Most people that know me are aware that three (and a half) years ago I was diagnosed with ADHD and learning issues primarily affecting my visual memory and processing speed. Since then, I’ve tried to engage with as many other adults with learning and attention issues as I can. For girls especially, it’s common that ADHD especially is missed, since we present differently than boys—more often we have the inattentive subtype, so we are less noticeably hyperactive!
October is ADHD and Learning Disabilities Awareness Month. You may also notice that things look a bit different around Kerri on the Prairies in celebration of neurodiversity—which is just the cool way of saying that everybody’s brain is different, whether you have ADHD, learning issues or autism… and that it’s okay to not be “neurotypical”!
But hold up, that’s not all! A guy named Jesse d’Eça from Quebec is taking ADHD Awareness month one step further, and he and the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada (CADDAC – don’t get thrown off, they probably existed before all ADD became ADHD) have come together to get Canadians doing things to raise awareness of what ADHD really looks like. Challenges can be whatever you dream up: CADDAC recommends: a) Something physical—like exercise, daily b) Something cerebral—like meditation or mindfulness practice for a predetermined amount of time once or twice per day, or c) something educational, like reading or writing.
Here’s my challenge:
Planking. Opting to follow Jesse’s lead, I’m going to be trying a plank challenge for October—the app I did the initial test on today (where I made it 55 seconds… just couldn’t make a minute!) claims I’ll be able to sustain a plank for 3 minutes and 25 seconds (or 205 seconds) by the end of the month. While I understand the whole rest day thing, I’m going to try to skip the ones the app requires taking because part of the whole challenge thing is to do something every day! Unless I like, injure myself.
Blogging. Hi there, people reading my blog. I’ll be here every day in October blogging for ADHD/LD awareness month. I even have a plan for this! Some days will be longer posts, some will just be pictures, but hopefully everything will share a bit of my story of living with ADHD. I mean, look, random t-rex pictures? Yeah, that explains my ADHD life pretty well, right? 😉
Okay and you know what, since we’ve got column A – something physical and column C – something educational(ish) covered, let’s set the bar high.
Meditation. I meditate using the Smiling Mind app. The fact that they are led by an Australian dude does not hurt the app one bit. It’s something I’ve been trying to get into a habit about, so… Let’s do this. (I’ll give myself bonus points if I can manage to get in all 42 of the remaining meditations in the Adult track ;).)
Want to support the challenges I’ve set up, and support the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada? The site is quite non-intuitive, so you’ll have to go here, select your donation amount, and then search my name (Hi, I’m Kerri MacKay if we’ve never met and you’d like to donate money. Thanks! How are you?). Want to do something yourself? Register your challenge here.
I told myself I’d write a blog post today. Well, here we are, 11:55 pm, so I’ve got four minutes to make that happen. Technically, I wrote two blog posts today, for Asthma.Net. But that’s not what I meant.
Toronto. Minneapolis. Ten days of the month on the road, and it was awesome. Then the storm—in a good way—of catching up. I turned twenty-five. I hit all my goals (actually exceeding one of them) for work. Assisting with getting the research protocol off the ground for the U of A project. All kinds of mostly awesome nonsense filling my head, and trying to return to my commitment of quelling all that nonsense a bit with meditation—it’s all good.
So, here we are, May.
Except with pictures to come tomorrow, because there are a lot of them and they’re still uploading.
ADHD doesn’t define me, but it does help me understand who I am.
from What ADHD Feels Like to Me.
I’m stoked to finally share my first post on Understood’s “The Inside Track” blog! What ADHD Feels Like to Me shares a glimpse into my life with undiagnosed learning and attention issues, and what finally identifying my ADHD and learning issues means to me.
The experience I’ve had working with the Understood team has been a brand new one to me. For the first time, I’ve worked with an editor—and, while he changed every ‘university’ to ‘college’ in this post, ‘cause America, he is beyond fun and the process has been awesome. (Hi, Andrew!).
Understood gets me. I found the weekly #LDchat on Twitter run by Understood not long after my diagnosis. From that point forward, until I entered a contract agreement with Understood in September (and, let’s face it, even since then. Also, disclosures here), I would continually and politely remind the Understood team about the existence of adults with learning and attention issues. Unlike so many groups, Understood listened. We threw some direct messages and e-mails around, and on September 1st, I signed my first contract with Understood (renewed January 1, 2016). While Andrew and I work together to rework and polish a piece to go live, honesty is as important to Understood as it is to me: everything I write on Understood reflects my experiences, feelings and opinions—Andrew made it clear that nothing would go up that I wasn’t 100% on. And, he’s been equally 100% solid on that.
