"You’re Not ADD (Part 2): You’re Befuddled"

My daily routines were knocked off kilter by a head injury that lingered — revealing how much I relied on structure to cope with attention deficit.
Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

Suddenly, my life was capital-D Disordered, and I could see how inherently un-regulated I was without my usual structures.

When the Mini Cooper left an imprint of its license plate in the bumper of my Prius, the insurance company said it was still a low-speed accident, and I couldn’t really be that hurt. Even my doctor dismissed the possibility of a concussion, despite that bang my headrest gave me on the back of my head, messing up my upper neck pretty good.

Three weeks later, Enzo was diagnosed with ADD, and my immersion into this new world began. I began recognizing the tell-tale patterns of ADHD in my own psyche that had been there all along. At the time, however, they were confuddled with the symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) that I was experiencing.

PCS is a lingering condition that arises when a concussion doesn’t heal. At the time of the accident, I had been in the final throes of polishing the manuscript of The Bullying Antidote and going a mile-a-minute preparing for the next project, trying to figure out the bad report cards, and grieving from the sudden death of a dear auntie. Rest, schmest. The stress of life didn’t stop — bills to pay, food to make — but I could no longer stay in control of my time. I would have a few good days a week and then the wheels would fall off. I struggled to keep teaching my Zumba classes; exercise keeps me focused and productive like nothing else.

Symptoms of PCS include attention deficit, impulsivity, irritability, a low frustration threshold, mood swings, memory problems, impaired planning, communication difficulties, socially inappropriate behaviors, self-centeredness, and a lack of insight, concrete thinking, and poor self-awareness. (Sound familiar?) Another thing that happens with a concussion is your blood pressure can go haywire, since an injured brain can’t regulate things as well. When I realized exercise was bringing on symptoms, I had to give up my daily sweat.

With the dull ache in my head, all of my other stabilizing structures became more difficult, too: Meditation would just put me to sleep; I couldn’t remember to take my herbs and vitamins; and I didn’t have the energy for my organizing routines. With caffeine off-limits, I couldn’t reach for a cup of focus.

Episodes of inattention began to mess up my life in big ways — like the time I didn’t go through all the steps properly when moving into my new computer, and lost my data when the robbers (yes, there was a break-in, too) dropped it on the way out.

Suddenly, my life was capital-D Disordered, and I could see how inherently un-regulated I was without my usual structures. I realized I had been living (somewhat successfully) with undiagnosed ADD all my life...but I couldn’t get the help I needed until my head had fully healed. Every medical professional I approached diagnosed me with capital-A Anxiety, which I most certainly was suffering, due to the not-raining-but-pouring challenges in my life.

Now that it’s all behind me (PCS sufferers, have hope!) I see what a valuable experience I had. I have so much more understanding and compassion for head injury now. The hardest part about a brain injury is that you can’t put your head in a cast, so people can’t see that you’re injured. Like mental illness, it’s “all in your head.” You can’t function like a normal human being, and you feel invisible and misunderstood.

I ended up doing eight months of counseling about feeling invisible and misunderstood. It was good to have somewhere to go and cry once a week, but my therapist could not really see or understand the ADHD connection beyond the trauma in my addled brain.

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