For as long as I can remember, I’ve been administratively challenged/off with the fairies/ditzy. I’ve had a diary in my bag, on my phone, on my fridge. I’ve had post-it notes flapping off door frames, my computer screen, my forehead. I’ve set reminders and alarms. And I have consistently forgotten my best friend’s birthday, lunch dates, my own head. Most of the people in my life love me regardless (or I’d have no people to speak of!) and the rest decided long ago that my forgetfulness translated into lack of care. To those patient, kind and forgiving ones, I am grateful beyond words. To the others – I don’t blame you. I’d have ditched me too.
This little personality quirk (isn’t that a lovely phrase?) of mine has caused me endless stress and heartache too. I have spent what adds up to my entire adult life feeling terrified that I am about to let someone I love down and equally depressed about the fact that I just did it again. The “I can’t believe I am so stupid and unable to remember the most basic things” burden gets heavy, I tell ya.
A few months ago, I started to get really anxious because people would talk to me about conversations we’d had and I had no recollection at all. None. Darren would recount an entire dialogue and I’d look at him blankly. I cringe at the thought of just how uninterested in what he had to say I must have seemed. I decided that this was beyond normal forgetfulness. This no longer fit in the “quirky” category. I made an appointment to see a shrink.
I sat in the waiting room of the psychiatrist, and tapped my feet. I read a few sentences of a magazine. I poured a cup of water. I checked my messages. I tried to not think about the horrendous thing that must be wrong with my brain.
The Doctor called me in and asked for my referral. Bugger! Even though I had stuck a post-it to the toaster and the front door, put a reminder alarm in my iPhone and put the referral on my bag, I had forgotten it. Well, at least I had a demonstrable example of my problem. After lengthy discussion and extensive tests, the Doctor smiled and cheerfully dropped this bombshell: “You have ADHD. You have always had ADHD but it was never diagnosed.”
I thought ADHD made people bounce off the walls. I thought that people with ADHD were hyperactive. I thought it was something only kids had. Well – it seems that there are two basic forms of the syndrome: Passive and Active. I have the passive form, which means my brain is hyperactive, not my body. This so aptly explains the random thoughts flying around my head non-stop. I was put on a Ritalin trial and told to report back in a few days when I’d got the dose right.
Okay, let me say unequivocally, if I had doubts about the diagnosis, going on Ritalin cancelled them out 100%.
I had not realised that what was going on in my head incessantly, my whole life, was not normal. Here’s a nifty little image (courtesy of http://www.idreamofclean.net) that demonstrates the difference in my brain with and without medication:
The first day I took Ritalin, I sat at the dinner table with the family and tears poured down my cheeks. Darren, alarmed, asked me what was wrong. I explained that, for the first time in my life, I could focus on the conversation. I didn’t have to put immense effort into focusing on what was being said while fighting the multitude of distractions around me. I could relax and enjoy. I had not realised how exhausting my world had been.
You see, the ADHD brain – unmedicated – is like a wardrobe of clothes that have fallen off the hangers and slid off the shelves. Everything is in there, but there is no organisation. And no matter how many different ways you try to tidy up that wardrobe, each time you open it to find your favourite shoes, you get so bogged down with picking up everything around and on top of them that you forgot you were there for the shoes in the first place. It’s hell. The worst part is that nobody gets it, especially the person with undiagnosed ADHD. They say that undiagnosed ADHD is a leading cause of marital break-ups and I totally understand it. I can’t imagine how much Darren must have resented me when I said I’d do something, then didn’t follow through because I forgot. It looked like I didn’t care. The truth was, I cared deeply, but was unable to get to whatever it was, because my brain was in a constant whirl. The reason I had memory holes was because my brain had compensated, after so many years, for not being able to stay focused on a conversation by going onto auto-pilot. Essentially, without me being aware, my brain would switch off mid-conversation and go off somewhere else, while I continued to have the conversation on a superficial level. I had no idea. None at all. I thought I was forgetful, stupid, incapable.
I am so grateful that I have a husband who loves me regardless of the multitude of times I was a totally useless partner to him. I am so blessed that he saw the effort more than the result. To say he isn’t relieved that it’s fixable, however, would be a lie! We are both delighted.
Now, on Ritalin, I am efficient. I am happy. I am not in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety. I am thrilled to say I have ADHD and above all, grateful for modern medicine. My life has changed dramatically for the better.
So there you have it.
One downside… if I forget your birthday now, I’m screwed.