Dear ADDitude

Another Chance for Danielle

Kimberly Majerowicz nearly lost her daughter to drinking and suicide. Then the troubled teen and her mom both were diagnosed with ADD, and they began reclaiming their relationship.

Kimberly Majerowicz: her daughter's life was like a broken beer bottle, but was able to piece it together
Kimberly Majerowicz: her daughter's life was like a broken beer bottle, but was able to piece it together

Before Kimberly Majerowicz, 39, and her daughter Danielle, 17, learned that they both had ADD, the most ordinary interactions between the pair often ended in bitter screaming matches or tears. The Timonium, Maryland, home they shared with Danielle’s stepfather and two younger siblings was a battleground.

The main reason for their fights? Danielle’s defiant behavior. At first it seemed like nothing more than a bad case of teenage rebellion: dyeing her hair fire-engine red, wearing ripped jeans and oversized hooded sweatshirts, trashing her bedroom and refusing to clean up.Then came Danielle’s failing grades, the wire she cut in the alarm system so she could sneak out at night, the vodka bottle under her bed, and, finally, a journal that revealed thoughts of suicide.

Meanwhile, Kimberly was coping with her own feelings of failure. Each day, she wondered if she would be able to muster the energy to meet quotas in her high-pressure sales job, clean the house, and shop for groceries. Helping her troubled daughter turn her life around seemed beyond her abilities.

Finally, Kimberly took action, and their individual ADD diagnoses in 2001 have given them each a second chance. Here is a look at how far they’ve come.

Kimberly: Middle school had been tough, but as soon as Danielle started ninth grade, things got really bad. Her teachers started calling almost every night, telling me that she hadn’t been handing in her homework and was close to failing. I’d react by yelling at her, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you pull yourself together?” I’d forbid her to watch TV or see her friends, but nothing made a difference. She’d turn around and walk away.

Danielle: It had gotten to the point where I dreaded going to school and dreaded coming home. In class, I’d doodle instead of taking notes. It was as if I was in a trance. I’d feel I was there physically, but my mind wouldn’t connect to anything I was reading or hearing. I’d blow off my homework, and then try to do it in five minutes during my first class the next morning. I started getting Cs, Ds, and Fs.

Kimberly: Now I can see similarities in our behavior. There were days when I’d get my kids to school, return home, and crawl right back into bed. At the time, I was working in medical sales. I knew I had sales to make, but I’d keep putting them off. Then I’d rush to make a month’s worth of sales in a week. I’d get it done, but give myself such high anxiety.

Danielle: My mom was on my case all the time about my grades and my room. I didn’t like that everything was my fault. I started smoking pot or drinking after school and on weekends.

Kimberly: Danielle’s stepfather stayed in the background. He didn’t understand why she couldn’t clean up her room or get good grades. To him, she was just lazy. But I was desperate for insight into Danielle’s behavior. One day I looked through her room, and that’s when I discovered the empty vodka bottle and her journal. When I read the entries, saying how she hated me and hated her life, I decided we needed to see a family therapist.

Danielle dreaded going to our session each week. I can’t blame her. We were in family counseling together for six months, and we didn’t get anywhere. Finally, during one session, I blurted out, “Could my daughter have ADD?” I don’t know what made me say this, except that I remembered reading an article about ADD. The therapist said that ADD wasn’t her specialty, but she gave me some information about it.That night, I went on the Internet and found an ADD checklist. As soon as I started to read it, I began to cry. All I could think was, “Oh, my gosh, this is Danielle. And this is exactly how I felt at her age – and how I still feel.”

Danielle: When my mother told me she thought I had ADD, I got angry. I did not want to deal with another doctor. But I finally agreed to give it a try.

Kimberly: When Danielle got tested, I was given a checklist to fill out for myself, as well. Within the same week, we were both diagnosed by the same child psychologist. After receiving our diagnoses, Danielle began seeing Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in ADD.

In the beginning, we’d take the hour-and-a-half drive to see Dr. Nadeau twice a week. It was a huge time commitment. But when you’re scared of losing your child emotionally or from suicide, you do whatever you have to. The message was basically, “No more excuses.” Either we could blame each other, or we could decide we wanted to change. Within two weeks, we made more progress than we had in six months of family counseling.

Danielle: Dr. Nadeau was different from the family therapist. She really held me accountable for my actions by sticking to one subject during each session. With the family therapist, we kept moving from one topic to another, which meant we didn’t get anywhere with any of them.

Dr. Nadeau seemed to understand what I was going through. When I said that I didn’t raise my hand in class because I was afraid I’d sound dumb, for example, she didn’t try to analyze me. Instead, she said that was very common in girls who have ADD. It was a huge relief to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

I saw Dr. Nadeau for almost a year. Little by little, I began to see improvements. Knowing that there wasn’t something wrong with me also helped me stop using drugs and alcohol.

Kimberly: My relationship with my daughter used to be about tearing her down. But since we were both diagnosed, I’ve worked at building up her talents. She felt like she was failing in every aspect of her life, but I pointed out how wonderful her poems were. This year, she’s in honors English and wants to be a writer.

Danielle: I sometimes think about all that my mom’s missed out on. At age 35, she finally switched to the career she always wanted. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through what either of us went through.

Kimberly: I used to think of a job as something you got up and did, just to get it over with. I was miserable, but I was scared to give up the stability of my job. I had always wanted to be an interior designer, but, even though I had gone to school for design, I wasn’t confident that I could succeed at it. Learning that I had ADD, and being treated for it, gave me that confidence.

I quit my sales job and started my own design firm. As it turns out, I’ve been much more financially successful than I was before, because I love what I’m doing. I feel as if I just started living my life four years ago. We also worked with a pediatrician who prescribed medication for both of us. In the mornings, before it starts working, I still think, “Oh, my gosh. I own my own company. I’m going to fail,” as I drag myself out of bed. But then, 20 minutes later, the light bulb in my head switches on, and I think, “Okay. I can do this.”

Danielle: I’ve been taking the same medication on and off for the last four years. I keep on giving it another try because it really helps me focus in school, but the side effects aren’t fun – it makes me jittery and gives me an upset stomach and a dry mouth. I haven’t been taking any medication for a few months now, but I would like to find one that works as well for me as my mother’s does.

Kimberly: One of the most important things I learned was to choose my battles. We were facing so many problems that forgetting her homework or having a messy room paled in comparison next to alcohol abuse or talking about suicide. I stopped fighting about little things, and that’s been good for Danielle. She’s made huge strides on her own. She used to feel as if she had to “fit in.” Now, at 17, if she knows that someone around her is doing drugs, she’ll get up and leave.

Danielle: I’m doing so much better, and I’ve even started looking into colleges. When something is bothering me now, I can actually sit down and have a conversation with my mom. We have our own special outings – to dinner and a movie, or shopping – whenever we feel we need to get away.

Kimberly: Four years ago, this kid looked at me and hated me. She used to think she had to hide things from me. I’m not trying to be her best friend, but my daughter confides in me now. I still regret that I missed out on so many years to enjoy her, but I’m thankful that we are where we are.

To parents who suspect that their child has attention-deficit disorder, I say to be on the lookout for one key phrase: “You just don’t understand.” I didn’t understand – and I had ADD! Now I understand so much. I know that Danielle’s not going to walk on a rigid path, which might mean more bumps along the way. But now that we know what we’re dealing with, the journey will be much more fun.



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