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.

http://i0.wp.com/farm1.staticflickr.com/283/32488879416_3f9cd185cf.jpg?resize=500%2C379&ssl=1

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.

IMG_1335

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.

IMG_1335

I got distracted by a floor tape roller last night. I am rocking this ADHD awareness month challenge, seriously.

Kind of like mindfulness in general, meditation with ADHD is hard. Even with a guided app. I did a 3 minute meditation just now with Smiling Mind to prepare myself to write this post, and it was all “Count your breaths up to 10 and then start over. If you feel your thoughts pulling you away, start again at 1.”

Clearly I was like Seriously, Smiling Mind? And then started counting again at 1.
And then I thought about going for grilled cheese after my meeting tomorrow. And then I started again at 1. And then once I eventually got to 10, the app man told me now to stop counting and focus solely on my breath. And I kept counting, because seriously, why are you making me switch gears like that?! 

I claimed at one point in high school that I used to meditate, in the days before I had such an app to guide me. I think I honestly did not actually meditate and just did deep breathing until I fell asleep—more of a relaxation exercise than a meditation. They are not synonymous. Also I really liked the blog post I linked there, but I totally missed reading the point where it said to “take a moment now to just notice”. 

For me, meditation is not easy. Smiling Mind (or other guided meditation apps) makes it easier, but it is not easy. But I do know that the more regularly I meditate, the more I feel that I want to meditate, the more I take that second to just notice. I am more likely to incorporate a midday meditation, or early evening like I did tonight before writing this. A couple weeks ago, I did a walking meditation while walking to the bus, which was kind of cool except I did not do the pacing thing as recommended because I was trying to go from point A to point B and not from A to B back to A in six steps.

What am I getting from it? I’m not sure. A pause, at the very least, which is important with the 800 kilometers an hour ADHD brain. I use meditation to help me unwind a bit before I go to sleep. I think I notice more things in my daily life, like the sound of leaves blowing along the sidewalk behind me.

Focus? Yeah I’m not sure if it helps there. In fact, I just realized now probably part of the reason I struggle so much with not letting my thoughts drift too much during my evening meditation is because my meds have worn off. But if it can help with curbing my impulsivity even a bit, or assisting me to pause before I react to something, then hey: the practice is worth it.

And of course, there are reasons it is called a practice. I’ll never master it, especially with this quirky ADHD brain.

And that’s okay—it’s about practicing being non-judgemental about my own thoughts, and then deciding if that’s what, or how, I actually want to think—and having the power to change it, rather than regarding it as inherently good or bad. (Read more about non-judgemental awareness here.) ADHDers can be ridiculously hard on ourselves (on top of often struggling to be mindful!), and I think this is a really important thing for me to be working at… A definite self-care piece.

I think the reality is that mindfulness, meditation, being internally non-judgey is hard
Self-care is hard.

But it’s also extremely necessary. And if meditation can help guide me to those pauses, those right choices…

Well, I’ll keep trying.

 

Day 16 Challenge Update

Meditation: Check.

Plank: Repeat. 2:05. Getting easier (for now), at least with music on ;). 

IMG_1335

I started this on Sunday. You know, ADHD. Point is I am finishing it and I still did the plank and meditated. BOOM. (Mostly.)

The thing with ADHD is that unless you have it, it’s hard to totally understand. Or as the folks at ADHD U say, “If you don’t got it, you don’t get it!”. While ADHD is variable and no two of us are alike (like, of course, with just about any diagnosis), community helps.

The ladies—especially our team of administrators—at Smart Girls with ADHD are equally good at providing empathy and laughing at ourselves for the things we do… At volumes that only ADHDers seem to do those sorts of things. Even when I am not posting or responding frequently, if I do something that the other ladies will relate to—usually funny, sometimes frustrating—I will most often pop over to the group and share it! It’s fun to see the comments come in of other girls’ stories from the preceding few days saying “I get ya!”

