A couple of months ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD. One of the things I’ve learned after being diagnosed is that there is so much I don’t know and I’m learning every day. Yesterday, someone shared this tweet in our Virtual Coffee slack and it helped me to break down the parts that I’m really struggling with right now. I’ve only told a couple of people, though it was both a surprise and not a surprise. And honestly, I was waiting to write this blog post until after I “got a handle on it.” Spoiler alert: I don’t have a handle on it. Maybe I never will. But maybe this will help someone out. Maybe it will help you to know that being at home during quarantine with kids has intensified my symptoms in ways I couldn’t imagine. Maybe it would help you to know that I miss those hours I spent hyperfocusing on code maybe more than anything else during these times. Maybe it would help someone to know that some days things are ok, and then other days I learn something new about ADHD and it sends me down the rabbit hole of looking at my past interactions and feeling a new pain, a new wound because I can see that those times someone told me that I talked to loud or too fast or too much was a symptom of my ADHD. Maybe it will help someone.
Growing up, I didn’t have the ADHD struggles I’ve commonly heard about. But about a year ago, I read more about ADHD and started seriously thinking I might have it. I mentioned to my sister-in-law (a counselor) that I might have it, and she said, “You didn’t know?” And then in true ADHD fashion, I kinda forgot about it. Because I did well at school and work, it didn’t feel like a problem. And here’s the thing, knowing what I know now, I think the reason I did so well was because though not all of my family is diagnosed with ADHD, I’m pretty sure they would be. And I believe the coping mechanisms that allowed my parents to succeed, allowed me to succeed in school and work as well.
See, where it really affected me was in social situations. If you checked out that tweet I posted above, you’ll recognize the categories that changed my understanding of my own experience with ADHD and my understanding of myself: Hyperfixation, Getting Upset Easily, and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria–if you’re going to read one article on this, this is the one. I’ve always had a hard time making connections, and I’ve been in situations where people have criticized my passion in social situations. “You get too excited.” “Shhh, why are you talking so loud.” These are the things I remember, how I think of myself. Another big one for me is Memory Loss, “Why didn’t you do X? I’ve told you a million times…You’re just not trying hard enough…You just don’t care…” And even when I told my doctors I was having problems with focus and concentration, they said, “That happens to moms.” So for a long time, I’ve been accepting this as my life, hoping that maybe this “mom-brain” would go away.
It’s those comments that have made me feel like I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough. To be a programmer, to be a mom, to be a friend. These feelings and my lack of understanding of how my brain works differently than other people’s that have led to anxiety. And most of this hit me in adulthood. It wasn’t until I heard other people talking about it, until I read other people sharing their experiences on Twitter that I had the courage to ask more about it.
I’ve spent a lot of my life being good at hyperfocusing. I like and enjoy a lot of different things, and coding is one of them. Looking back at my post-trauma self–the one where I had anxiety, depression, and PTSD–I realize why life felt so chaotic. My brain was spending all its energy bouncing from traumatic memory to traumatic memory. And it hadn’t hit me until just now that when I started coding, I got back my hyperfocus. I always say that coding saved me, but that’s by extension of hyperfocus. It can be comforting and it feels normal and when I have hyperfocus in my day, I’m much better able to handle any other chaos that comes. When I find something that I hyperfocus on, I also want to talk about it and do it all the time, which can also make social situations challenging. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to hear about what I learned about writing tests today. It becomes a large part of my personality. But I find that when I do have that in my life, things like my memory improve. I don’t have an explanation for that, but I’m sure someone else out there does. The point is, when I have hyperfocus in my life, I feel like I can complete the tasks that I have scheduled for the day, that I can almost relax. I feel the most like myself.
Here’s where things got bad. Like really bad. I love my kids. I have four of them. And I’ve spent a lot of time taking them places (museums, hiking, after school activities) by myself. And that’s when I feel like I do my best momming. I think a lot of it has to do with my ability to focus on new and interesting things, whereas being in the house, there are so many things that need my attention–the kids, the dishes, the cooking, the laundry, the leaking sink, bills, work, etc. Being in the house without focus is like being hooked by a thousand different strings pulling me in different directions and I can’t ever finish anything because I’m hooked in too many different directions. It’s exhausting.
