Kathleen Clark

@kathleen-clark-2 | contributor
I am the mother of two boys on the autism spectrum. I am also a novelist, blogger, and homeschooler. Oh, and I have major depressive disorder.

Read This If Struggling With Depression and Guilt This Christmas

’Tis the season to be jolly. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Have a cup of cheer. It’s December and every time we step in a store, turn on the radio or walk down the street, we are reminded of the season of Christmas. Let’s be real; we’ve been inundated with these messages before the jack-o’-lanterns rotted. Whether you love Christmas or hate it, these messages are inescapable. I’m not here to go all “Grinch” and ruin your Christmas spirit. However, if you’re not feeling the joy but in fact feel the exact opposite, this post is for you. Maybe you’re struggling with depression and it’s triggered or exacerbated by this season. Maybe you’re dealing with grief and the twinkling lights and scent of poinsettias are painful reminders of loss. Perhaps the stress of the holidays is fueling joy-stifling anxiety . You’re not alone. Recently, my church did a sermon series tackling tough stuff, including grief, addiction , depression and anxiety . I was volunteering at the resource table set outside the worship center. A middle-aged man came up and shyly scanned the pamphlets. He shared that he was currently dealing with depression and was feeling much worse as the winter and Christmas season commenced. I was glad this man felt safe enough to reach out. He was far from the only one. It got me thinking: is the bombardment of cheer, joy, presents and decorations sending “should” messages to the many people struggling during the holiday season? You “should” be feeling joyful and jolly. You “should” be drinking eggnog and smiling by the Christmas tree. You should love every moment. I’m not suggesting channeling Scrooge and banning all things holiday. But, here’s the thing: if you’re not feeling it, you are not alone. This year, I turned on Christmas music while the turkey was still digesting. I smiled while my kids reacquainted themselves with favorite Christmas decorations and books. But the main reason I’m embracing the holidays this year is because last year I really, really couldn’t. I live with major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD). I anticipate a spike in anxiety as I try to do all the things (the pressure to do all the things is a whole other post) but last year, it was the depression that really defeated me. People say things like , “don’t let it steal your joy.” That’s like telling someone, “don’t let the rain fall.” There’s no “letting” involved. My depression tends to have a reverse seasonal pattern — it worsens in the summer. I also have “double depression ” which means I manage chronic dysthymia as well as episodic major depressive episodes that can last weeks, months or even years. During the summer of 2017, my mood took a serious nosedive. Depression is frustrating. I have coping skills and check in with myself and my doctor regularly. Despite this, sometimes it comes without warning and with no identifiable triggers. In this case, I think it was creeping in and the dismantling of an important friendship among other stressors tipped the scales. I suppose the reason doesn’t matter. With my brain chemistry, it’s easy to slide into a depressive episode. It’s much more complicated to crawl out of it. I tried self-care , medication changes, writing, sleep hygiene ; you name it. Th e depression deepened and persisted. By November of 2018, I was at an all-time low, and not for any particular reason. Depression doesn’t need a reason. Fun fact: depression (or anxiety , grief, etc.) doesn’t care what season it is or what kind of music is playing on the radio. I was a year and a half into a major depressive episode. I was tired. I wondered if I’d ever emerge this time. I’m sharing this because last year at this time, the festive reminders felt like mockery. I don’t think anyone really knew where my head was. After all, I’m a mom. I always loved Christmas. Growing up, it was my favorite time a year. I love replicating the idyllic Christmases of my childhood for my own children. My dad loved Christmas. He passed on December 10, 2006, and every year we keep his memory alive and laugh as we adorn his favorite decorations. I plastered a smile on my face while the pressure in my chest expanded. That was the hardest part: the pretending. I smiled when we picked out an evergreen from the lot across the street. I took pictures while coercing my 10-year-old to stand by Santa. I dragged myself out of bed and to Christmas parties. When the sign-up sheet for my youngest son’s kindergarten class party landed in my inbox, I volunteered. Every night, I read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” “Polar Express” and “Charlie Brown Christmas.” But when I was alone, I dropped the act. The rare times I got in my car without kids in tow, I punched the audio button as soon as I turned on the engine, turning Christmas music to Linkin Park. The Christmas music I normally looked forward to sounded almost eerie. The words “jolly” and “joy” were like big red fingers pointing at me. The lights only illuminated the gloom. In the shower, when I had the energy to take one, I griev ed. Depression had stolen my joy and I was helpless to get it back. Aside from anxiety , depression ‘s best friend is guilt . I berated myself for being immersed in darkness during the most wonderful time of the year. I isolated, fearing I’d fail to hide my bleak mood and it might rub off on my friends and family. Smiling was painful. Singing was painful. Visiting and talking and pretending was exhausting. I wanted to snap out of it. I know it doesn’t work that way, but the guilt was oppressive. Not only that, I was missing the season. I was sad about being sad. Notice I’m saying “was.” This year, I can’t say I’m on top of the world, but I’m miles above where I was last year at this time. Thanks to support, a dedicated psychiatrist and counselor, and maybe some random luck thrown in, I’m in a good place. Some pretty cool things have happened since last year. I’m in the process of working with a publisher toward my book release date. Those dark times propelled me through my novel, which de als with mental health . I’ve watched my kids grow and change. I’ve learned abo ut myself and my relationship dyn amics. That’s why I’m embracing Christmas this year; I couldn’t last year. Not didn’t, but couldn’t. That’s one message I want to leave you with. Last year at this time, I didn’t think the joy would ever return. I was ready to give up on ever feeling it again. I was wrong. I’m not going to sit here and tell you “things will get better” or “this too shall pass.” I’m not going to patronize you with platitudes, because I don’t know who you are or where you are or what your situation is. All I know is life is not static, at least not forever. It keeps moving, and if you keep moving with it, it has the chance to change. Give yourself the chance. That’s the other thing about depression . It not only helps me with my writing, but it helps me enjoy the times it’s absent. Because of depression , I c an appreciate the mundane, I’d venture to say more than the average person. The other message I want to leave you with might be the one you need to hear the most if you’re in a dark place: It’s OK. It’s OK if you’re depressed this holiday season. It’s OK if you’re grieving. It’s OK if you have the urge to shatter every single Christmas light and the thought of eggnog makes your nauseous. It’s OK if you’re dragging yourself through the motions of shopping, wrapping, cookie exchanging and ornament hanging. It’s OK if you’re not. It’s OK if you’re skipping the holidays altogether. Listen: if this is you, I truly wish I could come hug you and roundhouse kick your depression , grief, anxiety , etc. in the face. I know it sucks. It sucks worse when the joy you’re surrounded by contradicts your inner climate. It’s not your fault. If I can’t remove your struggles, maybe I can help put a dent in your guilt. You’re not alone. I hope you feel safe to reach out for help. I hope the more we talk about this stuff, the more people will feel comfortable. That’s why I started writing ab out my mental health . I’m just o ne person, but I want to be part of the conversation. If you’re not ready, that’s OK too. But just know you’re not required to bathe in eggnog and feel all the joys of the season. You’re not alone. I know, I know, that’s a cliché, but based on myself, conversations with friends and the number of people who approached that resource table, I can promise you it’s true. Be kind to yourself. Be really gentle. It’s OK if this isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for you. Whatever you’re feeling inside is legitimate. If all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, if you can’t put one foot in front of the other and all you can do is roll over in bed, that’s enough for now. You’re enough, during this season and always.

