ADHD

Just Focus: My Recent Diagnosis with ADHD

Just over a year ago, I read an article that changed my life.

Maria Yagoda, an author from The Atlantic, wrote about the generation of young women who have been living undiagnosed with ADHD. She explained that the disorder had been stereotyped, associated with the hyperactive young boys who disrupted elementary school classes. And the “women with the disorder tend to be less hyperactive and impulsive, more disorganized, scattered, forgetful, and introverted”, and they had been left wondering what was wrong with them.

Immediately, I was enamoured. My eyes were peeled to the screen, and I kept reading. It felt as though someone had been explaining exactly what I had been dealing ever since I could remember, and especially since I started University. And now,  skipping to just over a year later, I’ve officially been diagnosed with ADHD.

The road to a diagnosis

Trust me, the process in being diagnosed was not easy. I spent the next few months letting the information sink in and wondered if I actually wanted to be tested. Why would when I had already managed to live an exceptional life without one?

But then I realized I wasn’t… not technically.

IMG_5650In Elementary school I blended in with the other kids who didn’t focus, drawing when I wasn’t supposed to, but never disrupting the class. My lack of responsibilities in my youth let me live carefree.

At home, my mother and I fell into arguments about daily tasks that she would remind me in numerous ways at the beginning of each day. Simple chores like unloading the dishwasher or putting my clothes away, would slip my mind by the time I got home from school. She thought I was entitled, and that I didn’t appreciate the life she had given me. It was hard to explain that small domestic tasks were something that did not come to me naturally, that forgetting was not something I intended to do.

High school was a solid four years of disengagement. At school, I would need more than both hands to count the times I was told by teachers that I would truly succeed, that I would excel, if I just focused.  I sat at the back of class, doodling in the margins of my notebook or staring out a window twirling my hair, only looking up when my name was called or times when there was a discussion that sparked my interest. I left everything to the last minute but somehow managed to pull off straight A’s.

In University, I brought the same work ethic, but not the A’s.

I quickly realized I couldn’t write ten page papers worth thirty percent of my mark in one night – especially when I hadn’t done any of the mandatory, and tedious, readings.

The extremely structured schedule I cursed in high school was something I dreamed of having once again. Nothing was grounding me, and in the time that seemed free to use at my will was disposed of by wasting it.

My habit of hair twirling used to be cute, it was something I’d do when I was lost in thought and on the brink of sleep. Now, it transformed into something that I did compulsively, and obsessively. Something that people would stare at when we were conversing,  or even told to stop doing at dinner tables, but a few short moments later my hands would crawl up and start twisting and pulling at that one unfortunate strand of hair.

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The most frequent occurrence was when my mind drifted in the midst of conversations with professionals and friends. Staring them dead in the eye, nodding, irrelevant thoughts came to to the surface and suddenly the other person sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. Then, they’d stop and I’d smile and nod as though I heard everything they were saying.

As a result of my inattentiveness, I was given the title of a bad listener, of not caring, of being irresponsible. My grades dropped to C’s and I gave off the impression of being apathetic, neglecting to remember coffee dates or birthdays, or important pieces of information. My undiagnosed ADHD symptoms were clouds, like overcast in my adolescence, and brewed into a storm in my early adulthood.

So no, to answer my earlier question, my life and my habits were not exceptional. For the life I wanted to live, and for everything I wanted to achieve in life, I needed the diagnosis.

The cost of a diagnosis

In the cold, desolate months of the Ottawa winter, my third year of University came to a predictable halt. Seasonal depression hit me like a brick amongst the impending stream of research essays, double digit negative weather, and the uploading of grades that really did not seem to match my level of my intelligence.

I found myself stuck, just like the last two years of school, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

I watched my friends and peers, with equal drive and ambition, start assignments, go to work on time, and balance their busy social life with punctuality and a “just do it” mentality.

Why couldn’t I just do it?

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I laid in my bed, staring across the room at an unopened text book and a Word document with one finished sentence out of a ten-page paper that was due the following day.  Next to it, was even more work, dirty dishes, and a pile of laundry that grew and grew with each following week.

It’s hard to explain how it feels living in a vicious cycle of inattentiveness. While there were other factors in my life that caused depression, there had always been a connection to its consistent arrival in the winter of each year, and my inability to achieve the success I wanted in all areas of my life.

It’s even harder to explain what I was experiencing  to a medical professional, in the latest hours a clinic that was opened on a Saturday night.

That one, I think I might have ADHD.

And two, I’m depressed.

To which, the white haired man in a matching lab coat scoffed and said the two could never correlated. He scrawled a referral to a psychologist anyway, but it was only for depression.

I left that clinic feeling invalidated and angry, it almost stopped me from taking the next steps I needed. I was incredibly desperate for an answer, and some help, but all he gave me was condescension.  

However, I went from referral to referral, using also my University’s tactless resources, and found myself in a place that seemed promising

The cost of ADHD is a shit ton of patience, people not believing you, six hours of strenuous psychological testing, a cheque with a price that I curse.

On May 4th 2017, I was handed some papers with my diagnosis. So, I guess it was worth it.

How can a piece of paper change one’s life?

A piece of paper didn’t change my life, at least it hasn’t yet.

It’s been over a week since my last appointment, and there are still countless steps that I need to take to get back on track.

