Growing up like this

What if I am a little autistic? How could I have gotten to be in my thirties without a diagnosis? I have some thoughts about that.

First, I was a smart kid. I’m not saying that I’m not smart now. But when I was a kid, I excelled at school. Math was the best, but I even did pretty well in spelling, reading, science, anything that grabbed my interest. I was a quick study. So when people said things like, “Don’t do that, that’s rude,” I learned not to do that. I learned the rules. I learn the metaphors. I learned not to take everything literally. I remember watching people’s mouths when they spoke. Sometimes I still have trouble understanding what someone is saying if I don’t. And I remember being told to look people in the eye. I did my best to follow this rule, but I also got confused by it. Which eye was I supposed to look at? Going back and forth was distracting. So I started looking at the bridge of their nose. By this point, who knows what they’re saying to me? Doesn’t matter. I look like I’m paying attention, right? So by being a smart kid, I learned to look and act as close to normal as I could. Changing schools many times over the years didn’t help. I have a feeling that a few teachers and administrators started to get a sense that I was different, but then we would change schools, move to another state, or whatever, and I would get lost again in the shuffle.

The second reason is my looks. I was a cute kid. Adolescence was a very awkward time for me. Glasses and puberty came together in a very unfortunate way, totally demolishing what self-esteem I may have had before. I easily disappeared behind a book during this time. But luckily, by my senior year, I started to emerge from my ugly duckling phase as a pretty decent looking swan. I was thin, a decent height, with muscular legs, and by then I was wearing contact lenses, so no more gawky glasses. As a young adult, I was quite attractive. I could get through the social scene pretty effortlessly on my looks and goofy sense of humor. If I stayed quiet, I wouldn’t look too weird. If I had a couple drinks, my behavior could be dismissed as a result of my inebriation. Once I was comfortable around people, I could get loud and boisterous, but that was forgiven as well. Pretty girls can get away with a lot.

I dropped out of college and met my first husband. I got pregnant. I had my son and got married, and later had my daughter. My marriage was a disaster. He was only with me because of my looks, then only because of the kids. We drove each other crazy, and not in a good way. Depression, rage, suspicion, there were a lot of feelings that I could not cope with. And he could not cope with my seemingly irrational behavior. He lied to me every day since the beginning. My naivety was to blame for the first couple of years, and after that, I was tied to him by our marriage and our son. Divorce, custody fights, and more lies. But I had finally learned that he could not be trusted. Now his words have no value to me whatsoever. I cannot believe anything he says.

I’ve been divorced now for ten years. A decade since I put my foot down and stood up for myself. I have come a long way. Another marriage, two more kids, a diagnosis for ADHD, which explained a lot to me. And I started school again.

But working on a psych degree is another learning process that has brought me to a realization that I never expected to make. I could be a little autistic. In fact, I see Autism in many of my family members. And I don’t think that I am jumping the gun. I am watching and paying attention. I am learning. I am researching. I am fixating, the way I tend to do. And I do say something to my husband every now and then. Sometimes he blows it off, but sometimes it sinks in a little. He brought up what I had said about his dad a few days after I said it. I guess I’ve got his gears turning as well.

I’ve stopped worrying about my looks. I dress to be comfortable and try not to look too odd. I remind myself to shower and brush my teeth. I continue to learn, but I don’t force myself to socialize. Socializing is very anxiety-inducing for me. It isn’t worth the meltdown. I’m learning to move forward. I’m really bad about living in the moment, and I’m trying hard to set goals for myself. I still need help in a lot of areas, but I can accept that. I’m a work in progress.

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Patterns

A person on the Autism spectrum is usually pretty good at spotting patterns. In fact, it’s kind of required.

But for a person who doesn’t have an Autism diagnosis, always seeing patterns becomes a problem for others. It might mean picking up on a seemingly random pattern of clues and making some wild claim. Maybe it means thinking that your liver is failing, or that the neighbors are drug dealers, or that everyone in your family is a little bit Aspie. Now for someone without a formal diagnosis, this person sounds like a nutcase.

But what if they thought they might have Autism? Would it just be another case of, “She’s not getting enough attention”? Or could it mean that self-diagnosing is actually another sign, another trait of the Autistic personality?

From what I have learned so far about Autism, Aspergers, and adult/self-diagnosis is that, in the ASD community, self-diagnosis is pretty widely accepted just as quickly as a diagnosis made by a professional. They already understand. They know you’ve been seeing patterns your whole life. They understand that it is a talent that can be a blessing and a curse. They understand that picking up on patterns can mean seeing connections in things that nobody else can see, but it can also mean seeing connections that aren’t really there.