And maybe it sounds weird, but before the quarantine, I was working from home and things were fine. But that’s because I had an expectation of working 3-4 hours a day at a certain time, and knowing I would be able to finish something. And finishing something feels pretty damn good. But when quarantine hit, I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was parenting these kids for like 16 hours a day and because of social distancing and my husband’s job obligations I didn’t have much help for a while. To top it off, my coding drastically decreased and I didn’t have that focus time. So I didn’t have the relief and reset that I find with hyperfocus. I had four kids at home that now found me as their mom, teacher, BFF, fill-in-whatever-else-they needed-me-to-be-that-day, and it has been a constant and chaotic time. And for a long time, I felt like a failure every single day.
Once school ended, things got a lot better, but I still struggle. I don’t have the quiet coding time that I used to have. I’m carrying more responsibility than I did pre-COVID. And I find it really hard to not have a set time period to code. So my schedule frequently looks like this: code until a kid needs something or is crying or is telling on another kid for eating ice cream before breakfast. Take a break to help said kid(s). Repeat. And so what ends up happening some days is I feel like I’ve neither done all the coding I wanted to get done nor have I parented in the way that I want to. Everything is frustrating. And sometimes I’m feeling pretty desperate for time to have a brain that doesn’t feel like a pinball machine. The days that I do get a couple of hours of kid-free code time, those are the days that I feel like I can take on the world.
I wanted to write this post after I was treated and felt good about where I am. But this is my current frustration. I’ve had people recommend I try CBD blunts, essential oils, diet and exercise changes. And while those things may help some people, with my current situation I, and my therapist, strongly feel that I need to try medication.
Before trying any of the commonly prescribed medications, my doctor wanted to try an off-label or new use of a medication for six weeks. The problem is, that medicine made me so incredibly tired. So tired that I fell asleep around 2 or 3pm just because I sat down. So tired that when I went to see my therapist I couldn’t remember if the light I had gone through was red or green.
After some modifications, my doctor decided to prescribe me Vyvanse. I had hope for the first time in a long time. Except when I went to pick up the prescription, my insurance company rejected it because they want my doctor to sign an authorization form. How the prescription that my doctor signed is not enough of an authorization, I’ll never know. But now I’m waiting to hear back from a doctor who is on paternity leave in the hopes that I can have my medication. In the hopes that the anxiety caused by my brain’s inability to focus right now can find some relief.
This is a new journey for me, and I’m grateful to everyone out there sharing their ADHD stories because I wouldn’t understand any of this unless I read your story first. One of my favorite Twitter accounts and blogs that was recommended to me is Ŕene Brooks, so if you’re interested in learning more, she’s a great place to start. I didn’t want to write this until I had answers I could share. But through the guidance of others, I’ve learned that my answers might not be the ones that work for you and it might take a really long time to find the answers I’m looking for. And maybe just reading about my experience is enough to help someone feel not alone. Not everyone will understand you. Sometimes it’s even the people who are closest to you.
When I was diagnosed I was both overwhelmed and had a sense of relief. I was fortunate enough to have people in my life that I’ve met in the Twitter tech space that I could ask them about their experiences. And understanding this whole experience has been a challenge that feels kind of like a choose your own adventure story except when you make a decision you get sent to a page that doesn’t make any sense with the story you’ve already read. And in those times, I go back and read those conversations, because they are a treasure trove of information that remind me that I am ok. One of the best pieces of advice that I go back to when I’m having a tough day is “the problem is you’ve had the wrong set of instructions for your brain this entire time.” I just sit with that and take a deep breath. This might mean writing my own instructions or taking bits and pieces from other people, but for sure it does mean to not judge myself based on the wrong set of instructions I’ve been using, a challenge in itself.