THE SQUATTER IN MY BRAIN:

I want to tell you a story about the squatter in my brain.  The one that, like any good vagrant, did not sign a lease, took up residence unbeknownst to me, pays zero rent for taking up an exorbitant amount of space, and creates complete havoc, including, of course, the 2 am parties that keep me up long past a healthy bed time.

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So, it’s almost 2 am.  I am writing a blog post.  I’m supposed to be putting what my husband thinks are fabulous artistic skills (pretty sure he thinks this because it’s convenient and he knows compliments help his case…) to work on a poster for him to use for his meeting that will be taking place in T-minus 6 hours.  That means it needs to be finished in no more than 5 hours so it doesn’t miss the carpool with my either: (a) happy and beaming with adoration husband (if it’s finished and so lovely that it would make Picasso glow), or (b) my frustrated, disappointed, and no doubt bubbling with more than the slight irritation he’s showing so as not to hurt my feelings, husband (if it never comes to fruition).  Oh, and I also need to sleep at some point too…  Despite probably needing to have been in bed 3-4 hours ago and my looming poster deadline that keeps creeping closer with each letter I type, a normal bed time is frustratingly abnormal for me courtesy of the constantly humming motor in my head and the blog post is taking precedence.  Not because it’s more important.  Not because it, too, has a looming deadline, it doesn’t.  No, that would actually make sense…  So it goes with my ADHD brain…

If you’re a little slow on the up-take, no worries, I’ll bring it together for ya:  the squatter is ADHD.  It’s okay, I didn’t make a positive identification of this intruder myself until I was 22, despite having cohabitated with it my entire life.  I didn’t go to someone looking for a diagnosis, despite having wondered sincerely if I did have ADHD. I was an adult, I’d made it to 22 without a diagnosis, albeit with many of the frustrations that come with what I didn’t know at the time was ADHD, and despite thinking it might apply, it didn’t occur to me to think I needed to go seeking a diagnosis at that juncture.

My testing and subsequent diagnosis came about when I had been seeing a psychologist, Dr. S, for other life things.  I’m a fixer and limbo doesn’t work for me, I need to find a means to some sort of resolution to matters that weigh on my mind, so I gladly and without any shame will seek the help of a professional when I need help reaching that resolution.  I think it’s far worse to tuck things away and live under the delusion that if you ignore them they don’t exist.  I was in the midst of some transitions in my life and had a few things that I needed to work through, not the least of which was the weight of a relationship with my dad that’s had some pretty steep ups and downs.  This was at a time when things were lingering in one of the anger and resentment filled valleys.  Through our meetings and conversations, he (Dr. S) picked up on some things that led him to ask if I’d ever been tested for ADD.  I told him that I had not, but chuckled and told him that I had wondered on many occasions if maybe I did have ADD.  He told me that if I’d like to do the testing, he could facilitate it for me.  I thought for a second and said, well, what the heck?  If I did have ADHD, what would it hurt to know?

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After the testing, which included the computer test, we discussed the results.  Between his observations, the quantitative results of the computer test, and the rest of the testing, he told me I was about as textbook a case as he’d seen.  He even showed me the results of that computer test.  The results were displayed in a graph that looked sort of like a seismograph report and my results looked like a very active series of earthquakes with all of the steep peaks and valleys above and below the “normal” line.  We talked about options to help me have more control over the frustrating parts of a constantly overly-stimulated brain.  Obviously, one of them was medication.  I vacillated back and forth, but made the decision to do a trial run on the medication.  We decided we’d have a follow up chat about the ADHD in about a month and we’d discuss what I noticed while being on the medicine and whether or not I felt it was helpful and I’d also retake the computer portion of the testing with the medication to see if there was any improvement there.

The first day of taking the medicine I had a work seminar that I had to attend.  I was DREADING IT!  The whole sitting still for an extended period of time with nothing else to do just made my skin crawl.  (I don’t even do movies, y’all!  If the hubs wants to go see something in the Theater, he has to find another “date.”)  I remember sitting down in my chair in the auditorium, pen and seminar program in hand.  My boss was sitting right next to me on my left.  I kept praying, “Lord, please don’t let her catch me drifting off and doodling during this thing she paid good money to have me attend!”  While I know the Lord has a hand in everything and He surely was with me on that day just like every other, I think that day His answer to me was the fact that I had gone to that psychologist who recognized that I was struggling with something and He provided a path to treatment for me.  Something happened that day that left me bewildered in a good way!  I can still see my view of the stage, sitting there through the entire day-long seminar, speaker after speaker after speaker, nary a doodle on that program, save for a few notes I took.  I WAS ABLE TO SIT THROUGH A DAY LONG SEMINAR AND NOT MISS ¾ OF IT.  I WAS ABLE TO TAKE AWAY MORE THAN SOME RIDICULOUS, SCRIBBLED UP PROGRAM AND FRUSTRATION THAT I MIGHT HAVE MISSED SOMETHING HELPFUL!  I remember that day so vividly because that day was the first time I was able to tune in like a “normal” person.  To not be the pariah who *eye roll* just couldn’t do what I was supposed to.

