Sunday, January 13, 2008

ME? ADD??? OMG!!!

ADD? Me??

Is this even be possible? I heard of adult ADD, but mid-life ADD? That's a new one! My whole life I have always been a tad unfocused - constantly losing stuff, feeling disorganized, flying by the seat of my pants, stopping mid conversation to start another, or just to stare at something that caught my eye, shutting down because there is too much to take in, or thinking about 40 things all at the same time. As far as I was concerned, those traits are part of my normal nuttiness and just part of my charm.

Granted, being a single parent, working a full time job as well as a budding real estate career (I'm still a one hit wonder), my life has been on overload for way too long. It's possible that I am scattered because there is so much going on all the time. At times I wondered if Valium just needed to be part of my daily diet.

How do I begin to decipher this mess so you can understand the chain of events? Ten years ago, I was in overwhelm and counseling was the only answer. My divorce, working full time and raising Kat and Adam was all too much for me. Counseling was more of a need than a want. For those of you who don't know, it is not always easy to find a good counselor. Actually, finding a good counselor is like finding the perfect pair of pumps. You need to try them on, see if they are a good fit. Do they make you feel good? Or uncomfortable? Can you be yourself while wearing them? I've been known to lug boxes up and down from storage while wearing the perfect black 3" heeled pumps. That's when you know you own the perfect shoe. It's the same with a counselor. If you can be yourself and not worry about what is about to come out of your mouth, then it's all good.

When you are an exhausted, stressed out single parent, who constantly questions all decisions, finding the perfect counselor is not an easy task. At the time, I was a bit unsure about the counselor I found. She was more of a Birkenstock rather than a 3" black patent leather, stiletto heeled pump. She seemed OK, but I was so emotionally tied in knots she could have been the Gandhi of all counselors and I would have been skeptical. After a couple of sessions, she told me that she thought I was ADHD. She gave me a packet of literature about adult women and ADHD. I went home and told my mother and a friend about her assessment. They both informed me that it was impossible for me to be ADHD. According to my mother, I could not have graduated from U of I with my grade point average and be ADHD. Funny, neither person has psychology degrees, yet it was easier to believe them and be the Queen of Denial. I never went back. Although I did save all the materials she handed me that evening; reading a few articles. They were interesting and I could see myself in them, but it was easier to believe she was a quack than adding anything else to my overfilled plate.

I saved those articles for quite awhile and occasionally looked at them. I eventually saw another counselor who was a rockstar of all counselors. She never came up with this assessment but we were focusing on issues brought about by my trying to move the kids and I to California and the legal battle that ensued - which I lost. I never really thought about the ADHD thing again until about 3 years ago when I met with another counselor. He mentioned that he too thought I was ADHD and gave me a video to look at...which I promptly lost. Freud may have a thing or two to say about that act. The seed that was planted a few years prior was starting to take root. I was less stressed and realized the first counselor may have been right. I found those articles and read them again. They listed my behaviors exactly, but again, I wasn't ready to face this issue; hiding behind my Cleopatra alter ego and denied the possibility. After telling myself I wanted a female counselor, I stopped going.

Then, last summer (which I fondly refer to as the summer from hell) I finally faced the facts and admitted something was very wrong. I couldn't state what it was, but everything around me was blowing up in my face. I was beyond a bit nutty and extremely stressed. I read somewhere that stress exacerbates ADHD behavior. And well last summer I hit the charts on stress. When writing it all out, it seems rather benign, but there was so much more going on than the typical full time job, part time real estate career, 1 teen, 1 teen in training who is a gangsta wannabe, and an aging parent who occasionally gives cantankerous a whole new meaning. Those things are all normal to me - typical day in the life stuff. Besides the mundane, there were other events that I would prefer to not list on line. One regarding Kat gives me hives and tics just thinking me, that issue is hive and tic worthy.

