ADHD and me: on mental health.

It’s #BellLetsTalk Day, which here in Canada is the one day of the year that people—for better or worse, and sometimes to just bash Bell—stop to talk about mental health. I’m not getting into the Bell thing—it’s a thing.

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What I am getting into is this country has taken the time to pause and reflect. This is awesome. I have seen so many of my friends on Facebook share their struggles and triumphs and stories of living with anxiety and depression; of going to therapy and of choosing to try medication. People who have dealt with these things since childhood, or who are navigating mental health concerns for the first time as adults. To all of you who have shared your stories—today or any other day—I am so proud of all of you. Thank you for being bold, embracing who YOU are, and sharing your journey: I hope that it makes people in your world see “mental illness” differently, and see you just the same, because you are. You are important and your story is important. Every damn day, not just today—the highs, the lows, your story is important. Every. Freaking. Day. 

I am right here with you.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, but one that is also considered by some—including the Canadian Mental Health Association—a mental illness. Like depression and anxiety, ADHD is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, specifically neurotransmitters.

And I’ll be honest, there are days that I can’t believe that. There are days that I see attention deficit disorder as a blessing or a gift or whatever cheesy, cliche thing people say and how could that be a mental illness? How could it be something that isn’t awesome? Days that I am on my A-game, that I have witty remarks that come out the right way, and that words just fly out onto the page in front of me, and days that my energy is exploding out of me in a way that actually feels good.

Except, more often, there’s the flip side to ADHD. The self-doubt, the feeling that I can’t do things right because I have failed to meet expectations so many times, the times I cannot focus enough to figure out the simplest of things—or even when I can focus, there is information my brain simply can’t process. There are the times that not only can I not understand why I am reacting to things the way I am, but also that it is a tidal wave: my feelings just crash over me and I can’t figure out how to just stop this and react how I know is “normal”. It helps—a bit—knowing that this is common for kids and adults with ADHD alike, that we legitimately feel things more intensely and for longer than other people do [1]. But it only helps after the fact. There are the times I hyperfocus and fail to get anything done that I actually need done and only let myself down; others that I again feel like I’ve failed someone else. The words “I forgot,” or “I’m sorry,” are not less true when they come out of my mouth: I mean it. But I get it: it’s hard to accept, again, when you’ve heard it before, because it looks like carelessness. I don’t blame my ADHD—I blame myself, because ADHD and I coexist. I am not my diagnosis, but I cannot separate from it, either. ADHD isn’t just about academics: it’s about life. And it sucks when your failures or shortcomings are not for lack of trying, they are just because my brain is not wired that way.

But here’s the thing. It’s so much better than it was. It’s better knowing that there is a reason why some things are like they are. ADHD is not an excuse, but it is an explanation, if even just for myself sometimes. It’s better knowing how to figure out strategies that work rather than just feeling like I’m stupid. It’s better knowing that this is how I am wired, and that is okay

My first appointment with my psychiatrist back in 2013, she did not say it but she clearly made a note that I appeared anxious. I started medication for ADHD the next day. When I met her again a month later, early in the appointment she commented that I seemed less anxious even just on a very low dose of Concerta, and asked if I had felt anxious before. I told her that I hadn’t, but that things just “felt better” inside me. It was hard to describe—she understood. Every appointment I have seen my psychiatrist she actually asks about side effects. She asks how things are going. She asks how my mood is. Every time. Because she knows the statistics.

Research states people with ADHD are at increased risk for mental health issues: nearly half of people will experience an anxiety disorder, well over a third will deal with a mood disorder like depression, and 15% will develop a substance-use disorder. [2] However, if ADHD is managed correctly, be it through whichever combination of exercise and therapy and medication and eating well-ish, these things can either be caught early and treated early—maybe even be prevented. Maybe.
I am fortunate, I do not currently have any co-existing mental health concerns. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t, won’t or can’t happen.

ADHD medication doesn’t give a person with ADHD any special ability to concentrate. I probably still focus less well than most non-ADHDers on 72 mg of Concerta a day. I don’t know because I’ve never had a non-ADHD brain. But do I feel better? Yes. Even though all of the above that I still struggle with. Part of it is because of medicine, but part of it is simply knowing what I am working with, knowing that other people experience this, knowing other people get me.

So, Canada.
You spoke.
I spoke.
We “talked”.
Now, don’t shut up just because Bell does.

Because we need this conversation. And we need the conversation to go further: to ensure mental health care is easily accessible—and affordable—for all Canadians. To make therapy with high-quality therapists affordable and accessible*. To ensure that services are available on demand, when people need them—weeks, or months, or years later. As a Canadian, healthcare for your body comes with the package—its a right. But care for your brain? It’s still on the table. (Which is closer than it’s been for a long time.) Stories are important, but so is access to care.

We need this conversation because we need every Canadian to feel confident they can be supported when they choose to share what they are facing.

Because my diagnosis is NOT about whether or not you believe it exists or not. It exists.

