Thursday, July 17, 2014

My attention span and I are not friends.

Honestly, it's a miracle this article was completed at all.

It's a real thing, it's a normal thing, it's an OK thing. Attention Deficit Disorder, more commonly known as ADD (or ADHD) is not just an overly diagnosed excuse for kids who have copious amounts of energy. It is not just something for college kids to fake in front of the campus doc to get a little pick-me-up during finals week. It doesn't only affect children. And there is nothing wrong with having it.

I was first diagnosed my freshman year of high school. I had no idea I was even being assessed. I had no trouble during class (except running my mouth when I had friends nearby or being a little bit of a space cadet some days) and I had no trouble sitting in one place for hours at a time (hello, TV marathons). I never completed my homework on time, if at all, but what kid really wants to anyways?

However, my grades did not reflect how much information I was actually retaining. I had no idea of how frequently I lost my train of thought mid-conversation, let alone while listening to a class lecture. When I had a thought or idea, I'd rush to blurt it out before I forgot, or because I had forgotten someone else was already talking. I didn't understand that when I interrupted friends to change the subject, it was really because something they said made me think of a related story, and then one related to that, and then a though about the second story, and then a question about that thought, and then I'd blurt out the answer to that question my friends think comes from somewhere out in left field. I didn't understand that I could go from station A on that train of thought to station Q in about 2.35 seconds, and that not everyone constantly thinks that way (which I now know is called "racing thoughts").

I knew I was impatient, but I didn't see that the severity of my impatience was leading to pretty significant anxiety. I didn't see that my impatience and apparent uninhibited lack of self control were not just vices, they were symptoms. I've always procrastinated, but I chalked that up to being lazy (as did my teachers, as early as 3rd grade). I hated big projects, but I hadn't yet learned that breaking them down, asking for help, and setting only small goals could help me at least start.

When the school staff brought my mom in for a meeting and put a name to my "extreme impulsivity and laziness," intervention steps were taken and I soared.

Disclaimer: Many people struggle with above issues I have identified as symptoms of an underlying larger problem in myself. I was individually assessed by professionals (and again in college and adulthood) based on the frequency, consistency, and severity of my issues in my personal, professional, and social life. This is not an extensive or complete list of symptoms of ADD, or even a complete list of my own symptoms. If you or someone you know can identify with any or all of these traits, it does NOT mean that person is also suffering from ADD, nor does it mean that because this person do have similar traits and you know he/she does not have ADD that must mean I am exaggerating or faking or was wrongly diagnosed. This information should come from a professional on an individual basis.

It comes as a surprise to some that medicine does not always provide a "quick fix." Many medications have vast and dangerous side effects, not to mention being expensive. It helped me at first, but after time off and starting again, the results were very different. I have recently begun cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been monumental in helping my to understand my disorder, how it really affects me & those around me, and how I can cope in a fast-paced, highly stimulating culture.

I know that it may look silly to have reminders posted in the doorway of what I need to remember to take with me before I leave, my nighttime routine listed in front of me, to-do lists and reminders EVERYWHERE, and always at least one huge project left perpetually untouched. I'm not afraid to ask for help when I need it and I am most aware of what I can take on at a time. So what if I can't sit facing a TV or busy walkway at a restaurant or bar. I'm OK with having a calendar attached to my palm at all times. It's all right that finishing a book is my equivalent to running a 10k. There's nothing wrong with the fact that sometimes I have to ask someone to repeat things because I get distracted (or try to focus too hard on listening and then get lost by their facial features, how I should be more focused, if they can tell I'm not listening, what they think I'm thinking about, etc).

It's still a daily struggle to slow my thoughts, wait my turn, build a routine, or organize anything. But, the first step to overcoming the obstacles is to admit that they are there. It's an uphill battle, but I've got this (...broken down into smaller steps, organized with outside assistance, on reminders posted everywhere, with my accountability man by my side... and I forgot what else).

My name is Justine, and I have Adult ADD.

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