There are six orange post-it notes on the back of my bedroom door. They are there to remind me of what I need to do this month. My alarm clock is set to 6:30 am even though I don’t have to get up until 7:00. I do the same thing, at the same time, every morning because if I fall behind I’ll be late for work. Everything has to have its own place, and it’s not that I’m obsessive, it is because it will take me about thirty minutes to look for that thing. I don’t know what that thing is, but…… okay, no wait! I do know what it is I just forgot the word for it. A spoon, that’s what I need, a spoon for my yogurt! Evil retrieval area of my brain. Why won’t you work today? Yes, that’s right, I forgot the word for spoon. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t know what I was looking for because I still remembered what it looked like. It look’s like a dippy thing with a handle. You know because you dip it in things and hold it with your hand. Then I will start looking at the time and it’s 7:30 am. I have managed to put my lunch together while unloading the dishwasher at the same time because my life is boring unless I mix things up. Maybe it’s just my mind that likes to mix things up. Time to make breakfast, and get my coffee, I have to be done by 8:00. Then I take twenty minutes to calm myself, to meditate, and to put away unhealthy thoughts. At 8:20 am, I get ready for work. At 8:40, I gather my stuff together, I put my water bottle and lunch at the door. What am I forgetting? Oh, that’s right, my cell phone is still upstairs. Now it’s 8:50 and it’s time that I leave for work.
Now I wonder if you could follow that schedule? Well, this is my morning routine before work. I don’t need to wear make-up because I could be lifting rocks, gluing pewter figures to agate slices and packing boxes. On other days, I give myself 30 minutes to get ready because I can give myself an extra 10 to adjust the outfit I’m wearing, and that probably doesn’t make sense to you. What’s going on is that I keep track of the minutes as if each one could be made of gold. I try to make it through my own personal relay race because when I make it to 6:30, or whatever time; I hear the fireworks of celebration! Then I remember I forgot to put on eyeliner, chap-stick and Oh darn it! I didn’t curl my eyelashes! No, it doesn’t always work, but I try to fit each task into every available minute.
I was diagnosed at the age of 7 in early 1994. My teacher had noticed I was falling behind in school work and I was barely passing. The principle decided they should run some tests on me to see if I might have autism because my brother had been diagnosed a few years before. I remember talking to the woman who was my brother’s therapist at the time while solving puzzles. She commented on the fact that most of her students usually thought the soccer ball, I successfully put together, was actually a turtle. They ended up holding me back a year, they didn’t think I had learned everything I should have, but that I could still learn like everyone else. I would just need a little more help. They said my ADHD was strange, they had never known that someone could not have hyperactivity, but still have some of the ADHD traits. I wish they had looked deeper into my condition because maybe everything would have been different for me.
After the diagnoses, it was as if it had never happened, swept under a rug, lost in the back of my mind. I’m not going to lie. I’ve always felt different. I can’t explain it I mean how many children at the age of four become obsessed with singing well? How many children did you know who hid in wardrobes reading nursery rhymes? Invented worlds in their own heads because they thought to have an imaginary friend was pointless? I had a large stuffed bear who went with me on my adventures, I didn’t need an imaginary one, and there were other things I would do. I would daydream in class about living in the trees along the fence line of the school. I didn’t think anyone would notice if I disappeared for a few hours. The funny thing about getting help with school work is that no one seemed to know how to help me. I was always the last one to be done with a test, the last to understand a math problem, the last to do anything. They put me in small special groups because I was ‘slow.’ This is the opinion of those who knew nothing about ADHD. Things didn’t come to me as it did to others. I did prefer the smaller classes because then I got a little more one on one instruction. Yet I still didn’t belong where they put me.
