Personally Speaking

ADHD has been both a blessing and a curse in my life. While it has given me a reason for much of the negative or less than favorable events of my life, it now leaves me trying to undo many of those things that have shaped me as an individual.

Good or bad, the decisions we make throughout our lives create who we are as individuals and help to define our personalities, morals, and values. Included in all of this, are the people in our lives. It is the people who come and go, our families, our friends, and even those unsavory individuals who would not have been missed, had they not show up in the first place. Sometimes it is the people closest to us that can cause the most grief. It is, in the majority of cases I’m sure, not done intentionally. It is because of their position in our lives as husbands, wives, close friends, and siblings, that they have the greatest impact on decisions that we make. It is these people that we look to when there are big decisions to make. Their thoughts and ideas carry more weight than those opinions from people we haven’t known quite so long or respect as much. As a result, their comments are sometimes hurtful.

Before I continue, let me give you some insight as to who I am emotionally. Of my mothering ability, my sister said to me when I was all of 15 years old, that she thought I was capable of raising a child even at that age. Not that I would have ever acted on this but I have been ready since that age, to be in the roll that I now have. My self esteem has always been on the low end. I think this comes as a result of the many struggles I’ve had associated with ADHD, undiagnosed until 6 years ago. I feel as though I have failed more than I have succeeded and when I do succeed, the moment is brief. My own family that I built with my husband, and the family that I have grown up in, mean more to me then the air I breathe. So it only made sense that I would want to instruct them on the dynamics of the ADHD mind so that they would be better able to help me. It was imperative that they understand the struggle that I deal with everyday so that when they wanted to give me advice, it would fit neatly into how my thought process works. It made total sense to me: if I tell them how everything works, then the information they give me is already in ADHD format.

There was one huge problem, they didn’t wanna know. In my mind, this was so totally out of sync with everything that made sense to me. These are my family, why would they not want to help me in the most efficient way possible?

I have had elaborate conversations with them about how I need to “just do it….”,  “just spend a few hours every morning…”, “all you need to do is…”, it gives me a headache just thinking about it. When conversations like this would come up, I would launch into my shpeal of how my thought process works. I thought they would be eager to know. I’d tell them how it’s not as simple as they make it sound, about what my brain is capable of processing at any one time, but it was never enough. It made it sound like I was making excuses. I have no reason to make excuses.

Here is some background history on a sensitive issue: my husband and I designed our beautiful little cape style house, from the size of the foundation to the shingles on the roof and all that’s in between. While working on the house, I went into premature labor with our first child. He delivered at 24 weeks and 5 days gestation. I spent my weekdays living in the Providence, RI Ronald McDonald House while he continued to work on the house. On weekends, I came home and helped out. Said child turned 12 this last October.

Now, I love this house my husband built for us. I have never, ever, regretted anything about building it or disliked anything about it. I beam with immense pride when people ask about the house or complement its design. The knowledge that is stored in Will’s brain to build something so fabulous, amazes me even still today. I’ll never forget him saying, “I want to build a castle for you and our children.” And he did. Blood, sweat, and even a few tears, were shed in its construction. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t been proud to live here. On the few nights when the boys were afraid to go to sleep, I’d tell them, “Your dad built this house, monsters can’t live here.” It was always enough for them to snuggle down in their beds and go to sleep.

A few years ago, Will was angry with me again. We had been arguing and he said that I didn’t respect this house enough to take care of it. I was floored. I was hurt deeply, couldn’t even believe that such a statement was said out loud. This house is my life. It contains the lives of three guys who make my life whole. Me, as wife and mother, am responsible for keeping the home light burning, for keeping the house looking respectful and welcoming. Stay caught up on the laundry, keep the kitchen and bathroom clean, and be able to have friends over for dinner at a moments notice. While he was upset at my lack of skills, I felt like he was trying to make me be like his mother. I love and respect her but I will never be like her. We are very different people. She doesn’t understand me either, but that’s okay. She doesn’t need to.

As I sat mulling over his comment, I remembered something my mother said to me when I was a teenager. I was likely supposed to be cleaning my room or doing something around the house that wasn’t getting done. She said, “When you have your own house, its going to be a mess…,” and so it came to pass, my own self fulfilling prophecy. That will never leave my mind.