Juliana Allin

Feeling Too Much Emotion In a World That Doesn't Feel

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had enormous feelings. To her, the sky was never just blue — every day it was a different shade of sapphire, azure, ultramarine, indigo or teal. To her, a sunset was never just a sunset — it was a daily dose of unspeakable beauty and magic. To her, happiness was never just happiness — it was exuberant and all-encompassing joy! To her, sadness was never just sadness — it was a deep feeling of despair, sorrow and anguish. To her, love was never just love — it was a profound commitment of devotion, adoration and affection. To this girl, everything felt Big, Big, Big. But the girl quickly learned that few people felt the world like she did. And most people couldn’t understand what it was like to be a “Big-Feeling” person in a “Little-Feeling” world. When she was very young, her big feelings would come out as stubbornness, passion or exuberance. “Don’t be too sensitive,” she was told. “Don’t be so shy,” they said. “You need to stop crying so much” was something she heard frequently. “It’s not a big deal,” others would tell her. So the girl tried her best to hold back her big feelings. She learned that big feelings aren’t appropriate. She learned to be polite and cautious; giving and gentle. She listened to the “Little-Feelers” and did what they asked of her. But this got the little girl into trouble. Because when the little girl grew into a bigger girl, she became better and better at hiding her big feelings, and doing what everyone else wanted her to do. Very soon, some “No-Feeling” people came along and started to take advantage of her. Since the girl felt so much sadness and so misunderstood, and she was so great at holding back her enormous feelings, she let these people — the “No-Feelers” and the “Misunderstand-ers” — do and say bad things to her for many years. She learned that even when she tried her best to be a “Little-Feeler,” she was still far too much. And being far too much somehow also meant she was never enough. So she went from being a “Too-Much-Feeler” to a “Never-Enough-Feeler.” The girl, whose stubbornness, passion and exuberance had been defining characteristics of her life when she was young, was now passive, subservient and quiet. She felt sad and lonely; exhausted and scared. She never knew what the “No-Feelers” were going to demand of her, or what harsh words they were going to say — but she still wanted to feel something. She still wanted to know what love was like, so she did everything they asked, trying to earn love from the “No-Feelers.” She gave and she gave and she gave… and in the end, she gave so much of herself that there was hardly anything left. The girl, who was now a woman, came to understand that she could never be enough, but was expected to keep trying anyway. So she continued to bury her big feelings and kept believing what the “No-Feelers” told her. Then one cold winter day, something in her life changed. One of the “No-Feelers” let her down and hurt her badly enough that something inside her shook to life. She became aware that the people around her were not actually giving her love; they were selfish “No-Feelers” and she needed to leave them. She finally decided she no longer wanted to be “nothing,” and the girl-now-woman reached deep down inside of herself and found a small piece of the stubborn, passionate, exuberant little girl she used to be. And she put that tiny piece back into its place. She tried to hold it there carefully but sometimes lost it within the chaos the “No-Feelers” brought into her life as they fought against her. Thankfully, she always found the little piece again and this tiny piece, so fragile and nearly forgotten before, began to grow. This girl-turned-woman was able to escape from all the bad, “No-Feeling” people she had become entangled with. She was no longer the raw, resolute little person she had started out as. No, she now saw in herself something different. She saw grit. Determination. Compassion. And love. Sadly, the damage the “No-Feelers” and the “Misunderstand-ers” had done was so much that the woman still didn’t feel like enough. But she practiced every day and started to learn there were people who loved her — even if she was a “Big-Feeler” and they weren’t. The woman kept practicing, often still feeling like a “Too-Much-er” in a “Too-Little” world — but also enjoying a reunion with the big feelings that used to bring her joy and excitement. She began to see the sky as infinite shades of blue again. Sunsets and sunrises made her pause with their enchanting beauty. She laughed sometimes and she cried a lot. And she slowly started to embrace being a “Big-Feeler” because she had finally realized she couldn’t change how she felt the world. And she didn’t need to. Follow this journey on www.headstrongblog.com

The Opioid Epidemic Makes Me Feel Like I Need to Hide My Pain

Have you ever felt like you had a dirty little secret? Something that shamed you and caused you to feel guilty, even though you really shouldn’t feel that way? That is how I feel. Because that is the stigma. My name is Melissa. I am a mom living with chronic pain . I am the face of the other side of the “opioid epidemic.” By the end of this, I am sure some people will have opinions about me. Some may comment, some may keep to themselves. Others may share this article in secret, or in support groups. The purpose for me is to tell my truth and share my story, and maybe help some others along the way. Writing this scares me to death, which just means it’s time to do it. I remember my first surgery in 1999. I was a teenager and I was in pain. I remember my mom monitoring my pain medicine. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the medicine was; all I know is that my mom told me it was addictive. Hearing that was enough for me because I didn’t want to form a habit of any kind. I mean, I was the girl who shamed my own father for having a beer at dinner. I was the poster child for good behavior. So, after a few days, my mom flushed the medication down the toilet and that was the end of that. Now, since that surgery, I have added at least 16 more to the list. I lost count around 12 or 13. After each one, those words hung over my head: “Addictive, be careful.” After my first brain surgery, I had several complications. Anything that basically could’ve gone wrong, did. A few of those complications landed me in the hospital for an extended stay. I had been really sick, and the doctors couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong with me. I was in pain, we were keeping it controlled, but I couldn’t keep anything down. Everything made me sick. I remember at one point my nurse, who had been with me a couple of days, came in when it was time for my medications. She asked me if I had been taking my meds at home, as prescribed. I had been, but I had been trying not to take the pain medication because once again, those words were burned into my brain. She then started to question the medications they had me on in the hospital and asking if I really “needed” them. Now at the time, I had a tube hanging out of my spinal cord draining fluid off my brain and 22 fresh stitches in the back of my head. This same nurse watched them put the stitches in my head without numbing me. So, I was confused when she started to question my medication. Then she flat out said it. “Do you think you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms?” I was a little put-off, and more than a little upset, because no, I didn’t think so. But that was all it took for me to wonder from that moment on: what do people think of me? This was also 2010, and the epidemic wasn’t at the forefront of conversations like it is today. Doctors didn’t have the same restrictions when it came to writing prescriptions for patients. Nevertheless, I remembered the words my mom had said to me 10 years before and here I was, panicked that this was happening now. That I was an addict. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t. But I wasn’t going to realize that for a long time. So here we are today, several surgeries later, and that conversation has stayed with me. The accusatory look behind the eyes of every doctor or nurse at my appointments is still there. I see it in the eyes of the pharmacist when I pick up medication as well. If I find myself in the emergency room or urgent care for any reason, I automatically clam up when they review my diagnosis list, ask what medications I am on and what works for me. That fear is there. The fear is always there. The fear I will be labeled a “drug seeker” or an addict. Here is my truth. I have two brain conditions. I have a bone disease where the bones in my joints are literally dying. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). I have chronic pain. I also have a blood disorder — my blood lacks a factor needed to clot, therefore I cannot take any NSAIDS. And believe me, I would do unspeakable things for an Advil, but taking an Advil could potentially be deadly for me. I have also had reactions to several long-term medications. I am allergic to several others. Basically, the medication odds are stacked against me. I am being treated for pain management — something that took me years to do because of the stigma. Does that mean I show up monthly and get a script for opioids? Quite the opposite, actually. Part of what I do is participate in a program that requires me to do so many hours of physical and occupation therapy and work with a pain psychologist. That helps teach me physical ways to manage my pain. Does it always work? No, it doesn’t always work. So we try nerve blocks, lidocaine-based creams and other methods of treating the pain. I am also a medical marijuana cardholder. This is a highly controversial subject in my family. Like, huge. Like, so huge I have debated on whether or not I was going to let this get published with my name attached, it’s that huge. So, if you are in my family and reading this… Hi. I love you. This doesn’t define or change who I am; it actually helps me be the person you have always loved and still will love long after the shock of learning this little tidbit about me wears off. A local girl recently lost her battle with addiction . The topic was a discussion at dinner with my family. It was brought up how easy it is for young people to have access to drugs, and that now our government is “letting” it happen by saying marijuana is “medicine.” It was so hard for me to sit and listen to this, knowing I am a cardholder for that “medicine” and knowing it has been the only thing to get me out of bed some days. The stigma has everyone believing cardholders sit in their basements getting stoned. Well, guess what? That ain’t what’s happening. That card gives you access to different forms of medication that can help you, and not all medication has THC in it or is euphoria-inducing. It’s anti-inflammatory and non-habit forming. Meanwhile, at the same time, I also know that opioid medication is also the only thing that can help me function some days. But the stigma has made it hard — the stigma that anyone who needs to take pain medication is a drug addict. The stigma that someone who uses cannabis as medicine is looking for an excuse to get high. I had major knee surgery last month — my third in just six months. My dad offered to pick up my medication at the store to help us out. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t fill my script, saying their policy did not allow them to. The way my doctor had written for me to take the medication didn’t meet their guidelines. This same store only filled half of my mother’s pain script after she had foot surgery, stating that her doctor should know she only needed a few days worth for that procedure. The stigma from the opioid epidemic has worked against those who need these medications. There are days I am in so much pain I can barely breathe, my husband will tell me to take something, and I’ll actually tell him no; what if I need it another time when the pain is even worse? Because of this stigma, I am terrified to ask my doctor for a refill, or even suggest that I am in pain. I am a mom. I have two children — two perfectly beautiful kids, full of energy and demanding a lot of time. Kids who know my heating pad and icing schedule better than they know when “Paw Patrol” will be on next. It’s because of these children that I need to be present. Sometimes, being present for them is taking a pain pill so I can be at their events, or play with them. It also means I can’t use certain strands of medical marijuana because they make me too tired or spacey. It means I carry CBD oil in my purse along with 10 other medications so I’m prepared for whatever the day may hold. However, the stigma of a person needing opioid medication has made me feel like I need to hide. The stigma of someone needing cannabis has made me lie straight to family members’ faces. There are so many others out there, like me, who live on this side of the epidemic. They fight chronic pain and illness and have to choose their battles for their families and for themselves. They are patients who have to fight and advocate for help and attention. The harder they fight, the worse they look in the eyes of some people in the medical field. It’s a double-edged sword. I live with incurable conditions. I have good days — I have some really freaking good days. Unfortunately, it seems like every good day is followed by a week of bad ones. The epidemic is real. Addiction is real. Regulations do need to be put in place, but there also needs to be understanding. We have to do better to fight the stigma around the people who truly need this medication. Whether it’s opioid medication, cannabis or both, like me. There are just as many people dying from this side of the fight. People who are in so much pain they feel the only way to be pain-free is to die. These people aren’t weak, they are scared. The people who die from overdose and addiction aren’t weak; they are sick. The epidemic attacks both sides. Become aware. Help end the stigma. A version of this article was previously published here .

