Not that long ago, I went to see a psychiatrist for the first time.
It’s kind of a funny story how I ended up there, but the Cole’s Notes version is that my kids drove me crazy. True story.
But whatever the cause, there I was sitting in her office and answering all her backgrounder-type questions with half my brain, while wondering with the other half how someone so young could possibly have spent enough time in university to be a qualified psychiatrist. Eyes scanning her office walls looking for possible forgeries of medical degrees, I absent-mindedly responded to her queries about stress, worry, insomnia and so-on.
At the end of our first chat, she posed the big question: “do you think you might have AD/HD?”
To which I replied, “I’m sure I do.”
After a few more visits, and a lot of tests and questionnaires, she confirmed the diagnosis. I tested strongly positive for adult combined-type AD/HD. Well, it wasn’t really that much of a shock. I’m kind of known in my family and circle of friends as being the one who’s so absent-minded I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on. I’m late for everything, and that’s if I don’t forget our appointment or engagement altogether. I tend to be impulsive (very) and I have the tendency to become hyper-focused on certain non-productive pursuits (Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, novels) to the exclusion of important things that really need to be done. In conversation, I’m like a magpie – I jump around whenever a new, shiny idea pops into my head or field of vision.
Some of these characteristics have never been particularly troublesome, and some of them I even welcomed. Not being bogged down by details (ever) allowed me to embrace big-picture thinking in a way many people I know simply cannot. But, if I’m honest, most of these traits have caused me some kind of problems at work or in relationships. I’ve felt stupid, careless and lazy more times than I can count, but despite an ocean of good intentions and coping mechanisms, I never found anything that helped in a significant way.
Until that day in my psychiatrist’s office. The first help she offered was to explain the mechanism of AD/HD to me. She told me it’s the most physiologically-based of the mental illnesses, caused by my brain’s inability to produce sufficient dopamine. The result of which is an under-stimulated brain, which seems backward, doesn’t it? But think of it this way: if your brain does not get enough of your body’s natural stimulant (dopamine), you’ll seek out stimulation in other ways. You’ll obsessively watch hours of Netflix while the laundry sits beside you unfolded. You’ll drown yourself in a good book while the bathrooms need to be cleaned. You’ll hang out with friends enjoying a juicy conversation when you should have left 15 minutes ago to pick up your kids from school. And coffee. If you’re like me, you’ll drink a lot of coffee, and at all hours of the day or night. My doctor told me that I was likely self-medicating with the caffeine in my six daily cups (2 in the afternoon) of java.
And with that explanation, so much guilt and embarrassment just kind of melted away. All those things I thought were character flaws that I just couldn’t budge? I suddenly saw them in a new light. I don’t for a moment think that being diagnosed with AD/HD gets me off the hook and gives me a lifetime pass to be late or careless, but it helps me see that there is a legitimate medical reason why I struggle with certain things more than others do. And that helps.
Another thing that helps is developing some new coping strategies to help keep me on top of all those details I find it so hard to manage. Putting everything (I mean everything, even tasks like “make lunch for work tomorrow”) in my iPhone calendar. Setting my alarm 45 minutes earlier. Ignoring TV and internet when things need to get done. Making lists. Doing one thing at a time. Breaking large tasks into manageable chunks. You get the idea.
And then there’s the question of medication. Taking an AD/HD medication might help my brain to function a little bit more like a ‘normal’ person’s, freeing me up to feel less stressed and less like I’m always behind the eight ball. It might help me get on track and cross a few (or a few hundred) things I’ve been procrastinating doing off my to do list. It might even improve my overall sense of well-being. The cons? Well, there is the tendency to experience a reduction in appetite and therefore some weight loss.
Well, when you put it like that…
So I agreed to try a medication for a month. After a week I’ve had very few side-effects (dry mouth is the worst of them) and many, many positive effects. I’m keeping a close eye on how I feel, and I’m asking for feedback from those close to me to make sure that my behaviour doesn’t change in any odd ways. And other than actually being on time for everything this week and accomplishing an array of impressive tasks, so far there have been no major personality changes.
Today, things are looking good for this distractible, impulsive lady. (Wait – was that a squirrel?)