Imagine if every time your mom made you wear your rubber boots, the lady across the street carried an umbrella. That doesn’t mean that wearing your boots makes the umbrella come out. It doesn’t mean that seeing the umbrella meant you had to wear your boots, even if that’s exactly what your mom said. Sometimes we can’t make sense of the connections. We can’t make sense of a pattern, so we try to understand the best way we can. And sometimes that means having an all-out fight against wearing the rubber shoes, just to see if the lady still has her umbrella when you wear your sandals.

If your child had a meltdown like that, for seemingly no good reason, you might think they had lost their mind. But if they had been diagnosed with Autism, or formerly, Aspergers, then at least you would understand that their take on the world might be a little different than your own.

But what do we do when we are an adult, stumbling through life, trying like hell to amount to something, and barely making it day to day? What do we do when we have never had a diagnosis (or have some other diagnosis), and yet we see all the signs? We can pick up on the pattern, even if others can’t. Our family and friends don’t know enough about ASD to be able to form an adequate opinion on the subject, and we can’t quite express all of the pieces of the puzzle to the doctor for them to make a diagnosis.

Being diagnosed isn’t about the label, even though it kind of is. It is about being able to put a name with all the little problems that add up in your life to something that keeps you from ever feeling like a normal, functioning adult. It’s about understanding. It’s about being able to show people that you aren’t just a selfish, lazy, no-good, stuck-up, pedantic. . . . Well, you get the idea. It’s about giving them something substantial, something recognizable, a lens that they can use to look back on all of your failures, and all of your obscure talents, and all your quirks, and to realize that maybe you really have been doing the best you can. Maybe when you withdraw to another room, it’s not because you don’t like company, it’s just because sometimes you need a break.

Sometimes you just need a break.

Sometimes I see patterns like that in myself. Sometimes I see the patterns in others. There are a handful of old classmates and coworkers that I have decided must be on the spectrum. Partly, I feel like that’s why we related so well. But within my family, both in my home and extended family on my mom’s side, I see a lot of Asperger traits.

I have four kids. The youngest is in developmental therapy. There is something going on, and Autism is definitely a possibility. He’s nine months old. The next youngest is two and a half. She lines her toys up. She walks on her toes and is learning how to read. She loves other kids, but mostly because they have toys she hasn’t played with yet. She clicks her tongue, talks about herself in the third person, has never had separation anxiety, and has never met a puzzle she couldn’t master. She will be three in a few months and refuses to potty train. But hey, she’s two.

My oldest didn’t talk until he was two and a half. He didn’t point at things until he was over a year old. At five, he couldn’t figure out how to pedal a bike. He hates getting water in his face, so learning to swim was a challenge. He’s fifteen now, and I see him drumming, tapping, wiggling his fingers, and biting his nails. He has always hated brushing his teeth because it tickles his mouth. But he’s fifteen, so that’s to be expected.

My second oldest is ADHD incarnate. She never stops moving. She initiates conflict constantly. She makes straight A’s but cannot figure out how to clean her room. Just the idea stresses her out and throws her into a meltdown. Everything revolves around her. She could sing songs before she was two, and she was fully potty trained before two. She screamed for the first three months of her life, and I could never figure out why. At one and a half, she started waking with night terrors. At the same age, she used to bring me my cordless phone before it started ringing. It was like ESP, but I think she was picking up on some sound that it made that no one else could hear. She never met a stranger. She’s a handful. But she’s twelve, so, you know.

My husband. He has OCD. Not in an actual “disability” capacity, but enough for me to pick up on. He fixates (we all fixate) on things. He’ll notice something in the middle of eating dinner, and the next thing I know he’s digging a hole in the backyard (or something else totally random) while his dinner sits and gets cold. He’s dyslexic. He obsesses over rules. The entrance and exit doors at the grocery store, and the one-way lanes in the parking lot, are both a huge source of stress when we go shopping. He can’t let things go. The school zone sign that doesn’t flash, and only says “when children are present” always sets him off on a rant.

But hey, he’s a man, so. . . .

I have a terrible time expressing all my concerns when someone asks me straight out. From here on out, I have to keep a list for each of us. I have to make a note of every sign I see, so that no one can tell me I’m overreacting, or that I’m exaggerating. My youngest may be the first to be diagnosed, but I’m starting to think that he will be far from the last.