And we are living, breathing, singing, dancing proof that WE EXIST.

*Affordable and accessible therapy, to me, means to make therapy that is not income dependent or not something that is dependent on (awesome) charitable organizations like Aulneau, or educational institutions like the University of Manitoba Psych Services Centre. I’m uninsured, and if I can’t afford insurance, I can’t afford a $150 an hour therapist: which doesn’t mean that I should (or in some cases can) just wait longer.

[catching up] self-care sunday: self-forgiveness

Part of having ADHD is not only does it often feel like we don’t live up to others’ expectations of us, we often don’t live up to our own expectations of ourselves. This challenge is one such example of that—yes, I am getting all the posts done, but this entire week has been catching up posts. I’ll get the last day in on the last day, well, probably anyways. I set the bar high-but-doable for myself, and then—despite proclaiming it for the whole Internet to see—fell behind. Despite my best intentions, what happens always happens.

This is why the reward system works so well. Guess what? 99% of the time, my work gets submitted on time because there’s a financial incentive. That isn’t a bad thing. If I’m not on a deadline, my client knows at least a day or two in advance when I notice things are getting tight. And if they said “No, I need that in.” guess what? I’d be staying up all night to get it done for them. School was the same—the extensions I was given were due to legitimate things—ER trips, emergency surgery, and my grandpa passing away. It was never ADHD. Grades, like money, are enough of an incentive. 

Personal goals are a bit different though. There are all kinds of systems to make personal goals work. I’ve actually done surprisingly well this month, believe it or not. I’ve meditated in some fashion every day (even if I still haven’t made morning meditations a thing. November.), and caught up quickly where I got behind on the planking. Although I got a bit tripped up with the app because I finally “failed” a day—didn’t make it the length I needed to—and then what happens is you have to redo the day. So that brings me in behind, too. I’ve tried the accountability partners but that’s proved to not be so successful, which is fine because I get it, people got their own stuff. I have to work, somehow, on the use of rewarding myself for reaching personal goals, I think. Except—other than like, a 3D printer pen—there’s not a lot of stuff I want. (I mean, I did go out and buy noise cancelling earphones yesterday, which are more of an investment, honestly…) I mean, I am the person who takes 3 months to make an Amazon order because I just want the darn free shipping.

There’s a lot of self-forgiveness that goes on with ADHD. I set plans, I start to follow through with them—and somehow I start strong and end up behind. It’s not a unique thing—non-ADHDers and ADHDers alike do it—but I feel like my track record for actually finishing something according to the plan i’ve made or dreamed up is about 20%, maybe. To date, I’ve finished no larger-scale writing projects that I’ve started in like, over ten years. We’ll see if NaNoWriMo 2016—coming up in November—will change that. It feels great to finish stuff: every time I hit submit on that last post or wrap things up and submit an invoice to a client, I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and it’s a bonus that I love what I get paid to do as much as I do. 

So many things though that I don’t finish, I shrug off. Yes, I’d love to finish them. Resistance, however, is there, between me and the checkbox for each step or each project that I’ve started. Resistance is all of the reasons. And yet, self-forgiveness is a necessity in life with ADHD and a byproduct of that Resistance. Overcoming Resistance is easy—do the thing you are being called to do. And while self-forgiveness is required to coexist with my ADHD brain, it wouldn’t be required if I just did the shit I intended to.

Self-care in terms of self-forgiveness? Yeah I haven’t quite got this figured out yet.

Challenge Update

Plank: 3 minutes 15 seconds accomplished successfully after failing it yesterday.

Meditation: 10 minute Breath and Thoughts meditation on Smiling Mind.

[catching up] ADHD fact friday 4 [28/31]

adhd fact friday

Week Four Fact

Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD often coexist, but sensory issues are in themselves common for people with ADHD.

I always just presumed I was right when I said I was secretly seven or twelve or whatever in relation to my reluctance to eat tons of foods for whatever reason—often texture. In fact, it can be an ADHD thing. While I worked in daycare for years with no issue, I’ve always had issues with places like bars or restaurant lounges with loud music and people trying to talk over it at the same time, combinations of dim and neon lighting. I can do concerts, but I think that’s because there’s no other place my attention is shifting between—I’m not trying to converse or anything. Face paint? Nope, nope, nope (and I don’t wear make-up and I wonder if it’s also related? Or also that I cannot be bothered). I’m fortunate that my life uniform can be hoodies, t-shirts, jeans and shorts. And runners—sandals aren’t even a thing I own, save for a few pairs of flip flops I attempt to tolerate going from hotel rooms to hotel pools (sand at beaches? Ick.). Foods? Yep, I’m secretly seven. Salsa, oatmeal and certain pasta sauces even fall into the category of things that I can’t tolerate texture wise. The smells of other foods will do it, or the taste—anything vinegar-y falls into both of these categories. I could list all the foods I can think of that I dislike but we’d be here awhile ;). (I just bought noise cancelling earphones which should actually help with some of the sound sensitivity issues.)