Cara Sachs

Chronic Pain: Not Everyone Who Takes Opioids Has an Addiction

I have access to opiates. And I’m curious about what it would be like to get high. The two are connected, aren’t they? It’s a no-brainer, right? Not if you have severe chronic pain, like me. For people like me, opiates allow us to function. For people like me, they are essential for any quality of life. For people like me, opiates do not give you any kind of a high. They don’t eliminate pain completely, either. All they do is dial it down to a slightly more tolerable level. And for people like me, they are a lifeline that is severely threatened right now. If you’re thinking, “Doesn’t taking opiates mean you have an addiction?” the answer is “ no. ” Taking opiates continuously means a physical dependency, but that’s very different from addiction. Dependency is part of addiction, but addiction is not always part of dependency. If that’s confusing, my story may help you understand. For about six years, I took morphine prescribed and monitored by my doctor. I definitely had a physical dependency. If I forgot or went too long without my medication, I got sweaty, shaky and my pain levels would amp up quickly. But I did not have an addiction. I had the option of an additional dose each day, which I almost never used. Someone with an addiction would not have been able to resist that third dose. In fact, if I had an addiction I would not have stayed at the same dose for six years. Addiction means having both a physical and psychological need for a substance to cope with or escape everyday life. Removing access to a drug will not end the addiction, as the person will seek out other substances to cope, both legal and illegal. As the hysteria over opioids escalated, I was scared I would be suddenly cut off from my medication. So, without any prompting from anyone, I decided to go off the morphine. It was completely my idea and my choice, and I did it completely on my own. If you’re thinking, “Well, if she could just go off it then she didn’t really need it,” you’re dead wrong. It wasn’t easy to get off at all. My pain levels skyrocketed, my activities became much more limited and I was suddenly completely unable to sleep, so several (more expensive) meds were added. “But you’re fine now without it though, right?” No, not right. I’m in a lot more pain all the time now. Sleep is very elusive, and usually torture. Lack of sleep increases pain, which then makes sleeping even harder. It’s a vicious cycle. Plus, my illness (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) causes my ribs, vertebrae and sacroiliac joint to slip out of place almost every night. Any and all of my joints can dislocate easily during the day too. Fatigue makes my joints even more unstable. If you’ve ever dislocated a joint yourself, or know someone who has, imagine that pain happening in multiple joints 24 hours a day, every day, while continuing to do all your regular activities. Maybe you’re thinking “… But what about all the people who die from prescription drugs?” Well, let’s take a look at that: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has admitted that they’ve grossly inflated (nearly doubled) the number of deaths from prescription drugs. The reason their numbers are so wildly incorrect is that they included heroin ( not a prescription drug) and illicit fentanyl in those numbers. This doesn’t diminish the tragedy of overdose deaths in any way. However, it is prescription opioids that are on the hit list. “But people get hooked because they get prescribed opiates, right?” Not quite. Judith Paice, PhD, RN, director of the Cancer Pain Program at Northwestern University said that 75% of people who started their addiction with prescription drugs never had a legal prescription. It is not common for chronic pain patients to misuse opiates. We don’t get high and we know how precious they are. If you’re thinking you’re lucky this doesn’t affect you, wrong again. You and your loved ones may not have chronic pain now, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that you never will. Think about what it would be like to have surgery or severe cancer pain and only be given Tylenol. Sounds extreme? You’re right, it is extreme. And it’s already happening. Oregon Medicaid wants to force all chronic pain patients completely off all opioid pain medications, and other private and government insurers will follow suit. “But these new rules about opioids were made by experts for good reasons, right? They couldn’t be hurting people!” Wrong again, on several counts. There are no “rules,” only guidelines that are being misused to pressure and intimidate our doctors. The group of “experts” who set these new guidelines include mental health professionals, but often leave out doctors who specialize in pain management. The idea of “not hurting people” couldn’t be farther from the truth. The misguided response to the so-called “opioid epidemic” has spawned another epidemic that is rapidly escalating. It’s an epidemic of desperation that is killing people with chronic pain. People on established and effective pain management plans are suddenly being refused the one thing that allows them to function. Left in agonizing pain with no hope of reprieve, many take desperate measures. For every chronic pain patient who dies suicide, there are likely at least a thousand more considering it — it’s a common topic of discussion in chronic pain groups now. That desperation drives some to search for alternatives, and they end up dying from street drugs. Jon Rodis, a national healthcare advocate and chronic pain patient, has seen the desperation epidemic and subsequent deaths escalate rapidly. He told me of one doctor who lost four patients to it. All of these deaths were completely preventable. One last observation: People who are addicted to opiates use the drug to escape from the world, to avoid living — and they do deserve support and care. But chronic pain patients use opiates to be able to engage with the world. They are not the right treatment for everyone, but for many of us, they enable us to live productive lives, to work, to love, and to participate. Simply put, they allow us one of the most basic rights of every American guaranteed in our Constitution – to live. We will never stop fighting for that, and we invite you to join us. Our lives depend on it… and yours may too. This piece originally appeared on the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights. You can find more from Cara on her blog here.

Shawky Abdalla

Why Anxiety Makes Me Too Tired to Get out of Bed

I get asked quite a lot what makes me “too attached to my bed,” and every time, I say it’s hard to explain. It really is hard! I can never really find enough words to clearly and fully explain my current status. So, this time, I tried to break it down into five stages, hoping that maybe this way, you could find clearer understanding. 1. Getting worked up. I start worrying about things that don’t matter, then overanalyze why I do that in the first place. Then, I get pissed because I (usually) can’t find an answer to all the questions I keep asking myself in my attempt to understand what affected me. 2. Guilt-tripping myself. I start getting anxious about how much time I have lost, consumed in absolute meaningless nothingness, and how I’m not making good use of my existence — not to mention how little sense my overthinking is making, even to me. 3. Self-loathing. I start looking for all the things that might have a part in making me like this or a part in causing me pain. I get too frustrated if I ever find something and convince myself I am flawed and worthless for being the way I am. 4. Unleashing my inner “Columbo.” As questions keep on repeating over and over in my mind without purpose, my brain starts to malfunction due to not finding good enough reasonings behind my actions, and that’s when I start mentally melting down. And finally: 5. Incapacitation. I start becoming mentally frozen, like my body suddenly remembers that gravity exists, weighing me down in bed by the strongest gravitational force. I beg my brain to stop consuming itself because of things that shouldn’t matter, then get angry when I realize how silly I am for having such a mindset and for repeating the whole process of self-judgment, gradually losing function of my senses before reaching mental numbness. And that, kids, is why I say I’m too tired to get out of bed.

