Recently, in the Women with ADHD support chat, the question was posed (I think by Becca and I am paraphrasing here) “Why do people with ADHD have such a problem with change?”
As someone who was only recently, after 24 years of mid-diagnosis and being told she was NOT ADHD, I understand this question. I have been resistant to change all of my life without understanding why I was uncomfortable with it. Why could other people in my life turn on a dime without blinking an eye when I could hardly handle my routine being disrupted for a before work appointment? Why would my day been thrown off if my schedule at work changed? (Working in a call center, we have scheduled breaks, lunch and project time. My boss has it set up that even during our “peak” season, my schedule is not to be changed!)
As much as ADDers may resist structure, we need it. I think this may be part of the reason I struggled as an Administrative Assistant for 10 years, yet excelled at my current job (my first call center) and have been there for over 3 years as a permanent employee (longest I have been anywhere!) I went from “self management” of my daily duties to a firm scheduled day. Even though I have balked at the idea of creating a schedule for my family (my oldest daughter, 9, has been diagnosed ADHD and we are waiting for the results of my 6 year old daughter’s evaluations), looking at our daily life, we have a schedule. It may not be rigid or written down, but the pattern is there. I just have never been in a “place” within myself to have the discipline to create and stick to a schedule. When we are in “free flow”, distractions and maintaining “normalcy” is hard. But it is the way we have had to cope most of our lives.
When it is such a struggle to deal with the day to day details of our lives and those of our families, to have any change can throw us off track. Now, instead of having the timing/visual/audio clues of our normal routine to remind us of things, we may not have those things to rely on. As many of us know, especially as adults, remembering is HARD. Our sense of time is often skewed. I tended to be way early for everything, a habit I got from my dad and exaggerated myself as an adult. It took a lot of getting used to when I started to force myself not to leave the house before a certain time so I wouldn’t get to work more than 15 to 20 minutes early instead of my typical 45 minutes early. Like most ADDers, I thrived and performed well when deadlines loomed, running on high adrenaline to get things done. All in all, my time management sucked and still needs work! Discipline to adhere to my own deadlines is another challenge for me as well.
While not an expert in any way, this is what I have discovered in the last couple of months since starting stimulant medication and working with an ADHD Coach:
Medication does not “cure” ADHD, regardless of the type. I am not “normal”, will never be normal and that is ok. I believe that due to not only the societal stigma that comes with any mental illness, but also what we were told all our lives (“you’re lazy, you’re not working to your potential, why can’t you just do it, why are you always so spacey, etc.) a cure is what we want. Unfortunately, I think that not everyone realizes that a cure is not possible.
Like any mental illness, and having dealt with clinical depression and anxiety disorder for over half my life, we want it cured and gone, no longer an issue? How many of us, while growing up and even as adults, have wished or prayed to be normal or like everyone else. While some uniqueness is celebrated, why do we have to be unique in a way that is looked down upon and so misunderstood?
In my experience, whether with my clinical depression/anxiety disorder or my recently diagnosed ADHD, I am finding much the same truths for them. One: There is no “CURE”. There is no pill, no injection, no self help process, no meditation, amount of positive thinking or exercise that will remove the issue. This is biologically based. Just like any other physical flaw, so are these things. They are not readily seen or sometimes even noticeable. You may learn to cope, but it will not just go away. Two: Medication, while not for everyone, helps but does not cure in itself. While it is difficult, being very (sometimes painfully) honest with your prescribing doctor is crucial. Three: With the medication, behavioral therapy or coaching helps. Most mental health professionals will agree that they see the most success when patients use a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Medication can help calm/rebalance/refocus the brain, but we have to do the work to be functional.
Because of the issues we face with mental illness, we yearn for the cure ideal. I feel this is an unobtainable thing. By learning how to work WITH the mental illness in order to manage it, instead of against it, success is more likely. For instance, with my ADHD; I have learned that by having a day planner, alarms and alerts programmed into my cell phone, getting a vibration alarm watch (I work in a call center, so audible alerts really are not an option) and making lists or reminder notes, I am better able to remember things and get things done before I get to the “high adrenaline” stage of having to get things done. I can better think out what I need to do and therefore improve the quality of what I do. Whether this is in my work, parenting, marriage, friendships or other relationships; it improves my life in general. By working with my tendencies instead of against them, I am not using as much energy and have the energy for things I would rather be doing. I am not as exhausted by the end of the day fighting distractions and random thoughts, trying to appear “normal” to the rest of the world.
Admittedly, this takes self acceptance. As someone who suffers from mental illness, this is hard. Self esteem is not something we tend to excel at. It is a lot easier to look in a mirror and point out our flaws to ourselves, rather than our strengths. Even with the level of self acceptance I do have, I still struggle with this. In fact, one of my earliest “assignments” from my coach was to make a list of my strengths. I got so stuck that I finally gathered up enough courage to ask family, friends and coworkers (including my boss) what they see as my strengths. Some are obvious (i.e. two of my coworkers came up with “very friendly and outgoing”, which I recognized already), some are not so much (i.e. determined, there are so many projects I have started and stopped, though after it was brought to my attention I can recognize if there is something I want or want to do, I will do what it takes to get there.)
I am lucky enough to have the gift of a good sense of humor (thanks Dad and Granddaddy!) and while I can be self depreciating in my humor, I can see value in myself. Sometimes it is a defense mechanism, that if I don’t laugh about my failings, I’d cry. Other times, it’s simply me recognizing that we ALL have issues; regardless of class, family life, upbringing and situation.
So I embrace my ADHD, I wear my favorite hoodie with pride. I put it on, snuggle into it and happily wear it wherever I go…
“They say I have A.D.D. but I think they are full of…Oh look! A Chicken!”
Next, I’ll get the “Oh Shiny!” t-shirt for Summer!