What ADHD Feels Like to Me has been awhile in the making, but the process to get here has been awesome. I’m thankful for Understood: both for this opportunity to share my story with a bigger audience, and for what they offer parents of kids with learning and attention issues.
Disclosure:I receive compensation to blog for Understood.org (note: I would have done it for free but they offered me money). I am under no obligation to share these posts on Kerri on the Prairies or via social media. (But, you know, I like them, so why wouldn’t I?)
Two weeks ago, I went to Denver.
(By the time I’m getting this published, it’s been two weeks.) The time was packed, let me tell you. (I told my friend Sam everything I did when I was there and she was like “How long were you gone for?” and I was like “Left Monday morning, came back Tuesday night.” and she was like “…I thought you were gone for like, a few days with everything you did.” Nah, just didn’t sleep. Actually I did. A bit. More on that below.)
People tried to explain to me that I was not actually in the USA and Canada at the same time. I fail to understand how this works, because while the airport may think I am in the USA after I pass this door, I could jump back out the window and be in Canada. Because, there’s snow out there.
Then I got on a plane
On another point, my CLEARLY OVERSIZED BAG fit in the carry on sizer. Easily.
Then I got on a plane.
and they sprayed my plane with green goo to de-ice. (Yes. Because we have to de-ice in May up in these parts. Thanks, Colorado.)
This dude is sleeping with his stuff in a very precarious position. The flight attendant seemed confused.
And then I landed in this field that looked like a farm, and it turned out I was in Denver, so I met Dia by the giant statue of a potted plant (I expected it to be more giant, actually. It wasn’t worth photographing, I guess.) Dia is my Canadian asthma advocacy partner-in-crime, and the current Chair of the National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive. (And also she and I have seen each other every second Monday for the past six weeks and next Monday is going to break our streak.)
Dia and I took a cab downtown to the Hyatt Regency at Colorado Convention Centre where the American Thoracic Society conference was taking place (note: we didn’t get to go in, except once Dia tried to wander past the passes-only area. She was unsuccessful.)
Dia and I met Dr. Dilini Vethanayagam, a respirologist from University of Alberta, Edmonton, who has special interest in severe asthma (and working with the Canadian Severe Asthma Network [CSAN]) almost as soon as we made it downtown. This is the thirty fourth floor lounge at the Hyatt, where Dilini took us to hang out—it’s always fantastic to finally meet someone in person after—at this point—a half dozen phone calls (or more?) and a few years worth of e-mails. Dia and I learned more about the state of the research study I’m working on with U of A, and where CSAN is at.
After meeting with Dilini, Dia and I headed over to the ATS Conference, or as far into it as we could get, anyways. Dia was in heaven as she picked up 20 pounds of respiratory journals to take home with her, and we visited the Canadian Lung Association table. You know, after Dia tried to sneak into the badge area…
We also took a selfie at a selfie station to win a prize pack. (I think we didn’t win. I’m also unsure why I look more excited than Dia, because Dia is actually probably way more excited than me at this point because she has an armful of medical journals and she likes smart things…)
Wearing my Badassmatic shirt. Except I lost Dia’s challenge and didn’t get any pictures with asthma doctors with it on…
And then we got popcorn before meeting Dr. Sally Wenzel from University of Pittsburgh, and the Severe Asthma Research Program. (You might remember Sally from a previous asthma adventure to the World Congress of Asthma in Quebec City in 2012. We failed to get a picture with her, but it was great to be able chat with her before a presentation for 15 minutes!)
Now, enter my American asthma advocacy partner-in-crime, Steve (it took his cab an eon to get from the airport to the hotel, but he made it!)
AND, his Boston Marathon racewalking partner-in-crime, Lis, whom I was also meeting for the first time… not that you’d be able to tell…
…The first picture…
Now, I’ve known Lis online for a good five years now, and in person she is every bit as energetic (to put it mildly) and passionate as I would have imagined (look, these words are failing to explain her adequately, so let’s just say she is this wild force of awesome, and you’ll have to meet her yourself!). We also met up with Sheila, another asthmatic in Denver (Lis was the odd one out—though she was initially misdiagnosed with asthma, and is since doing a LOT better since confirming she has vocal cord dysfunction! :].) Lis lead the way to Mellow Mushroom Pizza because Dia and I were kind of starving at this point and Steve liked the name (and so began my first of two pizzas in about 4 hours..!)
After food, Sheila, Steve, Dia and I grabbed the free bus back to the hotel, Dia and I got our stuff from storage at the Hyatt, and we parted ways with Sheila and headed to the hotel via Uber.
So, know what rocks about travelling with people with asthma?