Receiving an ADHD Diagnosis in Adulthood

They called me slow. Funny that I even remember that. Yep, I’m in my 30s and still lamenting on the indignities of grammar school bullying. Seriously though, that’s a cut-throat world. I couldn’t keep up with the cliques, the social cues that hovered just over my head, the expectations and assignments. I was in a foreign land feigning fluency in the language and my peers knew it. At lunch, I was the last to get my milk and the last to clean up. I was behind on assignments or forgot them altogether, to the point where my teachers required me to have my Pepto-Bismol-pink assignment notebook signed. On free dress day, I was the kid who showed up in uniform. I forgot to get my tests and permission slips signed. My fifth grade English teacher threatened me with detention if I forgot to bring my red pen to class one more time. She said she was doing me a favor and teaching me responsibilities so that as an adult I wouldn’t forget important things (like always having a red pen on me?) Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Ask anyone in my life if Mrs. M. scared me straight in the fifth grade. In my “grown-up” life I forget things. My keys aren’t where I swore I left them. Laundry hovers in various stages of completion, the dirty sometimes converging with the clean. I start things that I don’t finish. Making phone calls makes me squirm and I’m always late. Detention didn’t teach me to stop forgetting things any more than those pink walk-of-shame tardy slips taught me to get it together and be punctual. Why didn’t these punitive measures work? Was I a kid who just couldn’t learn her lesson? On the contrary, I was compliant to a fault. I wanted to do what I was supposed to do. I feared getting in trouble and I wanted to please people and meet their expectations. Spoiler alert number 2: that hasn’t changed much either. I didn’t start remembering things or better organizing. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do theses things; it was because I couldn’t. My peers were right; I was “slow.” I froze up timed tests. I stayed after school to finish my work. I looked around in a panic when the teacher announced five minutes left to finish the project, observing my classmates gluing on the last pompom or flipping over worksheets, when I wasn’t even halfway through. “What were you doing all that time?” the teacher would ask. I didn’t know. I still don’t. A child usually knows when they’re different. Instead of denying that difference, our task is to create a world where differences are recognized as assets. It’s a tough sell when peers can be so cruel, homing in on any difference they can sense. Some girls dream of becoming princesses, movie stars, dancers. I dreamt of becoming “normal.” I tried to learn the language, but the accent grew thicker as the years passed and the demands increased. I concluded I was just “stupid.” I was wrong. None of the labels I was given by peers or that I gave myself were accurate: Slow, stupid, inconsiderate, flaky, absent-minded. It took nearly three-and-a-half decades to discover the correct label for my penchant for daydreaming, inattention to detail, forgetfulness and overwhelm-shutdown cycle. Three-and-a-half decades to find a label that fits, that explains everything. Now I know this label is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, inattentive type, previously known as ADD). ADHD runs in my family, so it’s not like I didn’t know what it was. I’d even suspected it on and off throughout my adulthood, every time I reached the next arbitrary age by which I predicted I’d “have it all together.” But whenever I mentioned it, I’d hear some version of “Oh, you’re just a busy mom. It’s called pregnancy brain. It’s called ‘mom brain’. You’re just tired. Cut down on caffeine (wait, what?) You just need to get more organized and just do it. Oh, everyone thinks they have that nowadays.” In fact, when my counselor presented the diagnosis, calling me “textbook,” I was hesitant to accept it. Wasn’t I just making excuses? I don’t think ADHD is an excuse (or used as one), but years of internalizing the message of, “if I would just try harder” made me second guess. Was I claiming a diagnosis that I didn’t “earn?” That last paragraph might sound really strange. I’m making an ADHD diagnosis feel like a gift or a badge of honor. Well, it is. My counselor got me to recognize and accept that I’ve been struggling with ADHD for my entire life. The struggles came to my attention when I started kindergarten and was met simultaneously with new responsibility and exposure to the development of same-age peers. By first grade I was behind, and they wanted to send me to a “special school.” My parents kept me at my grammar school. I’m very fortunate for their endless patience. Even without a diagnosis or much understanding of disabilities or outside support surrounding them, they didn’t blame me for my difficulties. They saw how hard I tried and encouraged me to do my best. Let’s circle back to why I’m referring to my ADHD diagnosis as a gift and a badge of honor. When I was diagnosed my first thought was, “So I’m not ‘stupid?’” Once I “claimed” it, the diagnosis was nothing short of validating. My peers ran both literal and figurative laps around me not because they were smarter or more enlightened. Their brains worked differently than mine. My brain worked differently from theirs. The teachers were annoyed with me not because I was a pain in the ass kid (although you might have to confirm that with my brother) but because I couldn’t keep up with my lessons and I fidgeted with my pencils and erasers. The math examples on the board didn’t make sense not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because I am part of the 20 percent of auditory learners. I don’t run out of mental energy after social engagements because I’m antisocial, I don’t forget thank-you cards because I’m ungrateful or show up 15 minutes late because I’m rude. I don’t love these things about myself, and if they were easy to change I would, but that’s another way my ADHD diagnosis has freed me. I can now work on treating my ADHD so it doesn’t interfere so much in my day-to-day life. I can use systems to help me focus and keep things straight. I write and color code everything in a paper calendar because the notifications I set on my phone fly out of my brain the second my screen dims. I check and double-check appointments. I make definitive plans and try to follow a routine. Everything must be gotten together the night before. I team up with other homeschoolers for accountability. These tools and others are just that – tools. It doesn’t mean I magically have it all together — who does? I still have ADHD and I’m still trying. That’s where the badge of honor comes in. All those years I struggled to get through school (and life) thinking I was just slow, I had legitimate difficulties to work with. I was trying plenty hard enough even when it didn’t seem like it. My ADHD diagnosis answers my lifelong question of why can’t I just do it? Breaking down projects into more manageable tasks doesn’t happen in my unmedicated brain. I see and think about everything I have to do, like all the things. Then I don’t know where to start, so I start with reading a book and blocking it out. The cards I write sit on my kitchen table so long it would just look weird to send it now. I mean all the steps required to write a card, seal an envelope, address it and put it in the mailbox. I asked my therapist why I wasn’t diagnosed if I was so textbook? Sure, when I was growing up there was less awareness and accurate testing, but through college and adulthood I questioned. I’ve had psych evals that showed major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, but not ADHD. She postulated that current testing doesn’t necessarily “catch” ADHD as it presents in adult women, especially without the hyperactive piece. We’ve learned to compensate, up to a point. Now I take a low dose stimulant and work with my therapist on coping skills. Sometimes I wonder which came first: depression and anxiety or ADHD. I’ll never know, but I do know years of being bullied for something you can’t control, and thinking you’re “stupid” and falling behind (no matter how many times my parents told me otherwise) does things to your psyche. Which brings me to my final point. Parents, teach your kids about differences and disabilities even (especially) if it doesn’t affect your inner circle. Parents of kids with ADHD, you’re doing fine. It’s not easy, but the most important thing is your child knowing home is always a safe place where they’re loved and accepted. You may struggle with whether to medicate. You know your child best and don’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with, no matter what anyone says. Maybe for your child it won’t be called for. But if it is and you do go the medication route, please do not feel guilty! Don’t worry about what people think. They don’t know your situation. I know giving your child a controlled substance isn’t easy and it’s not a decision you’d take lightly. But for some people with ADHD therapies simply aren’t enough. They need medication to level the playing field and give their brain the stimulation it is biologically unable to produce on its own. And you know what? That’s OK! If that doesn’t convince you to send your guilt packing, how about this. I wish I’d had access to this medication throughout grade school, and not because of my grades. It would’ve put me on closer to level ground with my peers and maybe protected some of my confidence. Homework and tests wouldn’t have taken long if I could focus, limiting anxiety. My parents didn’t have access to this. If you do and you support your child taking medication, good for you. You are giving your child a precious gift. Pat yourself on the back. If you’ve chosen not to medicate your child and you’re using other therapies, good for you. You’re a fierce advocate and your child will know you always have their back. Pat yourself on yours. Labels can be harmful if they’re over-identified with, or worse, incorrect. But the right label offers a map. It offers answers and validation. So I truly am sorry when I don’t return your call and you still haven’t gotten your birthday card, or you’re left to wait for me yet again. I promise I’m working on these things, but in the meantime please know that it’s not you. My brain just works a little differently. It’s still my responsibility to work on these things and it’s not an excuse. But it is an answer to the “why” that I’ve been asking all my life. I have ADHD.