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When I went back in for the follow-up, I sat down for the computer test with the same dread I had felt the first go around.  That thing is torturously long to someone who, again, hates sitting still with only one thing to do or focus on.  I finished it and Dr. S. shared the results with me.  Remember the volatile earthquake zone of the first test?  Well, this one was as smooth as a glassy lake on a sunny day by comparison.   Between the results of the follow-up test and the noticeable improvements at work and in my day-to-day, I decided to continue on the medicine.

That was 10 years ago.  I took a hiatus from the medicine for a few years.  Not because I didn’t think it was helping me, but when I moved and no longer had the same insurance, my extended release medication that had been completely covered (I had wonderful insurance then!) was no longer covered and I could not afford $160/month.  Despite noticing a difference in my ability to have power over my ADHD tendencies, I never ventured to try the immediate release version that was available in a cheaper generic.  The prospect scared me.  I was comfortable with what I had been taking and knew it worked, but stimulant meds are serious business and I was afraid of the unknown.  No matter the medication, they affect everyone differently, even the same drug in an immediate release vs. an extended release.  When I got married, we decided to both have coverage under my husband’s insurance through his employer.  The coverage was better and I was able to afford my medication again. That’s been almost 5 years ago and I started back on a lower dose than the one I originally began on.  I tell you that and that I began the meds 10 years ago to also tell you that I have only increased my dosage once in the last 10 years.  I increased my dosage to the original 20mg dose I began on.

Maybe a small increase would help me be a little more organized and on point.  Maybe. – BUT – Like I said, stimulant meds are SERIOUS BUSINESS and full disclosure, if there’s another way around something that doesn’t include filling my body with more of something that lines big pharma’s pockets, I’m going to try to find it.  I take Adderall, a regulated, schedule II NARCOTIC.  NARCOTIC.  God gave me an incredibly active brain full of outside the box thinking, more than my fair share of disorganization, a generous helping creativity, and a plethora of other tendencies that can get me in trouble if I am not cognizant of them.   HOWEVER, unlike some things where I throw caution to the wind and say, “oh, what the heck?” on a whim, He gave me enough sense to be cautious and rational about some important things.  One of those things I take very seriously and exercise an abundance of caution with is the medication I take.

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In addition to my very cautious attitude with regard to this stimulant medication, this narcotic, I also feel it is equally important to work on myself.  I think it is just as beneficial for me to find non-medication methodology and work-arounds that work for me.  Again, the views and beliefs expressed here (or in almost any of my posts) are solely me sharing my personal thoughts and experiences,  if it doesn’t fit for you, no problem, please know I’m not prescribing it for you.  That said, just like any other disease or disorder, my thoughts are that throwing medicine at people with no other accompanying therapy or treatment is not the most effective means of treatment in many cases, I didn’t say all, there is no absolute or catch-all when discussing any topic.   I do feel that with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other mental or physical obstacles, I think the most effective thing to do is to find the right balance of medication and therapy.  By the way, in using the word “obstacles” I am in no way minimizing the difficulty of dealing with these things, I understand them very well first-hand, I use it because I don’t like the stigma of the word disorder.  I prefer to look at them as challenges, obstacles to overcome, in this case, at least one of them (ADHD), daily.  That is my personal decision, it helps me. Ironically, that daily obstacle is also the one that causes me to be motivated by challenge.  Have I mentioned that I live and breathe irony, it is the theme of my personal movie: “The Walking Paradox.”   (Don’t hold your breath on seeing that one at the box office, though, it’s a very exclusive bit of cinema for which viewing privilege is thus far reserved for an audience of one – my brain.)  The challenge for me is to maintain any progress I make and improve on things I am less efficient at handling.  PS… With ADHD, reward centers in your brain don’t work like they do for others.  This means that “punishing” or “shaming” yourself is usually a very ineffective way to achieve things.  Instead, finding ways to motivate yourself and maintain motivation to achieve a sense of empowerment and fulfillment tend to work a little better.  Also, routines and developing rituals around things you need to remember, rote tasks that you avoid, etc… helps tremendously.  Just beware the interruption, as it can easily de-rail the routine or ritual.  More on that in another post at another time.

I have so many more thoughts on so many things relative to this disruptive little intruder, including how I’ve made great strides toward getting to know it and (gasp) making friends with it.  Can you believe that sneaky little trespasser actually has some good qualities?

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It was still no “Masterpiece”. . .

