Thursday, October 27, 2011

Getting personal about my brain

Marble madness

This is such a long story. Like, a lifelong story. I'll do my best to be concise. For those of you who have gone out with me in the past month or two, I apologize for talking so much about this! I have been kind of obsessed with self awareness lately and I let myself think that just because something is fascinating to me, it must be fascinating to everyone.

Here is the deal:

This Summer I figured out that despite creative strengths, I have some serious mental weaknesses. This revelation came after yet another job I thought I would be good at did not work out. I was extremely frustrated that certain things that came easily for others were near impossible for me (organization, time management, multitasking, focus, filtering stimuli, following designated processes, repetitive tasks).

So, I did what I always do and called my Mom. Her response was, "maybe you should consider treating your ADD."

Oh, the ADD I didn't even know I had? Yes. That one.

Justin directed me to some stories of adults with ADD and by the time I was done reading it, I was in tears (in a good way) to realize the things that frustrated me most about myself could potentially have a treatment.

From that point on, I was research binge-ing I read three books, countless forums and talked with people I know who have ADD. The whole thing was pretty enlightening and the more I learned about ADD the more I realized the zillion small and large ways it has affected my life. For example, The fact that I almost never drove because I was afraid I would run someone over turned out to be a reasonable fear because people with ADD are WAY more likely to create car accidents. Over the years, I'd developed dozens of coping strategies that I didn't even realize were coping strategies. I'm a compulsive list-maker, I set timers and alarms so I don't forget things, I've avoided tasks that I should do because I didn't believe I could complete them successfully.

After a long and nervous wait, I finally got an appointment with a therapist who sees people with ADD. I think I struck gold with her. She is so encouraging and optimistic and helpful. After she was able to give me her official diagnosis, I was so relieved to be validated.

My therapist convinced me that I would be a good candidate for medicine. I am usually not a pill taker so I was reluctant. But I was feeling desperate so I agreed to visit a psychopharmacologist. I was put on a stimulant that made me feel so sleepy it was like I was always moving through a pool of molasses (counterintuitive right?). The doctor told me to stick with it and it was expected of people with ADD to feel sleepy on a stimulant when it makes non ADD brains hyper.

I'm so glad I kept taking the pills because the tiredness diminished and I started to see myself improving slightly. Tiny little things. I started doing things in a more practical order. I remember calling Justin at work to tell him that something amazing happened, "I went in the kitchen to make Rice Krispie treats and one hour later, I had made Rice Krispie treats!" He declared it a miracle.

This is just sort of a progress report. I don't think my medicine is right yet and I hear it takes a lot of tweaking in the beginning to find out what is best. I guess I just wanted to share what I've been going through and how optimistic I'm feeling. Previously, I would get very hard on myself for house clutter, forgotten responsibilities and inability to keep a job. Now I feel like I finally am on my way to helping myself do well at the things that matter to me.

Also, the most profound difference is that I can drive so much better! I am not covered in sweat after a five minute grocery store jaunt. I am able to trust my brain more to not put me in dangerous situations.

side note: Yes, I act like "my brain" and "me" are different things. I used to talk to my brain all the time like, "hey brain, don't blow this for the rest of me" and now I see I was talking to my chemical imbalance and sluggish neurotransmitters!

Feel free to comment or email me about this... Especially if you are going through something similar. I'm happy to overshare.


Bea Modisett said...

Hey sweetheart! This all sounds great great great! I struggled with ADHD in high school and everyday I would come home with a migraine because my brain was working so goddamned hard to act straight. I was (reluctantly) medicated and it helped quite a bit. Now as an adult I no longer take the medication because I have found ways to cope - but still see the effects. For instance, I should be painting right now. When I realize I am being distracted I have to consciously go back to what I was doing beforehand. It took a lot of practice to get to that point. I believe in you! And it's okay to ask for help. xoxo. Back to painting.

Laurie - Autobiography of Craft said...

Just for the record, I definitely talk to my brain. Great to hear you're getting along better with yours.

Elise of Argyle Whale said...

Thanks bea! I'm a reluctant medicator too but I realized I really needed something to help. The therapist said that meds often help people develop habits that they and some may be able to go off the medicine and keep the good habits. I'm glad you are one of those people! I definitely don't want to be on a stimulant for years and years.

Hi Laurie! Yep, brain and I called a truce. Maybe we can be on speaking terms again soon in a less combative way.

Jess (aka LittleBunny) said...

I had a similar experience with anxiety and panic attacks. The brain can do all sorts of crazy things. I'm glad that you are feeling good again :) p.s i love all the new stuff that you are working on! I need to take a page from your book and get out of my comfort zone more often!

robayre said...

This post just about made me cry. I completely relate, but I haven't made the leap to go to the Dr. I was diagnosed with ADD as a small child, in the early 80s, but the Dr. told my mom that it was probably something I'd grow out of and could probably be medicated simply by drinking caffeinated drinks. As an adult, instead of growing out of it, I think it has probably only gotten worse.
A year or two ago I was flipping channels when I came upon this documentary about Adult ADD and really did break down and cry. Everything they said was so me. I had created so many adaptations, just like you, and I didn't even know it. I had grown up thinking and hearing things like how people with ADD are risk takers, but that was so not me, and in the documentary I find that people with ADD are at extreme. They either engage is extremely risky behaviors, or the direct opposite side and never take risks because they are afraid and woah if that didn't hit home. I highly recommend the documentary if you haven't seen it. It's caled ADD and Loving it?! Another thing great about it is that they have a test to take and they ask not only for you to take the test, but a loved one to also take it on behalf of you and how often they will know more about the way your head works than you do.

Elise of Argyle Whale said...

Thank you so much Robyn! I will check out that documentary for sure. I really appreciate you sharing your experience... I also was quickly turned into a blubbering mess when I had that big aha moment about ADD. It explained so much and was such an overwhelming relief to me!

I'm sorry yours has gotten worse. I was thinking that too. My doctor said that the ADD usually stays the same but life changes and it may be hard to adapt. It was worst for me this past year because Justin started working in Boston and is rarely home and I didn't realize how much I relied on him to help me structure my life. I kind of fell apart without his guidance... that is what really made me see I needed help. Now I'm building habits and structure on my own but I admit that it is really really hard!

robayre said...

in regard to it getting worse as I've gotten older: I've honestly wondered if those skills or chemicals can be utilized better with repetitive practice. While I was going to school I was having to exercise those attention holding muscles, but once I got out of school, I no longer had to work at paying attention, so the skill has atrophied. Does that make sense. Years after graduating I decided to take a metal class again. It was something I had done in college and LOVED it. BUT, I quickly realized I could not focus anymore on actually working in the classroom around other people. I'd have to come in and do my projects when I was alone, or do them at home. The next semester I signed up for it again, and actually only showed up to 2 classes! That is so not the person who had perfect attendance in high school and just about perfect in college.

Elise of Argyle Whale said...

Robyn, I have had a similar experience and I think the brain atrophy concept is what it feels like. For me, I think making habits is really really hard in general. Patterns, repetition and that kind of thing rarely sticks so if I managed to have it once, there is no guarantee it will be there next time!