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.

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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.

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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!

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Seriously, I am not doing particularly well at this blogging challenge thing anymore. They say it takes three weeks to make a habit—I take 3 weeks to get out of what’s becoming one. I guess maybe that’s where the ADHD comes in: the novelty wears off, and so does the motivation.

I think I might be mildly more successful at this if I didn’t spend the majority of my work life writing. Which is great and I love but sometimes, you know, I don’t want to think about putting words together anymore. Or I want to go to bed at a reasonable hour to get up at a normal-people-time three days this week. (Which is super overrated by the way. Just saying. Like yes I am getting up for decent reasons, like coffee and business seminars or meetings but you know, bed is nice. Especially when it’s still dark out.)

So, yeah, I totally lapsed on this blogging thing. Which was, I suppose, possibly a bit of a self-care type move to not start seeing the world in white and black like a text composer window. And I’m almost at the end of the month, so here it is… The catch-up. Maybe November’s self care will look more like practicing self-care rather than just writing on it half-assedly. (Is that a word even?)

Challenge Update:

I can’t even catch up on the challenge update. Meditation’s been going the best but I still haven’t integrated a morning meditation—maybe a goal for November…

Planks = so hard, but so good.

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Week Three Fact:
adhd fact fridayADHD sometimes comes with the opposite of being unable or having difficulty focusing. Hyperfocus is just what it sounds like: intense periods of focus, which make attention deficit disorder all the more confusing.

Yes, it seems paradoxical. Yet hyperfocus is very real to many ADHDers, myself included—ADHD is an “attention regulation disorder”—as difficult as it can be for us to focus on tasks that are boring or not mentally stimulating, it can be equally difficult for us to redirect our attention from something that is fun or interesting.

Hyperfocus can be the saving grace of people with ADHD with a deadline ahead of them, or a massive obstacle when we find something fun or enjoyable… and should be doing other things. However, sometimes we get so sucked in that it can be extremely hard to break our focus. Even people talking directly to us might not be enough to interrupt us—the polar opposite of what people perceive as our attention deficit selves.

For myself, I think hyperfocus is the reason I could read book after book when I was younger, especially when I had nothing else mentally interesting to do: if the book was interesting, that was the only place my attention went.

Day 21 Challenge Update

Plank: 155 seconds while on FaceTime with Kat. Which made it easier, actually.

Meditation: I completed the Bite Size Meditation series on Smiling Mind.