On top of everything else, Kat was flying to the Grand Canyon and her father and I planned an 8th grade graduation party. The week I mailed out the invitations to Kat's party I learned that her father was suddenly financially strapped due stupidity. Although promising to reimburse me at a later date (which I have yet to see), he could not pay for his portion of the party, nor help with Kat's trip to the Grand Canyon. During that same conversation, I also learned that child support was disappearing for an indefinite period of time due to legal issues caused by his stupidity. Although financially strapped, I chose to continue with the party for 60 people.

By then I had already ripped down the wallpaper in our bathroom because I refused to let my "out-laws" see peeling wallpaper the first time they entered our house. While removing wallpaper, chunks of drywall came down as well, so there was more to my quick bathroom renovation than I had planned. Yeah...things were a bit stressful and my behavior was quirky, a little extreme and slightly irrational at best. There are a few people who may suggest other adjectives for my behavior, but I'll stick with quirky and slightly irrational, thankyouverymuch!

While cleaning the garage the week prior to the party, an old friend called. While catching up on families, life, etc., he mentioned that he was recently diagnosed with ADD. As he started describing the symptoms, I pulled up a crate and just plopped. It was if he was describing me. After we hung up, I googled ADD, took a test and - Holy Crap!! I either passed with flying colors, or failed miserably. Choose how you want to look at it. Per the explanation of the test, out of the 75 questions, if my score was over 20, I was probably ADHD. My score was 36! So, the Birkenstock counselor was more of a stiletto black patent leather 3" heeled pump after all. Who new?!

At that point the realization of being ADHD for my entire life finally hit me. Memories from grade school, high school and college came flooding back. The puzzle pieces finally fit and explained so many different experiences and life choices. Soon thereafter, I contacted my doctor, found a new black patent leather, stiletto heeled therapist and have been working on me for the past 7 months. It hasn't been easy, but its all good.

During the next part of this particular journey, a variety of drugs to combat ADHD come into play. This chapter was a roller coaster I never want to ride again. My doctor suggested an experiment of sorts. He was going to prescribe something to me. If in fact I was ADHD, I would know immediately. If I didn't notice a difference, there was something else going on and we would proceed accordingly.

You need to understand, I have never been a chemical kind of girl. In fact, I remember a very exasperated obstetrician trying to explain to me when pregnant with Kat that taking Albuteral during an asthma attack would not harm the baby. Finally in shear frustration he yelled, "If you don't take your inhaler you won't breathe. If you don't breathe, you will die. If you die, the baby dies. UNDERSTAND?!" Talk about your bedside manner. Somebody needed a nap. I understood. I was just trying to explain that I don't like chemicals. In his defense, that may have also been the same appointment where I naively asked if I could donate blood while pregnant. He was definitely worried about my common sense at that point and pitied the poor child I was carrying.

So, back to ADHD chemicals. The fact that a little pill could make me more focused was intriguing. The fact that it was a prescribed amphetamine was a little frightening. I really wasn't sure how I felt about controlled substances. To be honest, the question still looms, was I excited about being more focused, or of the added benefit of losing weight? The idea of taking a daily dose of something still bothered me. I still don't take my asthma inhaler until I'm about ready to cough up a lung, so I wasn't sure how this would play out.

My first attempt at this whole chemical experiment started with Adderall. My friend who was recently diagnosed took it with no problems. I was definitely ready for this little one month trial. Honestly, after just a few days I felt more in control of my thoughts, actions and emotions...something that has been seriously lacking for...oh, about my entire life. The lights were on and somebody was actually home. Then the question arose, was this little controlled substance really working, or because I wanted the outcome to be a specific way, was I mentally tricking myself into thinking it was working? I don't have an answer. I just know I felt as if I was a new and improved me.

Many of my friends were/are skeptical, but I was now more than positive about my assessment. The only snarky problem that bothered me was my aversion to chemicals. I was grateful for the fact it made me focused and clearer of thought. I worried about the effect of this daily pill on my body and began investigating homeopathic options after reading the insert the pharmacist gave me. One has to wonder when one reads the following warning on one's prescription, "may cause heart attack, stroke, or sudden death".

