So This is What 'Normal' Feels Like

After half a lifetime of struggling at home and at work and dreading each new day, I feel as though a new me has been born with my adult ADD diagnosis.

So This Is What 'Normal' Feels Like! ADDitude Magazine

Things don't have to be black or white any more. I've learned to see and live with gray.

Donna Surgenor Reames, mother with ADD

I'm sitting in the tiny nurses' station, staring at neat piles of completed paperwork. It's only 1:30 a.m. and I'm done already. Work that used to have me scrambling to finish before the day-shift nurse came in at 7 a.m. is finished. Not just finished: done right, with a clear focus.

I smile, leaning back in my chair. "So this is what 'normal' feels like," I think, amazed.

All my life, I had struggled with a vague sense that something was different about me. I felt inferior, inadequate, undisciplined, and hopelessly disorganized — all feelings that have been, at one time or another, reinforced by others in my life.

"Donna, can't you ever be on time?"

"I couldn't live in this clutter."

"How can you not know where your daughters' birth certificates are?"

"Maybe you're just one of those people who can't stay organized."

I had gotten used to feeling tired before I even got out of bed, of dreading the new day and its various obligations. I was exhausted, struggling at work and at home with my kids. It took every ounce of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to live my life — until I finally met someone who listened to my story and gave me a chance to do something about it.

He didn't hand me a planner or a book on organization. He didn't lecture me on slothfulness or give me parenting advice. He handed me a prescription.

"Take this and see what happens," he said. "I think you have adult ADD." He was the first person ever to believe me when I said that there was something wrong beyond depression or a fundamentally disorganized personality. I had always sensed that there was a part of me that could be structured, that could be organized, that could function with ease. I just didn't know where it was or how to access it.

A new mom

As we pulled into a gas station the other day, another car pulled in front of us. The driver was shouting and cursing. At the station, I walked over to her. "Hey, I'm sorry if I irritated you," I said. "I'm taking my kids to school, we were talking, and maybe I didn't give you enough space."

The woman calmed down noticeably and shook her head. "No, it's my fault," she said. "I'm tired this morning and I got mad. Don't worry about it." As I got back in our car, my oldest daughter, Zoë, stared at me, eyes wide open.

"Mama," she said eagerly, "I can't believe how nice you were!" (How embarrassing to realize what a jerk your kids thought you were, in the throes of daily ADD-related irritability.) I grinned. "You've got a new mama, girls!" I said as we continued on our way.

In the past, a situation like that would have caused me to erupt. I'd fuss and fume and blare my horn. I used to think I had a problem with anger. Now I know that my nerves were just stretched to their limits, and things that rolled off other peoples' backs were intolerable to me.

Our life has slowed down at home. We eat in more often, and my girls actually enjoy my cooking. I'm not trying to do 15 other things while making dinner any more, so I don't end up burning it. I've also come up with my own system to organize my cabinets — and it works!

Because I now understand that I have a disorder that requires me to do things a little differently, I do them without feeling that I'm stupid or lazy. What I've discovered about myself is just the opposite: I can be highly organized and disciplined if I let myself be. My medicine has calmed something down inside of me, allowed me to take a deep breath and live at a slower pace.


This article comes from the February/March 2005 issue of ADDitude.

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