My sister is another story. Things have gotten ugly with her on at least one occasion. I was desperately trying to explain to her why I am the way that I am. She was here at my house. We were standing in my quaint kitchen with it’s white and green tile counters and maple cabinets that I had picked out myself. I was backed in a corner, literally, between the stove and sink. She kept on comparing me to her clients, she’s a recreational therapist, and there is no comparing. We are apples and oranges I said, they will heal, I will not. They can overcome their addictions, my ADHD will never go away, it can only be managed. I found my backside up against the edge of the counter, my heart was ready to break through my chest and the hair on the back of my neck was standing up. My blood pressure was rising and I was very angry. In a quiet voice I said, “You need to leave.” But she kept on talking. A little bit louder now, “You need to go home.” She didn’t leave but the rest of her stay, until the afternoon of the next day, was strained.

My dad has become my go-to guy. When I have issues relating to my ADHD, I call him. We’ve had lots of conversations, a few of them pushing an hour long. He understands better than most, partly because we think he has it too. He’s read tons of info which often gets passed on to me. While I don’t always remember to read it, I know its all there waiting for me.

My husband continues to be my biggest challenge. He says he understands what it is but he isn’t any more accepting of my different way of thinking. We often end up in a rut, both wanting the other to be something other than what we are. While I believe that’s its easier for him to be more flexible with me, he’s feeling cheated because he works all day and comes home to find out that I really haven’t done much, according to his way of doing things. “I can do in a couple what it takes you all day to do.” Thanks for the reminder.

There have been days when I feel as though he is lost to me. I often feel that I will never meet his expectations. I’ve been this way for at least 38 years. How much time do I have to figure this all out? How consistent do I have to be in order to redeem myself? How much is good enough? The large chasms in our relationship where we seem to just exist together, are frequent. He tolerates whatever it is I’m doing, or not doing as the case may be, and I try to work through the void that has been left in his wake. I have piles of reading that give ideas and plans but he gets frustrated when things don’t work and he doesn’t like reading. I want him to come to counseling with me but its always an infringement on his time and paycheck, even if its only an hour per month. Here, the little voice in my head says, he doesn’t think you are worth the time. Someone said to me, when I voiced this out loud, that maybe he is afraid. He may be worried about being thrown under the proverbial bus, worried that maybe he’ll be judged. My initial reaction is no, that’s not like him at all. I just can’t imagine him being afraid of anything. That being said, he is like most men and does not discuss his feelings with me. He would rather slink away and brood, letting hurt fester until at some point, it blows, widening the already wide chasm between us. While I hate being on the receiving end of his knife-like sarcasm, I’d rather he let it out. Better out than in, right? By going to counseling with me, he has a place to let it out where he won’t be judged. I desperately need his help and this is such an easy thing to do. Leave work a half hour early, join me for an hour session 2 times per month. Get things out. Work with a different clinician who has a better plan. Help me make a game plan for us and for the boys. What could it hurt? How much is “fixing” me worth?

So these people, these are the biggest, most important ones. They make my world go round. Now, my handsome boys can be added to that list, too. While my youngest seems more concerned with his next game of Minecraft, my oldest is grasping some of the issues I have and helps out on occasion. He is mature beyond his age and I hope that stays with him. While I’m not sure about this rollercoaster ride with my hubby, I can say for now that we need to find a happy medium, something that works for both of us. In the heat of the moment, that is hard to think, much less say. If he’s willing to work without pointing fingers, I am too.

Don’t Leave Me Lonely

The need for human touch has been proven over and over again, to be a much-needed necessity of life. In this article from Living Social, they talk of how simple, affectionate, and compassionate touch, can improve everything from how an infant grows, to boosting our immune system, to how our heart functions. Our bodies and minds cannot exist in a vacuum.  As simple as it may seem, that pat on the back or that simple handshake with a friend that you haven’t seen in many years, carries much more to it then a simple, “Hey, how have you been?” A 1988 article from the New York Times says this:

In some of the most dramatic new findings, premature infants who were massaged for 15 minutes three times a day gained weight 47 percent faster than others who were left alone in their incubators – the usual practice in the past. The massaged infants also showed signs that the nervous system was maturing more rapidly: they became more active than the other babies and more responsive to such things as a face or a rattle.

