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Monday, November 11, 2013

Not Neurotypical

The possibility of having ADHD never occurred to me or my parents or anyone else until 2002, when I was 25. I had returned to teaching after a four year hiatus, and students in my three 9th grade classes kept asking me if I had ADHD. I remember one incident vividly. I taught in one classroom that faced a main road and I found it distracting; the noise from the street was constant, and ongoing construction provided a steady stream of noise difficult to filter out. One day, I stopped mid-sentence to exclaim, "Look! There's an orange porta-potty!"

Not long after this, I saw a doctor for a referral for counseling for anxiety. I asked him about ADHD and he agreed that I very likely had it, but I thought little of it. After all, I had achieved so much - BA at 20, a career in education, a stable relationship with the man who would become my husband - so what did it matter?

Fast forward to 2012. I now had two small children 13 months apart and a full-time job. I melted down - I was overwhelmed. I embarked on a serious self-help campaign, working hard to remain calm and connected to my spirituality. I began to live in the day instead of obsessing about the future. I let go of everything that I cannot control and focused on what I could. I strove to be proactive rather than reactive. I saw phenomenal results, but something still wasn't right. I forgot about an important observation at work. I was spending half of my time losing important items and looking for them. I slept poorly, as my restless legs had progressed to periodic limb movement disorder; I spent most of the night moving, from twitching to violently thrashing. The constant electric buzz in the background of my mind was worse than ever; others would call it anxiety, but the term didn't feel right. I felt as if I were in a constant mental fog, and I worried that it was related to my autoimmune illnesses (Sjogren's syndrome & fibromyalgia).

What finally pushed me to seek a definitive diagnosis for ADHD was my children. B was initially diagnosed at 2 with PDD; it took some time and effort, but I got him correctly diagnosed with apraxia and dyspraxia. D was also exhibiting delays, and while we continue to monitor her, she has mostly caught up - now we're waiting until she is old enough to be diagnosed with ADHD, because we're pretty sure she has it. I wanted to know why my children aren't neurotypical - did it come from me? And I was demanding the best for my children in terms of early intervention - didn't I deserve treatment if I too had a neurological disorder?

I found my doctor through Google. Dr. H is Harvard-trained and her practice specializes in ADHD; she specializes in adult ADHD. I pay out of pocket, but it's worth every dollar. In June of 2013, I finally was definitively diagnosed after a VERY thorough evaluation. In July, I began Strattera. Mindful of my health issues - in addition to the autoimmune illnesses, I have severe GI issues, including gastroparesis - she titrated my dosage conservatively. I began on the lowest possible dose - 5mg. Even at that low dose, within a week my night time movement completely ceased. It took until September to get to 60mg, but it was worth it. I experience a minimum of side effects and it has been nothing short of a miracle.

It's difficult to describe how treatment has changed my life, but it's been nothing short of a complete transformation. It's as if I were severely nearsighted my whole life and never knew it until I put on glasses. Or as if I lived somewhere where everyone spoke Italian and I spoke Spanish, not realizing they were different languages until one day I woke up fluent in Italian. I never knew just how driven by impulse I was until the impulses faded. or just how explosive or impatient I could be until I was calm. What professionals kept telling me was "anxiety" was NOT anxiety. It was the relentless revving of the ADHD brain, like a car stuck in neutral with the pedal to the floor.

It's taking time to come to terms with having ADHD, with not being neurotypical, with knowing that there was something wrong but not knowing what it was. I'm angry, I'm sad; it would be impossible to quantify what undiagnosed, untreated ADHD has cost me, but I have paid dearly. At the same time, I am so grateful to have the diagnosis and treatment now, and I am so grateful for what it has NOT cost me. I recently gave my husband this article: "ADHD: Why We Do What We Do" (PLEASE read, it's phenomenal) and he was amazed. Even before reading about ADHD, however, my husband was amazed by my transformation through Strattera. He pointed out that at least 75% of the poor decisions and disasters in my life never would have happened if I had been diagnosed and treated earlier.

But, as Dr. H pointed out, when I was as child, ADHD was considered a mild form of mental retardation. I was exceedingly intelligent and had an IQ report in my school file - so my boredom and inability to focus were attributed to my intelligence and in kindergarten I was pulled out of the classroom for "enrichment" activities, and I was taken out of 1st grade after a week and placed in 2nd. I was frequently inattentive because I was bored; one of my ADHD superpowers is fast visual processing/speed reading (hyperlexia) - so I didn't get in trouble because I just worked ahead. I always sat in the front of the room and I always had my hand up, feeling like I would burst if the teacher didn't call on me.

My ADHD history will unfold in future posts. What strikes me most today, however, is it is such a relief to understand WHY I did so many stupid, dangerous, and/or seemingly senseless things my entire life; when asked "why", I never had a good answer. I'm still responsible for my behavior, especially as a 36-year-old spouse and mother; however, now I know why.

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