Receiving an ADHD Diagnosis in Adulthood

They called me slow. Funny that I even remember that. Yep, I’m in my 30s and still lamenting on the indignities of grammar school bullying. Seriously though, that’s a cut-throat world. I couldn’t keep up with the cliques, the social cues that hovered just over my head, the expectations and assignments. I was in a foreign land feigning fluency in the language and my peers knew it. At lunch, I was the last to get my milk and the last to clean up. I was behind on assignments or forgot them altogether, to the point where my teachers required me to have my Pepto-Bismol-pink assignment notebook signed. On free dress day, I was the kid who showed up in uniform. I forgot to get my tests and permission slips signed. My fifth grade English teacher threatened me with detention if I forgot to bring my red pen to class one more time. She said she was doing me a favor and teaching me responsibilities so that as an adult I wouldn’t forget important things (like always having a red pen on me?) Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Ask anyone in my life if Mrs. M. scared me straight in the fifth grade. In my “grown-up” life I forget things. My keys aren’t where I swore I left them. Laundry hovers in various stages of completion, the dirty sometimes converging with the clean. I start things that I don’t finish. Making phone calls makes me squirm and I’m always late. Detention didn’t teach me to stop forgetting things any more than those pink walk-of-shame tardy slips taught me to get it together and be punctual. Why didn’t these punitive measures work? Was I a kid who just couldn’t learn her lesson? On the contrary, I was compliant to a fault. I wanted to do what I was supposed to do. I feared getting in trouble and I wanted to please people and meet their expectations. Spoiler alert number 2: that hasn’t changed much either. I didn’t start remembering things or better organizing. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do theses things; it was because I couldn’t. My peers were right; I was “slow.” I froze up timed tests. I stayed after school to finish my work. I looked around in a panic when the teacher announced five minutes left to finish the project, observing my classmates gluing on the last pompom or flipping over worksheets, when I wasn’t even halfway through. “What were you doing all that time?” the teacher would ask. I didn’t know. I still don’t. A child usually knows when they’re different. Instead of denying that difference, our task is to create a world where differences are recognized as assets. It’s a tough sell when peers can be so cruel, homing in on any difference they can sense. Some girls dream of becoming princesses, movie stars, dancers. I dreamt of becoming “normal.” I tried to learn the language, but the accent grew thicker as the years passed and the demands increased. I concluded I was just “stupid.” I was wrong. None of the labels I was given by peers or that I gave myself were accurate: Slow, stupid, inconsiderate, flaky, absent-minded. It took nearly three-and-a-half decades to discover the correct label for my penchant for daydreaming, inattention to detail, forgetfulness and overwhelm-shutdown cycle. Three-and-a-half decades to find a label that fits, that explains everything. Now I know this label is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, inattentive type, previously known as ADD). ADHD runs in my family, so it’s not like I didn’t know what it was. I’d even suspected it on and off throughout my adulthood, every time I reached the next arbitrary age by which I predicted I’d “have it all together.” But whenever I mentioned it, I’d hear some version of “Oh, you’re just a busy mom. It’s called pregnancy brain. It’s called ‘mom brain’. You’re just tired. Cut down on caffeine (wait, what?) You just need to get more organized and just do it. Oh, everyone thinks they have that nowadays.” In fact, when my counselor presented the diagnosis, calling me “textbook,” I was hesitant to accept it. Wasn’t I just making excuses? I don’t think ADHD is an excuse (or used as one), but years of internalizing the message of, “if I would just try harder” made me second guess. Was I claiming a diagnosis that I didn’t “earn?” That last paragraph might sound really strange. I’m making an ADHD diagnosis feel like a gift or a badge of honor. Well, it is. My counselor got me to recognize and accept that I’ve been struggling with ADHD for my entire life. The struggles came to my attention when I started kindergarten and was met simultaneously with new responsibility and exposure to the development of same-age peers. By first grade I was behind, and they wanted to send me to a “special school.” My parents kept me at my grammar school. I’m very fortunate for their endless patience. Even without a diagnosis or much understanding of disabilities or outside support surrounding them, they didn’t blame me for my difficulties. They saw how hard I tried and encouraged me to do my best. Let’s circle back to why I’m referring to my ADHD diagnosis as a gift and a badge of honor. When I was diagnosed my first thought was, “So I’m not ‘stupid?’” Once I “claimed” it, the diagnosis was nothing short of validating. My peers ran both literal and figurative laps around me not because they were smarter or more enlightened. Their brains worked differently than mine. My brain worked differently from theirs. The teachers were annoyed with me not because I was a pain in the ass kid (although you might have to confirm that with my brother) but because I couldn’t keep up with my lessons and I fidgeted with my pencils and erasers. The math examples on the board didn’t make sense not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because I am part of the 20 percent of auditory learners. I don’t run out of mental energy after social engagements because I’m antisocial, I don’t forget thank-you cards because I’m ungrateful or show up 15 minutes late because I’m rude. I don’t love these things about myself, and if they were easy to change I would, but that’s another way my ADHD diagnosis has freed me. I can now work on treating my ADHD so it doesn’t interfere so much in my day-to-day life. I can use systems to help me focus and keep things straight. I write and color code everything in a paper calendar because the notifications I set on my phone fly out of my brain the second my screen dims. I check and double-check appointments. I make definitive plans and try to follow a routine. Everything must be gotten together the night before. I team up with other homeschoolers for accountability. These tools and others are just that – tools. It doesn’t mean I magically have it all together — who does? I still have ADHD and I’m still trying. That’s where the badge of honor comes in. All those years I struggled to get through school (and life) thinking I was just slow, I had legitimate difficulties to work with. I was trying plenty hard enough even when it didn’t seem like it. My ADHD diagnosis answers my lifelong question of why can’t I just do it? Breaking down projects into more manageable tasks doesn’t happen in my unmedicated brain. I see and think about everything I have to do, like all the things. Then I don’t know where to start, so I start with reading a book and blocking it out. The cards I write sit on my kitchen table so long it would just look weird to send it now. I mean all the steps required to write a card, seal an envelope, address it and put it in the mailbox. I asked my therapist why I wasn’t diagnosed if I was so textbook? Sure, when I was growing up there was less awareness and accurate testing, but through college and adulthood I questioned. I’ve had psych evals that showed major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, but not ADHD. She postulated that current testing doesn’t necessarily “catch” ADHD as it presents in adult women, especially without the hyperactive piece. We’ve learned to compensate, up to a point. Now I take a low dose stimulant and work with my therapist on coping skills. Sometimes I wonder which came first: depression and anxiety or ADHD. I’ll never know, but I do know years of being bullied for something you can’t control, and thinking you’re “stupid” and falling behind (no matter how many times my parents told me otherwise) does things to your psyche. Which brings me to my final point. Parents, teach your kids about differences and disabilities even (especially) if it doesn’t affect your inner circle. Parents of kids with ADHD, you’re doing fine. It’s not easy, but the most important thing is your child knowing home is always a safe place where they’re loved and accepted. You may struggle with whether to medicate. You know your child best and don’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with, no matter what anyone says. Maybe for your child it won’t be called for. But if it is and you do go the medication route, please do not feel guilty! Don’t worry about what people think. They don’t know your situation. I know giving your child a controlled substance isn’t easy and it’s not a decision you’d take lightly. But for some people with ADHD therapies simply aren’t enough. They need medication to level the playing field and give their brain the stimulation it is biologically unable to produce on its own. And you know what? That’s OK! If that doesn’t convince you to send your guilt packing, how about this. I wish I’d had access to this medication throughout grade school, and not because of my grades. It would’ve put me on closer to level ground with my peers and maybe protected some of my confidence. Homework and tests wouldn’t have taken long if I could focus, limiting anxiety. My parents didn’t have access to this. If you do and you support your child taking medication, good for you. You are giving your child a precious gift. Pat yourself on the back. If you’ve chosen not to medicate your child and you’re using other therapies, good for you. You’re a fierce advocate and your child will know you always have their back. Pat yourself on yours. Labels can be harmful if they’re over-identified with, or worse, incorrect. But the right label offers a map. It offers answers and validation. So I truly am sorry when I don’t return your call and you still haven’t gotten your birthday card, or you’re left to wait for me yet again. I promise I’m working on these things, but in the meantime please know that it’s not you. My brain just works a little differently. It’s still my responsibility to work on these things and it’s not an excuse. But it is an answer to the “why” that I’ve been asking all my life. I have ADHD.

