Eight-months-ago, I found myself sitting in a therapists office. Even though it was a rather warm autumn day and I had worn my heaviest winter coat, I was shivering. Despite being cold and shivering, I was also sweating. I could feel the streams of perspiration running down the goosebumps all over my skin. I stank from going a week without a shower. My skin was pale and sallow, my hair was greasy and pulled back into a pathetic pony tail with hair randomly sticking up in places.
I remember sitting hunched over with my head in my hands and feeling so low that I physically could not lift it back up.
I was so tired.
How did this happen?
How did I get back to such a broken place?
How did I get to that place I swore I would never visit again? When I started this blog in 2005, I did so because I was a broken mess after my baby son, Matthew, died of SIDS at 4-months-old.
I didn’t take it well.
I hit bottom harder than I ever had.
I was misdiagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder and put on a plethora of medications. They made things so much worse that I literally almost lost my life.
It took years and years of crawling, screaming, ranting, writing and vomiting out my feelings before I got in a better place.
But I did it.
A mere two years ago, I was on top of the world.
I had a new baby that I adored more than anything in the world. I had a great job. I served on various committees and boards. I was in an amazing choir. I had a blog I loved with a very respectable readership. I had friends and people I liked, loved and respected in literal hordes. I had flown around the country for multitudes of conferences. Huge corporations had flown me and my family on massive trips all over the country. I had interviewed celebrities, been featured and interviewed by multiple global magazines, TV, radio, newspapers like The New York Times, and I’d even been invited to The White House.
I even coordinated a freaking flash mob.
So how did I end up with no job, no friends, zero extra-curricular activities, no respect, a deserted blog, empty social media accounts, and so cut off from the world that I was pretty much bedridden in my room for a year-and-a-half?
That is what I was in therapy to find out.
A year before I started therapy, I injured my already troublesome back after doing the aforementioned flashmob. Usually when that happens, I am down for a week and bounce back. Not so this time. By January I was in bed almost constantly and on narcotic pain killers. I had been let go from my job and moved and honestly…I was so overwhelmed that I began shutting down my life.
Bit by bit it slipped away.
In April, my disk ruptured and I had to have surgery. I thought I would be down a week and get my life back. That didn’t happen. The longer that it dragged on and the more pain killers I needed, the emptier my life became. I had a few traumatic events happen that are too long to get into right now. They drove me further and further down the rabbit hole.
The few times I participated in social media I had a couple of incredibly hurtful encounters.
I finally got so bad my general physician strongly recommended therapy because I was obviously not coping well with my long-term chronic pain.
So, I made an appointment and ended up sitting exhausted and smelly with tears in my eyes and my head in my hands.
That was my rock bottom.
I got on some powerful vitamin D, started seeing my therapist regularly and slowly, very slowly, I begin to improve by tiny bits and pieces.
But I was still pretty much buried and a wreck.
I began to seriously question if I was a drug abuser.
I ALWAYS ran out of pain killers before the fill date. When you are on narcotics for any length of time, your body becomes dependent on them. When you DON’T have them, you are, quite simply…in utter HELL. Every week I would spend at least one day and night with my body and mind screaming in agony. It got worse and worse and I became more and more anxious that I was an utter addict and abuser.
It was horrible.
Yes, I was getting better but it was going SO slowly.
One day, I was having a rare session of Internet browsing and I saw a link to an article that literally changed my life and existence forever.
I took the article to my therapist the next week and hesitantly asked if he thought this could be what was wrong with me.
Did I have undiagnosed ADHD?
He looked at me and then began rapidly looking through his notes of my sessions. He looked up and asked, “Where is your diagnostic paperwork that I gave you before you came to your first session?”
I looked up sheepishly and said, “I didn’t fill it out. It was so long and so overwhelming.”
AND THAT WOULD BE THE DIAGNOSIS RIGHT THERE, Y’ALL.
Finally, I had answers to what has been a lifetime of frustration and pain.
My name is Loralee and I have severe ADHD: Type: Hyperactive/Impulsive.
So, how the heck can even severe ADHD cause this many problems? Isn’t that just some mental illness that causes little kids to jump out of their seats in school and disrupt the classroom? Seriously? That is what all this hubbub is about?
Don’t roll your eyes, people.
