ADHD: It’s Not Just for Boys

In the mental health front, a few weeks ago, I got to play with blocks and rings, an experience I haven’t had since The Sprog was a toddler, and, at the end of that, I had a guy with a bunch of letters at the end of his name tell me I have ADHD.

I know that is a flippant way of presenting this particular bit of information, but I am still wrapping my head around what it means, considering I am now reframing my life up to this point.  The methodology behind my neuropsychological exam was sound, and the psychologist did explain how he came to his conclusion quite thoroughly.  It makes sense.  In summary, the psychologist told me that I used my intelligence to compensate for the fact that I have the attention span of something my cat coughs up.  Although, I am pretty sure he didn’t use that particular phrasing. Maybe he did.  I don’t know.  I have ADHD.  Plausible deniability.

Seriously, lots of people picture ADHD as something belonging to hyperactive boys.  In fact, the diagnosis criteria was based upon clinical evaluation of hyperactive boys, and girls were, and still are oftentimes, lost in the shuffle.  Because, ADHD presents itself differently in girls.  They are more likely to exhibit the inattentive part of the ADHD, and it shows up as being forgetful, disorganized, messy, and introverted. She may also have a propensity to daydream a lot and may take longer to do tasks than other children do.  The hyperactive part presents as talkative and a tendency to interrupt.  And I am only scratching the surface, as far as behavior goes.  So, unless a girl is presenting symptoms closer to what the classic ADHD criteria states, or she is fortunate enough to be around experienced professionals who work with girls with ADHD, she can easily fall through the cracks.

What is also important to note is the effect this can have if girls are undiagnosed and not treated.  Girls with ADHD are at more risk of developing depression, anxiety, and eating disorders than those without.  They are also more prone to self-injury and addiction.  A huge part of it is the self-flagellation that comes with the ADHD territory.  Why can’t I remember things?  What’s wrong with me?  Why did I just say that?  How can everyone else do these simple things, but I can’t?  And if other people are giving them flak on top of it, they are in that cycle of worthlessness that just drives them into the ground like an augur into soil.

I can give an example.  Now I’m 42 and graduated from high school in 1991.  It was about that point that ADHD was started to be diagnosed more because of more parental and clinical awareness and that was in boys, so my parents, teachers, and other people who were close to me would have had no idea what to look for.  And I mastered the art of getting A’s while doing homework for my other classes and taking notes during my lectures.  If I had to put extra work for the tough subjects like calculus, I did, but I would pressure myself to the point of tears and panic.  Not understanding something meant I was dumb because it just reinforced those shortfalls in those other functions in my brain.  I know this now, but when I was a teenager, I couldn’t ask for help because I just expected people to say, “But you are smart.  You should be able to figure this out,” like they did with the other things that were easy for them.

I have read that having ADHD is like being a speeding car careening down a hill or being in a Porsche with no headlights. I can relate to the car analogy, but it is not quite that simple.

Imagine my brain is a Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop 2-Door.

Sweet.  “00-Mini-John-Cooper-Works-2011” by Elmschrat – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

And you are thinking, “Well, it’s just a Mini.” Actually, it’s a Mini (2016 model) that can go from naught to 60 in 6.1 seconds on manual and has 228 bhp under its bonnet. It’s a Mini that lots of people underestimate and is pretty badass.

However, several things can happen when I drive my Mini.

  1.  Everything works.  I’m motoring on the Nürburgring and putting in impressive lap times.  People are saying, “Hey, look at Karen go,” and are asking me to go on tour.  I am panicking because I know I can’t drive like this consistently because…
  2. Sometimes, I think everything works, but I am using my Mini’s onboard, integrated navigation system.  I have complete trust in this GPS, but it is sinister.  It takes me onto a set of railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train, and I wonder how I got there when I just wanted to go the Loop.
  3. And then there are the times when I see where I am going, but the steering has cut out.  Plenty of times, I can use the brakes or the hand brake.  I can get the car into neutral or park, or I can do other things to keep me from falling off the cliff.  Once in a blue moon, I fail.
  4. It feels like I am in the middle of Nebraska on the highway for hundreds of miles with nowhere to turn off, and nothing interesting to do.  That’s when the car just drifts into Magic Happy Bunny Land where I can frolic with my furry friends.
  5. Other times, we are getting into inclement weather.  Blizzard conditions.  It’s nighttime.  The wipers are jacked up on high.  The radio is on blast, and I can’t turn it off.  Minimal visibility.  The car is sliding and slipping everywhere.  The only thing I can do is try not to close my eyes, hang on tight, and hope for the best.
  6. Of course, certain moments, days, whatever, I have no other choice but to park the car.  Out of gas.

But notice I haven’t totaled the car.