Community is important to know that you may be different from most people around you because of ADHD or LD, but that you are not alone. I shared a blog post earlier this month, and I always don’t know how to feel when I get a response like this:

Mostly, I am overjoyed that someone knows that we get it. However, there’s still a part of me that still hurts because we are so enthusiastic to find people that get it because of all those who don’t get it. This, though, is why community is so important—and for me, an important part of self-care, one that I can choose to access more when I need it, and less when I don’t. Because when nobody gets it? The ADHD community—whether that’s our Smart Girls (or the Smart Girls admins), the #ADDcheckin tweeps, or just sending off a message to a friend who I know gets it, like Aaron or Jess if I’m needing to be a tad less public about the whole thing.

I’ve said it before about chronic disease, but it really applies to ADHD too. Find your people, your community. The ones that get you. Even if they’re halfway across the country or the continent or the world, my little neurodiverse, ADHD community is so important to me to have—to know that even in my brain’s quirks, other people have the same variation of normal that I do. And just having that safe space to share or rant or whatever is so important, and often reminds me that yes, patience is important and that applies SO MUCH to being patient with myself, too.

Mindfulness.
Is.
Tough.

I realize this is the case for just about everybody, even those without ADHD. My friend Scott posted on Facebook a couple days ago his own need to become mindful again—a thought that many of us appreciated him sharing. Because mindfulness is hard, anyways.
And THEN, ADHD is like
T-REX.
Or whatever.

Yeah, mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword—to me, that means mindlessness has become a prevailing approach to life, and the majority of us need to make a more conscious effort toward mindfulness. Which is simple.

Mindfulness is simply (per definition 2 on Google): 

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

To dig deeper, the mindful approach means acknowledging and accepting feeling, thoughts and so forth without judgement, embracing that it is okay to feel the things you are feeling—even if you want to change your reaction or the situation you are in.

I read an article yesterday from ADDitude that explored emotions and ADHD. Emotions are hard to quantify, so guess what? They’re not included in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, despite how common overly-intense or difficult to navigate/manage feelings are for people with ADHD—which, the rest of the world might interpret as overreactions or meltdowns. Another interesting fact from the article is how sometimes people with ADHD simply cannot articulate or identify how or what we are feeling (more here) and that it can be hard for us to interpret how others feel, especially when we are overwhelmed.
These are things that I definitely experience, and find that regular mindfulness practice can help immensely with: when I’m in a more mindful headspace, I pause to think—and breathe—before I react.

For me, this is what mindfulness is about: the pauses. They do not have to be long, but they have to be enough to plant me back where I am—to ground me—to reclaim a sense of calm when my mind is in the past and future simultaneously and not in the place I can control: right now. It’s about taking a few moments to hear the leaves crinkling along the sidewalk in the breeze and feeling my feet hit the sidewalk. It’s about remembering that my body exists and dropping the tension in my shoulders when I’m working. It’s about actually hearing the music I am listening to, picking out something new I hadn’t caught before. It’s about pausing to actually recognize the emotions I am experiencing before they are able to take over too much. It’s about the pauses.

When I am meditating regularly, I take these lessons out into the world with me. I am much better for it. It is still super hard, but, it helps. That’s where I’m at: I’m not about to trade my ADHD meds for mindfulness, but in tandem, they’re a solid pair helping me tackle the chaos that can be the ADHD life. Yeah, I’ll mess up—both in general, and with the mindfulness—but I’ll be able to tackle the obstacles better if I’m checked in to a more mindful space.

—–

Day 2 Challenge Update:
Plank:
 65 seconds. The foamy tiles in my office are quite rad for this.

Meditation: I think midnight meditation’s going to be a thing (though I do want to try to make it a twice-daily activity); I used the Smiling Mind app again and did the 10 minute Breath and the Body meditation but I think I didn’t pay attention to half of it because I was relaxed nearly into sleep. (Not quite the intent, but I’ll take it).