You have no idea how awful, how pernicious, and how much havoc is wrecked by this horrible neurobiological disorder.
A definition of ADHD usually cites three problem areas and symptoms within in areas which are used to make an ADHD Diagnosis. These problem areas must create chronic and large disruption of your life in at least TWO settings like work and home life and symptoms must have manifested as a child:
- Inattention – difficulty concentrating, forgetting instructions, moving from one task to another without completing anything, difficulty tying up ‘loose ends’ once the interesting part of something is done.
- Impulsivity – talking over the top of others, having a ‘small fuse’, being accident prone, making poor choices, not being able to take consequences into account, reckless and damaging behavior.
- Hyperactivity or over-activity – constant restlessness, fidgeting, talking constantly, rapidly and/or blurting things out and talking over others, and having your mind and/or body constantly on ‘the go’.
- ADHD is not an illness
- ADHD is not a moral or character flaw.
- ADHD is a behavioral disorder
- ADHD is not an illness or a sign of low intelligence
- If untreated then most children will continue to suffer from the disorder in adulthood
- With understanding, care and medical treatment, the ADHD child can live a normal life
There are two types of ADHD. ADHD subtype Inattentive (Which has NO hyperactivity) and then ADHD subtype Hyperactive/Impulsive. Often you can have a blend of the two and often other disorders like depression can accompany the diagnosis. (Often, though, as is in my case, depression is CAUSED by ADHD.) For the sake of length, I am going to talk about the type of ADHD I have. I have classic and severe ADHD Hyperactive/Impulsive. (The SEVERE part is super important. Most do not have the extremes in symptoms and life fall-out that I have. Many people manage their lives so that no one notices anything horribly different. BUT THEY OFTEN DO IT AT A MUCH LARGER COST THAN PEOPLE WITHOUT ADHD. Also, hyperactivity does NOT always mean you are running about like mad accomplishing things. You CAN do that, sure. The inattentive types can have moments like that as well. But it is NOT consistent achievement and you can be hyperactive and also lay in bed for (in my case) 18-months just watching TV.)
If it is caught as a small child and treatment and skills are taught right away, ADHD can not only be managed but there are often many, many benefits to it.
People with ADHD are often highly creative. They tend to think out of the box and come up with ideas and solutions that most people don’t consider. They are often deeply interesting, magnetic, funny and highly compassionate. Often their levels of intelligence in areas skyrocket off the charts and they are the life of the party. They can have boundless energy and FOCUS when they ‘want to’. If people like this can be taught and trained and given accommodations early in specific ways, they can be breathtaking people with happy, productive lives.
I have so many positive traits. WHEN I HAVE INTENSE INTEREST, I am utterly unstoppable. I can pull of magical things. I have been described as a force of nature, and that isn’t far from the truth.
But forces of nature, while awe inspiring at times, can also cause terrible destruction.
When your ADHD goes undiagnosed as a child and you make it to, let’s say your late thirties, before being diagnosed, the picture is quite different. Most likely, you knew somehow that you were different from all the other kids. You might have learning difficulties or a hard time with math, writing, and/or reading. Homework was torture. You often didn’t have assignments, books or the proper school supplies with you to complete your work day. You might have had social problems, either being too quiet and withdrawn or being so talkitive and forceful that you inevitibly mistepped. Your emotions may have fluctuated quickly and intensely. You might have been highly emotionally reactive to little things like a playground slight. Your room at home, your desk, locker, and later your car were ALWAYS in a state of chaotic disorder. When you cleaned it, it most likely took you hours and when you were finished it was utter perfection. And then quicker than you can say ADHD, it would be a mess again without you even being sure how it got like that.
School and responsibilities increase and as that happens, you start feeling the strain and struggle of keeping up and juggling so many balls.
As a teenager, you might have fallen in with people who might not have been the best influences for you. You could be drawn to others with chaotic and drama-filled lives because you instinctively feel that they will be understanding of how much you suck as a person. You might be promiscuous or make impulsive and dangerous choices. Sometimes buttressing against something negative is better than just swirling alone, untethered in the cyclone around you. You also might start experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Depressants calm the never-ending cyclone that is your mind and if you choose to try stimulents, you might actually start feeling better since stimulents are the baseline treatment for ADHD.
