Every report card and teacher conference from my childhood said the same thing. Something along the lines of “She’s a wonderful kid, a very bright student, but she’s very social.” And being “very social” was really saying that I was very talkative and couldn’t sit still. This rings true today; I still am very talkative and don’t like to sit still too long.
School Days Are Long
I was born in 1981. When I was in school, ADHD wasn’t really a thing, meaning those of us who had a hard time sitting still, were talkative, required redirection, missed assignments, slept during class, were often labeled as problem children. I can remember the first time I became aware that I was a problem in class. I was put on a learning plan, the same one the kid who acted out and got in trouble regularly was on. It made me embarrassed and self-conscious; this is also where I assume my anxiety started). I liked school, I liked learning, and I liked being around my friends. It was hard for me to not blurt out answers or my thoughts. I frequently was in a daydream, and I would miss assignments or wait until the last minute to do them. As I got into high school, I was regularly skipping school. Despite this, I was making really good grades. The work was easy, but being in school all day was not. College was a vast improvement for me. Classes weren’t back to back or even every day. I was able to make a schedule that worked for me and generally took classes I was interested in. Procrastination was still an issue, but the flexibility definitely helped me to have downtime which allowed me to refocus before the next class.
I started realizing how much my anxiety and overall mental health was impacting my enjoyment of daily life and finally decided to start Lexapro. I knew that I would feel better and enjoy my relationships more if I was able to actually be present the moment. I wasn’t as quick to react to stressors, and I was not lying awake at night worrying about literally all the things and not constantly worried about if I was doing something wrong or what others were thinking about me. For a long time, I felt like the internal chaos I was feeling was a reflection of my life: raising kids, working or going to school full time, trying to make sure my kids were involved in all the things they wanted to be involved in, that I was being an active parent and raising good humans, attempting to have a social life of my own, and keeping a marriage together. I assumed my many of my symptoms and anxiety were tied to basic living. I thought that everyone felt this way.
While learning more about anxiety, I started seeing more and more how the symptoms of anxiety and ADHD mimic or relate to each other. The longer I was on medication and my symptoms of anxiety were decreasing, the more I noticed how my other symptoms aligned with ADHD. I reached out to my primary care provider, and she referred me to a psychologist for testing and diagnosis.
Some of the symptoms of ADHD that I have experienced, whether as an adult or as a child/teen are:
- Impulsivity: for me, this ranged from interrupting people to impulse spending, and making poor and sometimes unsafe judgments (especially as a teenager)
- Problems focusing on a task / paying attention / short attention span
- Hyper-focus: reading a book – if it piques my interest, I will read it all in one sitting. I will throw myself all into a hobby but will eventually lose interest in the hobby
- Low frustration tolerances
- Mood swings, temper
- Absent-mindedness, daydreaming
- Coping with stress
- Restlessness/fidgeting: I am constantly messing with my hair – flipping, twirling, smelling. Very rarely can I just sit and watch something; I am always on my phone or if it is a show I need to pay attention to, I have found painting my nails is a good way to maintain focus.
The testing I did for diagnosis was a combination of a written questionnaire and a computer exercise. The computer test is a presentation of a rapid series of visual and auditory stimuli and measures selective attention, sustained attention, and impulsivity. After taking both of these tests, I sat with the doctor and discussed the results. The first thing he said to me was that he would have never imagined talking to me that I would score the way I did. Basically, my scores were about half of what they should be for a woman my age. He said he didn’t know how I was able to “cover it up” so well, which I told him was probably a long learned behavior. I now know that my entire life has been spent trying to cover up these symptoms. I met a few days later with my primary care provider to discuss the test results and make a plan for medication.
I had already been taking Lexapro for about 6 months before I started taking Adderall in addition to it. I am not exaggerating when I say this, but medication has been life-changing for me. Everything from home life and parenting to work and travel has been more enjoyable. My husband even commented on how much our relationship has improved because of my ability to not react so quickly, and often times as harshly, as I would previously. These two little pills have given me that.
Drop The Stigma
I struggled with the decision to be tested and to start medications for both anxiety and ADHD. I was worried I would stop being me; the parts of me that are fun, silly, spontaneous, and I wanted to still feel emotions. Thankfully the first medications and the doses prescribed were a fit for me; for others it can be a challenge to find the right dose(s) and right medication(s).
Having been on the medication for some time now, I look back and wonder how my life would have been different if I had been diagnosed and treated as a child vs as an adult. Would I have developed the anxiety I have, being worried so much about the impression I was making on people? Because for so long I was told to stop being who I was or made to feel ashamed for who I was. I am so thankful that I sought help, that I recognized that I needed help. We should never feel ashamed for taking control of our mental health and we all deserve to live a life we enjoy. I have tried really hard to be transparent about both my anxiety and now my ADHD. I post about it on Instagram (both funny memes and serious messages), I talk about it, I write blog posts about it. If I can help someone else know that it’s okay to talk to someone about their own mental health and well being, then I know I have helped at least one other person. It’s okay not to be okay, but we shouldn’t have to live that way forever.