Okay, so we know touch is a necessity. So what do we do when we are upset with someone and we want to avoid a confrontation? We ignore them, right?  At least until we can calm down then talk to them reasonably. With the frustrations that comes along in dealing with someone who has ADHD, the frustration can mount, tempers flare, and sometimes avoidance becomes a necessity to avoid a fight. That being said, with avoidance comes distance, distance that is both physical and emotional. The ups and downs can be dramatic for both people involved.

Speaking for myself, these ups and downs have come at a heavy price.  Not only do I feel as though I’m not always getting what I need, but I have developed a sense of anxiety that never seems to go away completely.  I am always wondering if I did enough, did I do it right, if I didn’t do it right or if I didn’t do enough, does that mean that I will be kept at arm’s length until I get things right?  How do I know if I did something right if he won’t talk to me? And, when I’m back to being sort-of-normal, how do we go back to regular living after one of these long episodes?   There is a double whammy here: we have had so many of these ups and downs that my mind now associates being back on track with getting affection. It is much more difficult for me to go back to that ‘normal’ way of living then it is for him. Somewhere in my mind’s eye, sex and intimacy have now become a reward for being productive and on the ball, but try as I might, it is very difficult to not think that way. Some instances are worse than others, as is the case with any type of problem, I guess. Sometimes his avoidance behavior can last as little as a few days but it has been as long as a month. The longer the time frame, the higher the stress level and the greater the anxiety.  With my husband working as a carpenter, the particular job he’s on at the time may be a difficult one in which case his stress level and anxiety is high as well. This makes our relationship very tense as we try to work through multiple issues. If the boys have stuff going on with school or scouts, well, that just adds another stick to the fire.

A common denominator in my worldly conflicts is my husband’ s abundant sense of sarcasm. He often tells me that I am the only one who doesn’t understand it.  I don’t think that’s the case every time. He uses his sarcasm as a tool to portray emotions he happens to be feeling at a given time. When used in a humorous fashion, even the kids understand it. But for me, when he is upset or frustrated, that sarcasm has a deadly edge that has left me emotionally bleeding.  Sometimes he catches me unawares, making a comment out of the blue. A comment that I am totally unprepared for and totally not expecting, as he did just this last Easter afternoon. These comments are the proverbial double-edged sword, especially when said in front of other people. Emotionally, they set me back so far, wondering what I had done after such a lovely day, to warrant such a remark.

Now, in his defense, he deals with a lot. He has been our sole provider since before the kids were born. This was a joint decision on both our parts so that I could stay home with the boys while they were growing. The boys are now ages 8 and 11 years old.  In today’s economy, just being the sole provider would be enough to stress anyone out. For the entire 21 years of his career, all of his work has come in the form of referrals from previous customers or as a subcontractor on one of his friend’s jobs. The majority of the time he gets customers that are much like those that referred him in the first place but, on occasion, we get a doozy that stresses him out a bit. Throw in my ADHD issues and the boys misbehaving, and he’s pretty much had enough for one day, never mind if the job has any kind of longevity to it. This brings me back around to the keeping-me-at-arms-length, part of the story. From his point of view, after a days work and chaos at home, he feels better keeping his distance from me in every sense of the word, rather than risking a potentially nasty confrontation. Even the simple kiss on the cheek on his way to work is avoided. I’m not sure that this is the best way to handle things. Yes, it does avoid confrontation, but it avoids everything else too. Part of this whole package is that when there is a confrontation, it usually isn’t about anything new. The same issues, the same complaints, and then me trying to defend myself. Every once in a while, a new angle is presented, a new perspective, if you will. One of us is able to make our feelings better understood by creating a scenario that better describes how we feel at a given moment. I see these little moments as very small milestones in our attempts to communicate how we feel. They don’t always get us very far but being able to see things from a new angle, with a fresh view, can sometimes lead us down another road that may have some potential. I do understand, immensely, the frustration that he feels.  What I don’t understand is how he can keep me so far away on the emotional level.