You might start chugging coffee, energy drinks OR ENTIRE VATS OF DIET COKE in huge amounts in an unconscious way of self-medicating for the disorder you don’t know you have.
You may have heard of Attention Deficit disorder at this point but you would probably dismiss any warning signs that you have it BECAUSE OMG YOU CAN FOCUS AND CONCENTRATE ON SOME THINGS WITH SUCH BURNING INTENSITY YOU MIGHT AS WELL START THEM ON FIRE WITH YOUR LASER FOCUSED STARE. (It’s called “hyperfocus’ and it is a hallmark of ADHD. To stimulate and also shut off the chaos swirling around people with ADHD, they often focus on a task, hobby, video game, tv, blog, computer or person to an obsessive, stalkerish, degree. The layman thinks that this means you can’t have Attention DEFICIT, but the person who is familiar with it would know in a heartbeat that you suffer from the disorder.)
Once your undiagnosed ADHD heiny graduates from high school (Which was a freaking miracle for me since my hyperfocus was on being in four choirs, drama club president, debate team and being in eleventybillion different plays and musicals WHO HAD TIME FOR THAT SILLY THING CALLED BORING HOMEWORK? I needed so much summer school and when I was standing in line for my diploma I swore they were going to tell me I wasn’t going to graduate. I think they just wanted to get rid of me. ;) ) your world may start to change.
Once you leave the ‘protective elements’ of your childhood home and the structure of school is when many people REALLY start to struggle. If you are in college, you may switch schools (or like me, take a million classes that have nothing to do with your major and STILL NOT HAVE A DIPLOMA BECAUSE YOU NEED 18 FREAKING CREDITS) and be overwhelmed with the process.
As you age and get more responsibilities, you juggle more and more responsibilities.
You might have huge difficulty maintaining a job. Even though you have more education or are just as smart as a co-worker, you may have been passed over because you just don’t do well at tying up the million loose ends that are involved in the day-to-days of life. And it keeps on coming. You have to pay bills, manage money, shop in huge stores and panic at the overwhelming choices, be paralyzed by deadlines, talk too much, burst out comments inappropriately and have intense, shifting emotions that can interrupt home and work life. You might be married. Instinctively, you may have chosen either a partner who is also chaotic and therefore have the struggles that you lift to wade through adult life doubled, OR, you may have chosen someone radically different from you because you felt they could give you those protective elements you crave. They may be drawn to you for the pluses you carry but what often attracts you to each other can become a source of much pain, conflict and frustration. If you bring children into the equation, you will then add SO MUCH MORE WEIGHT (AND RESIDUAL GUILT) TO THE PILE. School, bake sales, playdates, meals, appointments, shopping….the list is endless.
If you are a woman (especially if you are a women in a social or religious environment of high and/or traditional expectation of females) you will have different scars from being undiagnosed. You may be utterly unable to have an orderly home, neat and presentable kids, you may shut out all but the closest friends and family because you don’t want them to see the mess of your house, your car…your life.
And this is just a TINY LITTLE SAMPLE OF THE MILLION BILLION THINGS THAT CAN GO WRONG WITH YOUR LIFE. (LIKE PERPETUALLY EXAGGERATING ON A BLOG YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW IF ANYONE REMEMBERS EXISTS IN ALL CAPS AND ENDING WITH AN OVERUSE OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
As you juggle more and more and more, even IF you manage to keep everything together you can ONLY do so at TREMENDOUS cost.
You sit there and wonder and wonder HOW EVERYONE ELSE DOES IT. You compare yourself to everyone and everything and literally shred your self-esteem to pieces thinking that you have a bad character flaw and are a horrible excuse of a person at a molecular level.
You hit a wall.
Like I did.
I WAS on the top of the world.
And it absolutely ended up crushing me with its weight.
I had done absolutely incredible things in my life, and yet I lay in utter pieces with zero self-esteem left.
I limited my life choices severely to try to ‘maintain the damage’. If I shut myself up in my room, I couldn’t disappoint my friends and family by hyperfocusing on the relationship one moment and then forgetting they existed in a blink of an eye, let people down, hurt people, make utterly careless and impulsive life choices, get in car accidents, have anyone depend on me, get judged for being disorderly, feel inferior for my lack of routine since laying in bed was the only routine I had.
I wouldn’t be hurt AND…I couldn’t hurt others.