Receiving an ADHD Diagnosis in Adulthood

They called me slow. Funny that I even remember that. Yep, I’m in my 30s and still lamenting on the indignities of grammar school bullying. Seriously though, that’s a cut-throat world. I couldn’t keep up with the cliques, the social cues that hovered just over my head, the expectations and assignments. I was in a foreign land feigning fluency in the language and my peers knew it. At lunch, I was the last to get my milk and the last to clean up. I was behind on assignments or forgot them altogether, to the point where my teachers required me to have my Pepto-Bismol-pink assignment notebook signed. On free dress day, I was the kid who showed up in uniform. I forgot to get my tests and permission slips signed. My fifth grade English teacher threatened me with detention if I forgot to bring my red pen to class one more time. She said she was doing me a favor and teaching me responsibilities so that as an adult I wouldn’t forget important things (like always having a red pen on me?) Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Ask anyone in my life if Mrs. M. scared me straight in the fifth grade. In my “grown-up” life I forget things. My keys aren’t where I swore I left them. Laundry hovers in various stages of completion, the dirty sometimes converging with the clean. I start things that I don’t finish. Making phone calls makes me squirm and I’m always late. Detention didn’t teach me to stop forgetting things any more than those pink walk-of-shame tardy slips taught me to get it together and be punctual. Why didn’t these punitive measures work? Was I a kid who just couldn’t learn her lesson? On the contrary, I was compliant to a fault. I wanted to do what I was supposed to do. I feared getting in trouble and I wanted to please people and meet their expectations. Spoiler alert number 2: that hasn’t changed much either. I didn’t start remembering things or better organizing. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do theses things; it was because I couldn’t. My peers were right; I was “slow.” I froze up timed tests. I stayed after school to finish my work. I looked around in a panic when the teacher announced five minutes left to finish the project, observing my classmates gluing on the last pompom or flipping over worksheets, when I wasn’t even halfway through. “What were you doing all that time?” the teacher would ask. I didn’t know. I still don’t. A child usually knows when they’re different. Instead of denying that difference, our task is to create a world where differences are recognized as assets. It’s a tough sell when peers can be so cruel, homing in on any difference they can sense. Some girls dream of becoming princesses, movie stars, dancers. I dreamt of becoming “normal.” I tried to learn the language, but the accent grew thicker as the years passed and the demands increased. I concluded I was just “stupid.” I was wrong. None of the labels I was given by peers or that I gave myself were accurate: Slow, stupid, inconsiderate, flaky, absent-minded. It took nearly three-and-a-half decades to discover the correct label for my penchant for daydreaming, inattention to detail, forgetfulness and overwhelm-shutdown cycle. Three-and-a-half decades to find a label that fits, that explains everything. Now I know this label is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, inattentive type, previously known as ADD). ADHD runs in my family, so it’s not like I didn’t know what it was. I’d even suspected it on and off throughout my adulthood, every time I reached the next arbitrary age by which I predicted I’d “have it all together.” But whenever I mentioned it, I’d hear some version of “Oh, you’re just a busy mom. It’s called pregnancy brain. It’s called ‘mom brain’. You’re just tired. Cut down on caffeine (wait, what?) You just need to get more organized and just do it. Oh, everyone thinks they have that nowadays.” In fact, when my counselor presented the diagnosis, calling me “textbook,” I was hesitant to accept it. Wasn’t I just making excuses? I don’t think ADHD is an excuse (or used as one), but years of internalizing the message of, “if I would just try harder” made me second guess. Was I claiming a diagnosis that I didn’t “earn?” That last paragraph might sound really strange. I’m making an ADHD diagnosis feel like a gift or a badge of honor. Well, it is. My counselor got me to recognize and accept that I’ve been struggling with ADHD for my entire life. The struggles came to my attention when I started kindergarten and was met simultaneously with new responsibility and exposure to the development of same-age peers. By first grade I was behind, and they wanted to send me to a “special school.” My parents kept me at my grammar school. I’m very fortunate for their endless patience. Even without a diagnosis or much understanding of disabilities or outside support surrounding them, they didn’t blame me for my difficulties. They saw how hard I tried and encouraged me to do my best. Let’s circle back to why I’m referring to my ADHD diagnosis as a gift and a badge of honor. When I was diagnosed my first thought was, “So I’m not ‘stupid?’” Once I “claimed” it, the diagnosis was nothing short of validating. My peers ran both literal and figurative laps around me not because they were smarter or more enlightened. Their brains worked differently than mine. My brain worked differently from theirs. The teachers were annoyed with me not because I was a pain in the ass kid (although you might have to confirm that with my brother) but because I couldn’t keep up with my lessons and I fidgeted with my pencils and erasers. The math examples on the board didn’t make sense not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because I am part of the 20 percent of auditory learners. I don’t run out of mental energy after social engagements because I’m antisocial, I don’t forget thank-you cards because I’m ungrateful or show up 15 minutes late because I’m rude. I don’t love these things about myself, and if they were easy to change I would, but that’s another way my ADHD diagnosis has freed me. I can now work on treating my ADHD so it doesn’t interfere so much in my day-to-day life. I can use systems to help me focus and keep things straight. I write and color code everything in a paper calendar because the notifications I set on my phone fly out of my brain the second my screen dims. I check and double-check appointments. I make definitive plans and try to follow a routine. Everything must be gotten together the night before. I team up with other homeschoolers for accountability. These tools and others are just that – tools. It doesn’t mean I magically have it all together — who does? I still have ADHD and I’m still trying. That’s where the badge of honor comes in. All those years I struggled to get through school (and life) thinking I was just slow, I had legitimate difficulties to work with. I was trying plenty hard enough even when it didn’t seem like it. My ADHD diagnosis answers my lifelong question of why can’t I just do it? Breaking down projects into more manageable tasks doesn’t happen in my unmedicated brain. I see and think about everything I have to do, like all the things. Then I don’t know where to start, so I start with reading a book and blocking it out. The cards I write sit on my kitchen table so long it would just look weird to send it now. I mean all the steps required to write a card, seal an envelope, address it and put it in the mailbox. I asked my therapist why I wasn’t diagnosed if I was so textbook? Sure, when I was growing up there was less awareness and accurate testing, but through college and adulthood I questioned. I’ve had psych evals that showed major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, but not ADHD. She postulated that current testing doesn’t necessarily “catch” ADHD as it presents in adult women, especially without the hyperactive piece. We’ve learned to compensate, up to a point. Now I take a low dose stimulant and work with my therapist on coping skills. Sometimes I wonder which came first: depression and anxiety or ADHD. I’ll never know, but I do know years of being bullied for something you can’t control, and thinking you’re “stupid” and falling behind (no matter how many times my parents told me otherwise) does things to your psyche. Which brings me to my final point. Parents, teach your kids about differences and disabilities even (especially) if it doesn’t affect your inner circle. Parents of kids with ADHD, you’re doing fine. It’s not easy, but the most important thing is your child knowing home is always a safe place where they’re loved and accepted. You may struggle with whether to medicate. You know your child best and don’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with, no matter what anyone says. Maybe for your child it won’t be called for. But if it is and you do go the medication route, please do not feel guilty! Don’t worry about what people think. They don’t know your situation. I know giving your child a controlled substance isn’t easy and it’s not a decision you’d take lightly. But for some people with ADHD therapies simply aren’t enough. They need medication to level the playing field and give their brain the stimulation it is biologically unable to produce on its own. And you know what? That’s OK! If that doesn’t convince you to send your guilt packing, how about this. I wish I’d had access to this medication throughout grade school, and not because of my grades. It would’ve put me on closer to level ground with my peers and maybe protected some of my confidence. Homework and tests wouldn’t have taken long if I could focus, limiting anxiety. My parents didn’t have access to this. If you do and you support your child taking medication, good for you. You are giving your child a precious gift. Pat yourself on the back. If you’ve chosen not to medicate your child and you’re using other therapies, good for you. You’re a fierce advocate and your child will know you always have their back. Pat yourself on yours. Labels can be harmful if they’re over-identified with, or worse, incorrect. But the right label offers a map. It offers answers and validation. So I truly am sorry when I don’t return your call and you still haven’t gotten your birthday card, or you’re left to wait for me yet again. I promise I’m working on these things, but in the meantime please know that it’s not you. My brain just works a little differently. It’s still my responsibility to work on these things and it’s not an excuse. But it is an answer to the “why” that I’ve been asking all my life. I have ADHD.

