disability

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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IMPACT@Work: Employee Rights and Responsibilities

I’ve had countless conversations with people about their mental illness, and we often discuss the sticky situations surrounding disclosure, and managing mental illness at work. When I first started working, I didn’t understand how to navigate working with a mental illness, as well as disclosing it.

Here are the basics of what you need to know about your rights:

  1. You have the right to ask for accommodations. Mental Illness can fall under disability, and workplaces have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities so that you can perform your job adequately.  Depression is the leading cause of disability in Canada, which is very costly to employers, so it really is in their best interest as well as yours to come up with a plan of action. These accommodations can include more flexible hours, a schedule that allows working from home, or altering the nature of the work itself if need be.
  2. You have the right to disclosure. This means that it is entirely up to you to decide how much or how little you want to tell your employer about the nature of your condition or disability. You have an obligation to express what limitations you have or accommodations you may need, as well as if your condition will prohibit you from doing your job the way someone else might. You do NOT have to give them details about your condition, and they are not allowed to ask for details. If you’re unsure about if your boss is acting accordingly, or you feel they are asking too many questions, contact your HR representative and they will be able to facilitate the process.
  3. Discrimination because of your mental illness is illegal, and you can make claims against your employer if you feel you have been discriminated against because of your mental illness. For example, it is illegal if your employer knows that you have a mental illness and purposely does not promote you because of it. As a result, many people choose not to disclose their mental illness because they are afraid of the repercussions. Unfortunately, by not disclosing, many people are not granted the accommodations they need to succeed in their position.

I’ve often found that different things work for different people when it comes to dealing with their mental illness at work, though there are many common struggles. I’ve come up with some tips on what works for me, but this doesn’t mean that these will work for everyone.

  1. Decide when (and how much) to disclose ahead of time. This can also depend on the position. If i know that the employer I am speaking with in an interview is more likely to be accommodating, I will share a bit more about my situation. Generally, I will always say the word “disability” during the interview process, because if I am afraid of getting rejected, I would rather it be in the interview process than when I am already working. Some people will argue that they will wait until they are working because then the employer definitely has an obligation to accommodate (as opposed to in the interview when you are simply not selected). Either way, knowing what you may or may not what to say in advance can help you articulate your needs.
  2. Explain your limitations clearly, but have an action plan to ensure your work will be okay. For example, if you have panic attacks and choose to disclose that you need accommodation for them, know what your accommodation should be. Saying something like “I occasionally have panic attacks, and having a secluded, quiet place to go to when this happens is important for me to get back to work sooner rather than later.” This way, the employer knows exactly what you need, and can help you access resources that may help. Another example is if you know you will be going to see a therapist once a week, but you’ll need to be away from work, try an alternative like “On Wednesdays, I need an extended lunch hour for an appointment, but can ensure that my deliverables are still met by the end of the day, even if I come in early or stay late.” By showing you’ve already found a way to work around your needs, you’re showing initiative and an understanding of the organization’s needs.
  3. Give yourself permission to have ups and downs. I know  that sometimes I have bad days, and I may not be as chipper or friendly on those days, and I need to be okay with that. Everyone has off days, and mine are sometimes worse than my colleagues. I’m learning to give myself permission to take a sick day to care for my mental health, and I’m also learning that one off day doesn’t negate the other great days I’ve had where I’m fantastic at my job. So if I’m really anxious one day, and I leave at 4pm instead of 5pm, I do my best to not beat myself up over it, because I know that another day when I’m feeling great I will stay until 6pm. I also know that the quality of my work can depend on my mental state, and I don’t want to produce sub par work.
  4. Your mental health comes first. Your work comes second. I’m definitely guilty of forgetting that I am more important than my work, but it’s crucial to work to remember that you’re actually much more important than your work. You need to take care of yourself first (not to mention that your work will suffer anyways if you don’t), and making yourself a priority is in everyone’s best interest. Recognize if work is getting too stressful, or if your hours are getting too long, and find a way to work around it. Perhaps you always take a day off after your busy season to just rest and relax, or maybe you find yourself always working too late so you set dinner plans to ensure you get out at a decent time. Finding ways to make sure you’re taken care of and in a great mental state ensures you can be healthy and productive – a win-win for everyone!
  5. Own it! I’m proud of what I have overcome, and I’m learning to let go of the shame and stigma I’ve experienced because of my mental illness. My mental illness doesn’t make me any less of an employee, and it doesn’t make me any less of a performer. I know I can be successful even with the issues I’ve faced, so don’t allow yourself to preclude yourself from bigger opportunities. A person with a mental health concern can still be a stellar employee, and drive excellent results. Just because I need some accommodations, or more flexibility in certain areas doesn’t mean I can’t do a good job and be the best version of myself more often than now. Believe in yourself, fight for the rights you deserve, and keep moving forward (even if you sometimes go backwards).

 

Keep Surviving by Living.