotten the drink wrong. When I saw his disappointment, my heart sank, and my inner voice began reminding me how stupid and airheaded I was. “It was right there in the text; how could you not have seen it? Dumb mistake. Just like all the other dumb mistakes you’ve made your whole life. What makes you think you can do anything right?”
This has been my whole. damn. life. Every mistake. Every time.
It’s a lot to undo.
I’m now on a great medication that has been a tremendous help. I’m so grateful for pharmacology that can help my brain function better. It’s not a cure-all, and I still have to have processes in place to help me. But I can tell the difference when I don’t take it. Which, coincidentally, is this whole weekend.
See, here is the problem we ADHDer’s face. The stimulant medications that are the most helpful for me are heavily regulated and have been facing a massive nationwide shortage for a few years now. With more people like me getting diagnosed later in life, the need for medication has skyrocketed. Pretty sure the pandemic and world-wide shutdown made a lot of adults wonder why they suddenly couldn’t function well. So a lot of people sought help and received a diagnosis. The trouble is the regulators have not allowed higher production with the increase in demand for medication. We can only fill 30 days at a time, and we have to *gasp* call the pharmacy to refill instead of doing it online. And we have to meet with our prescribers every 90 days, which requires the executive function to set the appointments, keep the appointments, and then follow-up with the pharmacy every 30 days.
On top of that, the shortage makes it so that there are never enough pills at your pharmacy of choice. The last time I filled my prescription, the pharmacy only had 20 pills. They filled those, and then I had to have my prescriber send in a 10 day prescription to get the remainder. That alone took about two hours of phone calls, waiting on hold, waiting for return calls, returning missed calls, and trying to remember all the details of who was doing what and who was waiting for who to call them back. It’s an ADHDer’s nightmare.
I have a prescription waiting to be filled at my pharmacy. It has been there for 10 days. There have been three shipments that have arrived at the pharmacy in that time, and none of them had my meds. So I ran out. I’m on day 2 with no meds and with heavy brain fog, extreme sensory overload, and zero motivation. I called 13 pharmacies in my area, one of which had 30 pills but they were expired, and the rest of them had none at all. And even if I did find a pharmacy that had them in stock, my prescriber’s office is closed for the weekend. So I’m sh** out of luck this weekend.
And luckily, I’m a grown up who can navigate this with relatively minor struggles. My friends have children for whom meds are vital. And they are having the same runaround. It’s awful. If there is a hell, I imagine it is full of the bureaucrats holding our meds hostage.
I really don’t have a good ending to this post. It was finished on an unmedicated day, and my brain is just DONE. Thank you for indulging me. Hopefully my next post will be more coherent.