Because I have to say, as much as I have been negative this post, there is an upside to being a creative weirdo.  If that is what ADHD gives me, I’ll take it.

So where do I go from here?  I am readapting my lifestyle and looking into treatment options, including medication.  The same thing anyone else does when they get a diagnosis, and that is to find a way to manage it when you know there is no cure.

But I am learning to enjoy the drive while I do it.

Lessons Learned from Depression

The World Health Organization has designated today as World Mental Health Day.  Many bloggers have posted their thoughts, and I know I am just a blip in Bloggyworld.  However, that doesn’t mean I can’t throw a few things I have learned along the line in my decades long Jell-O wrestling match with depression and a perfection streak the size of Montana.  (We don’t wear bikinis.  Get that thought out of your head now!)

Feelings aren’t going to last forever, good or bad.  That only means savoring the highs and hanging on until the worst of the worst is over.

Medication works for me.  I can only speak for myself here.  After going on and off of anti-depressants while tanking a marriage, going through four major depressive episodes, dealing with a bout of post-partum depression, and putting in the hours to plan my suicide, it has only been when I have found the right dose of the right medicine when all of that stopped.  You could make the argument that the medication has a placebo effect.  You could, in theory, make the same argument about heart medication too, but how many people give someone flak for taking necessary heart medicine?  (“I bet you only believe the nitro is helping.”)  In other words, it is down to what works for the individual, and this is part of my treatment.  I have a medication condition, not a character flaw.

Therapy and lifestyle change is just as important.  A pill can’t cure depression.  A former psychiatrist of mine described depression as “diabetes of the brain”.  And how do you manage diabetes?  Diet, exercise, managing the rest of your health, regulating your stress levels, and all the other stuff doctors love to tell you, including not eating greasy foods and limiting your alcohol intake.  (Don’t you love how those two always get emphasized?  You could come in with a railroad tie lodged in your skull.  After removal, the discharge instructions would say, “Don’t eat greasy foods and limit your alcohol intake.”  Way to take the fun out of life.)

And then there is the therapy part of the whole thing.  You have to unlearn the behaviors that get you into these messes in the first place.  You also have to reconcile the hurts from the past in order to free yourself to move forward.  And you have to fix what is going on the present.  I found therapy to be such a useful tool to do just that, but I also know it is critical to find the therapist who:

1) fits within your goals and your level of trust

2) is affordable (especially in the U.S. where mental health coverage, heck medical insurance, is a luxury)

3) fits in your schedule

4) has that right combination of firmness to push you but gentleness to understand the issues you are facing

Sometimes it is easier finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn.

You are going to screw up little things…a lot.  Being mentally ill means you are going to do things that will annoy the crap out of people, so get used to apologizing and learning how to make amends.  You are going to forget things.  Your foot will insert nicely into your mouth.   However, the hard part about it is not beating yourself for years on end over minor mistakes.  Forgive yourself for being human because no matter what abuse you have suffered over the years, the abuse you keep inflicting on yourself is the most damaging.

Surround yourself with people who understand.  Your mental and emotional energy is even more finite than someone who is neurotypical.  You don’t have it in you to chase down people to beg for their friendship, if they can’t meet you halfway.  Let go of the people who hold you back.  You need people in your life who are strong enough to be honest with you and to give you the benefit of the doubt, and you can do the same in return.  Loving someone with mental illness is not easy, but most of us are totally worth it just for our random ideas alone.

For example, I was discussing my blog post with The Boffin this morning, and the subject got around to the notion of what would happen if I didn’t have medication.  We would be forced to live in an environment where there is low stimulation, or as they say where I come from, in the Boonies.  Of course, obviously, under that scenario, I said I would turn into Ted Kaczynski, only not, because I have no desire to send letter bombs.  The Boffin just conjectured about my sending people cake.  Now this would completely fit my M.O. because that is exactly how the women in my family killed their husbands, by stuffing them silly with fatty and sugary foods.  I would be the Unicaker.  No poison or anything untoward would go into the cakes.  People would just die of too much deliciousness.  The Boffin, as my henchman now named Mr. Anus (pronounced ah-NOOSE) , would be in charge of packing and shipping.

"Chiffon cake 02" by The original uploader was Snp at Japanese Wikipedia - Transferred from ja.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
No, Mr. Bond, prepare for ass spread!     “Chiffon cake 02” by The original uploader was Snp at Japanese Wikipedia – Transferred from ja.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

I amuse The Boffin as much as I make his brain hurt, and he wants to stick around in spite of me.  That accounts for a lot.

So those are my small observations that I have yet to master putting into practice, although I am an expert at screwing up.

Don’t be too alarmed if you get a strange cake in the mail.

