Five years ago today I was inconclusively “diagnosed” with ADHD: my testing couldn’t fully diagnose ADHD, though did pinpoint a host of other learning issues and quirks about my brain, but they also couldn’t fully exclude the possibility of an ADHD diagnosis. That discussion marked a closure of sorts: gave me answers, and affirmed the fact that no, I wasn’t dumb, and I was in fact trying as hard as I could—my brain just has wiring that’s a bit different.

Over the last five years I’ve navigated what that means—and I’ll probably spend the rest of my life figuring it out. I’ve embraced that I “see life differently”. 

Embracing ADHD though, doesn’t mean I’ve stopped questioning what might have been different had I been diagnosed with ADHD and learning issues earlier—unfortunately. Perhaps one day.

i’ve got scars i’m willing to show you.
you had heart that i’ll never see
she had answers to all the wrong questions.
it’s funny, these answers are all that i need.

caldecott tunnel, something corporate

From twenty-one to twenty-six, things have changed a lot in those five years since my diagnosis—many, if not most, for good. I’ve written before about wanting back certain elements of myself from certain points in my life—coincidentally, today, I feel I might be closer to that. Whether a method of procrastination or of opportunity, I danced today for the first time in ages. I paused once in that 34:40.61 span of time to make a note in my journal—another activity, like exercise, I did much more frequently in 2011-2013 than I do now, and one I am obviously better off for doing—both in general and specifically for my ADHD.

During that time when I was flailing around “dancing” (because I can’t dance, and I don’t care, ‘cause it feels good), I also again remembered it was my ADHDaversary, and reflected on that, too. How I’m still the same but, because of the knowledge packaged in a diagnosis, so different at the same time.

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When busing back and forth from assessment appointments, I listened to a lot of Something Corporate, and found specific relevance in Caldecott Tunnel. Mostly for this one line in the midst of the process—and for the one above after the fact.

we end up regretting the things we don’t try.

caldecott tunnel, something corporate

Here I am, five years later. Appreciative of and still wanting everything I know now, but also wanting elements of my twenty-one-year-old-self—who was figuring shit out much the same as I am now.

And knowing somehow, someday I’ll get there—or a different version of here. And will continue to embrace the good of ADHD… and work on doing better at embracing the moments I hate my ADHD, seeing the not-so-good for what it is and working with it. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the journey—because let’s be honest, an easily distracted and differently thinking mind has to be a lot more interesting to live with than a neurotypical one. Not that I will know that world, and nor do I want to. 

If I had a normal brain I wouldn’t be me, after all. And being me has been a pretty wild ride so far.

I think the added impulsivity helps with that. 😉

 

I’ve got a lot of amazing allies who have been my biggest supporters through the earliest days of questions and all of the days since I got the answer of ADHD. Jay – as always, without you I am unsure I’d have persisted in accessing the assessment—thank you for all your support finding resources early on, and in the last five years. Seriously not sure where I’d be without you. Tash – for throwing e-mails back and forth in all phases of the process. and sharing your own adult ADHD/ASD journey with me so candidly; you pushed me to learn more about myself. The Smart Girls with ADHD admins—Beth, for creating SGwADHD, Nikki, Liz, Nathalie and Matti. Rob, Theresa, and everyone else I’ve connected with online. Thanks for helping me to be more awesome.

I’ve probably missed some of you. If you’re reading this, well, you likely deserve to be on this list too. Thanks for being a part of my story.

Usually, I embrace ADHD. Last night was not one of those nights. I posted this on Instagram last night, and figured I would post it here too. Because ADHD is not just a punchline; it’s not a joke. ADHD is more than distractibility, more than “hyperactivity”, more than forgetfulness, more than what people “see”, and way more than people perceive it to be. Way more than many people can even try to understand. It is real.

—–

 

A post shared by kerri (@kerriontheprairies) onFeb 20, 2018 at 10:34pm PST

Most of the time I embrace #ADHD. Tonight, I hate it. 
I hate how it makes literally everything more effort. Everything. I hate how it sometimes makes me a person I don’t want to be. It’s not an excuse, but it’s also not my fault. I hate how it’s a series of paradoxes. I hate what it does to my emotions. I hate how I’ve been trying to calm down from something stupid for over an hour now, after two other hours stuck. I hate how it, and in turn I, manage to ruin an otherwise great day. I hate how it doesn’t make sense and how it’s so hard to explain to others. 
Yes this is real. And it sucks. And on nights like tonight it’s hard to embrace my own #neurodiversity.