I remember dreading school and missing a lot of days because the teachers would just be too much. I could tell it would be a bad day, and I would fake sickness, just to escape having to deal with being overwhelmed. Actually, the fewer days I missed the more I liked a teacher until I got a little older and I could handle my emotions. I had a teacher in middle school who was a kind person, she taught math, but she confused me every time she went over a math problem. She would go over the same problem in two different ways, I would get confused, and I’d mix up both of the formulas. There were teachers that just didn’t know how to teach someone like me. Then every once in a while, you would have one teacher, who would really try to understand what’s going on. I had one teacher, pull me aside one day, to ask me why I didn’t do well on her vocabulary tests. The long list of words seemed exhausting to look at and I had trouble connecting them to their definitions. She asked if putting the words in groups of three would make things easier on me and I told her it would. So the next test she didn’t need to do much, she just spaced things out a little more, and I got through the test a lot faster. I didn’t understand why something that simple could make a test a little easier to handle.The worst part of being different was that I didn’t know how my mind worked, no one had told me, and I was just lost in my head. That was the most frustrating thing because I really did have a thirst for knowledge. Everything got better in high school, I still ended up in a few special classes, but I didn’t belong in those. I started to feel as if I didn’t belong anywhere. I just wanted to get it all over with. After two years of college, I was frustrated, bored, and I had failed three courses. I was on academic probation and exhausted from the mental work. I ended up dropping out. There was too much going on in my life, my head was a mess, and I still didn’t understand what was happening.
About six years ago at church, I was sitting in an unfamiliar area, in a pew closer to the pulpit. The swirls of a wooden window pane at the front of the building seemed unfamiliar compared to the one at the back of the church building. The usual people who sat in front of us weren’t sitting in front of us that day, and the white wall at the front of the building seemed annoyingly closer. The screen for the projector loomed in front of me, like a sheet of gray, lit up with a Bible verse in large black letters. The letters were bold, it seemed as if they would fall off, and land on top of me. Everything was very intrusive, and I couldn’t understand why I was so aware of the placement of things, the only thing that had changed was simply that I wasn’t sitting in my normal place. I just wanted to focus on the service and I couldn’t. Then it came to me, “Is this ADD?” All of those years, of being told that it wasn’t a big deal, or having my parents tell me that I’d learn like everyone else. All of those times I felt stupid, slow, and incapable of doing anything. I felt like a fraud in the face of those who thought they knew me best. I could never say what I really thought and I didn’t understand why.
There are three types of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders) says the first kind is Hyperactive-Implosive ADHD which is the kind everyone is familiar with. Then there is Inattentive ADHD, the type that is rarely diagnosed, and that’s because no one knows what to look for in this type. The organization’s website explains that anyone with inattention will have trouble giving close attention to details, difficulty sustaining attention, seems to not be listening, they struggle to follow instructions, they have trouble with organization, avoiding tasks that require mental effort, loses things, is easily distractible, and is forgetful with daily tasks. A person with Combined ADHD will have some symptoms of both hyperactivity and inattention. All types of ADHD can range from mild to severe (CHADD). For example, I was diagnosed with mild ADHD, at the time girls were rarely diagnosed, and are still least likely to be diagnosed today. So I have Inattentive ADHD and some refer to it as ADD. As we get older our symptoms change, and maybe what we were diagnosed with as children, we no longer have as adults. Some see this as us growing out of ADHD, but you don’t grow out of it, you simply learn to live with it.
Since that day I have been learning how to live with my ADHD because it affects everyone differently. Reading articles, talking to people in support groups, and reading suggestions of those who have learned to live with this. Understanding my quirks and how my mind works. A person with ADHD/ADD does not organize the way you do. Actually, I have to work very hard to get myself organized. Half the time I don’t even know if the way I organize is correct. I have started consider something, maybe our minds aren’t organized, and that’s why we have trouble getting ourselves together. Not to mention we like to organize in piles. So you will tend to find piles of papers, clothes, and maybe dishes around the house. It’s like: “okay this is a shirt so put it with other shirts.” Then you have the mail, and it’s all paper so put it with all things made of paper, not a good idea. I still need to work on organization.
