Emotions & Shame

“So This Is What ‘Normal’ Feels Like.”

“After half a lifetime of struggling at home and at work, I feel as though a new me has been born with my adult ADHD diagnosis.” One woman’s story of loss, awakening, and renewed hope on a road back to ‘normal.’

Mother and child with ADHD outside

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. What I couldn’t figure out was how to feel ‘normal’.

“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 ADHD.” 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 ADHD-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.

I Can Do This!

I actually enjoy being a mother for the first time in 11 years of motherhood. Don’t get me wrong: I love my girls and am totally committed to them. But I used to wonder why my daily interactions with them left me so frustrated. By the time they went to bed, I was often near tears.

Life was hard that way for 44 years. When I look at old photos of myself, I’m shocked: I look drained and pinched, even when I was smiling for the camera. I never used to have fun, even on vacations. The simple act of packing for trips used to depress me.

But since I’ve been treated for ADHD”, I’m surprised over and over by how easy life can be. It’s no big deal to a person without ADHD to help a second-grader read for 15 minutes every night, or to sit through an entire movie without getting up five times to “check on something. But for me, it’s a different world, and I love it!

The only thing that bothers me about adult ADHD is that so many people — even doctors — still think it’s a myth. Years ago, I actually suggested to a doctor that I might have it, but I was told that if I had done well in elementary school, there was no way that I could. I was never hyper or aggressive or disruptive at school, but I cried in my bedroom nearly every night because each tiny decision felt like a giant hurdle. Deciding how to put my hair up could leave me in tears.

Since I’ve been diagnosed, I have the same responsibilities as before. I’m still a single mom working full-time to support three daughters. I still live paycheck to paycheck, drive my same old station wagon, and, sometimes, I still get frustrated when things don’t go my way. The difference is that nothing seems overwhelming anymore. If the car breaks down, I can handle it. Without hysteria. If the money’s short, I figure out how to get by. Without breaking down. Things don’t have to be black or white any more. I’ve learned to see and live with gray.

Come to my house for a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or tea; I’ll know where the cups, spoons, tea bags, and cocoa are. You can sit in a chair that does not have piles of laundry on it, waiting to be put away. You can talk to me and I will listen, instead of chattering non-stop about myself. And while you’re talking, I won’t jump up to take care of something I forgot to do earlier. Mostly, I’ll have fun being with you, which means you’ll have fun too.

My life works for me now, instead of me having to work for my life. And that’s worth the world to me.

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