I hope tomorrow I get my ground back. Tonight, I hate having ADHD. 
Thanks to the amazing people who reached out on twitter. You have no idea how much I needed to know you’re in my corner. 💜 (via The Mighty/ADDitude)

—–

Usually, I don’t get down on my ADHD. Last night was not one of those nights. 
And I’m still “feeling it” this morning pretty hard, from a three hour experience of over-emotion and over-thinking, and all those things. Compounded by the wrong kind of hyperfocus. The hardcore emotional effects of ADHD are not well enough explored, and they are still hard to navigate.

some will learn, many do
cover up or spread it out
turn around, had enough,
pick and choose or pass it on.
buying in, heading for
suffer now or suffer then
it’s bad enough
, i want the fear,
need the fear, cause he’s alone
fear has become, cause he’s alone

well if they’re making it,
then they’re pushing it,
they’re leading us along
the hassle of all the screaming fits
the panic makes remorse.

after all, what’s the point,
course levitation is possible
if you’re a fly, achieved and gone
there’s time for this and so much more
it’s typical, create a world
a special place of my design
to never cope, or never care
just use the key cause he’s alone
fear has become, ‘cause he’s alone

over and over a slave became
over and over a slave became

well if they’re making it
then they’re pushing it
and they’re leading us along
the hassle of all the screaming fits
that panic held before

well if they’re making it
then they’re pushing it
and they’re leading us along
like a cancer caused
all the screaming fits
and their panic makes remorse

leading us along (vitamin r) // chevelle 

Until you have been in my brain you cannot tell me ADHD is not real.
Science says ADHD is real.
Why I have to on occasion argue this fact with people, is still very confusing to me. Although I guess it is the same reason people choose not to vaccinate their children and re-start outbreaks of diseases previously eradicated from the developed world—they choose to remain ignorant.

As I once said to Jess in Calgary, “Stupid people are not your problem”.

Sometimes stupid people make themselves our problems, though, which is unfortunate.

Other times, though, smart people affirm what you’re putting out there. (Thank God for smart people!)

Yesterday morning, I shared a video on Facebook about “pill shaming” people with mental health issues. You can see the video here.

And yes, ADHD very much falls into this category. After all, everyone is just popping Ritalin (or now, Adderall more accurately) as a study drug and nobody actually has ADHD, right? Wrong. Obviously.

I have a have a friend who recently started ADHD medication again, after we had a conversation about ADHD on a dark drive home from a friend’s party in the country (I have a half written post about this somewhere that I really need to get out into the world). He, like me, has found the of meds after not treating his ADHD for over a decade positively life altering.

Yet, when he posted this on Facebook, that he was starting meds, the doubters, the disbelievers came. And—thankfully—many of us fought them back with science. I’m not sure disbelievers enjoy PubMed links being thrown at them, but damn it, I went there. Because that is how we fight ignorance and misinformation.

With freaking science.

Yesterday, when I posted the link from Mental Health on The Mighty, I did so with the following text:

This.

I’ve had so many people ask me why I need ADHD medication.
Because there is an imbalance in my neurotransmitters, that’s why. No I can’t just “try harder”. I tried life on hard mode without a diagnosis for 21 years.
Maybe it doesn’t keep me alive like other meds do, but it does make my life so much better.

Six minutes later, my friend from above commented this:

I like how this publicly happened on my Facebook lol

I replied

Um, FACT.
And we SHUT DOWN those haters. 😉

Alongside this, as of the time I am writing this, 20 of my friends chose to “like” or “love” this post. Another friend commented “Yes! Well said.”

There is power in finding people who get it. People who understand.

Because we all spend enough time fighting misinformation. Fighting people who shame you for not trying hard enough, even if you’ve tried harder than just about everybody for decades to get by without medication—often without so much as a diagnosis to understand why your brain is differently wired.

It’s much better when we fight ignorance and misinformation together.

The only way we can stop stigma is to share our stories, and being fiercely proud of our stories—they make us who we are. ADHD is a piece of me that makes me who I am. I’m proud of that piece, proud of my quirky, neuroatypical brain. Of seeing life differently. I chose meds to be part of my journey, to help me harness the joys of my ADHD brain better. Vyvanse (or previously Concerta) doesn’t cure me. It doesn’t make me neurotypical. It just makes me better able to balance the joyful parts of my ADHD with the frustrating parts (and I still get endlessly frustrated with myself. But it’s so much better).

Sometimes medicine is a part of “trying harder”.

And I’m thankful that many of my friends seem to get that.

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.