I live just over 2 hours from my nearest relative. I elected to pick up and move to Connecticut so that he did not have to start his business from scratch in another state. By doing this, it has made it difficult for me to just get in the car and go see my family when I’m feeling distress. There is an intense sense of isolation when we’ve argued and I have no family to talk to about it. I could call but it’s not the same as having a real person. He is my rock, my go-to person, he is part of my soul and a large part of my heart. Not being able to go to him when I have trouble is very difficult, indeed. There is an abundance of safety and security in his embrace.  There is reassurance, trust, and hope, in his heartfelt kisses. When all of that becomes unavailable, I start to wonder when, and if, it will come again at all. I lay awake at night, listening to him softly sleep and I think of how much of my world is wrapped up in what he created with his own two hands. He has told me on more than one occasion that he doesn’t think I care for the house or his efforts in building it because I am unwilling to keep it neat and organized. Flashback: early 2002, we have just found out that we’re going to have a baby. He says to me, “I want to build a house for you and the baby.” Oh the joys of that day! I knew these weren’t just words or wishful thinking.  I knew even then that he had the talent to do it, and he did, in between trips to Rhode Island and his regular work [see: To Much, Too Soon, coming later].  Little did I think that 10 years later, I would be accused of not caring about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building this house. If it was only so simple as making a choice [see: Just Do It, coming soon]. ADHD isn’t about whether or not you have a choice.  It is often complicated by having too many choices. Even just an hour’s worth of time can be broken down into so many smaller increments, and if you don’t know where to begin, where to end, or the process to get there, the majority of us with this problem do nothing because we would rather do nothing, then to do it wrong, again. If he should decide my ADHD issues are too much to handle anymore, I have the potential to lose everything because of a deficiency that I was born with, a problem that I didn’t create, and one that I am not sure I will ever be able to control. I have told him on at least a few occasions, that I would rather he just yell at me and get it over with, then hold me, hug me tight, and help me feel better. As human beings, a simple touch can often portray those emotions that are difficult or scary to speak out loud. Yet even though they don’t make a sound, they speak loud and clear, the messages that they convey. There is a song called When You Say Nothing at All by Allison Krauss, that gives this same message. Here are the lyrics….

It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart

Without saying a word you can light up the dark

Try as I may I could never explain

What I hear when you don’t say a thing

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me

There’s a truth in your eyes sayin’ you’ll never leave me

The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall

You say it best when you say nothing at all

All day long I can hear people talking out loud

But when you hold me near you drown out the crowd  

Old Mr. Webster could never define

What’s being said between your heart and mine

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me

There’s a truth in your eyes sayin’ you’ll never leave me

The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall

You say it best when you say nothing at all

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me

There’s a truth in your eyes sayin’ you’ll never leave me

The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall

You say it best when you say nothing at all

Songwriters SCHLITZ, DON / OVERSTREET, PAUL

Published by Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, EMI Music Publishing

When all is said and done, we need to find some happy medium where we each get what we need. He gets frustrated when I don’t get stuff done, I get frustrated when I feel as though I have been left by the wayside. Down deep inside all that churning emotion, is a solution of sorts, something that will work for us both.  How long will it take to find it? I don’t know. Will I ever find it? Don’t know that either.  What I do know is this: this man is my everything. On my worst of days, I think back to those simple moments that could be lost if we don’t find a working compromise. I think of those moments like when out of the blue, he will walk up to me and hug me. Not just any hug mind you, but a living, breathing, heartwarming hug that speaks volumes of security, safety, and above all, love and trust. This particular kind of hug is very different from the hey-honey-I’m-leaving-for-work-see-you-later kind of hug. This is one of those hugs where the house could fall down around us and we would still be standing there. Everyone needs one of those hugs every now and then from a special someone.  It’s spiritually uplifting, rejuvenating, calming, and helps to restore peace of mind.  Most of all it says, “I’m here for you regardless of what is going on, regardless of our differences.”  So, if you don’t know what to say, say nothing at all, let your heart and soul do the speaking for you.

The Problem with Not Knowing

ADHD has been one of the largest challenges of my life. I was diagnosed 5 years ago and though some may think that a diagnosis is a blessing, it has really turned my life upside down. The challenges that come with having ADHD and having 2 children that also have it, has made some days very challenging just to get through.