Am I overreacting? Possibly. I won’t deny that it’s possible. But is it possible that something that is genetically linked can show up in a group of people who are genetically related? Sure. Is it likely that two undiagnosed Aspies fell in love and stared a family? Sure. So am I crazy? Probably. But I might also be a tad Autistic as well.

Hypochondriac, or just finally understanding?

I hate my hair. 

A lot of girls (boys, men, women, fill-in-the-blank) hate their hair. But they hate the way it flips up on the side, or how curly it is, or how straight. They hate how thin or thick it is. They hate how greasy it is, or they hate the color. 

I hate my hair. 

I hate having hair. If I wasn’t so self conscious about my appearance, I’d have shaved it all off years ago. I hate that hair grows out of my head and subsequently tickles my face, my ears, my neck. 

I hate being tickled. 

When I was a kid, I would cry if anyone tickled me. I hated it. I still hate it. I will hurt you if you try to tickle me. You may as well hit me, because I will hit you back either way. 

I can’t sit still. 

In fact, sitting up is so uncomfortable, I usually recline. I lay on the couch or in bed, lean back in the recliner, if I’m standing, I’m probably leaning. Sitting upright is so uncomfortable that I cannot sit still. I try to cross my legs, but after a few short minutes, I feel like the circulation has been cut completely off in my legs. Watching a movie at the theater is uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to movies. But I can’t get comfortable. I almost always have to put my feet up on the back of he seat in front of me, so I try to make sure I don’t sit right behind anyone. But mostly, I just don’t sit still. 

I have social anxiety. 

I’m great, socially, as long as the mood of those around me is good. I’m a wonderful mimic. But if they are quiet, or aloof, or awkward themselves, then I am clueless. If I embarrass myself, I feel physical pain. I react very energetically. If it’s laughing, crying, shouting in anger, it’s never subtle. I can’t suppress my reactions very easily. It takes an enormous effort. 

I have social anxiety. 

My mom used to say I was shy, but it was paralyzing. I recently came across the term “selective mutism”.  I could not speak in front of strangers. The anxiety it caused made me cry if someone tried to force me to say hello. 

But I was smart. 

My first grade teacher told my parents that he was certain he could give me college level work and test me a week later and I would ace it. He asked me how to spell “cousin” and “tomorrow” as though he knew I could. And I did. Perhaps he had made sure that I had read those words in the days before he asked me. I loved math and science. Algebra was like working out a puzzle. It was fun, and the answer was definite, it couldn’t change. I struggled with other subjects. I mean, I was still in the 90+ percentile in every subject, but reading and English were not my strongest by far. 

But I loved to read. 

I read Charlotte’s Web when I was seven or eight. The Time Machine and The Invisible Man when I was ten. When I was twelve, I discovered the world of Pern, and began devouring the works of Anne McCaffrey. Her world was amazing. There were dragons and lords, and dragon-like fire lizards. And the dragons had a telepathic bond with their riders that was so strong that it lasted their lifetime, and to lose a dragon or rider partner was enough to cause the instant, tragic suicide by the survivor. The characters in her world were so wonderfully written. Some children felt different and didn’t fit in in their feudal home, until they were “Searched” by the dragon riders, and presented as candidates at a dragon hatching. They found their place by finding a life-long friend, and found their purpose by becoming the defenders of their world. 

They found their place. And their power. 

I’m finally back in school. You know that thing where medical students start diagnosing themselves with the diseases that they learn about in med school? Well, I’ve always been a bit of a hypochondriac. I was floored when I was diagnosed with ADHD. I had joked that my idiosyncrasies were a little “ADD”, but I never truly considered that as a possibility. It was a joke. But then I examined my life, all the way back, and it all made sense. 

I’m a Psychology major.

I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety. Then I learned that they could have been caused by ADHD. But now I’m learning about something I never studied before. I’ve known people with kids who were diagnosed. I have worked with very awkward adults who had been diagnosed. But I never honestly thought that I might be on the autism spectrum. 

Until now. 

Is it because I’m a hypochondriac who happen to be studying psychology? Or is it because of the way I can’t focus on what I’m doing if my shoes are wet, or if the light is flickering, or if someone is wearing strong perfume? Is it because I can’t meet people on my own? I tend to “put myself out there” and wait for others to approach me. It worked better when I was younger and more attractive. Now it just makes me look like the eccentric lady that no one wants to get stuck in conversation with. 

Is it Apserger’s?