Now this is an interesting choice to make...spacey, ditsy, disorganized and messed up relationships for the rest of my life, or sudden death where I don't have to worry about any of the above.

Hmmmmm...tough call.

My other thought was, what about alcohol? I enjoy a beer, glass of wine, or my frozen Grey Goose on occasion. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that no one would have made it out of the 60's without combining amphetamines with alcohol once in a while. I was definitely careful though.

Sadly, it was all short lived. My daily dose of amphetamines caused a "slight" problem in the breathing category. Being asthmatic, I am always conscious of the importance of breathing and how the lack thereof makes you feel slightly on edge. Adderall worked perfectly on making me focused and feeling like I wasn't flying by the seat of my pants. I was thrilled about the weight loss thing too. Bonus!!! But for some reason it also made me feel as if I had 10 bricks sitting on my back and chest. I was soon literally gulping for air. Not good. After an EKG, we verified that my heart was not misbehaving. My doctor gave me the EKG print out which I saved to prove to the kids that although sometimes questionable, I truly do have a heart.

One drug!

Little did I know how much of a guinea pig I was going to become. Strattera was the next attempt. It was explained that this would not have the immediate effects of Adderall. It was initially used as an anti-depressant, but they later learned it helped with ADHD. This drug takes a minimum of 2-3 weeks to take effect. OK. Let's give it a whirl.

According to Maggie, I was still me, but a much calmer me. Not so anxious and a little more relaxed. But the side-effects were not for me. Let's just say, I have now seen menopause and it ain't pretty. Sharp spikes in blood pressure, hot flashes (which are not fun in the middle of August) and an aversion to alcohol. OK, alcohol aversion is not menopause related, but it wasn't fun either. My counselor explained that with Strattera, alcohol's effects are more than doubled. Not the fun effects - feeling good and silly. The bad hangover effects. I was informed of this after drinking double margaritas that hit me like a ton of bricks. I haven't been that hungover since my freshman year in college when introduced to everclear punch. Grudgingly, I could live an alcohol free life if need be, but the blood pressure and hot flashes on top of no alcohol had me checking into drug #3, Ritalin, which did absolutely nothing.

Drugs were beginning to look like the men in my life.
They come and go so quickly!

I so want to go back to Adderall. Really, how important is breathing? It was the first time in my life I felt focused. You know, God really has a seriously warped sense of humor. Teases me with something and then takes it away. He/She did a lot of that in 2007 and made me very crabby. we are on Concerta. This drug was tested in November and December, my absolutely craziest time of the year. Initially, I couldn't tell if it was working because I was moving 24/7. I was so busy at the office that nothing would keep me focused. Now that things have calmed down, I do feel as if it is working. I would still rather find a homeopathic remedy, but most of the ones you read about stimulate the brain (like caffeine), but they don't stimulate the correct part of the brain. I have a website or two I need to investigate further. But for now, Concerta and I are partners.

Kat is very similar to me and I highly suspect she too is ADHD. I should have her tested, but do not want to introduce her to drugs. The side-effects on teens are even scarier than the "may cause heart attack, stroke, or sudden death." Some list suicide, hearing voices, and other bizarre behavior. She's a teen and has her own quirks as it is. Besides, Kat has had a rough enough year. I'd like to wait for a bit.

The two of us do laugh though, because in the past we were both easily distracted and when talking we bounced all over the place. I still do on occasion, but not nearly as much. She can be all over the map. Our code phrases have become, "Look at the pretty bird.", or "Ohhhh, shiny." Usually said when the other has drifted so far off the conversation, we haven't a clue where they are leading. It may sound ridiculous, but it usually is cause for giggle fits. Kat could be talking about one thing, drift to another, then another, and I'll say, "Oh, look, it's shiny!" and Kat snap out of where ever and start to laugh. I'm currently trying to instill some of the behaviors I am learning to see if they will help her.

What a journey this was. And why did it take until I was 46 to figure it all out? Maybe because it's not the end result, but the journey that matters.

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