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While I live in a world that has a ticking clock for everything, I’m a twenty year old woman and I have to remind myself that I have time to figure everything out. It’s a world that define’s ones worth by their productivity, I hope to be patient as I work through habits built over a lifetime, and to know that, for know, its okay to just be okay. 

I also have to remind myself that the diagnosis isn’t an excuse, and it doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me, small but impactful on myself and other people in my life.

But I’ll just end for now by saying this: If you feel as though there is a barricade blocking you from the life you want to live, look into it no matter what it maybe. And for others, listen to them, and don’t invalidate the barricade’s existence.

~P.S. If you, or someone you know, has experienced similar things, here’s a link with more information ~

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Puberty & the High School Playwright 

For the most part, I am pretty privileged to say that my life, with a gradual incline upwards, has been going at a slow and steady pace. What I really mean by that is, I definitely didn’t peak in high school.

My first day of high school kind of set the stage for how my next four years would play out. Whether it was a blessing or a curse, the uniform at my Catholic high school was something that really did not come natural to me.

My old friend from grade eight came to my door on the first day of grade nine, and somehow managed to perfectly avoid the regular awkwardness that came from adorning a never-worn forest green kilt and matching sweater vest.

I, however, wore the exact same pieces, including two butterfly clips pinning back my overgrown bangs, pink and blue patterned elastics on my braces, and a pair of white knee high socks to go with my two inch heeled ballerina flats. I watched as she gave me a once over, with a look that foreshadowed her embarrassment as we walked several blocks to the bus stop.

High school was a strange time. The years that followed weren’t far from the standard I set on the first day. The braces came with the whole package: off-coloured foundation that barely hid my acne, dark eyeliner on my waterline, and outdated lenses. But as I said, with emphasis on slow, my experience steadily went upward. Overtime, I gained more friends, got rid of my acne, and then my braces – shedding a little layer of myself that was no longer needed.

Besides my apparent awkwardness, what I also brought with me from elementary school was writing. I jumped from interest to interest, from visual arts, drama, and even singing in musical; I became a jack of all trades in the world of amateur art. But writing remained a constant. Writing was something I developed a passion for in grade three, and storytelling was was something I could remember doing with my stuffed animals before I was able hold a pencil in my hand.

There were few times in my adolescence I was able to share that passion. I entered a few poetry competitions in elementary school and completed some short stories the years after. After years of sheer naivety, my dream of being novelist became something that seemed out of reach. I thought maybe I needed to choose something a little more practical.

I set aside my ambitions and made writing something that I did on the side. That was until my final year of high school.

plays the thing actual newspaper
SEARS DRAMA FESTIVAL: St. John’s College production advances to regional competition in Hamilton (Article by Michele Ruby, The Brantford Expositor)

 

April 2017 is the third anniversary of a play I wrote and directed in grade twelve. It was called The Fitzgerald’s; a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family at funeral. It was a two act play featuring a drunken grandmother, a gay uncle, a trophy wife, all members fighting and obsessed with their reputations. It was a script that was chosen and supervised by my eccentric drama teacher. My best friend was the stage manager, and the tight knit group of incredibly talented friends I made in grade eleven, starred as the main characters.

For nine months I did rehearsals twice a week and tweaked the script to its best and final product. It went through a regional competition called the Sears Drama Festival. The first official performance was in this small town in a place called the Lighthouse Theatre. That night, with nails digging into my seat, I had never been more nervous is my life.

And it was amazing.

The theatre was packed with students and the parents of students and theatre-goers. When the actors came out in tableau a hush went over the crowd. They acted on their marks and added their own touches to characters that finally meant something to them.

The audience was alive; they laughed in all of the right places – laughed more than I would’ve ever expected. I even saw a few people cry.

When it was over, I embraced everyone that was involved, including my drama teacher who was responsible for giving me that opportunity. I went out to the lobby and heard someone yell out, “Who wrote that?” and everyone pointed in my direction. The girl actually ran up to me, and amongst the absurdity of that night, asked for my autograph on the playbill. My family was beaming at me with pride.

It was a first for many things; my first play, my first real leadership role, my first piece of writing that was made into something and received awards for. The first time I ever really felt like I was taken seriously.

When we went back to school the next day, back in the uniforms and into our daily routines, I was still living on high that no one but myself, the actors and the crew knew about. Yet this time, my path was carved out, which meant I could walk a little more boldly.

To be honest, I hadn’t let myself think about that memory or that play for a while. Much like high school, I’ve entered a lull in my university career, letting the tedious stream of formal essays take out every ounce of fun I originally found in writing.  

However, this year in Ottawa, a young man was standing at the bus stop in my front of my school, staring at me like he wanted to say something. Eventually, he did and asked me if my name was Alannah Link, to which I replied with a confused yes.

He told me that he saw my play a few years back, and that him and his classmates all I loved it.

He didn’t know it, but he gave me a dose of nostalgia that reminded of me of that night, those people and that play. A story I wrote in the last year of high school and performed in front of just a few hundred people, found itself just 600 kilometres away from the town I first performed it in. Right then, the the world felt incredibly small. It made me want to search for that feeling again.

I recognize that I didn’t peak in high school, but I definitely made the happiest memory there.