This—if you’re unfamiliar, the missing ingredient would be the nebulizer tubing, AKA the piece that connects the nebulizer to the compressor making it useful…
Yeah, the three of us all travel with the same compressors/tubing… I headed across the hall to Dia’s room instead of upstairs to Steve’s. Really, I did not feel super terrible except elevation probably + fragrant people exposure + hotel under construction = kind of a perfect storm. I did another treatment the next morning, but upon landing back at home I was breathing easy again. Denver = weird. Which I was told to anticipate.
Then we went to dinner at Piatti and met the other two bloggers attending, Juan and Karen from GSK, and Samantha and Minyan from Golin, the PR company working with GSK. I rolled onto my second pizza of the day (margherita, and not just cheese ;)). And then Steve, sneaky friend that he is, made this happen…
This was Monday. My birthday wasn’t until Thursday (oh, hey, I’m 24 now..!), so I was more than a little shocked/confused for a moment! So, Steve dropped the word because he wanted to buy a cake but then basically GSK stole his idea ;).
How freaking beautiful is this cake?!
Then we returned to the hotel, where I had to go get new room keys (because, no, I can’t just forget my room keys when I go to the pool with Goalball Steve [as opposed to California Steve] and Gerry in Toronto, I forget them in Denver, too. Fortunately I had ID this time. Steve, Dia and I went and hung out in my room after I got new keys, and when Steve and I walked in, I found this… (Well, it was in the bag at the time!)
Yes, Ms. Lizzy (Lis) and Doc Boots strike again! Pineapple Fanta and Jarritos! (Complete with bubble wrap so I could get it back home in my then-checked backpack!) Lis knew it was my mission to get my hands on some Pineapple Fanta while in Denver, and… there it was, complete with puppy birthday card! Steve got to work using some surface or another in the bathroom as a bottle opener, and Dia went to get ice (I am the lazy one who only tore the paper cups out of their plastic wrapping and poured the bottle of soda into cups ;).) Dia and Steve got into some scientific discussion about mast cells over Pineapple Fanta while I stared at the curtains (aka not the mountains. The hotel claimed mountain view but they were VERY FAR AWAY) cluelessly.
Eventually we all went to bed (I did my bedtime reading from GSK with a side of GSK Ventolin): I sort of slept. Steve did not sleep. Dia actually slept. I sent Steve my sleep graph in an early morning text message.
Sometime around six I went and hung out in Steve’s room (note: Steve and I are polar opposites in the regard to Hotel Room TV. He always has his TV on. I never do. When I was in California, he was the one who turned my TV on, and I turned it off when he left). Dia decided to test out the 24-hour-Starbucks-theory (as she told us) and headed over to Starbucks nearby, after coming up to Steve’s room to pick up my phone with which she bought me hot chocolate. (…Yes, look, this is how awesome my friends are, and how lazy I am early in the morning. But mostly how awesome Dia is).
Is it tag-team nebbing if you part ways to do treatments? 😉 I Instagrammed this picture with the caption “I get by with a little help from my friends—and their nebulizer tubing.” I usually only do treatments when I am tight enough for it to be really bothering me, but like the night previous, I was kind of not wanting to cough through dinner with GSK, nor did I want to sound more asthmatic than my usual cough during the event. Also, look, the things I do as a patient always come with a stupid side of asthma, and that is annoying, but a reminder that yeah this disease sucks but I get to do cool things because of it sometimes, and more-so because of the fact that I try not to complain about it and just live my life and coexist with my asthma.
Plus I always feel way better after even if I don’t think I reallyyyy need a treatment that much.
Plus also Dia made me laugh while taking this picture as she arrived at my room mid-treatment and probably yelled “housekeeping”. Steve also came [post-treatment] and did not yell housekeeping and just knocked like people sort of usually do. Then we went downstairs into the construction zone to get in the Ubers to go to Columbine Elementary School (for those wondering, no, this is not near Columbine High School), for the GSK Building Bridges for Asthma Care event.
Here’s Steve and I being sleepy in the Uber SUV.
We are good shoulder sleeping heights for each other.
Being mindful that I do not have a proficient understanding of the American public school system or its subprograms, I deferred the interpretation of this to my friend Kat. She explained that “92% of the families [in the area] make less than 185% of the federal poverty line; [about] $40K for a family of four,” and thus qualify for subsidized or free school lunches. (Note that in Canada we have no such national programs.) She continued to say that “In general, [with] that high of a percentage, it would be fair to categorize the neighbourhood as poor-to-working-class [living paycheck] to paycheck.” The schools the Building Bridges Program was run in had been referred to as inner city schools, and Kat’s explanation of the socioeconomic status relevant stat above helped clarify that to me.