Oh, and so I don’t leave you hanging, I got the poster and all of its accompanying pieces of accoutrement finished.  I put the finishing touches on the last little paper tabs and sealed them neatly in an envelope at about 6:30 AM, just as my darling husband finished prepping my coffee pot for brewing and was ready to walk out the door.  I helped him put my little masterpiece and the two accompanying envelopes of “props” in his car and gave him a hug and a kiss and a “good luck” like I was sending him off to school with a big science project and I was that overly-doting parent who misguidedly stays up all-night doing their child’s project for them to be certain they’ll get the “A” and the blue ribbon for having the prettiest project in the fair.  Only, not quite, because this wasn’t a science fair, the only blue ribbon to be had was in my perfectionist brain, and I’m quite certain his sales guys didn’t give a $%!* what it looked like as long as it got the point across – oh and it was most assuredly not perfection.

PS… In writing this one post, thanks to that little squatter, I’ve started at least 5 others.  For your sake, I’ve copied and pasted them into other documents for other posts, otherwise I would have written you a 20 page dissertation about ALL THE THINGS!  You. Are. Welcome.  *Taking a Bow*

PPS:  Please don’t skip my “side note” below.  It will likely answer a few questions for some and make my thoughts about a few other things a little clearer.

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*Side note here on the topic of medication:  I know there are plenty differing thoughts here, anti-meds, pro-meds, people who think ADHD is totally made up by big pharma (ps- you can call it whatever you want to, but it exists), and a plethora of others. 

I know that there are plenty of people who believe that the condition is over-diagnosed and medication is doled out and/or used entirely too liberally.  I agree completely with that statement.  I also believe a paradoxical situation exists regarding diagnosis.  In other words, simultaneous with the over-diagnosis, I believe it is also under-diagnosed for one reason or another.   

I know that the medications for the disorder can be dangerous and scary drugs when abused, used improperly, over-used, or used by the wrong person. *** More on that below and even in a little more depth in a soon-to-come post.

I also know for an absolute fact it can cause some terrible and negatively life-altering effects.  I am all-too-aware that it can send an entire family into a tailspin of turmoil.  I’ve seen it first-hand, in my own family.  It is a very conflicted and bewildering thought that something that has been so helpful for me can, conversely, be so incredibly destructive for someone else.  Trust when I tell you those feelings have caused me pause on more than a few occasions.  

Lastly, I know, like many other topics, there will not be a 100% consensus on any of those thoughts, no matter how much ALL CAPS and arguing is spent on trying to make someone else “see the light” from your well-intentioned attempts to serve as the beacon.  That said, I welcome you to feel convicted in your beliefs, whatever they may be.  I do not, however, welcome you to throw stones at others whose shoes you have not walked in.  That goes for both camps.  A mother who has lost her child, be they a shell of their former selves, or actually no longer walking the earthly walk, doesn’t need to hear railing and ranting that “people who are anti-medicine are (insert negative adjective).”  Likewise, someone swimming upstream against their inability to take the intelligence and awesome talents God gave them and use them in an effective way, having had their psyche battered their entire lives with their own feelings of inadequacy along with messages from teachers, parents, etc… that they are lazy, stupid, “not-normal,” whatever, don’t need additional messages of what someone else perceives wrong with them. This is not the forum for that. I hope you can be respectful of everyone and take into consideration the experience or events behind a differing opinion.  Most people don’t disagree for the sake of being an asshole.  Something has caused them to feel the way they do, right, wrong, subjective, or indifferent.

***I also cannot let it go without saying, too, that I am well-aware that there are those who feign symptoms, go to crooked or physicians or nurse-practitioners who serve as a loophole to a true diagnosis when they fail to get one, or “borrow” and/or even purchase illegally from others for the sake of studying or the “speed” effect to “help” them accomplish things or curb their appetite or because they want feel better about themselves or (insert whatever other line of reasoning here).   If this is you, you are doing a grave disservice to yourself, your family, and patients who rely on something that helps them cope with an actual disorder, not an occasional lack of motivation.  If this is making you uncomfortable, then YOU probably are one of the very ones that need to keep reading the rest of this of this post.  I’m sorry in advance for what I am about to say, but I mean it in the most loving way.  This is harsh, but it’s true:  If you are using this drug for any of those things mentioned previously or any other purpose other than to treat true, diagnosed, confirmed ADHD, you are no different than a cokehead, a crackhead, a pill head,  a meth head, or anyone else who uses illegal drugs OR prescription drugs, even ones prescribed for you, outside of  their prescribed or intended usage and/or for mind or mood altering.  You need to seek the help of a qualified professional.  Not one who is known to be the loophole for people who want the drug but have been unsuccessful in getting diagnosed, not one who is negligent and loose with a prescription pad, not one who is doling out prescriptions for a “small fee.”

 Believe it or not, getting the “speed” effect is a good indication you are not a candidate for the medicine.  If you feel a “high” from taking it, find yourself upping your dose because you don’t get a noticeable sensation of it “taking effect” anymore and/or you’ve upped your dose three-fold in a matter of less than a year, you are gambling in a game with fixed odds and the house will always have the advantage.. . 

Again, I have plenty more to say on this, but I’ll save the bulk of  it for another post.  Once I finish untangling my thoughts and complete it, I’ll link it here. 

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