I’ve been learning about it. I’ve been reading and taking tests. But I don’t know if I’m just answering like an Aspie because I have some knowledge, if I’m projecting, if I’m mimicking. I’ve never felt right just being me, and I tend to try to blend. Sometimes it’s evident in the way I speak. Sometimes I change my speech to match the tone, inflection, regional dialect, even the accent of those around me. Is that what I’m doing when I take the test? Or is that another symptom? Who am I really?

I think my mom could be Aspie. My problems might stem from being raised by someone who isn’t “normal”.  It’s laughable. I’ve never thought I was normal, but I often played it off as being okay, because I wasn’t boring. At least not when I’m comfortable, around people I know and like. But mostly I stay home. I don’t visit friends. I sometimes invite them over, because it’s less stressful than leaving home. 

I wear my heart on my sleeve. 

If I’m in a good mood, I tend to bubble over. If I’m stressed, I snap and tear into those around me. If I’m sad, I don’t do anything. If I’m tired or hungry, look out. And if I don’t like someone, I find it very hard to be civil or pretend that I don’t have a problem with them. And I don’t understand why/how other people do. 

Am I too analytical?

That’s what Dr. Ortíz told me. She wasn’t my doctor, she was my boss. It was right after I told someone they were lighting the candles on the cake wrong. The way he was doing it, he could have burned himself. 

I have short-term obsessions. 

When I was younger it might have been a boy, or dolphins, or a book, or some interesting thing I had learned about or experienced. I would be obsessed. For a while. Then it would be unimportant again, as a new obsession took its place. But I never forgot the details. 

I remember the stupidest things. 

The dumbest things. 

But I can remember things that I learned, that helped me in school. Not that the parts of the cell will ever come in handy. Except while I’m in school. 

I was always good at school. 

Well, mostly. I was great at school before junior high and high school. Then I was just pretty good. The closer I got to graduation, the more anxiety I had. Independence was scary. I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I still struggle. And I got a couple of D’s along the way. There was one in a science class because I couldn’t understand why we were given an assignment, so I resisted it, and it was a large part of my grade. Then later in Calculus. I knew the algebra like the back of my hand. But most of the other students struggled. I would get so frustrated that the teacher was teaching what these students should have already known. So I would read my book. Anne McCaffrey, Dean Koontz, Stephen King… When the part of class came to learn calculus, I was lost in my fictional world, where the other students’ incompetence couldn’t stress me. I dropped that class the next semester. 

I had a full ride scholarship to college. 

I got a 30 on my ACT. It took me less than a year to drop out. I quit school two more times since then. That was before the ADHD diagnosis. This is my last chance to finish school. 

Could I have Asperger’s? 

Am I overreacting, like my husband thinks? Am I onto something? My therapist is still warming up to the idea. She’s more interested in why I think I need a diagnosis. I need it to understand. To make others understand. To help protect my overly delicate psyche in the future. To learn techniques to keep myself from overloading. To keep myself from having meltdowns. To protect my family from my wrath by helping us all see the triggers. To help myself set goals and find a career that is a good fit. To make connections. To make friends. To learn. I need a diagnosis so that when I look at myself, I don’t see a hot mess, barely struggling to get by, but a woman who has done very well, considering being undiagnosed. To heal. 

I gots a J O B

Well, I guess I was on a roll for a while, but as usual, I faltered. But it’s okay. I’ve been busy. On March 3rd, I started a new job. It doesn’t feel like a job, which is why I enjoy it so much, and I really don’t consider it a job, since I can be my own boss and make my own hours. In fact, it’s the kind of job that is both perfect for someone with ADHD, and possibly the worst thing for someone with ADHD who has accountability problems when it comes to sticking with something.

I drive for a ride-share company. I take my Chevy Traverse out into the world and fill it with strangers. Some are students, some are soldiers, some are families, tourists, business men and women. Some are just regular people trying to get to work. Some are drunks, trying to get home from the bar, or the party. Some throw up in my car.

But mostly, driving strangers around in my car is just fun. I can do it here in town, where ride-sharing is new, or I can go to the much larger city nearby and make way more money. Either way, I meet people from all different walks of life. They ask me about me and I ask them about them, and we have, on average, about a ten minute conversation, make a few jokes, make a few connections, then tell each other to be safe and to have a good day, and we part ways. Sometimes, here in town, I get a repeat customer, and I ask them how they’ve been. Some really like me, or my car. Some are quiet, maybe after a long day at work, and just want to ride in peace. I try to accommodate the best I can.