For the past few years, I’ve been trying special techniques to help my mind stay invested in tasks. Doing multiple things at once help me stay on task and boredom doesn’t become a major problem anymore. I am able to access my hyper focus mode as soon as I turn on the background music, sometimes a favorite TV show, or both at the same time. The method is to basically distract my mind from being distracted. So that I’m completely engulfed in only the thought of finishing my project. I listen to classical music while working on editing special projects for my classes. I listen to classic 80’s music while working on something creative. Last semester, I spent a day in hyper focus mode editing poetry for a class and listening to Gilmore Girls in the background. Hyperfocus is the ability to concentrate intensely on any object of interest. Anything mundane like making your bed, or folding clothes, those things don’t matter. I have to keep my mind interested in doing daily chores, so I listen to the musical Les Miserables while folding towels, and that helps me to stay focused. I listen to classical music while editing my thesis papers because listening to the words of an 80’s song is too distracting. It isn’t so distracting when listening to the keys of a piano being plucked. I’m thinking about where my fingers would be on the piano if I were playing that piece of music, (I took five and a half years of piano lessons). I also have enhanced senses and I can smell my brother across the room when he’s forgotten to wear deodorant. I walk into a new room and I am automatically overwhelmed by the objects inside. My eyes tend to flutter around trying to grasp what I see, then I slowly get used to the things in front of me, or one object grab’s my attention for about an hour. This is also hyperfocus because then I sit there thinking 200 million thoughts about that object. Taste and feel are also heightened. Whenever I would shake hands with a guy, at a church I used to visit, I would always dread doing this because his hands felt like sandpaper. Also, I have never tried hot dogs because from my point of view they look like rubber.
When I say to someone “my mind is mixed up” sometimes it’s that my thoughts are moving so fast that I can’t catch them. That’s another thing about ADD/ ADHD, we are fast thinkers, and I can think a whole weeks worth of thoughts in one day. All of those thoughts floating around in my head can be unhealthy. That’s why I need to meditate because I am able to access my thoughts a little more carefully. My short-term memory doesn’t hold things for very long. So if you tell me something important it will immediately go to the back of my mind and I will never see it again. This was probably the reason why I had difficulty learning math. I tend to only remember fragments of information, due to the way my mind retrieves a memory, or the way thoughts move through my head. I have difficulty finishing a thought while I’m speaking, and it’s frustrating, sometimes I completely lose a thought while talking to someone. For the longest time, I have hated being put into social situations because of my ‘Half Thoughts.’ A half thought is when you speak half of what you’re thinking while you finish the rest of the thought in your head. My head finishes it faster than my mouth, and sometimes I forget that I’m talking when I’m thinking, sometimes I’m thinking when I should be talking. Basically, I hate talking because I always end up saying something I didn’t want to say, and anyone I talk to gets impatient with me. So I just don’t say anything at all because it’s easier to not offend anyone if you don’t say anything at all. That probably isn’t the best idea in the world. So, if a person is willing to wait while I carefully go through my mind, then they will get to hear me speak. If you are a patient person, then I feel more comfortable, and I’m able to speed through my thoughts without worry. Remember, I am a fast thinker, and I do a lot of speeding around in my head. Also, I’m easily distracted, and a number of things can cause me to lose my train of thought. I dare you to live in my head for one day.
There is so much more to ADHD than what I’ve described to you. I’m on a special diet because of ADHD. I have to exercise an hour a day. I keep forgetting to do even just 20 minutes of walking a day. It is so hard for me to get myself in the habit of these things. My new goal, right now, is to work on emotions because I tend to get lost in my overwhelmed feelings. Eating a lot of protein seems to help me do that. These small changes have made my life so much better. I’m back in college and I’ve gotten off of academic probation. I’ve passed every single class. I’m almost done with my sophomore hours. I’m just in a good place right now.
My goal for this piece was to truly show what it is like to have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Honestly, only half of the people who read this won’t believe that I have ADHD, and some people will tell me that it’s all in my head. Instead, I decided to describe what it feels like to have ADD, and I hope that this piece has shown you something enlightening.
Here is a web link to the list of ADHD symptoms the organization(Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders) CHADD has on their website. You can also go to their page here to get other resources. They also have a Facebook page here where they post articles daily.
If you have any questions about the things I do to help my with ADHD, please ask, and I will answer your questions. I have been doing research on this for six years, but remember I am not a doctor, nor an expert.
http://www.chadd.org/-CHADD main website
http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/About-ADHD.aspx- The list of ADHD symptoms.
https://www.facebook.com/chadd.org/- Their Facebook page.