By: Crissie Miller Kirby
This afternoon, as I was taking a few minutes to peruse MSNBC, a tag line near the bottom of the screen caught my eye. “Common Symptoms of ADD and ADHD in Women,” it said. I followed the link to a slideshow prepared and presented by Healthcentral.com.
While I won’t chronicle all 19 symptoms that HealthCentral enumerates, it is a very shocking, yet humbling, list of symptoms for me to read through.
As many of you may recall, my oldest son was diagnosed with ADHD last year, shortly after the start of 1st grade. After recognizing many of the same behaviors in my youngest son, he, too, was diagnosed with ADHD this past summer. Much like the color of our eyes and our full-grown height, ADHD is caused by our genetics rather than by bad parenting or environmental factors. Although he was never officially diagnosed, I have spent a lot of time “blaming” my ex-husband for passing along that little bit of DNA.
Unfortunately, I’ve had to eat a little bit of crow in the last three months because in August of this year, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD. This is why I state that reading through the list of symptoms is extremely humbling. It is also overwhelming.
For 35 years I have struggled with many of the symptoms listed. While I was a very good student in school and never got into trouble, I realize now that I had developed what many mental health professionals call “hyperfocus.” School was a safe haven for me growing up and it was all that I cared about. More than dating, more than sports, more than parties and hanging out; good grades fueled my very existence. By many accounts, I was the nerd, the geek, the party pooper. And, looking back, it is true. Even in college, when even the most straight-laced teen/young adult cuts loose, I didn’t. I recently found a school planner from my senior year of college; it was filled with due dates and notes about when certain papers were due or when I needed to study for certain tests. One of my roommates recently reminded me about how I would refrain from a lot of late night antics because I had to get up early for an 8 o’clock class, even though I had long ago finished the homework or studying for the class.
Unfortunately, for many people who have ADHD or have children with ADHD, there comes the challenge of also facing the social stigmas. You must be a bad parent if you can’t control your children, which is closely followed by you must be a bad parent if you medicate your child to help them control their behavior. You must be unorganized at home, work or school. You must be a slacker, or you don’t care, or you are just a poor wife, parent, employee, or student. All of these labels create major problems for those who suffer, especially for women, and for those who remain undiagnosed.
Society has women convinced that we should be able to be all and do all. For many women, those goals are lofty; for a woman with ADHD, those goals and expectations can be extremely taxing and can help fuel major bouts of depression and anxiety. The best example I’ve come across is that for a women with ADHD, life is like a juggling act: when there are only 3 balls to juggle, life might rock along okay, but as life starts throwing a few more balls into the mix, we cannot cope or function and the balls get dropped and forgotten.
Many of you have actually followed along as I have struggled to juggle some of the balls in my life: school, work, single parenting, disorganization, and struggles with my weight. Almost every single one of my struggles has some background intermingled with ADHD. When I feel bored (mostly because I get overwhelmed with what needs to be done), I eat. I have spent my entire life (and I do not exaggerate – ask my parents what my bedroom looked like growing up, as a child, a middle schooler, and even a teenager) thinking that I was just an overly sentimental packrat, or worse, a hoarder. The truth was I do have some tendencies, but I actually struggle with completing the organizational tasks needed to maintain a neat and orderly home. This is made worse by the fact that both of my children have ADHD and I lack the necessary skills to properly model and teach organization.
Much like Superman fears kryptonite, doing laundry is my archenemy because it never ceases and there never seems to be a “project completion” of which I can be proud.
On rare occasions, I find my “mojo” and I get started on grand organizational projects. However, I rarely estimate the correct amount of time needed to complete said project, and the excitement quickly runs out, leaving a house full of unfinished projects and half organized rooms.
Growing up, my MO was to shove absolutely everything I could under the bed or in the closet to lend the appearance of a clean bedroom because I honestly didn’t know how to deal with it. Although I am a 35-year-old woman who is a mother and was married for 10 years, quite frankly, I still struggle with this type of “solution” to the mess.
Even writing this article was a chore for me. I have struggled long and hard about writing it because it exposes many of my weaknesses. Having finally completed my Masters degree program in August, I am currently in search of a full time job. However, I know that a potential employer/supervisor may uncover this article and view my open admission of struggling with certain organizational tasks as an admission that I cannot function in a certain type of environment. But, my desire to really help other women in my situation outweighs the fact that someone might judge me without taking the opportunity to see my positive qualities and attributes.
At the very core of all of this is the fact that ADHD is a real mental illness that affects millions of adults and children. Unfortunately, our society still struggles with the acceptance of mental illnesses as true illnesses that need and deserve to be taken seriously, treated and openly discussed so that others needn’t walk the same path we have walked.
Although I champion the acceptance of mental illness, my own ADHD diagnosis was hard to swallow at first, but it was also a relief to know that I was not a bad parent, a bad employee or a poor student. It was also a relief to know that with medication and additional therapy (the most effective treatment combination for ADHD), I won’t always have to worry about the show “Hoarders” showing up at my door. It has given me hope that I can become a more effective parent and, hopefully, break some of the cycle of ADHD symptoms with which the boys and I struggle daily.