When I found out that I had Celiac Disease, it was a relief. I had experienced what can only be described as a terribly violent stomach for YEARS. I had developed other nasty side effects, and when I had a name for what was going on, it was... amazing. Sure, I had to stop eating gluten, but that was a small price to pay to feel so much better. (And, honestly, gluten free options are so much tastier now, although still half the size and twice the price, grrr.)
Going through fertility treatments, I finally got an answer to my horrifically painful and irregular periods. I had been on the Pill since I was 18, which had helped with some of it, but throughout adolescence I was constantly having problems with bleeding through my pants, not knowing when my period would come (because it wasn't 28 or 30 days, it was at times as many as 180), horrific cramps and bloating. I felt like a freak. I was embarrassed that I couldn't handle this thing that happened to literally everyone with a uterus and ovaries. I was misunderstood by doctors and my family, who didn't have a history of irregular periods. So to find out that I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and that everything that had happened had a name and a reason, it was a relief. I even found out that my need to wax my Wolverine chops and my ever-existent-despite-running-track lower belly pooch were related to this disorder that unfortunately has lifelong health implications.
So imagine my surprise when I realized, at FORTY-SEVEN, that so many things about myself that I struggle with and have struggled with throughout my ENTIRE LIFE -- things I thought made me weird, and messy, and annoying, and spacey (worse when others saw me that way) -- were actually... ADHD.
How did this happen?
Well, I was sitting in the living room a little over a week ago, messing around with my phone, when I saw a reel on Facebook. It was by Cherry ADHD and titled "8 Weird Things I Do as a Woman With ADHD." I'm linking it here, but in case you don't wish to visit the book of face, here they are:
Un-numbered Intro: walking into things OMG all the bruises all the time. Furniture, doorknobs, cabinet pulls, missing the doorway partway, walls...
1) getting super irritated when I'm interrupted Yes, always, although I am also likely to interrupt you all the time when I have a thought pop up.
2) searching for things that I've just had or that are right in front of me (or even in my hands!) ALL the time. I've even tried to open a house lock with a car key, when car keys existed. I have accused Bryce of hiding something on me that was literally in my hands. I can lose pretty much anything.
3) often sighing and randomly singing words and sentences Okay, Bryce is constantly calling me out for sighing audibly more than "normal." And I live life like I'm in a freaking musical. I sing EVERYTHING. I also have this weird tic where I sing a little snippet of something that sounds like a mix of "nana nana nana nana nana nana nana nana BATMAN" and the theme from either James Bond or Mission Impossible. No words, just a weird scat-like humming that happens most frequently at school. I'm sure it's not annoying at all.
4) accidentally walking around with t-rex arms THIS was the one that made me go hmmmmm the most. I did not know this was a thing. But I do it and then see the evidence in photos or videos and am like, WHAT'S UP WITH MY ARMS? To see it on someone else? Mind. blown.
5) feeling restless but tired Always. I can be exhausted and wound up at the same time. I am super tired from all the racing my thoughts do in my head.
6) enjoying playing with sensory toys a little too much Ummmm, yes. I got a PopSocket for my phone and I cannot stop playing with it. Pop out, pop in. Pop out, pop in. Also I have a fidget bin in my classroom and I love messing with the pop-its and the connected flippy cube thingies, and I love those tiny magnetic balls you can make shapes with, that, incidentally, a student introduced me to. A student who stayed after school with me on Fridays saw that bin and was like "wait, you have these? On purpose? FOR STUDENTS? That's SO COOL!" Huh.
7) feeling super guilty and stuck when I'm sitting down and not doing anything OMG yes. I am horrible at "laying low." Like, cannot do it unless I end up taking a nap. Which in surgery recovery is a necessary daily thing but I wait until I have begun system shut down to do it.
8) forgetting I have friends for periods of time I can definitely self-isolate.
So, it was weird. But again, the weirdest was the T-Rex arms, because see below in stills from my National Board renewal video:
Oh. My. GAWD, what IS that? I had no idea it was a sign of something.
