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The Struggle with – LOOK, A SQUIRREL!

I have ADHD. Surprise! Who would have guessed, right?! Actually, to most of my friends, it’s pretty obvious. My train of thought is more of a streetcar on detour rather than a train, and my stories have virtually no end. But why did it take 24 years for a doctor to actually diagnose me?

When I was a kid, my teachers told me I was “gifted” and “above average”. I finished all my work before everyone else, and often got bored in class. Instead of acting out, I would zone out or work on something different. Sometimes it was writing stories, or reading a book under my desk. By the time I was in 6th grade, I was running a gum and candy business from inside my desk. I never really got in trouble, because my actual school work was finished and I was always the first to hand in my exams or in class assignments. My parents thought I was just bored because the content was too easy.

In reality, I struggled with focusing. I struggled with doing one task for an extended period of time, and would rush through tasks before my attention span ran out. There was constantly an attention hour glass that ran out just a bit too soon.When I was young, it was cute – I had messy writing, didn’t color in the lines, and couldn’t cut a piece of paper in a straight line. Everything was a race, and quality slipped through the cracks. As I got older, it became less cute and more annoying. School got harder, and I didn’t magically know all the answers anymore.

I tried to explain to my parents that I thought I had ADHD when I was about 12 or 13. When they took me to a doctor, I didn’t fit the usual ADHD bill. I wasn’t disruptive, I didn’t act out, I didn’t have bad grades. I wasn’t necessarily hyperactive. I just wasn’t disciplined enough because I had always had it so easy.

In university, I skipped a lot of class, because I barely got anything out of lectures, and when I was in class, I would be doing a million other things. I struggled with studying, and could only accomplish anything if I was having a “power hour”. I didn’t realize my “power hours” were actually a part of ADHD. In the ADHD world, it’s called “hyper focus”, which means that you have these bursts where you put so much focus into one thing, that the rest of the world is basically shut out. It was brilliant for writing papers and studying when it happened, but the problem was that it never really happened when I needed it to. Sometimes, it would happen when I was trying to work, but my focus was directed at something completely irrelevant. I always finished exams early because I could barely pay attention in a 45 minute lecture, let alone a 3 hour exam.

PC:”Auntie, Me & My ADHD” via Facebook

ADHD impacts every little bit of my life – from getting restless at work and needing to walk around every hour or so, to losing my keys, wallet, shoes, etc. to forgetting important dates like birthdays and social obligations. I lose track of more things than I can count, and find it difficult to follow through on a lot of things I commit to. It’s like being scatter brained on steroids. It’s also incredibly stressful.

This past year, my doctor asked if I ever had issues with attention and focus. I was seeing her because I had gone into a deep depression and my anxiety was out of control. Her question seemed irrelevant and surprised me, but when I did some of the diagnostic tests and realized I actually experienced a ton of ADHD symptoms, something clicked. It turns out that it’s really common for undiagnosed ADHD to manifest itself as anxiety and depression. We learned that part of the reason I was “treatment resistant” was because some of my anxiety and depression came from my ADHD. The stress of not being able to stay organized or the anxiety that comes with having a messy apartment (and let’s be honest, kind of a messy life), actually heightened my anxiety and depression.

I was actually quite relieved to get my diagnosis, but a big part of me was sad too. Why did it take so long to get diagnosed? What could have been different had I not struggled with my ADHD for so long without knowing? Could I have done more? Achieved more? Could I have avoided my depression and anxiety getting so severe? I’m not sure, and I guess I’ll never really know.

But I do know that we talk a lot about people being misdiagnosed with ADHD, and stimulants being over-prescribed, but we don’t talk nearly enough about how women and girls are often looked over and not diagnosed. The way that ADHD manifests itself can be quite different for young girls and boys – girls are more likely to retreat and disconnect, while boys are more likely to act out. Therefore, the boys get diagnosed because it’s a lot easier to see. Girls are more likely to be “inattentive” (like me), while boys are more likely to be “hyperactive”. We also think of hyperactivity as being a physical thing – like running around or being disruptive, but “hyperactivity” (in girls especially) can be more emotional – like having outbursts or emotion that don’t quite make sense or fit. This leads to the inattentive girls being labelled as lazy or stupid, and the emotionally hyperactive girls being labelled as drama queens or crazy.

Stimulants (medication for ADHD) can be dangerous and very easy to abuse, so it’s important that we are not over-prescribing these medications. It’s also important that we don’t under-prescribe to those who need it, especially girls who are already under-diagnosed. 

