Accepting ADHD

October is ADHD Awareness Month.

It is a time in which we fight to shed the myths and misconceptions surrounding ADHD. It is a time of increased advocacy, and education. With events like awareness month, we hope to break the barriers between the world and those affected by ADHD.

I did not know about ADHD Awareness Month until this year. In fact, prior to this year, the term ADHD was not something I was particularly familiar with. I thought, like most – that it was a childhood illness associated with behavioral issues and distraction.

It was the illness everyone claimed to have, even if in a joking manner.

I did not know ADHD was a serious condition that can be life-hindering. I did not know there was more to ADHD than focus issues and hyperactivity.

I did not know that I had ADHD.

My symptoms, like everyone with ADHD, began early in life. But, due to a comorbid anxiety disorder, those symptoms were masked or overshadowed. With anxiety and ADHD, it is complicated: sometimes there is a comorbid anxiety disorder, and in other cases, the symptoms of ADHD are the source of anxiety. Whatever the case, where ADHD symptoms occur, anxiety is often not far behind.

I struggled to pay attention, and felt anxious that I would get called on in class and not know the answer. I struggled to focus well enough to study and read. I had no trouble reading books of interest – in fact I became obsessed with them (we call this hyperfocus) – but whenever I tried to read otherwise, it was like the words merely stared back at me and didn’t enter my mind. I became obsessed with making perfect grades and developed obsessions and compulsions. I also developed anorexia nervosa, a life-threatening eating disorder. Much of this, it would come to light later on, was due to undiagnosed ADHD.

So I grew up, doing the best that I could. High school and college were a challenge, and I reached some low points with my eating disorder. I also struggled under the course load, not realizing I was experiencing symptoms of ADHD. Still, I survived.

But as an adult, being “out there” in the world, I floundered.

Having a space of my own, I found my belongings in a constant state of disarray and I struggled to throw anything away. My OCD would counter this, sending me on cleaning sprees. But inevitably, things would revert back to the disorganized state I started with. It was a very frustrating cycle. The older I got, the more difficult reading became. I am a voracious reader, but I struggled to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. This led to me jumping around from task to task. As a writer, this meant infinite drafts, all half-finished. I felt like a failure. Why can’t I finish anything? What’s wrong with me? I’ll never accomplish anything. To make matters worse, everyone around me seemed to echo those same words. From an outside perspective, it seemed as though I was not trying hard enough or living up to my potential.

And I was hyperactive, which is, it seems, a rarity for girls, who are usually diagnosed as primarily inattentive. But I had this intense restlessness that burned deep within, and this bottomless pit of energy that I could not satiate.  I was also impulsive. Especially when it came to money. I made decisions without thinking them through. I spread myself too thin.

I knew something was going on with me, and I received some answers in the form of new diagnoses – the long-standing anorexia diagnosis was joined by the diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder. This, I thought, was the answer. I thought it explained everything. And it did, for a while.

Then the dust settled and I knew deep down there were still questions unanswered. Even though bipolar disorder and ADHD share symptoms, there are differences, too. So I raised the issue with my psychiatrist, and she agreed to an assessment – after my moods reached a more stable place. For the next six months, we watched for symptoms and waited for the right medications to be discovered and start to work. When I finally reached a somewhat stable place with my bipolar disorder, I was screened for ADHD.

I was diagnosed that day. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – Combined Type

The puzzle was complete.

In the time since my diagnosis and starting treatment for ADHD (medication and therapy), I’ve learned more about my condition. I started a blog about ADHD and I write for a great organization about my condition. My life isn’t perfect. I still deal with my symptoms on a daily basis. Those symptoms have gotten better with treatment, but nothing is going to make ADHD disappear. There is no magic cure. Do I wish such a thing existed? Perhaps, on some days. Other times, it feels like a part of who I am, just like I am a writer, a wife, and a pet parent. It doesn’t make me who I am. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.

ADHD is real. I know some would argue differently (and do) but in reality it is a true condition that affects millions. We’re not just distracted and we’re not going to scale the walls. We’re people, just like everyone else.

I accept my ADHD as a part of me and I live with it each day. Some days are difficult. Some days I want to give up. But other times, I see life for what it is – a gift. Even with my symptoms playing a daily role in my life I feel free. That is what a diagnosis did for me. It doesn’t mean my life isn’t difficult or complicated at times due to my diagnoses.

But with a diagnosis came acceptance, and with acceptance, hope.

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Charlie is a graduate student pursuing a degree in English and Creative Writing. When she is not doing coursework or writing, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and dog. She writes both fiction and nonfiction, in particular essays and novel-length works. She blogs daily on her site Decoding Bipolar, with a focus on education and incorporating positive changes in order to live fully while coping with mental illness.

You can follow Charlie on FacebookTwitter and her personal blog.

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