So what happened next was I showed that reel to Bryce, and he was like, HMMMMM. Truth be told, he's said for a couple of years, "Are you SURE you don't have ADHD?" and I thought he was just being "funny." But also this year I had a high percentage of students with ADHD and one said, "Mrs. T, you know you act an awful lot like YOU have ADHD." and I laughed it off, because I'D KNOW THAT BY NOW IF I DID, RIGHT? I mean, I often call myself a "hot mess express," but ADHD? No way.
Bryce brought up a video that led me to a channel called How to ADHD, which I cannot recommend enough. The particular video that we watched though was "ADHD In Women," and by the time we finished watching it I was ugly-crying.
EVERYTHING rang true. At one point, I turned to Bryce and sobbed, "You're the only reason I don't live in a trash heap, aren't you?" Yup. Unchecked, I am chaos. My desk at work is evidence of this. My desk at home is evidence. The bags of mail that I collect and then hide because I'll "take care of it later" are evidence. I hate filing. I have a photo of my inbox in my office at my first job in publishing, and it is a stack of paperwork about 2.5 feet high, with a large green bowl on top of it for some reason. In high school, I shoved laundry in my closet and just kept pulling out new clothes and would wait to do laundry, and at one point there was (ew) MOLD growing on the floor under my pile of unwashed laundry. I am deeply ashamed of these things. It takes a LOT of effort to appear physically organized, and I am kept accountable by Bryce. I mean, "I promise to make pile management a priority" is verbatim IN MY WEDDING VOWS. I am very mentally organized when it comes to things I am interested in. But, I flit from thing to thing. And physical organization? I need major systems.
I sent my therapist the videos (because I went down a major rabbit hole, and then Bryce was like "you're hyperfocusing on your ADHD," and then I realized that OMG, how I approached infertility and adoption was 100% hyperfocusing. OMG it's EVERYWHERE). She called me and asked me to explain, and I basically had to admit that I had compartmentalized her. I had shared all this stuff about my grief and trauma and PTSD from infertility, and adoption, and my first marriage, and some stress management, but I had left a lot of these things out. Because I hide it all. After a long conversation where I talked about the things that go with the videos and how much I had hidden, she was like, Oh yes. You most definitely have this. So she gave me a referral for an evaluation.
Bryce was wonderful, and was like, "I love you, and I don't want you to think that you have to change anything about who you are!" and then I started crying again and was like, "but keeping everything together and pretending to be a more typical human that doesn't have to compensate for all these things is FUCKING EXHAUSTING."
And it's true. I am tired all the time, because things that come naturally to some people are insanely hard for me. I stay at work late in part because when everyone is gone, I am much more able to focus in on what I need to do. There are fewer distractions. Fridays I've typically stayed until 5:30, and the custodial staff always gives me hard time and rib me about "don't you have something better to do? Doesn't your husband miss you?" and the answer is, "I get SO much done when everyone is gone." And now I know why.
Here's one last video that I watched that made me go AHA:
There's a lot to unpack for myself here. But also, it's a relief. All the things that I felt shame and that caused me a great deal of anxiety are because my brain is different. Not better, not worse, just different. Now I can learn more about how my special brain works, and why the systems I've somewhat unknowingly set up for myself work for me, and what other systems I can utilize to make my life easier. I am interested in trying medication because I wonder if it will be like putting my glasses on for the first time, but for now I can search for more tools for my toolbox.
Lastly, I recently had a phone chat with a friend I've known since college who lives out of state, and I shared this revelation with her. I said, "I just figured out I have ADHD!" and her response?
"OMG, you didn't KNOW? I always thought you KNEW you had ADHD and you just hadn't figured out your medication!"
We actually had a term for my ability to be really really smart and really really spacey at the same time -- MindChamp. And now, I know that MindChamp is just another word for my ADHD. She even said, "I wish we would just call it that all the time, because maybe it would take some stigma away."
I am so relieved that I am not deficient. I am not "failing at life," as I say on repeat frequently. Something is not fundamentally wrong with who I am. I am not broken. I have a different brain, and now I can learn how to optimize my strengths and accommodate for my struggles, how to set up systems. I can basically be my own special education teacher. I'm glad I made this discovery, even though it was insanely emotional and tore down the walls I build around the core of myself that is that girl with mold in her closet, now I know. And there's so much power in starting from knowledge, even when it took 47 years to get to this epiphany.