From Illness to Disability

Four major episodes. Didn’t even include that rumble with post-partum depression. On and off meds. Currently on and have been on for God knows how long. Hours and hours of churning out my life’s story and picking apart how I approach life, marriage, and motherhood. Everything had to be optimized, improved, and honed. Still does. Maybe I could get to the point of standard neurotypical endurance. One nagging question left. Was afraid to ask my therapist. Knew I had to do it. Deep down the answer was there. Did I really need to go there? Took the leap anyway.

“Do you think I have a mental disability?”

She asked what I meant.

“I mean as far as it being an overarching entity affecting my day-to-day life.”

“Oh, yes, you do.”

Thunk.

Well, shit.

I knew she explained herself a bit more, but I was still digesting the “yes” part and keeping my cool while my internal “Oh, Fuck” alarm was going off. Then she offered to help with government benefits paperwork, if I wanted. My innards folded up on themselves even more, and my alarm level went up to “Red Alert Oh, Fucking Fuck” while I turned her down. I am fortunate enough to have The Boffin. While I love the intangible benefits about him the most, he is a very good provider.

Language is important when discussing medical issues. Even though I knew depression was something I had to manage the rest of my life, I always told myself that I had a mental illness. With the word “illness,” I hung on to that last bit of denial…that bit that said if I can just get the right mixture of meds, therapy, exercise, and diet, I can tame this bronco completely. If I am just “ill,” I can be “cured”.

But disability? No, no, no. That’s not right. I was fit for the military. I…I…I…could hold down jobs. I was never fired from anyplace for being a flake, even though after a year or two I was mentally planning office coups and working myself up into a lather every Sunday at the thought of starting the week over. It was just a matter of figuring out how to turn staplers into catapults.

However…

Is it normal to be forgiving of other people while setting unattainable standards for yourself?

How rational is it to find the thought of asking your husband for help, even for something as small as cleaning the cat box, excruciating?

What would life be like if every task on your list carried equal importance, and you did not know how to prioritize them? Should I go to the grocery store, or make appointments? I don’t know! I’ll just write for the next two hours while vacillate over such an arduous decision.  Forget about asking me what I want for dinner.

On top of that, what about constant ruminating and worrying about all of those things and a host of other issues while feeling like a big fat failure in life?

Welcome to my brain.

I have a mental disability. It’s no one’s fault. It just is.

And I am looking down the barrel of a neuropsych eval next month to find out what flavors of insanity I have.  I am even anxious about that.  I wonder if there is a “Messed Up” diagnosis in the DSM-V.

Bringing this part of my life out in the open is not about awareness or sympathy; it is about accountability to myself and my health. I need to find a different way to live because my emotional and mental energy are finite. I can’t make anyone who thinks all I need to do is eat a salad and take a walk understand, and I do not want to put in any more effort in trying. I can’t waste time on matters that do nothing but sap me. It is about streamlining my life to get rid of the things that are burdens and keeping the ones that are beneficial, so I can create as fulfilling and productive life as possible.

It’s time to clean house.

The Vocal Stylings of Morrissey

Is that some sort of expression of pleasure?  “Morrissey” by Charlie Llewellin from Austin, USA – morrissey interview. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I can’t expect everyone who stumbles upon this post to know who this guy is. Morrissey, born Steven Patrick Morrissey, was the frontman for the highly influential 1980s Manchester, England band, The Smiths. The Smiths are usually classified as alternative rock or indie pop with a 1960’s pop/post-punk fusion style and are known for their witty but depressing lyrics and Morrissey’s distinct warbling vocals. After their breakup in 1987, Morrissey has since pursued his solo career but also kept himself in the public eye with his activism.

For a good chunk of Americans around my age, The Smiths represented a cool, alternative band who spoke to our adolescent miseries and personal angsts with some catchy tunes. And Morrissey became cool as a by-product of being a Smith and with some of his solo work. But the music was not played on the Top 40 stations. It was like a well-kept secret.

However, let’s put The Smiths into context in their country in the 1980s. They were mainstream and were expressing their views on being an individual living in Thatcherite Britain. So they were part of the zeitgeist. The Smiths were also ubiquitous media-wise. That did not mean everyone was a fan though. The Boffin was watching the societal divisions on the telly as far as the miners’ strikes, the poll tax protests, economic inequalities, and other turmoil.  Let me put it this way.  The Boffin is a problem solver and spends his whole life trying to make things better for those around him.  Even as a child, he didn’t want to listen to a bunch of Dirge Weasels telling him how miserable they were when he already knew things were shite.  And he was far from the only one who thought that way.