Looking at this without the ADHD classification, it might not seem all that rewarding or fun. It’s hard for me to imagine how I would have viewed this before knowing about my diagnosis. But through the scope of ADHD, I see this job as perfect. It stays unpredictable enough to keep me from getting bored. I can take days off as I choose. If I have a bad experience, I can shut off the app and go home. If I start feeling bored, I can go to another part of town. But when I go to the big city, there is no time for boredom! I can make back-to-back trips from sunup to sundown. On Saturday, I made $200, and I did it again on Sunday. By the end of the week, made a total of about $13.50/hour, and worked almost a full 40 hours. I can work as many hours as I like, or as few. So what does this have to do with ADHD? Well, everything and nothing. I know, I make no sense, but in fairness, I forgot my second dose of Adderall today. In that department, though, things are going pretty well. I take 10 mg in the morning, and 5 mg six hours later, and I get through the day, and I sleep at night. After being out of the house and driving for about 12 hours on Saturday, and maybe 14 hours Sunday, I was feeling pretty sore. So there are nights that I take a Flexoril to help me sleep through the sore muscles. After taking Monday and Tuesday off, I’m feeling better, although I could use a little more sleep. But, alas, life happens.

What I am trying to say is that I think I have found a happy dosing schedule. I forgot my second dose today, but I didn’t really need it. We had a relaxing day at home, playing with the baby and doing pretty much nothing. But the days that I drive, the Adderall is perfect. When I start to fell draggy and bored in the afternoon, that second dose puts me back into action. Without it, I think that driving all those connecting interstates would be intolerable. I have always hated driving in big cities. On ramps, off ramps, merge, change lanes, drive faster, drive slower, traffic jams…. Ugh!

But with the medication, and proper planning (no driving during rush-hour), I take it all in stride, and can actually carry on conversation while I drive. Thanks to good navigation programs, I can get to where I’m going with little hassle. I’m not saying it always goes smoothly. I have had 11 people give me fewer than 5 stars, and it hurts. But I have had 163 people rate me with 5 stars! And that feels fantastic! People compliment my car, they thank me, and most of the time they’re just a joy to have in my car. Sometimes I make mistakes. Sometimes I can’t find the rider right away, and meeting up can be troublesome. Sometimes I have a hard time navigating the downtown area when it’s really busy and there are a lot of pedestrians. Sometimes I cut people off because I see the rider at the last second. But I always check my mirrors and blind spots, and I can still say that I have not had an accident in the 20 years that I’ve been driving. However, I do understand that the more I drive, and the more risks I take, the more likely it is to happen. I continue to use what I consider my best judgement. A car can be as lethal as any weapon, and must be used with great care. Sometimes I worry that I put too much faith in other drivers. I would hate me if I was another driver. But I digress…

So I’m making more money than I was as a department manager at a giant, corporate, department store. I make my own hours, so I never have to miss an appointment. I can use my gas receipts, car wash receipts, and other driving-related expenses as tax write-offs. That is good, because they do not withhold any taxes from my pay. I get paid weekly. Sometimes I make tips. I get discounts for being a driver. If I get overwhelmed, I can take as much time off as I want. I helped a fellow mommy (who I referred as a driver in another state) and she makes WAY more money than I do. But my favorite thing is how it all makes me feel. I feel great about helping my other mommy-driver-friend make a ton of money (her tips are scandalously amazing). I feel great about driving people home who have no business driving under the influence. I feel like I’m keeping the streets safer for everyone. I like that I can help single-car families with their shopping or errands. I love that I can get people to the airport on time, or pick them up from the airport and get them to a hotel with zero-hassle. Last week, there was a guy walking to his sister’s house, trying to get there before the bus dropped off his nieces. When he realized he wasn’t going to make it, he downloaded the app and requested a ride. I got him there just as the girls were getting off the bus. Do you know how that felt? It felt great! I helped him and those little girls. One night I was driving people home from the bar, and it was rainy and foggy and visibility was almost zero. I got everyone home safely, while other people were taking out power poles. I feel like a freaking miracle worker. I love it!

Now all I have to do is get my husband working again. See you next time, kids.

The real starting place

I hate that I haven’t written in a few days. I was so proud of my blogging there for a while. But one night I was online looking for jobs, found “free” online training. I took a whole course, tested and passed, just to find out that I had to buy the certificate. So much for free.

Since that took up a few hours of my time, I forgot to get on here. Since I missed one night, I fell out of the habit a lot more quickly than I like to admit. But I haven’t been idle.