I want to quote what Steve wrote before going any further:
So, do the big drug companies have a vested interest in helping these types of programs succeed and seeing the absenteeism rates drop? Would this type of program increase their inhaler sales? I seriously doubt it. Even the big bad drug companies do good things once and in a while and I think this is a perfect example of that.
This.And, like I said in my previous post linked above, I think it’s time we give pharma a lot more credit.
The Building Bridges program aims, in short, to decrease school absenteeism in kids with asthma—and through this, their parents are able to more consistently attend work. If we’re talking families that may already struggle financially, this becomes even more important. We’ll now break to a video. Because this is what they are doing:
This means that this little girl was in school on Tuesday.
Didn’t take much more than saying “I have asthma, too” to get a smile and a high-five from Countess!
This means her mom (Qyanisha, in the video) is able to work regularly. It means she could take time off to attend this event without worrying about her daughter. It means that less children and families are living similar stories—it means the core aspect of a child’s life is able to flip from asthma to school, just like every other kid.
While I said I had wished there was a kid on the panel (and I’m happy I got to meet Countess!), we heard from a bunch of amazing medical providers working with the Building Bridges program. I’ve Storified the event, so you can scroll through. I have to say though, that Donna Sparks, RN, was my favourite speaker of the day—
Another huge connection I hadn’t made previously, that Donna made (can I say again that this woman is awesome? Super Nurse Donna fan club, people): because these kids can be in school, they can stay in school. Donna underscored that if kids can stay in school, they can finish school—they can decrease their risk of becoming involved in crime by finishing school. I hadn’t thought of a link between asthma/absenteeism/deviance before: I just threw “asthma and crime” into Google Scholar: 34,200 results. Whether this is because inner-city areas seem to have higher rates of both asthma and crime, or because of issues pertaining to health care access, or because of algorithms, or actually because kids with asthma may miss more school and become frustrated and then turn to crime for psychosocial/socioeconomic reasons (or other cyclic things like that), is not super clear, of course, but here are some snippets (they are a bit long, so if you are not into academic reading, just read the first one and skip the bullets, okay? Don’t leave me hanging!)
The first concludes: “Evidence suggests an association between violent crime and childhood asthma prevalence in Chicago.” (Gupta et al., 2010)
Another: Results: […] Among African-American patients, age and residential crime rates were positively and negatively assicated with ICS [inhaled corticosteroid] adherence, respectively. Area crime remained a predictor of adherence in African american patients, even after adjusting for multiple measures of SES [socioeconomic status].
Conclusions: This study suggests that an environmental stressor, area crime, provides additional predictive insight into ICS-adherent behaviour beyond typical SES factors. (Williams et al., 2007). (Note: Remember that ICS use is positively correlated with asthma control, and that non-adherence can negatively affect asthma outcomes. Also that these drugs are quite expensive, especially in places like the US).
And, yet another (also nothing the use of “may” doesn’t mean that this is untrue, it just means that, as an instructor once told me, that especially in health, research never really ‘proves’ anything, only suggests potentials—as per point #1 up there, and the most recent of the articles cited):
Increasingly, studies have begun to explore the effect of living in a violent environment, with a chronic pervasive atmosphere of fear and the perceived or real threat of violence, on health outcomes in population-based studies. Violence exposure may contribute to environmental demands that tax both the individual and the communities in which they live to impact the inner-city asthma burden. At the individual level, intervention strategies aimed to reduce violence exposure, to reduce stress, or to counsel victims or witnesses to violence may be complementary to more traditional asthma treatment in these populations. Change in policies that address the social, economic, and political factors that contribute to crime and violence in urban America may have broader impact. (Wright and Steinbach, 2001).
So, yes: this understanding/hypothesizing has gone back to at least 2001—and probably way before. Many programs in the US are working to this phenomenon, and I am happy that Building Bridges is among them—and, I hope it is able to expand to other schools. Because if one thing—asthma control, both in the sense of actual control of the disease and reclaiming the feelings of these kids that they can do anything… can lead to a ripple effect of good things.
The coolest thing about this event, I think, was that it was ensured that we got there early enough to meet the speakers, and that they so wanted to speak to the bloggers attending. That doesn’t happen at every event. The event organizers also had a fantastically sized gap between the end of the presentations and lunch that people started to mingle, and then carried on their discussions over lunch—an amazing transition, even if it was not planned! As soon as the event ended, I also got flagged down to meet Qyanisha and have a direct conversation with her about how the program has impacted her and her daughter—prior to connecting with five or so others just on my way up to my bag at the back of the room, I returned to this scene:
Dia doing what she does best, asking great questions to Sheila—an asthma counsellor with Colorado Children’s Hospital—regarding parental buy-in to the Building Bridges program and how they deal with resistance to engagement and alternative therapy use—which is by educating without being forceful.