Receiving an ADHD Diagnosis in Adulthood

They called me slow. Funny that I even remember that. Yep, I’m in my 30s and still lamenting on the indignities of grammar school bullying. Seriously though, that’s a cut-throat world. I couldn’t keep up with the cliques, the social cues that hovered just over my head, the expectations and assignments. I was in a foreign land feigning fluency in the language and my peers knew it. At lunch, I was the last to get my milk and the last to clean up. I was behind on assignments or forgot them altogether, to the point where my teachers required me to have my Pepto-Bismol-pink assignment notebook signed. On free dress day, I was the kid who showed up in uniform. I forgot to get my tests and permission slips signed. My fifth grade English teacher threatened me with detention if I forgot to bring my red pen to class one more time. She said she was doing me a favor and teaching me responsibilities so that as an adult I wouldn’t forget important things (like always having a red pen on me?) Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Ask anyone in my life if Mrs. M. scared me straight in the fifth grade. In my “grown-up” life I forget things. My keys aren’t where I swore I left them. Laundry hovers in various stages of completion, the dirty sometimes converging with the clean. I start things that I don’t finish. Making phone calls makes me squirm and I’m always late. Detention didn’t teach me to stop forgetting things any more than those pink walk-of-shame tardy slips taught me to get it together and be punctual. Why didn’t these punitive measures work? Was I a kid who just couldn’t learn her lesson? On the contrary, I was compliant to a fault. I wanted to do what I was supposed to do. I feared getting in trouble and I wanted to please people and meet their expectations. Spoiler alert number 2: that hasn’t changed much either. I didn’t start remembering things or better organizing. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do theses things; it was because I couldn’t. My peers were right; I was “slow.” I froze up timed tests. I stayed after school to finish my work. I looked around in a panic when the teacher announced five minutes left to finish the project, observing my classmates gluing on the last pompom or flipping over worksheets, when I wasn’t even halfway through. “What were you doing all that time?” the teacher would ask. I didn’t know. I still don’t. A child usually knows when they’re different. Instead of denying that difference, our task is to create a world where differences are recognized as assets. It’s a tough sell when peers can be so cruel, homing in on any difference they can sense. Some girls dream of becoming princesses, movie stars, dancers. I dreamt of becoming “normal.” I tried to learn the language, but the accent grew thicker as the years passed and the demands increased. I concluded I was just “stupid.” I was wrong. None of the labels I was given by peers or that I gave myself were accurate: Slow, stupid, inconsiderate, flaky, absent-minded. It took nearly three-and-a-half decades to discover the correct label for my penchant for daydreaming, inattention to detail, forgetfulness and overwhelm-shutdown cycle. Three-and-a-half decades to find a label that fits, that explains everything. Now I know this label is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, inattentive type, previously known as ADD). ADHD runs in my family, so it’s not like I didn’t know what it was. I’d even suspected it on and off throughout my adulthood, every time I reached the next arbitrary age by which I predicted I’d “have it all together.” But whenever I mentioned it, I’d hear some version of “Oh, you’re just a busy mom. It’s called pregnancy brain. It’s called ‘mom brain’. You’re just tired. Cut down on caffeine (wait, what?) You just need to get more organized and just do it. Oh, everyone thinks they have that nowadays.” In fact, when my counselor presented the diagnosis, calling me “textbook,” I was hesitant to accept it. Wasn’t I just making excuses? I don’t think ADHD is an excuse (or used as one), but years of internalizing the message of, “if I would just try harder” made me second guess. Was I claiming a diagnosis that I didn’t “earn?” That last paragraph might sound really strange. I’m making an ADHD diagnosis feel like a gift or a badge of honor. Well, it is. My counselor got me to recognize and accept that I’ve been struggling with ADHD for my entire life. The struggles came to my attention when I started kindergarten and was met simultaneously with new responsibility and exposure to the development of same-age peers. By first grade I was behind, and they wanted to send me to a “special school.” My parents kept me at my grammar school. I’m very fortunate for their endless patience. Even without a diagnosis or much understanding of disabilities or outside support surrounding them, they didn’t blame me for my difficulties. They saw how hard I tried and encouraged me to do my best. Let’s circle back to why I’m referring to my ADHD diagnosis as a gift and a badge of honor. When I was diagnosed my first thought was, “So I’m not ‘stupid?’” Once I “claimed” it, the diagnosis was nothing short of validating. My peers ran both literal and figurative laps around me not because they were smarter or more enlightened. Their brains worked differently than mine. My brain worked differently from theirs. The teachers were annoyed with me not because I was a pain in the ass kid (although you might have to confirm that with my brother) but because I couldn’t keep up with my lessons and I fidgeted with my pencils and erasers. The math examples on the board didn’t make sense not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because I am part of the 20 percent of auditory learners. I don’t run out of mental energy after social engagements because I’m antisocial, I don’t forget thank-you cards because I’m ungrateful or show up 15 minutes late because I’m rude. I don’t love these things about myself, and if they were easy to change I would, but that’s another way my ADHD diagnosis has freed me. I can now work on treating my ADHD so it doesn’t interfere so much in my day-to-day life. I can use systems to help me focus and keep things straight. I write and color code everything in a paper calendar because the notifications I set on my phone fly out of my brain the second my screen dims. I check and double-check appointments. I make definitive plans and try to follow a routine. Everything must be gotten together the night before. I team up with other homeschoolers for accountability. These tools and others are just that – tools. It doesn’t mean I magically have it all together — who does? I still have ADHD and I’m still trying. That’s where the badge of honor comes in. All those years I struggled to get through school (and life) thinking I was just slow, I had legitimate difficulties to work with. I was trying plenty hard enough even when it didn’t seem like it. My ADHD diagnosis answers my lifelong question of why can’t I just do it? Breaking down projects into more manageable tasks doesn’t happen in my unmedicated brain. I see and think about everything I have to do, like all the things. Then I don’t know where to start, so I start with reading a book and blocking it out. The cards I write sit on my kitchen table so long it would just look weird to send it now. I mean all the steps required to write a card, seal an envelope, address it and put it in the mailbox. I asked my therapist why I wasn’t diagnosed if I was so textbook? Sure, when I was growing up there was less awareness and accurate testing, but through college and adulthood I questioned. I’ve had psych evals that showed major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, but not ADHD. She postulated that current testing doesn’t necessarily “catch” ADHD as it presents in adult women, especially without the hyperactive piece. We’ve learned to compensate, up to a point. Now I take a low dose stimulant and work with my therapist on coping skills. Sometimes I wonder which came first: depression and anxiety or ADHD. I’ll never know, but I do know years of being bullied for something you can’t control, and thinking you’re “stupid” and falling behind (no matter how many times my parents told me otherwise) does things to your psyche. Which brings me to my final point. Parents, teach your kids about differences and disabilities even (especially) if it doesn’t affect your inner circle. Parents of kids with ADHD, you’re doing fine. It’s not easy, but the most important thing is your child knowing home is always a safe place where they’re loved and accepted. You may struggle with whether to medicate. You know your child best and don’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with, no matter what anyone says. Maybe for your child it won’t be called for. But if it is and you do go the medication route, please do not feel guilty! Don’t worry about what people think. They don’t know your situation. I know giving your child a controlled substance isn’t easy and it’s not a decision you’d take lightly. But for some people with ADHD therapies simply aren’t enough. They need medication to level the playing field and give their brain the stimulation it is biologically unable to produce on its own. And you know what? That’s OK! If that doesn’t convince you to send your guilt packing, how about this. I wish I’d had access to this medication throughout grade school, and not because of my grades. It would’ve put me on closer to level ground with my peers and maybe protected some of my confidence. Homework and tests wouldn’t have taken long if I could focus, limiting anxiety. My parents didn’t have access to this. If you do and you support your child taking medication, good for you. You are giving your child a precious gift. Pat yourself on the back. If you’ve chosen not to medicate your child and you’re using other therapies, good for you. You’re a fierce advocate and your child will know you always have their back. Pat yourself on yours. Labels can be harmful if they’re over-identified with, or worse, incorrect. But the right label offers a map. It offers answers and validation. So I truly am sorry when I don’t return your call and you still haven’t gotten your birthday card, or you’re left to wait for me yet again. I promise I’m working on these things, but in the meantime please know that it’s not you. My brain just works a little differently. It’s still my responsibility to work on these things and it’s not an excuse. But it is an answer to the “why” that I’ve been asking all my life. I have ADHD.