I haven’t been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, but I wouldn’t be surprised. However, at this point in my life I’m not sure knowing would solve a whole lot. The link to ADHD has been made pretty clear, and that’s good enough for me. Learn more here. 

Oh, and I should add that the weighted blanket thing has been great for me. Although my current rice-ziplocs-and-tape blanket has sprung a leak so I haven’t been able to use it for lack of remembering to fix it during the day. Put it on the to-do list!

[catching up] tips + hacks thursday: bullet journal

Last Winter, Nikki and a lot of the other Smart Girls with ADHD were discussing Bullet Journaling as a planning method. So by March I finally caved and tried it.

I’ve stuck with it, which is a shock for my Google Calendar-ized self who has previously been rather planner-phobic due to mostly forgetting them at home and whatnot. Hello, I couldn’t maintain control of a pencil actually being present in my backpack throughout school, how could I be expected to have not only a thing to write with but also a corresponding notebook? I still forget it sometimes, but, it’s with me when it needs to be more often than not. Being a freelancer now, I’m pretty sure the Bullet Journal system is my number one tool for being organized. (Thanks Nikki and the Smart Girls for finally making me curious enough to try. Because I NEVER thought it would work, never mind that I’d keep it up for eight months.)

What’s a bullet journal?

 

Mine’s a half grid-half lined journal that cost $8 at Staples. There’s an official Bullet Journal but look, I can’t even keep up the index on my non-official one and you know what? That’s the joy. IT DOES NOT MATTER. There are no pre-set thingies to make me feel guilty when I don’t fill them out. Here’s an awkward picture so you can see my washi tape tabs.

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The bullet method is what actually matters (which there are a thousand variations for and that are super customizable so hey, no rules!)

Here are some snaps I took of my Bullet Journal on Wednesday.

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My system is circles for events, fill them in when they’re done, and boxes for to-do items: half filled when they are started, totally filled when they are done. It’s month end so all the invoices are due and such.

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Here’s all the shit I have to do that is slightly more checked off now but not actually as much as it should be probably. I guess it’s only Friday as I write this…

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Zooming out, this is half of my monthly view and my work stuff that I had to get done and whatnot. I made a goals section that I realized didn’t really work because you can’t jut fill in a checkbox for a goal. Which is nice because the Bullet Journal system is all live-and-learn-y. The other page has the numbered days of the month down the left side, and then what I have to do on them but there’s not a whole lot on there because I tend to just put it into the weekly view when I need it there. Which is kind of not the point but whatever.

Clearly, it works well for me because I’ve actually been using it since March. Which is pretty cool considering I’ve never stuck with anything paper that long. I like that there’s no special notebook needed—although my interest in the Passion Planner has been piqued…

Challenge Update – Day 28

Plank
175 seconds people. That is 2:55 which is almost three minutes. Nonsense.

Meditation
Bitesize Self-Compassion on Smiling Mind. Which is maybe one of my new favourites, we will see. Also I really have to try to not just do the bitesize ones but I am not made for getting up at normal times and I’ve been super sleepy. Yes, the morning meditation thing would help.

[catching up] adhd tech tuesday: pebble. [26/31]

You know what happens when you pick up your phone?

Yeah, you know it. Your phone buzzes because of a text and then you reply and ten minutes later your phone is still in your hand and you’ve scrolled through 100 tweets, 50 Facebook posts, and checked your e-mail three times. And probably sent 3 more texts and 2 Facebook messages about things you saw in your travels. Right? I know this isn’t limited to ADHD, but I find that with ADHD when I notice I am doing it, it takes a LOT to re-shift my focus back on what I was doing.

Enter Pebble.

I’ve been a Pebble user for a couple of years now. Sometimes I feel a tad cyborg-y with my Fitbit on one wrist and my Pebble on the other, but whatever.

Because now my Pebble vibrates with an alert, I check it, and if I don’t want/need to deal with it immediately, guess what? My phone stays happily face-down on my desk or in my pocket. In a much different way from Forest, I find my Pebble one of the great reasons that I check my phone less. I less haphazardly go check my phone every time it buzzes, because I can simply clear notifications from my watch and go back to what I am doing.

No, I absolutely do not have to clear notifications immediately. A lot of the time I don’t—I glance at my watch and hit back—not dismiss—and done. The alert stays on my home screen, ready for the next time I want to pick up my phone because with a quick glance, I decide if I should read/reply to it now or later. There’s less of an abyss to get sucked into on my Pebble (which is why I’m not really interested in an Apple watch, because I’d probably just get sucked in there with the interactivity anyways).

Another nice feature is reminders coming up on my watch. This is especially great if I put bus rides in my calendar—with a down button tap, I can re-check what time the bus comes from my Timeline view.

Although I totally need a Moovit Pebble app for the 90% of the time I don’t put bus times in my Google Calendar… That would be rad.