We flowed through chatting with a bunch of people in attendance, and then into the line for lunch and up to the tables on stage—I won’t lie, another huge highlight was spending lunch with the school nurses and asking their questions about blogging, while passing my phone over to show them my blog! How cool is that? I had to heckle Steve to make his way to the blogger debrief table because people were so interested in his awesomeness that they wouldn’t really let him escape ;).
Andrea (left-back), Katrina (right-back) Dia, myself (duh :]), Stephen
Below, same, with Karen and Juan from GSK.
Photo credit to GSK/Erin Guthrie on Photobucket.
The blogger roundtable was a great way to wrap up the morning with Juan and Karen. We basically had an open Q&A with them about what they can do better for patients (drug ads. make better drug ads, guys!), and other ways they can make the patient connection better. Can we go back to my post from prior to the event for a second? They. Are. Trying. Effort takes time. I realize that working in communications, Juan and Karen are just doing their jobs, but, people don’t get jobs that require high amounts of talking to other people if they don’t want to change things—that’s just kind of the way extroverts are. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next for the asthma community through pharma working towards bridging the gaps […no Building Bridges pun intended!] with patients and—I hope—implementing our suggestions, showing us progress, and not just letting the roundtable be a one-day, in-person thing.
Because whether we’re selfie-ing in an Uber…
(Karen, Juan, myself, and Dia’s eye.)
Or trying to get our own Uber for the first time…
…Or laughing at this sign for whatever reason…
…Navigating this security line with our plethora of medications and neb compressors…
We have a lot of things that, together, we want to make better
(or at least suck less?)
“Not a doubt in my mind anymore, there’s a storm up ahead.
Hello hurricane [tornado?], you’re not enough. Hello hurricane, you can’t silence my love
I’ve got doors and windows boarded up, all your dead end fury’s not enough
you can’t silence my love. […]
I’m a fighter, fighting for control—I’m a fighter, fighting my soul,
Every thing inside of me surrenders: you can’t silence my love.”
—Hello Hurricane, Switchfoot.
(Asthma is kind of the storm—the kickass friends who dare to do something about it are the shelter.)
Yet, we prove every damn time we’re together, that we’re about far more than asthma
(Before, one by one, we departed—Steve, then Dia, then myself—
Denver International Airport)
but most importantly: together or apart;
advocating purposefully or just living our lives that happen to include asthma…
We are still here. We sill want to share.
Disclosure: GlaxoSmithKline United States paid for/is reimbursing all costs associated with attending the GSK Asthma Summit, including roundtrip airfare to/from Denver, CO, hotel, ground transportation and meals [and phone expenses?! And for my checked bag after I got gifted Pineapple Fanta?!]. I was not required to blog or share on social media about the GSK Asthma Summit, nor do they pay me to do so (nor do they affect the content I produce in this post, or in the future—or the past, I guess.)
My full disclosure statement can be found here, and is updated each time I undergo a change in partnerships, specifically/especially ones in which I have an online presence or may be of greater impact to individuals reading this blog (like how I disclose the heck out of asthma related things because every group is somehow intertwined and I am kind of heavily invested in that subject).
My Identity Doctor (/Identity Doctor, Inc.) Community Outreach Coordinator
As of yesterday (01/08/15), I re-entered an agreement with Jon at My Identity Doctor. This time, I’ll be doing some community engagement work for his online medical ID jewelry company (I’ve worked with Jon before, and you can find this on my disclosures page). The bulk of this position will include me researching and reaching out to potential MID partners—patient support communities, both online and off, whose members could benefit from wearing medical identification jewellery—and providing them discounts to help them encourage discussion [and action] among their members to protect their wellbeing by wearing medical identification. (If you’re now an intrigued community leader/moderator, or have questions or concerns about this, shoot me an e-mail.)
University of Alberta – Pulmonary Research Group Research Associate
Today (busy week!) I had a follow-up phone call solidifying an offer of a Research Assistant position with the University of Alberta’s Pulmonary Research Group. While there may be some overlap with my role as the Canadian Severe Asthma Network Patient Lead, I’m very excited that I will be (remotely) assisting with a variety of aspects of an asthma research study, as directed by the study’s Primary Investigator, Dr. Dilini Vethanayagam.
Here’s to new horizons! As always, any questions about these, or any of my partnerships, check out my disclosure statement first for the whole story, and drop me an e-mail if you still have curiosities for me to address.