Friday I went to the university here in town to talk about my options. Since I was in Upward Bound in high school, I knew about the TRIO programs, so I asked if they were available here, and they were. So I talked to them and found out about some great programs and options available to me, as a first-generation college student, and even as a student who left school for a while and returned. I returned this morning for a meeting to go over some things.

As it stands right now, I have 78 credits and a 3.34 GPA. I think that’s pretty good considering that I have dropped out three times. They have two programs here for people who are returning to school after quitting. One if for a two-year break and one is for a four-year gap, and they both forgive and remove all F grades from your transcript, which can raise your overall GPA. So there’s that. Then the EOC, part of TRIO, paid for my application fee, and helped me with my FAFSA. I have a list of CLEP exams available if I want to study up and earn credit without taking a class. We discussed not only my major and minor, but also the possibility of picking up a few more credits and earning an Associate’s in Liberal Arts while I work on my Bachelor’s degree.

Having learned about many of these things last Friday, I approached my bestie on Saturday and made her fill out a transcript request so that I could see how close she is to graduation, and maybe even that Associate’s degree. That poor kid has so much stress, she could use a boost right now. Not only would it be a boost to her overall morale, but it would give her some options as far as her career. I’m afraid she’s stuck in a crap-hole now, and I feel like it’s dragging her down.

And I love that helping her excites me. Because for the first time in a very long time, I am excited about helping someone. It gives me hope for finding my own career. I want to help people. When I first learned about my ADHD, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it. The more I learn, the more I see those things about myself that were overlooked all these years. It hurts my heart to look back over my life and to see how lost I’ve always been. I want to help people find themselves sooner rather than later, like me. I want to work with kids, and help them learn to work with their challenges, in a way no one could figure out how to help with me. If not kids, then adults. I want to be involved in education. I’ve always said as much, but the amount of organization that is required always overwhelmed me before. Whether it’s helping kids in preschool, or high school, or college, or adults, or whatever, I want to be involved in that. I want to help people figure out how many more credits they need for a degree. I want to help kids master the technique of rising above their frustration and practicing patience. I want to teach them how to write a great story. Or how to get up in front of a class to speak. I want to help them succeed. I want to help people succeed. If I can do that, then I will have succeeded. That is what I want. I want to feel the satisfaction of having helped someone. I want them to look at me with gratitude and tell me how much they appreciate my help. I want to see them not walking away, but soaring away when I am finished with them.

I don’t yet know what I want to do with my life exactly. But I will get my BA in Psychology, with a minor in creative writing, and my certification to teach, and when I am ready, I feel confident that the appropriate opportunity will present itself. If I can work while pursuing a Master’s, I just might. If I can get a job I love without it, then I won’t need it.

I could teach elementary. I could teach middle school or high school. Maybe a Psych class, or a creative writing class. Maybe I can be a counselor, or maybe that requires a Master’s. I can tutor. I can be a special ed teacher, or an assistant teacher. I’m sure there are different types of therapy from a medical standpoint that I can work in. Speech therapy? I can work at the university, maybe for one of the TRIO programs. I can teach a class here or there for the university itself. Or any of the smaller schools in the area. I want to teach, advise, encourage and empower people, kids and adults. I want to show them the parts of themselves that shine, even when they can’t see them.

I don’t need a ton of money. My husband and I are doing alright. I just need an income, so I’m not trying to get rich. I finally feel like I want something more than just punching a time-clock and getting a paycheck. I want a career. I want to do it. I want to finish school, and this time I will. I won’t let myself get overwhelmed. I will look at the light at the end of the tunnel, and keep moving myself forward. I will make my husband and my kids proud of me. I will become someone that they can look up to, not just come to when they can’t find their shoes. I am so excited about my life for the first time in… well, ever.

This is what I’ve waited my whole life for. Goddamn, I better not disappoint.

They may not be connected, but neither helps the other

Alright, so I’ve done an awful lot of thinking on my usual topic in the last few weeks. But I’m going to reach way back and pull up a topic I haven’t discussed in a long time. I have it, my mother has it, and several other relatives and friends have it. It is often considered something that is “all in your head,” even though it is now considered a disability by the government (in the United States). So, what is it? I’m not talking about ADHD this time. I’m talking about Fibromyalgia.