What the Diagnosis of My Son on the Autism Spectrum Means to Me

There it was in black and white. It wasn’t a surprise — in fact, it was what I’d been suspecting for years. Still, on paper it looked so official, so permanent, so undeniable. Autism spectrum disorder, level one. Before the diagnostic label changed, this would have been called Asperger’s syndrome. The diagnosis specified an exclusion of verbal or cognitive delays. It’s all very clinical. Except it’s not. It’s my child. He’s the same child he was before the diagnosis, but I’m not the same parent. We came to this diagnosis after a seven hour and two day psychological evaluation. I know some parents with children on the spectrum who can pinpoint an age where their child changed or regressed, a time when they began to notice something was a little different. I can pinpoint this time to when my child turned 3. I used to joke he bypassed the terrible 2s and became totally different at 3. Except it really wasn’t a joke. Of course, the question even science cannot yet answer is, what causes autism? Is it linked to the mysterious week long high fever my son contracted two weeks before his 3rd birthday? Is it genetic, biological, or both? Is there a causal relationship between autism and vaccines or diet? I can’t answer any of these questions, and if I have learned one thing through curve balls in life it’s to make peace with not knowing. It’s human to want answers. When we know why something happened, it is easier to wrap our heads around it. In reality, not everything has a discernible reason. I will most likely never know the why of my son’s autism, but I know what to call the traits: the non-stop talk about obsessive interests, the difficulty reading social cues, the separation anxiety, the sensitivity to smells and noises, the rigidity and the overwhelm. More importantly, I also know my son, who can’t be summed up on paper. The boy who insisted on using his own money to buy his brother a birthday present. The boy who is incredibly smart, who can tell you all about garbage and recycling, and more recently, Kidz Bop and Taylor Swift. The boy who is fiercely loyal to his friends and does not hesitate to stand up for a classmate being picked on. The boy who asks if we can learn about undertows in school this week. The boy who has an impressive degree of self awareness. Sometimes, when he is still awake two or three hours after being tucked in he will tell me, “Mom, sometimes my mind gets the best of me. It’s like a computer with pictures in it and the pictures keep coming up on the screen.” I am glad he can explain this. This is the same boy before the diagnosis. So what does a “label” mean, exactly? The very use of labels is controversial. Despite efforts to raise awareness, there still exists a pervasive belief that autism is nothing but the latest fad label. Awareness of the spectrum is limited. Some people have an image of autism as a kid who can’t communicate at all. Some have an image of a “quirky” genius. Autism can be both of these things and neither of these things; the autism spectrum is everything in between. The saying goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism then you’ve met one person with autism.” Why the label? The diagnosis is a tool. The diagnosis tells me not only the what but the where and the how. I know where to turn for support, resources, and the therapies that will help my child — and us as his parents — manage his struggles and build upon his strengths. I know how to understand his beautiful mind a little better and I know how to meet his needs. Not entirely, of course. Not perfectly. But better. We have decided to continue homeschooling, gradually increasing the hours he spends at the school he attends for homeschooled children. The teacher and administrators have already been wonderfully accommodating, intervening promptly and effectively when he was having difficulties with a classmate, allowing him to choose not to participate in recess and allowing him to participate in the chapel with fewer children when the all-school chapel was too loud and overwhelming for him. The latter two accommodations were made without me asking. The small classroom of only nine kids and the small lunchroom allow him to be more comfortable, but still challenges him to function socially and within a group. He is also in an environment where his individuality and needs are respected, which is the best way for him to learn. He will also begin participation in a social skills group and take classes at the local public school. His IQ tested in the 94th percentile, so we are hoping to get him in some advanced classes that meet his need to be challenged and his comfort level. Finally, we are working on visual schedules to help him with transitions. He does best when he knows what to expect and has some control over his environment. When he is old enough to understand, we will tell him about his diagnosis because it is nothing to hide. We never want him to feel ashamed. It will be up to us to explain what it means. He has difficulties that many people don’t experience, but he also has a unique way of seeing the world. He can understand things others cannot. He feels more deeply and thinks more intently, which means his lows may be lower but his highs will also be higher. When he’s old enough, I plan to have him volunteer with me one Saturday a month when I work with kids on the spectrum. I believe that God calls us to use not only our gifts but also our struggles to help others. I want him to use his unique mind to understand and reach out to other kids who might be struggling, or might not seem to fit in. As for me, I learned to always trust my parenting instincts. When my son started kindergarten at 5 I saw him sitting in the lunchroom with his hands tightly over his ears and tears rolling down his face while kids talked over and around him. I saw the teacher carry him into the classroom when he was upset. I listened when he begged me not to make him keep going to that school. I listened to my instinct and to my child, not to the “experts” who told me, “Oh, Mrs. Clark, kids do this. He’s fine. He’ll adjust. Maybe you just need to learn to let go?” Or maybe my child is on the spectrum and cannot handle a noisy lunchroom, or a crowded classroom or a long school day. I tried to tell myself it was just a phase, he was just young, things would work themselves out, but I didn’t believe it. As a parent, you know your child. If you know in your gut something is going on, don’t let the word “just” enter your vocabulary. You are the first expert and only advocate for your child. Trust yourself and trust your child. If you are a fellow parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I can’t tell you why your child has autism, but I can tell you why your child has you: because you are the best for them. You are the perfect person to love them, struggle with them, fight for them, guide them, and sometimes just fumble through the dark with them. If autism is not a part of your life, I simply ask you to understand there is no single picture of autism. The child in the grocery store who seems too old to be acting a certain way might be on the spectrum. So might the cashier. By the same token, a child on the spectrum may appear to be no different than any other child, but this doesn’t mean the diagnosis is any less legitimate. This same child may go home tonight and refuse to sleep until all of his money is counted and he had read no more or less than three chapters in his book. If you’ve met my son you’ve met an intelligent, empathic, loyal, intuitive boy who will talk your ear off about Taylor Swift and Kidz Bop. You’ve also met only one person with autism. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by supersizer