In the greater scheme of things, I was glad to be diagnosed when I was. I just wish that I’d been diagnosed sooner. Trying to get my life organized and to learn all the things that I never learned growing up, is that much more challenging as an adult.I’ve often heard it said, and I know I’ve read it many times, that children have the ability to absorb an amazing amount of information while they are young. Children are capable of learning multiple languages much faster and much easier than adults are because their minds are much more receptive to the information. The same goes for some of the basic things in life.

I will never, for the rest of my life, forget what my mother said to me as a teenager:”When you have your own house, it’s going to be a mess!” I try not to put too much into statements like this. Maybe she was just teasing me at the time, maybe she was being serious, and maybe she was just frustrated with me. However it was intended, it has stuck with me for the last 30-some years of my life. The sad thing is, she was right. Now, I know most people don’t like to admit when their parents are right, but for the most part, they’ve been right about me.

I was not an easy child raise. Not to say that children are easy to raise,they are an amazing challenge. I had some stuff come about that as I think back now, were related to the ADHD issues. One of the first noticeable oddities that I remember was the development of a couple of types of nervous tic. I won’t get into specifically what they were because I don’t think it really matters at this point in time but, I think there was a correlation between this nervous activity and the frustration I was feeling at the time, in trying to make sense of my world. I have notes from my pediatrician at the time who said that there wasn’t really anything to worry about and that I would outgrow them. I did. The cause of them however, has never really been known.

About this same time, I decided that I wanted a bathroom in my bedroom. Now again, I won’t get into details because they are unnecessary and frankly, very embarrassing. In a nutshell, it was probably one of my first brilliant ideas that I didn’t think through very well. It worked for a time, a very short time, sort of. My shocked mother explained to me the error of my ways and that idea was swiftly aborted.

My mom says that she and dad started noticing something was different when I was in 3rd grade. I was having trouble concentrating, paying attention, in staying focused. ADHD was in its infancy at this time and people had no idea what it was, what caused it, or how to deal with it. I remember a period Of about 18 months or so where I was going to counseling and having various tests done like an EKG and an EEG. I had my hearing checked and my eyes checked, and everything was normal. My pediatrician decided that I just needed some extra attention in the classroom and in time, I would catch up to my peers again. Wrong.

Halfway through my 4th grade year, I was moved to Pine Cobble School in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It proved to be one of the most dramatic moments of my life. In this small town that I grew up in, I had been with the same kids since kindergarten. Now, I was uprooted and put into a private school for the next two and a half years. I can safely say that I only had one real friend while I was there and he left at the end of my 4th grade year. It wasn’t a total loss. There were a couple of things that influenced my life: I meet Mr Steele, the shop teacher there. He took me under his wing and gave me the praise that I so longed for. It was also at this point that I developed a fondness for storytelling. One of the preschool teachers nurtured and supported this new endeavor and encouraged me to read one of my stories to the preschool class. I remember being so excited that someone thought that what I was doing was worth sharing. She actually enjoyed my story and thought that I should keep writing. Her name was Mrs. Wright (really, it was). I also had the privilege of having the Shah of Iran’s daughter in my 6th grade class, Leila Pahlavi. As a small aside, she committed suicide about 10-12 years ago, never having recovered from her father’s death.

By the time I went back to my own school district for 7th grade, I was ahead of my peers because the class sizes at PC had been so small. As far as peers were concerned, all those who had been my friends when I left, we’re not my friends anymore. At the tender age of 11 years old, I was a stranger in my own town. The cliques had formed while I was gone and now I was just another new kid. It was difficult to try to fit in. I remember being teased and made fun of simply because of the shoes that I wore. The stress of coming back to my old school district and starting middle school were made doubly difficult because this was also the year that I hit puberty. It was a rough year.

By the time I got to 8th grade, I had a couple of friends but they weren’t really reliable or trustworthy. By 9th grade, I met Dee and we developed a fast friendship. Because she was a year ahead of me, she was not there for my senior year and we only shared a couple of classes together prior to that. By the second half of that year, I had my first real boyfriend, Richie, who came to be a wonderful friend for many years to come.

