Okay, first of all, let’s get one thing straight— I have a diagnosis of an attention disorder, which is, according to the DSM-5 labeled as “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” or ADHD. I do not think that anyone would have ever classified me as “hyperactive.” I am sure that I drove adults crazy at times, but I was not the child who bounced off the walls. I was, however, the child who could make a single page of math homework take hours because I was making up stories about each problem, or “doesn’t this pencil need to be a little bit sharper,” and then, “oh, look…Hello Kitty stationary.” Yep. Inattentive.That’s me. No matter how many systems I have tried to set up, I could never seem to to keep myself organized.
In my profession, umm…working with the “spies in training,” I work with many people who have ADHD diagnoses— both hyperactive and inattentive. Some are taking medication, and some are not. I also work with many adults, diagnosed, and self-diagnosed (either by themselves, or by me) who have an attention disorder. I only know a couple of other people my age who take medication for their conditions. Others feel that they cope just fine, or were on medication as children and adolescents and decided to stop taking it as adults.
I always thought that it was perfectly normal to have my mind racing from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. I thought it was normal to think about five or more things at the same time or to constantly jump between disconnected thoughts. I thought that I was supposed to try to solve one problem while I was working on another task. I thought that asking myself repeatedly, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” was normal. Whether this is normal or not, it is EXHAUSTING! If you combine this with a propensity toward depression and anxiety, during the bad times, it is unbearable.
I am not sure that I would have been diagnosed with an attention disorder if I had not been falling to pieces when I went to Dr. Head Doctor (the neurologist). Although all I wanted was a cure for my migraines, he recognized that something was not right in the way I was communicating and what I was telling him. The primary medication that he prescribed for me is Vyvanse. I also take a low dose Adderall “booster” in the afternoons if I am going to have to work in the evenings (because the job of a “future spy trainer” is never done). I am not saying this to endorse any medication, but because different medications have different effects. If you are reading this, I am giving no medical advice. Talk to your own Dr. Head Doctor!
The benefits of the medications I am taking are quite profound. First of all, the very fact that I am writing this is something that I could not do two weeks ago. Not to brag, but I am an intelligent woman, but it was always very difficult for me to focus my thoughts. Friends have told me that I have a voice and need to write, but I just could not organize my thoughts. It was difficult for me to complete tasks that required focused time because I was so easily distracted. A task like cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry would not get done until company was coming because I would get distracted or frustrated (oh, let’s face it— the laundry ended up in a pile in my bedroom). Even when I did finish a task, I felt no sense of accomplishment because I felt that more was looming over me. EXHAUSTING!
At work, I have found that I am able to focus my attention on one thing at a time. The young spies are very demanding, but I am able to set limits and tell them when I need a moment to deal with one issue before moving on to another. Just like at home, I am slowly getting my work space cleaned up. Now, it makes sense that I do not have to hold onto every paper that I have ever received. It is okay to throw things away because not everything is important. It is also becoming easier to tell how I need to prioritize tasks.
It would be great if everything was hunky-dory and my life was fixed with one or two magic beans…I mean pills. Along with the positives, there are some potential pitfalls to the medications I am on. I am perfectly happy that they suppress my appetite and reduce food cravings because it definitely makes it easier to lose weight (which I need to). That being said, the body needs fuel and I sometimes have to eat whether I want to or not. I also really have to pay attention and listen when my body is hungry. Also, because I am currently fighting a lot of emotional turmoil at the moment, I find that it is a lot easier to throw myself into work, and go flat-out, until I melt-down. Melt-down ain’t pretty, people (pass the tissues). I have to find the balance, figure out how to take care of myself, and heal from being hurt.
I did not develop an attention disorder at thirty-eight years old. I have always had it, but I was really good at coping and figuring things out. However, having this has made my life much more challenging. There were tasks that seemed so simple for other people, like using a to-do list, or keeping their desk neat, that just seemed impossible for me. I am curious to see how this new understanding will change the way I function. I do not think that everyone with an attention disorder needs to take medication. However, for me, I like the quiet and calm in my brain that I am experiencing now.
What should you be doing right now?