So here’s the deal today. I have ADHD, OCD and few other acronyms behind my name in some crazy file somewhere. I’m okay with that too. Doesn’t mean anything, just means I might approach something different from my friends, my boss or neighbor. It might mean I’m a little behind the eight ball sometimes but isn’t everyone anymore?
Truthfully, people like myself might be more behind the eight ball than most folks. We just get really good at hiding it. My OCD overcompensates for my inattention, and distractibility a lot of the time. As I’ve gotten older though, it gets harder, I won’t lie.
I can keep things mostly together in public but, at home, I’m a complete disaster. Losing my keys, wallet, ID, etc. several times a day. I’ve been put on “probation” by my boys’ doc before because I constantly forget appointments. It takes me 8 hours to do what you can do in maybe 2, and in the process, I may have 20 windows open, and can’t figure out why my computer is screaming at me about ‘low memory’.
Other times I’m so hyper focused on something I won’t stop until it’s done, usually at the cost of about ten other things. Still other times, I’m so overwhelmed with something I don’t know where to start, or if I know a project or task is going to take extended focus, I struggle to even start. For someone with any form of ADHD, it’s just exhausting, not going to sugar coat that.
So, here I am, the mother of two with autism & ADHD, one of them with OCD, Tourette Syndrome, and Intermittent Explosive Behavior Disorder and the other with ODD. The stepmom to an 18-year-old with what seems like to me, the worst case of ADD ever! And a husband who is being tested for ADHD or Autism himself.
How do you hold all that together?
The simple answer is: You don’t!
That’s right. You don’t. You don’t hide it, you don’t make excuses, you don’t pretend, you don’t distract yourself, etc. You stop, let it all fall and ask for help. Right there, in that moment when you’re not your most proud, when you’re so lost you can’t see which way is up. If you don’t do it then, if no one sees you at your worst, your most lost, no one is really ever going to stop and take notice. It’s that cruel and that simple.
I went for years sending it in, not really doing one thing perfectly. Doing many things well, and just passing the buck until I could manage to land long enough to finish something – usually at the very last minute.
I spend so much energy just trying to focus on things in public, with my “job” so to speak, that I had none left when I got home.
I was just better than everyone else at everything that when I fudged up, I got a lot of free passes. I wasn’t great at my jobs, I wasn’t THE best either. I just had the passion, the positivity, and the know how to fly under the radar most of the time. Which sounds good under, you crash and burn – on the runway, in front of everyone that truly matters.
I had my OCD mostly under control, I was putting in 60 hours or more a week, from home. I thought I was good.
I started making small errors here and there. Little things that could be misconstrued and a gap in communication. Or a moment where something was just mistaken. Nothing big. Then I began avoiding the big things because I KNEW I couldn’t follow through correctly. Even when I forced myself to, I started making HUGE mistakes.
When I wasn’t working, I spent all my time with anxiety up to my eyeballs because I knew I had forgotten something, I’d messed something up, or left someone out. So, my OCD kicked in and I became obsessed with work – to the point of forsaking almost everything else.
One day in Septemeber, I was eyeballs deep in work, I wasn’t really awake yet. I knew I was forgetting something but, figured it couldn’t be too important if I’d forgotten. I left the boys in their jammies, was sitting on the couch face first on the laptop.
My phone rang, caller ID said: Mom
I groaned, even rolled my eyes. I debated on whether to answer, she was always wanting my attention – distracting me. Lately, she’d been super weird, and yet I still didn’t get why.
I answered despite my grumblings….turns out, I forgot her! She knew I would and had arranged for a ride to the hospital but, I was supposed to have met her there…and I forgot. She was calling me from the pre-op room, to tell me she was just heading back and she loved me. I was interested in covering up the fact that I’d forgotten her to really listen to her. I said my obligatory “love you too” and hung up. Gathered the boys and their stuff together and ran out the door.
I made it to the hospital, just a minute – 60 seconds – shy of catching her before she went in. As soon as they told me that, my stomach dropped out of the bottom of me. I knew, I knew this was the ONE time I couldn’t fix my mistake, the one time I couldn’t take it back…
I never saw my mom again, not the way I remember. She blew an artery in recovery and went back in for another surgery. This time she fully stroked out the left side of her brain and never came out of surgery as herself. Essentially brain dead on one side. Three days in a coma…three days of wishing I could just tell her how much of a jerk I was, how much I really loved her…three days of arguing with siblings over her intubation – which she never wanted. The days of watching her slip further and further away, knowing I’d never be able to tell her.
This month is 11 months at the end of the month, almost a year has passed since she did. It took me 10 of those months to stop being angry at myself and get my poo together.
She’s spent most of her life always asking me to repeat what she’d said, even more asking me to slow down when I was talking.
She always said “build a bridge” when talking to me, because I’d change subjects so fast, she hated driving with me because I was distractable and always reminding me of how I should’ve never got my license when I did (she was totally right too, but I’d never have admitted that to her).
She always thought school was hard for me – even though I do have a genius IQ, but it never failed to get her attention that I could read Stephen King books at 8 all day and all night, hide in the closet at school and read about quasars and pulsars when I was 10, yet struggled with a generic biology book for class.
I was the family joke because I never sat through one commercial, without flipping through every channel twice while waiting for a show to come back on.
She was always frustrated that I could start a hundred different things and NEVER finish a single one.
She wanted so much more for me, and more often than not, I was content where I was at the moment. Which was often here and there, and back here, then over there a few more times.
At our best of times, she was frustrated with me, a lot of the time. She still just accepted that this was who I was and never thought twice of it. Knowing when I was listening, and when I wasn’t. When I would forget and when I would remember.
So, I thought of her when I walked into my doctor’s office and finally said: I need help.
I never had the help these kids with ADD/ADHD did growing up. Because I was “gifted” and learned to mimic the behavior of others, no one thought to look at me twice. I was just stubborn, defiant, and odd.
No one even realized I was Dyslexic until my Junior year of high school when one math teacher noticed that my math answers to the problems I’d written down were correct, but the problems I’d written down were backward.
My third-grade cursive teacher was probably the worst and should’ve been the first to realize something was amiss. I remember in fifth grade, our teacher had her come back in to re-learn cursive since our handwriting was apparently atrocious. I remember her walking right over to me, standing behind me with her hands on my shoulders and saying: If this girl can learn to write legibly, then it should be no problem for the rest of you. Confidence booster right there I tell you!
The point being, as a “gifted” child, my hidden disabilities, were REALLY hidden! As an adult who has learned to mimic behavior, and used her OCD to compensate for other behavior, my disabilities are hidden even more. No one looks at my children and says, “Oh that kid right there, Dyspraxia, I’m telling you it’s how he’s dressed!” or “See that little one of hers right there, his ADHD is terrible”, better yet no one ever says, “Those boys over there AUTISM, you can just tell by their eyes!”. That’s not how the world works, not for them and not for adults either.
So, my advice is to stop hiding. Stop pretending everything is okay. Stop compensating. No one is going to be understanding period, most of the time. No one is going to take a moment and think you might need a second to process something. No one is going to look at you and know you need help, compassion or understanding until you stop yourself and ask for it. Show your colors, don’t hide behind the mirror. Sometimes we need to remember that we matter too, that we’re worthy of asking for help.
Life won’t always be puppy dogs and rainbows even after you’re being upfront about things but, it’ll be real and honest. It won’t be smoke and lights; politician smiles and kissing babies. It will be you and trust me, there is a lot LESS anxiety in just being you – whether society says you fit in or not.