So lets talk a little about Fibro. It mostly affects women, but can affect anyone, at any age. Sometimes it is triggered by some type of trauma. It causes tender points all over the body. It causes widespread pain with no apparent source. It can interfere with sleep, and gets worse when you are sleep-deprived. It can make your mind a little scattered, resulting in what is termed “Fibro-Fog”. It can be improved with exercise, but it makes exercise difficult. There are probably a lot of other things about it that I am forgetting, and it affects everyone to a different degree. In fact, it can affect one person at a different degree from one day to the next. It can be linked to migraines, and may very well be triggered by diet, if not weather.

But consider this. What if I have Fibromyalgia, then I find out that I also have ADHD? So what, you might say. But hear me out. Lets talk a little about ADHD. Attention isn’t only difficult to focus at times, but it is also difficult to break at times; a symptom referred to as hyper-focus. Imagine a child, sitting in church, wearing uncomfortable dress clothes, and he is constantly pulling at his collar or scratching at the tag in the back of his shirt. He can’t focus on the sermon, or anything else for that matter, because the level of his personal discomfort is too high. All he can think about is how much he would like to take off all of his clothes. He is probably dying to get home and do just that, and has no idea what anyone around him is saying or doing. It doesn’t help him to ignore it, or distract himself from it by paying attention to the pastor. Telling him to sit still isn’t going to do anyone an ounce of good. That is what having ADHD is like. For myself, I almost always have my hair in a ponytail, because I cannot stand to have it touching my face. If my hair is down, it usually distracts me, irritates me, and imposes itself into my every waking thought until I can get it tied back. (Don’t get me started on when I get it cut too short to tie back.)

So what does that have to do with Fibromyalgia? Alright, now instead of a little boy with too much starch in his shirt, imagine a middle-aged woman with constant body aches. No matter what she does, if she’s moving or sitting still, those pains are with her. If the barometer drops, so does she, so to speak. She may be in bed all day, unable to bear the thought of getting up and moving around. But what if that woman also had undiagnosed ADHD? What if she is hyper-focusing on the aches and pain without knowing it. What if she could receive treatment, namely medication, for her ADHD, and it would help her focus on something other than the pain? What if it helped her ignore it long enough to start getting a little more exercise? What if the resulting pain from increased activity didn’t keep her in bed the next day? What if treating her ADHD helps solve many of the problems she has with the Fibro?

I know I am not a doctor, or a psychiatrist, or in any way in a position to make such a claim as these two disorders being connected. But what if having one really does make the other one worse? What if having ADHD makes Fibromyalgia that much more unbearable? What if the ADHD is actually causing part of the fibro-fog? Confusion, poor memory, inability to focus, or think straight. All of these leading to depression, which can actually exacerbate Fibro. And all of these things snowballing, making life impossible to cope with one day, even though you may be alright the next day. Maybe because of something you ate or drank. Maybe a stimulant (caffeine) or depressant (alcohol).

As I further my education, hopefully in the very near future, I hope to focus on psychology. I will likely pose this question to my professors along the way, and hopefully get a chance to do a study on it. If in the meantime I have an opportunity to speak with an expert, such as the authors of the book I mentioned before*, I hope that I make the best of it.

In the meantime, I’ll be on here babbling away and repeating myself. As usual.

 

*Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Halloway, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D.

Direction

Since I found out that I have adult ADHD, I have learned so much about something I once only associated with young boys. I have learned that girls and boys tend to show symptoms differently, and that adults who have it are often not diagnosed, or were diagnosed as kids and told they’d grow out of it. With my elementary history of going to nine schools in three states by the time I was twelve, and making honor roll through all but my senior year, I slipped through the cracks. Knowing what I do now, and how it has affected me after all these years, I’m compelled to advocate for those kids like myself. The ones who look like they’re doing fine until one day, they’re high school graduates, and they don’t have the first clue what to do next. Or worse, like me, are handed an education by way of scholarships and grants, and somehow feel too much pressure and not enough support, and so they walk away, unable to succeed, and feeling like the only reason is because they’re lazy, or irresponsible.

I spent over an hour today looking at college majors at the local university. I want to write. There is a creative writing minor, but not a major. So the logical major, in my opinion, would be English. So I look at the English requirements, and I’m overwhelmed by the classes. British Literature. William Shakespeare. Thesis. Ugh.

