ADD: One Woman’s Story

When I was a 42 year old woman the awareness that I had ADD, or ADHD to be specific, changed my life forever. Until that day, I had never even heard of ADD.
ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is not fun. Not for anyone. I am annoyed when I hear anyone minimizing it or its effects. I am a 53 year old woman who was affected my whole life by an invisible disorder I couldn’t name. I never knew what was wrong with me. I always felt as if there was something, but I never quite knew what it was. I was always complimented on my achievements, capabilities, looks and talent. The compliments somehow felt odd. The outsides looked perfect. I functioned on a very high level- always in the “in crowd”, lots of friends, good schools, nice boyfriends, husbands, career, family, mother, and wife. To the outside world, I was a success in life, highly achieving both personally and in any profession I chose. (And there have been a few.)
The insides were another story. I often felt overwhelmed by life, terrified of nameless things, anxious, confused, hopeless, resentful, and depressed. I wasn’t conscious of “keeping up the facade” because it never felt like a facade. It just felt like the way it was. This internal conflict was in direct opposition to all of my outward appearances.
School was a nightmare for as far back as I could remember. Thinking about the struggle makes me uneasy to this day. What do I mean by nightmare? Basically, I never knew whether I was going to retain the information that I was receiving. As the lecture proceeded, I was still thinking about, processing the first fact or concept that had been presented, while in the meantime, several other facts had been offered and I missed them all. There were always what felt like gaps and I always felt as if I had to scramble to put them together. Sometimes I made the Dean’s List with A’s, sometimes I barely passed. I remember always feeling somehow as if it wasn’t up to me. I just never knew. Consequently, I regularly felt stupid, scared, confused and often inferior.
I was 42 years old when I finally found out what was really wrong with me. I mean really wrong. I had been searching for years. Therapy, group therapy, Alanon, Chit Chat, ACOA, more therapy, psychodrama, career counseling, you name it; I never gave up. The diagnosis in my case was a classic one for an adult. We are often diagnosed when our children are diagnosed. It is hereditary. At the time, my daughter was in 2nd grade at one of the preeminent public schools in NYC. I always “sensed” that there was something wrong with the way she was learning, processing information or playing from the time she was really little. Everything just FELT wrong.
The so called” experts” continually and emphatically assured me that it was “just my imagination” and her issues were merely “developmental”. They assured me that she had been tested by “the finest reading specialists in NYC and there was nothing wrong”. She was outgoing, very social, very bright, socially integrated, and adorable. In fact in nursery school, they moved her quickly ahead to kindergarten because they felt that she was so ready! From the time she was in nursery school, I would literally feel nauseous whenever I went to her school, whenever I sat in a conference. I could never quite put my finger on it, but the feelings were very real and very consistent. I knew that she was never the kind of kid who sat and played with blocks or puzzles but never knew what to do with that information or thought much about it. I remember sitting in a school conference after she had taken her first ERB tests when she was 3 1/2. The director said that everything was great and as an aside, almost as an afterthought, mentioned that her scores had fallen dramatically on the tasks that she had no interest in. The tests reflected some difficulty with attention. I remember taking note in my head, but not sharing it because it was a thought without a context.
I wanted badly to believe all of the so called experts and educational professionals. After all, I had always felt that anyone in a position of authority naturally knew more than I did. I tried but things with my daughter were not improving. She was still struggling with reading and organizational skills and the pain for me was getting greater. It’s interesting as I look back to know that the pain that I was experiencing through her was all of those unresolved years of my own pain. It was certainly not clear at the time. The only thing that was very clear was that something was not right. That’s all I knew. I finally sought help outside of the school with a psychologist who was recommended to me by a friend. She said that it might be nothing more than an eyelash. But, she said, an eyelash could drive you crazy so we decided to take a look and see. I felt very relieved because I intuitively sensed that I was in the right place. I somehow just knew. She spent some time testing my daughter, then 7 years old, and diagnosed her with ADHD ( Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) which as I mentioned, until that day, I had not ever heard of. No one had ever mentioned it- not the experts, not the schools, none of the therapists that I had seen over the years, no one. She diagnosed me simultaneously and I had what I have learned is a classic response to this awareness. It was as if the flood gates opened up, the bright lights went on. After all of these years, I knew what was wrong with me. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t even confused. I had a neurological disorder with a name that appeared to be the cause of most if not all of the underlying negative feelings about my own behavior that I had been living with and compensating for all of my life. I knew that I was not alone and I knew that there was hope. It wasn’t my fault and there was nothing wrong with me except exactly what was wrong with me which suddenly became OK.
Since my diagnosis, I have stopped wondering, searching and feeling shame about my very existence. I learned that ADD is a neurological disorder and has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with brain wiring and body chemistry. I learned that there is no blood test and that it is diagnosed through symptoms which must have onset before the age of 7 like impulsivity, difficulty sustaining a single task or getting organized, interrupting constantly, a sense of underachievement and a tendency to be easily bored. I learned that there is an 80% correlation between ADD and substance abuse and depression/anxiety disorders. I began to read everything that I could get my hands on, went to CHADD meetings and began to be very verbal about this. I began to address my shame- the all pervasive feeling that told me that I was fundamentally flawed. I not only began to advocate for my daughter in school, I began to advocate for myself both at work and in my personal relationships.
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