Monday, March 15, 2010

Pharm Fresh

I've described my brain, specifically my thought processes, as "the chihuahua that lives in my head". I began describing my mind this way shortly after I began attending Friends Meeting. To me, it seemed that everyone at meeting's minds were like big old irish setters. They'd come into meeting for worship and their brains would walk a circle a few times and then settle snugly in front of the fire to wait expectantly for Spirit (their Master). I, on the other hand, had a chihuahua for a brain and when I'd sit down in meeting for worship, the mailman would knock on the door setting off a paroxysm of yapping and barking.

I've also written about my very, very low boredom threshold and how much I need a variety of activities in a job in order to maintain interest and remain engaged.

And don't get me started on my inability to follow-through, keep anything tidy or organize my office or my clothes...

Looking back over old posts I see that it's been about a year or so since I began exploring the idea that these things are linked and maybe part of a "diagnosis". I had an inkling that there is something bigger than just personal failures to "do better". As I always do, I read a bunch of stuff and was guided to explore adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder minus the hyperactivity. The more I read on the subject, the more I was pretty sure the symptoms describe my way of relating to the world. The thing that really put it all together for me, though, was an off-hand comment made by my friend, Kit when she said that participating in a drum circle is the only time she feels adhd because her mind wanders and she has to bring it back to the moment. I was amazed at that statement because my mind never stops wandering unless I'm reading a book I find very compelling or sometimes when I'm engaged in an activity which totally absorbs me (which has happened, like, twice in my life). My mind never stops wandering. I am almost never able to fully concentrate on anything. I assumed everyone was more or less the same way so when Kit said that, I began to fully understand just how differently my brain works.

At the time I began exploring this, I was working at a job that fit me very well (except the dysfunctional and inept boss part, of course). My skill-set and talents worked really well with the duties and tasks required by the job and it was a natural and very happy fit. I was able to do most of the duties of the job well enough to feel comfortable and competent but there were still enough things to learn and grow into that I was always positively challenged. But, alas, my boss did not have the same, um, level of competency about her position and created an atmosphere of instability, insecurity, and uninformed, reactive decision making which permeated every aspect of our department and which I, being between her and our staff, bore the brunt of. By the time I was able to submit my resignation, I was pretty thoroughly beaten down.

At this point, I was offered a position in management with the university research company for which I formerly worked. Yes, I was interested! I was also, in equal measures, completely daunted by the prospect of taking a job which would require way, way more skill and ability to organize effectively than anything I'd ever attempted before.

In exploring what having undiagnosed ADHD has meant in my life, I see that I have never had any kind of expectations for myself when it comes to education or career. The books I've read talk about the ways different people cope with the problems inherent with this...let's call it...condition, disorder, whatever. It seems that a lot of people with ADHD are able to excel in some areas of life by putting inordinate amounts of energy into those areas while other areas (that most people take for granted) are not able to develop successfully because of problems with impulsivity, lack of attention or energy. I began failing in school in second grade. My brain does not process numbers and mathematical problems effectively and I have never had the interest nor the attention span to be able to overcome these problems in order to learn to compensate. Rather than trying harder, which I could never understand how or even why to do when trying at all didn't work in any way, I just put my energy into things I enjoyed and which made me feel successful. Although I've always loved learning things which interest me, I hated school and learning according to other's expectations and agendas. I decided at 12 that I would not attend school a minute longer than I had to. Nothing in the ensuing 6 years gave me any reason to change my mind so I didn't attend college and got a job and an apartment, instead.

Rather than trying to pursue a formal education or a career path, I put my energy into creating a life for myself on my terms. I was pretty clearly able to see the things that we accept as societal norms and to identify which are neutral or positive and which are negative. As a young adult, I spent a lot of time and energy rebelling against what seemed wrong to me and being a negative force for change: I defined myself by what I was against (ala the young characters in the movie "Ghostworld"). When I was 21 or so, I read the book "Spiritual Midwifery" which opened my mind to a new perspective so that when I became pregnant at 24 I could accept a new identity as a mother and begin my path toward defining myself as being for what is true rather than against what is not.

I accepted and have started this new job. I know I have the skills and knowledge to perform the individual tasks involved. It's the composite of the individual tasks that I'm worried about--the organizing, prioritizing and synthesizing of those tasks.

About two weeks ago, I met with a psychiatrist who specializes in adults with adhd. We talked and she agreed with my self-diagnosis. We discussed treatment options and settled on a 12 hour slow-release stimulant at it's lowest dosage.

At this point, I'd like to interject into this narrative my personal history of complete objection to the concept, diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit disorder. I still feel that there is something drastically wrong with a society in which a person can't be successful unless they are able to fit into the narrowly defined boxes that allow for achievement in school and gainful employment. Historically, I believe a person with the creative and convoluted thought processes experienced by those of us with adhd would have found a way to positively contribute to their communities without the requirement of drugs. But, that's not how our current society operates. I am living at this time and with this brain and I have to figure out how best to make good with it. Right now, for me, this is what seems to make the most sense.

So I began taking my drug of choice the day I began packing for my trip to Chicago. This drug works immediately--it does not need to "build up" in one's system in order to begin to be effective. At first, I didn't actively notice any difference in the way I was interacting with my world. But a couple of days into it, it occurred to me that I hadn't been dithering at all. I packed my bag for a week's trip in a couple of hours, and I didn't get impatient and cranky with my family in the process! I've joked for years that I had the capacity for only a limited number of decisions on any given day--that I would wake up able to make six decisions and once I had done that, I couldn't make any more decisions until the next day. I've always been that way. That's why my house never gets straightened up because it requires a lot more than 6 or 10 decisions to clean a room. (Work was a different story because most of the decisions I made there were based on project and departmental protocol which were clearly defined.) And now, I've been home from my trip for 16 hours and my bag is unpacked and everything is put away and the laundry is washing. That has NEVER happened before. Placebo effect or chemically enhanced brain-networking, I don't care which, something new is happening in my head and it seems a bit of a miracle to me. (and, as an added bonus, stimulants act as appetite suppressants!)

1 comment:

Eric H-L said...

I am so happy to hear you are continuing to take care of yourself--and finding new ways to do it. I am holding you and the new job and the slow acting stimulant in the light.
Eric H-L