So then I look at other options for an hour. Finally I settle on Psychology. I don’t know what I would do with a Bachelor’s in Psychology. I guess at that point I have the option of going for a Master’s. If I don’t end up writing for a living (which, lets face it, is unlikely), then I want to help kids like me, like my friend’s son, like my little cousin, who just can’t seem to get their head around things. I want to learn what I can about treatments, techniques, and routines that will help them succeed not just in school, but beyond school. So I guess that leaves a few options. I could be a teacher. I could be a school counselor. I could be a tutor. The thing is, I don’t know yet. I feel like I need to get into a classroom before deciding if I can handle it. I have a friend who teaches middle school math. I’ll have to talk to her about it. I also have a friend who used to teach art at an elementary school. I’m sure they could both offer me some insights. But none of that can happen, of course, until I get my medication where I need it.

So today I started to crash again, after lunchtime. I know it isn’t from not eating this time, because I did eat. I guess I have three weeks left before I can get it adjusted, since she made the next appointment one month out. All the amazing differences I was noticing the first few days are starting to fade as my body adjusts to the Adderall. I am still more motivated and I am keeping things much less cluttered. After my daughter goes to bed, I go through the living room and pick everything up off the floor. I never did that before. I also cleared the backs of the couches off, and they stay relatively clear. The few things that did gather there today, I put away before getting on here. So I know it is still having some affect on me. And I am sleeping so well. Probably because I’m doing more work during the day.

I noticed something the other day when I was talking to my therapist. I used to shy away from making a lot of eye contact with people. I guess I figured if I didn’t look at them, then they couldn’t see me, couldn’t cast judgment on me. Eyes are so intimidating when your self-esteem is in the tank. But with this medicine, not only do eyes and faces no longer intimidate me, but I no longer just see eyes and faces. I see the person. I’m not looking at something scary, but just another person, like me. Before when I mentioned that everything seems to have more depth and dimension, this is the same thing. I’ve always been pretty superficial about looks. I think that it was because before, that’s all I could see. I could tell myself that I was being shallow, and that there is a person under there. I could even argue with other people who would say someone was fat or ugly. But now it’s like I’m wearing glasses, like my vision has cleared, and now I can see the person behind the face. The funny thing about that is that before, I had such a hard time remembering faces. Even when I did look someone in the eyes when we spoke, even if I had a whole conversation with them, or sat next to them for a whole day. I would still have trouble recognizing them a week later, or in another context. I have spoken to each of my new(ish) next-door neighbors, but I guarantee that if they approached me in public, away from our neighborhood, I wouldn’t know who they were. But now, even though I haven’t tested my theory, I feel like that won’t be as much of a problem any more. Because faces aren’t just empty, intimidating vessels to me anymore. They’re people. And just realizing that difference, I am even more amazed that I have done half as well in life as I have. But not surprised that I don’t have tons of friends. I guess I will have to work on that.

On a somewhat related note, having been diagnosed with ADHD, and having learned more and more about the symptoms, I almost want to go back and tell everyone that I have ever known. I could almost take out a billboard, only it wouldn’t reach everyone who lives in other states. I want to tell the world that I wasn’t trying to be rude, I didn’t want to offend, I never meant to be self-centered, I didn’t realize I was ignoring you, or hurting you, or dismissing you. I hate that I’ve always known my brain didn’t work right, but I never knew I could do anything about it. It’s so frustrating to know that you’re smart, but to feel so stupid. To read a paragraph in a book, over and over and still not know what it said, or what they meant. To be shown how to do something over and over, and still not know how to do it. To have three kids, and still make it out the door without the diaper bag. Or your purse. Or the baby. How worthless you feel because you just can’t seem to get anything right. Or finish anything. Or even start something. Because you just can’t seem to make friends with your neighbors, even when they’re making friends with each other, just because you are so blasted shy. Then when you come across as being stuck-up or flaky. It’s all so blasted frustrating, so you get frustrated about everything, and so you don’t want to think about anything because you don’t want to get frustrated, so you just throw your hands up in the air and say, “Fuck it!” and go read a book or play a video game or watch a movie because then you can imagine a world where you’re not getting frustrated, and none of those real things matter anymore, and everything is copacetic, and there are no bills to pay and no dishes to wash and no dogs to walk, out there in the real world where the people are.

I have lived my whole life… hiding from my life. Trying to escape. Not knowing how to become an active participant in MY OWN LIFE. And now I am thirty-five years old, and I am looking back and thinking It wasn’t just me. I’m not worthless. Maybe, just maybe, I can turn it all around. I can be more than an active player in my life, I can be the director. I can be the composer, the author, the producer. And that is a wonderful feeling. Underneath is still the feeling of outrage that I have lived so long without a diagnosis, but for now, I want to focus on the relief, and start moving forward. Because I can’t get anywhere moving backward.