Which bring me to Morrissey’s life after The Smiths and how he has become more known for what he does outside of the studio and off the stage. Morrissey’s main cause is animal rights, and he walks the walk with his veganism to the point of trying to make sure no meat is served at his concerts. However, instead of being measured in his activism, he is extreme and still loves to point out how crap everything is when things don’t go his way. He also loves to take down the Royal Family by verbally proclaiming about how horrible they are (even though their power really is limited). Google him, and you can see just how outspoken he is. Voicing his opinion issues matter more to him than people’s feelings, and he is still essentially carrying the same image that he had in his 20s. Even while maintaining a fiercely loyal fan base, a fair number of people in his native country have grown tired of his pontificating and complaining. Taking pot shots at him has become a British national pastime with that crowd.

Meanwhile, the Americans who learned to enjoy The Smiths and Morrissey without the baggage of the British social context and the decades of his whinging on the British media have become puzzled when people like the Boffin react to “Girlfriend in a Coma” deep sighs and eye rolls. Either that or the Americans understand the animosity but can overlook his obnoxiousness because they love his music so much.

So, if you know Morrissey, he is just one of those love him or hate him sort of guys.  If you don’t, you may be better off staying out of the whole thing.

Addendum: I just talked to the Boffin about this post. He said that at least Billy Bragg has a purpose. He would have rather have him round for dinner.

How Do You Make Close Friends?

Has anybody cracked the code of making close friends as an adult?

We have plenty of friends in our computer, and we are grateful for modern technology for allowing us to keep up with them so easily. However, the Boffin and I have been here for 4 years, and we really don’t have anyone with whom we have become really close locally. Of course, we have socialized, but it has been scattershot. After moving so much, have we just run out of steam in the friend-making department?

The Sprog? She has friends out the wazoo. It’s so much easier for a kid. They don’t have all the hangups that adults do. She showed up at the first day of first grade and a mutual love of My Little Pony was enough to form everlasting bonds.

I don't think I could pull off something similar.
I don’t think I could pull off something similar. “Bronycon 2014 cosplay contest” by Douglas Muth from Ardmore, PA, USA – DSC_8749. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The standard advice we received when we moved into the area was “Make friends through your kids”. Well, a lot of the kids are into the soccer/Little League/football things. The Sprog wanted nothing to do with them. Girl Scouts? No. Karate? Tried it. She just wanted to kick things, and that’s it. Dance? Not her style. I did make friends with her violin teacher, so that was a good start, but busy schedules and all that…

So school volunteering? Well, I am not PTA material. I managed to torque off one of the Queen Bees by questioning why she would want to ruin Valentine’s Day by giving her husband a relationship quiz that she thought was fun. It was made subtly clear that I was not wanted in any prominent role and will never be invited to any bunco nights.  I am crushed.

Hey, Karen, why don’t you pursue your own interests? Take classes or join a club? There was the running/walking group that was OK until the organizer had other commitments. And there was the knitting class that ended up being ruined by an evil bridge troll. She vocally advocated child abuse, and, long story short, the administration decided she could stay as long as she gave a half-assed apology. I was gone.

To add another layer to it, I have depression, and contrary to what the commercials portray, depressives do not walk around staring out of windows looking like their cats just died. Most of their emotional energy is put into trying to act like normal, functioning human beings. This also means that asking a couple over for dinner or even texting someone to go to Starbucks is especially arduous. It isn’t a case of “Hey, let’s invite the Johnsons over.” and you just text and be done with it. I have to build up the courage to do it and make sure I allow myself enough emotional energy to make sure I can follow through with the plans, so I don’t flake out and put too much burden on the Boffin. Meanwhile, I am trying to remind myself that I am actually a pretty cool person to get to know, even when, deep down, I don’t really believe it. Now, I don’t want anyone to feel guilty or sorry for me, nor do I expect anyone to say yes to my invites because of this admission. All I want is honesty in others’ responses.

But, thanks to therapy, I have someone to tell me that it isn’t completely me. Sorry, Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, you have many things going for you, and I am glad we are living here, but helping newbies assimilate into the area is not one of your strong suits. My therapist has a list of clients who struggle with the same issues. One thing about where I live is that it is a multi-generational area. When people have families and high school chums in the same place, a fair number of them take their social networks for granted, and they don’t think to include the transplants. It is a place where people are very friendly in superficial day-to-day interactions, but it is very hard to crack the shell and get into the club, especially when my ringtone is the Queen repeating the words “psychoactive drugs”.

Of course, I have to take responsibility and the initiative for my own social life. I have to be understanding of other people’s busy schedules, time commitments, scattered brains, and life’s problems too. But it doesn’t make it any less hurtful or lonely when I keep trying and failing.

I can’t stop trying though. I am going to make more of an effort to make the connections I have made deeper. Maybe we can be less of a novelty act at the temple. Maybe there is more I can do through writing. Not all avenues have been exhausted.

So, how do you make close friends? Is Bronycon the answer?