Since I alluded to my late diagnosis in my last post, I figured I owed it to you all to explain how I (and you by default) got here.
It was 2010, and I was working for one of the largest health insurers in PA. I noticed my productivity was suffering: I couldn’t concentrate, work was stacking up to the point that I was afraid for my job, and I had no idea why. Naturally, at first I did the logical things to improve the situation. I tried harder. I stopped talking with coworkers. I stopped taking breaks and lunches, but even then I couldn’t produce. The work pile grew taller.
I had always struggled with waking up in the morning, but now it was impossible: I couldn’t sleep at all, and when I did sleep, I couldn’t wake up. I kept thinking that if I would just go to sleep sooner that it would get easier but it never did and I couldn’t understand why. I tossed and turned, I struggled awake to claw my way through an hour commute to get to a place that seemed less and less like a viable option for employment and more like a jail. My head ached; my eyes swam with tears at the drop of a hat; I was irritable with people I didn’t mean to be irritable with. I spoke with my family doctor and got a prescription for anti-depressants. I was obviously depressed and needed to begin them as soon as possible to start getting better. I took her recommendation for a therapist and scheduled an appointment with her. My appointment was a month away, and things kept getting worse.
One day on my way home from my then boyfriend, now husband’s house I broke. Weeks of frustration, striving and the futility of it all came upon me all at once. I wanted to lay down somewhere and just . . . stop. Stop working, stop moving, stop breathing. When I say broke, I mean I cried hysterically. . . full on Kerry-Washington-ugly-cry broke. I had to pull over because my tears were blinding me.
That’s when I got scared. I took a sabbatical from work. I went to the therapist weekly, met with my family doctor bi-weekly to monitor things. My family tried, but they didn’t know how to reach me. They looked at me with sideways glances and tip toed around me like I was a postal worker on the edge. Well-meaning advice like “everybody gets sad sometimes” and “you’re strong, you’ve just gotta be tough and pull yourself out of this” was served up, reheated and served up again. Nothing worked.
One day, as I was picking over the bones of my childhood again for the therapist, I saw her eyes light up with recognition for the first time. All I had said was that I had been diagnosed with ADD as a youngster and my mom had pretty much put a veto order in on the idea. My mother had this idea that people were attempting to drug minority children up, that this ADD thing was the excuse, and that was the end of it. More on that later, back to the therapist: I had been speaking to this woman for weeks, yet this was the first time I felt like I had said something to her that she could use to help me. Before she had listened quietly and politely; she gave me a few exercises to help with my depression. I had questioned my family doctor’s choice in recommending this woman to me from the very beginning. She reminded me of Mrs. Frisbee from the Secret of NIMH — timid, easily flustered and skittish. After relaying what I believed to be useless information, I watched her transform. This woman was no mouse; she was a predator who waited patiently for this type of information. I had given her a taste of blood. She interrupted me mid-sentence, gave me a recommendation for a gentleman in her practice who would “talk things over” with me, and ended the day’s session.
A week later, I had a diagnosis and a prescription in hand. Certain that this wasn’t the answer, I filled the script, went home and waited for the medicine to take effect. On that point I had been inexorable: I wasn’t going to take more medicine if it, like my anti-depressants, would take six to eight weeks to take effect. I would try this medicine, if it did not work then I wouldn’t try any more. They told me it would take an hour, two at the most. What happened next still amazes me. I felt like my brain “switched on”. I became the most productive I could remember being ever in my life. Within three hours, I turned my bedroom, a place that could kindly be called cluttered but at its worst really looked more like an episode of “Hoarders” into an organized and neat living space. I made phone calls and handled business I had needed to for years. As a story teller, people ordinarily expect me to exaggerate a bit for purposes of the story, but when I tell you I accomplished two years worth of work that day, it was the truth: two years worth of procrastinated work was done in three hours, and I had a plan in place to accomplish everything that couldn’t be done right then. After such an experience, I did what any mature adult would do: I called my mother and told her everything.
That day, for the first time I realized that I finally knew “what was wrong” with me. I wasn’t lazy and I didn’t lack motivation. I wasn’t undisciplined or stubborn. I was just different.
I told EVERYBODY about my diagnosis, like a convert to a new religion. I drove my relatives bonkers describing how ” people with ADHD are more likely to have credit problems, or lose their license;” I made them listen while I described my experience with the medication as if I were recollecting a chance encounter with the blessed Virgin.
Even though they were annoyed I kept drilling it into them. Why? Because I was elated. I was overjoyed. I was FURIOUS. I was 25 years old, my original diagnosis was 14 years prior to this: for fourteen years, I had struggled to apply myself to tasks in a way that was NEVER going to produce results for me. I was ashamed of my past failings. . . I was embarrassed about my poor grades, my lack of responsibility and what I always believed was a lack of willpower when it came to changing. After fourteen years, I found out that I was wrong, and from there I was reborn.
Until next time,