Now that I’ve bounced around enough, I should probably get to my main point which is this: a proper diagnosis can be absolutely life changing. And getting it sooner rather than later is really important, not just for medication, but because it can explain a lot. I struggle a lot with my self-esteem and always felt stupid or forgetful, but it was really just a part of my ADHD. It’s a lot easier now that I know what’s going on, but it was a long road to get here. When we let our knowledge of a condition be guided by misinformed stereotypes, we become blind to some important warning signs. When that happens, we let people slip through the cracks or misdiagnose them and treat problems with the wrong medications, which is dangerous and expensive.

Keep Surviving by Living.  

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100 Posts of Surviving by Living

This is my 100th post on SbL. 1700+ days. 25000+ viewers. 85+ Countries. 20+ Collaborations. Two eye-opening projects.

Countless hours of writing. Even more hours of thinking and not writing.

Since launching, I’ve spent 6 days in a psych ward, made two ER trips, attempted suicide once (contemplated more times than I can count), tried 9 different prescription medications, seen more than 7 doctors or specialists, talked to 8 therapists, received 1 additional diagnosis, and had over 150 hours of therapy. Caring for my physical and mental health during this time has cost me over $25,000 out of pocket (and that’s with extended health care coverage/insurance). Every. Single. Penny. was worth it.

What I’m trying to say, is that it’s been a wild ride. And I’m so grateful to all the people that have stuck around for this crazy ride and followed along. And I’m at peace with the people who chose to leave, because they taught me valuable lessons, and were in my life for a reason at the time.

Whether you’ve been the one I go to when I’m upset, or have helped me get out of a funk whether you knew it or not, or even if you just tossed me a “like” on Facebook  every so often, thanks for being there. Thank you for accepting me. Thank you for making this “roller coaster from hell” a little more fun and a little less dark. Thank you for showing me that I matter, and not giving up when I don’t believe I matter. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for giving me the platform and space to have my story heard. You’re teaching me that my story deserves to be heard. That I deserve to be heard.

In my very first post, I said I’d be sharing “more of my real story – not sugarcoated, not horribly depressing either” and I hope I’ve done that. I hope that you’ve learned a bit more about what it’s like to live with a mental illness, and more importantly, I hope that you think of your own mental health more.

Pursuing a better mental health state is a lifelong journey – that’s something I’ve learned the hard way. I’ll admit that I thought I could be fixed or cured, and that if I ever wrote a 100th post it would be looking back and saying “damn, what a wild ride. Glad that’s over!” And I’d be lying if I said that a part of me isn’t a little disappointed that the words I wrote in my first post ever, almost five years ago, are still pretty true.

I wrote: “If you ask anyone what type of person I am, common words used to describe me are “Funny”, “Witty”, “Intelligent”… Are these words an accurate depiction of me? Probably. On the outside, at least. Notice how none of those words showed any deeper emotion? I like it that way.

If you really wanted to know me, you would know that I have a tendency to overanalyze everything, my thoughts are my biggest enemy, I am stubborn as hell, and I grapple with mental illness everyday.”

Yep, I’d argue that still sums me up pretty well. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t made a ton of progress. I forget that a lot. I forget how much I’ve grown since I was a scared student who wrote about her mental illness in secrecy from the safety of her bed at 3am. While I may wish that I could have progressed more, and sometimes give myself a hard time for not having made it further, it’s important that I recognize the strides I’ve made.

I’ve transformed over the past five years and really started to own my story. I talk about mental illness to anyone who will listen. I commit my time and energy to teaching others about mental health, and work to reduce stigma and make people a bit more compassionate about these issues. I’ve even worked in the mental health sector, and have been affiliated with a number of different organizations supporting mental health over the years.

I’ve learned that no one has to go through this alone, and there should be no shame in struggling. I’m still learning that it’s okay to admit that I’m not okay and reach out for help. I still face the same demons I faced years ago, I just have a better support system, and know more about myself.

So I hope that these 100 posts have meant something to you. They’ve meant a ton to me. I’ve poured blood, sweat, and yes, even tears, into this process, so that maybe someone out there feels a little less alone. I hope that the words “Surviving by Living” mean more than they did before – that they’re more than three little words. They’re a way of life. They’re a commitment to striving for more than just survival.

Surviving by Living is not just a blog, it’s a promise to demand better for our future, so that we may enable one another to live full, beautiful, wonderful lives that are worth living. Are you surviving? Or are you living?

Here’s to the next 100 posts of Surviving by Living.

For the 100th time, Keep Surviving by Living.