And so, that is how I ended up with my life at an utter standstill and surrounded by grey, dark clouds.
And then the sun came out.
I started medication. (Three of them, to be precise.)
I continued therapy.
I devoured books and information.
I realized that far from being a drug addict and abuser, I was just utterly incapeable of following the medical directions necessary. I would forget to take my medication, get in severe pain, and instead of having a normal thought process of taking 2 and waiting a half hour, I would take, like, five. Once I realized not only what the problem was, but also that it would interfere with treating my ADHD, I made the decision to check into a detox hospital for 4-days so that I could have ridged and routine care. At first they were confused as to why I was checking in because my narcotic levels jived with my condition and I hadn’t done anything illegal and frankly, I was not even CLOSE to as bad as even the next most mild case of addiction I had in there. I got the feeling they thought I might be there unnecessarily. THEN they realized that I didn’t eat for two days because the menu and system for ordering meals was intimidating to me AND THE LIGHT BULB WENT ON FOR EVERYONE THERE.
When I checked out, I felt great.
I was in pain (still am) but I FELT LIBERATED.
On medication I could follow a conversation without stopping mid-sentence and taking it into 10 different directions.
I started talking about what I had. I stopped apologizing constantly to every about how much I suck and began simply stating what my problem was and asking for the help and accomodations that I need to make my life work.
I got an amazingly organized person to come in once a week to help clean and teach me how to get everything organized.
I analyzed the coping mechanisms I used in my life that worked, like when I am in charge or in leadership, to always try to work closely in a team with someone super organized and detail oriented. This is how I pulled off being president of many clubs, organizations and things like a 4-year (!) PO Presidency. I basically had to build that entire organization from the ground up, and I was capeable of doing that, but I SUCCEEDED because of who I chose to row the boat with me. In times I was a one person operation (like aforementioned job) I did not fare well and was unable to implement some of the very good ideas I had because I suck at follow-through. I was forwarded several emails from a co-worker that were very hurtful. They said I did not deserve my pay and that I didn’t work. I felt like I was exhausting myself, and I WAS. But in truth…I was working 20 times harder than I should but with VERY minimal output towards the end. I was burnt out trying to implement my ideas and just shut down. It was one of the more hurtful and confusing failures of my life.
I started eating better and taking better care of myself.
I began taking pride in how I looked, how my kids and home and yard looked.
I looked and reviewed my past and while I mourned, grieved and sometimes got angry at all the lost opportunity, the shredding of my self-esteem, the horrible life choices and the systems that let me down, I ALSO looked at all the horrible mistakes I have made with FAR MORE compassion and understanding. I have come to understand that as much damage I have done in my life, THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH WORSE.
I began rejoicing in my life.
Spring came, and with it came warm sun, gardening, meeting neighbors and people at church (Yup…I went back. More on that later.) and sticking my toe back into driving, mothering, and just…living again.
When I am medicated my emotions are MUCH more in control. I don’t feel things so intensely. I also realized that I have let the anger about my son dying go. It will always hurt, but mostly, I just think about how much I loved him. I was able to take hold of some of my larger mistakes and confront them with the help of my family and a religious leader.
I turned a major, major corner.
Since my diagnosis, SIX people in my family have either been diagnosed or strongly suspected of having ADHD.
I am so much better, but I still struggle hard daily. I will NEVER be the woman I truly desire to be. This disorder stops SO MANY OF MY DESIRES. And it will continue to do so.
I am getting better and more importantly, I am getting better at KNOWING that I am and always will be limited by this.
I went to a birthday party last week. I was fresh out of a long day of gardening outside and was a bit grubby and covered in bits of nature. I saw someone I hadn’t seen in several years staring at me from across the room. I chalked it up to either having a booger hanging out of my nose or my rumpled, gardened, state. Later in the night she approached me.
“Loralee…I have never seen you look so absolutely radiant. You are simply glowing with health and happiness.”
I took stock of that moment.
She was right.
My life had utterly and completely fallen to pieces.
And I am glad it did.
I FINALLY feel like I have a solid foundation to my life. One I have never had before.
I am happy.
I am healthy.
And I absolutely glow with it.
But even above all the good things I listed above, I beam because there is something I have in my life now that has been an unachievable and unthinkable thing for the past 38-years.
I have peace.