My circle of friends remained small and my grades we’re all over the chart but were always passing. I was unable to do sports or band because I was unable to maintain my grades and still be able to practice. From my sophomore year through the end of my senior year, my life was unremarkable. I was always attracted to the guys with the low self-esteem or the trouble makers. In retrospect, these guys had more trouble than I did and I guess I thought that I could somehow save them. Needless to say, there were no more meaningful relationships except for one at the end of my senior year. He had been out of high school for a few years and was a DJ for a dance that our SADD organization was putting on. We dated until sometime later that summer when he told me that I was too flirtatious. Oh well.

I graduated from high school with my grades in the ‘B’ range and I made plans to go to college. Now, because I did still have difficulty in some subjects and my grades on the SATs were deplorable, even after I took them twice, I was unable to get into any of the colleges that I really wanted to go to. That meant that my only option was to start at the local community college. At the time, I felt that only the locals went there because they didn’t want to go too far from home. I felt that because I was the daughter of parents who were well established in good paying jobs, that I shouldn’t have to start at such a school. Needless to say, I had a very delusional thought as to what community colleges were all about. I ended up spending one year at Berkshire Community College and then I transferred to the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Apparently I never looked too closely at my final grades from Plattsburgh. Just last year, when I applied to UConn for another degree, I went over all of my grades class by class until I got to my final grade. I managed to get my degree by only 3/10th of a point. 3/10th! Good grief! If I wasn’t in a new degree program with a low GPA requirement (2.5), I wouldn’t have gotten a degree at all. All that work would have been for nothing. If I had known then what I was up against, there would have been an IEP in place and I would have had help. 3/10th of a point…it still gives me the willies.

Thinking about……oh, a butterfly!

Sometimes when I’m traveling, I find myself being a companion to my own thoughts. It comes about in a somewhat sneaky fashion. I’ll find myself driving along realizing that I don’t have the radio on, my phone isn’t ringing or buzzing, and there are no husband or kids in the car.

Sometimes these thoughts are peaceful ones and sometimes they are thoughts about all the things that I haven’t done, that I need to do, things that I have done, and things that I would like to do but am unable to. The thoughts are sometimes productive and other times they leave me chasing my tail wondering when and how I’m going to get all of this stuff done.

Take for instance, today’s moment of thought: I am on my way to a doctor’s appointment and I have that brief moment when I realize that the radio is not playing and all I’m hearing is the sound of the tires on the lumpy pavement. I start thinking about how my parents were here this weekend for the pancake breakfast that the Boy Scouts had, I think about how I need to call my neighbor and find out if I could use her post hole digger to make the fence bigger for my goats. I think about how my husband and I had a wonderful little interlude in the middle of the night and how he seemed to be indifferent to me this morning. I think about how the boys have a Book Fair at the school this week and realize that they each have their own money to take with them but I will probably spend some of mine on gifts for them and for others. Though some of these thoughts may mean something and some of them may not mean anything, they seem like free roaming thoughts in my head, in one neuron and out the next, like cattle going through a gate. Sometimes there’s that one special cow that means more than the others do but I don’t necessarily have time to deal with her today so she will pass by like all the others and I will get to her another time. This is not always a productive way to think. It is not definite, it is surely not set in stone, and there is no guarantee that in my ADHD state of mind, that I will ever get to it. I have the best of intentions but I am not always able to follow-up with them.

This somewhat defunct way of thinking doesn’t always work well for other people, in relation to me. I come across as being forgetful, a day-dreamer, and overzealous. I am often accused of not thinking things through, of not making good plans, or that I don’t know what I’m doing. Unfortunately, that is part of the ADHD way of thinking. As the process goes, I get a great idea that I want to try, I get excited for this new idea, yet people around me tend not to want to help me through it because they know that I have other projects that I have yet to finish. I need the people who know me, to be to be able to say to me, “Sara, you need to go back a couple of steps”, or “you missed something.” My husband is slowly being able to do this. He’ll say to me,  “let’s finish this other project before you start another one. Sometimes this is met with frustration on my part because I really want to try this one thing. Other times I am able to see the reality in what he is saying and can agree. The catch-22 in all of this is that, as I’m trying to get stuff done that needs doing, I feel that I will never to get to the stuff that I want to do.