I’m an ADHD Expert — and I Still Struggle With ADHD
Just because you’re an expert in helping others with ADHD doesn’t mean you don’t struggle with the condition yourself. Here are the ways I grapple with inattentive ADD, and why I refuse to let my symptoms define me.
I always know where my keys are. I don’t generally lose things. I remember to lock the doors at night. I’m almost always early for appointments and meetings. I earned two college degrees.
And I have ADHD.
People say, “How can that be? You seem so together! Even your socks match.”
I was diagnosed with inattentive ADD almost 25 years ago. And though I’ve dedicated my professional life to helping other women with ADD, I, too, struggle with the condition.
ADHD doesn’t go away after you use the pretty polka dot planner or the calendar with the cute stickers and matching pen. It doesn’t go away with medication, meditation, or magical gadgets to keep you on track. ADHD is generally a life-long condition that can affect anyone: a bus driver, teacher, surgeon, writer, or rock star. And it affects each of us in different ways.
My ADHD: Anxiety Over Being Late, Lost, Left Behind
I’m never late because I’m so anxious about being late. I arrive with lots of time to spare to alleviate a sense of panic, a panic driven by ADHD. I keep my eyes on the clock so that I’m not embarrassed by lateness. The fear of being judged keeps me on my toes, but what a price I pay for that.
As I said, I never lose my keys. If I do lose something, though, I can recall where I misplaced it. I’ve learned to visualize where I last had the object in my hands.
I remember the name of the clerk who filled my script yesterday at CVS, but I don’t remember the name of the woman who sat next to me for two hours, making fascinating conversation at a recent party. My word retrieval is worsening with age: “You know, that thing you boil water in? Oh, yes, a teapot. Thanks.”
I did well in school until I hit sixth grade and moved to another district, where I could not keep up academically or socially. It got worse from there. With the help of a kind adult who cared about my future, I was provisionally accepted into college. That’s when I took off. My secret (I did not know I had ADHD or even know what it was) was to take courses I had an interest in. I learned to sidestep classes I knew I’d struggle with or fail. I’m sure many of you have done that dance. Instead of going into psychology and earning a Ph.D., where I’d have to take statistics (my math skills are nil), I turned to social work. My love of people and wanting to help the less fortunate made me a good candidate for that kind of degree.
Not to say I didn’t struggle. There was still a required statistics class that almost did me in. My husband got me through it. I’m not proud to admit how much he had to help me.
What Is Your Flavor of ADHD? Mine Is Inattentive
My flavor of ADHD means that I shut down easily. If someone asks me to bring food to an upcoming gathering, I nearly pass out. What does that mean? How much food? What kind of food? I’ve passed on many invitations, out of fear of not knowing what to bring.
This leads me to clothes, the other reason for declining many social activities. Deciding what to wear (unless I’m home and out of view of anyone besides my family) is excruciating. Many people might laugh at this, but it’s true. Packing for a trip takes me a week. It involves making lists, trying on outfits, checking the weather daily to determine what to bring. Then I forget what I packed, only to have to start over.
Planning daily meals when my children were young made me feel like the worst parent in the world. I couldn’t figure it out. A meal isn’t typically one thing. It usually involves three things: a main dish and two sides. To me, that was like making three meals each night. My failure at meal prep took a toll on my self-esteem. I’d talk to my sister-in-law on the phone. She is also a mother of two, and she could talk me through cooking things. If that isn’t a magic trick, I don’t know what is.
To make matters worse, my kids were picky eaters and nothing was acceptable to both of them on any given night. Feeding involves nurturing and love, yet I fell short and felt like a terrible mother. I remember one child fussing because I had put butter on her pasta, while the other beamed over her butter-covered plate of penne.
My ADHD Doesn’t Define Me
We each have our own ADHD profile. Some of us lose things. Some of us say things out of turn. Some of us are so inattentive that we could sit for hours watching clouds go by. That’s what I did as a 10-year-old. The world slipped by while I made cloud pictures in the sky, lying on the cool green grass, enjoying the breeze blowing through my hair.
I won’t forget my 6 p.m. meeting tomorrow night. I’ll be there early and ready to go. But I won’t be able to concentrate because, more than likely, my clothes will make me feel uncomfortable. I may have a headache because the weather is changing. I won’t be able to hear what people are saying, because I can’t filter out other sounds and will be terribly distracted.
As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve learned an important lesson: ADHD doesn’t define me. I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and now a grandmother with an ADHD brain. I can choose to focus on my challenges, or I can celebrate my strengths. I raised two wonderful daughters who care more about people’s feelings and well-being than what I cooked for them when they were kids.
I make paintings that are shown in galleries. I play five instruments, all self-taught. I write. I am, I think, a good friend. I have a good marriage (yes, that takes work, but most things do). I like to think that I help other people, like you, like me.
And I have ADHD.