Hi. I’m back again. After my typical 3-4+ month lack of posts, here’s a new one. And it might explain a lot about the typical 3-4+ month lack of posts. Good to be back. Hope I can stay for a while this time.
Spring is full of gorgeous struggle, beauty born of mess and endurance. The Buddha teaches that from the mess grows the lotus – beauty and symmetry floating above the muck. Or maybe he meant that from the mess grows the British sports cars that make Fiats look reliable, but that makes the metaphor unworkable so let’s stick with the flower. And now that we’re set up with the poetic imagery, let’s get to the point:
Last Friday I was diagnosed with ADD. And it basically explains my life.
I recently changed psychiatrists for my depression treatment. I’ve dealt with depression since age 10 or so, knowing it was depression and treating it (sometimes with a doc and prescription meds, sometimes on my own, sometimes both) since my mid 20s. My last psych never changed my medication despite reporting each time that not much had changed – things weren’t horrible but not great either. And every time, she decided to wait before making any sudden changes and recommended some herbal teas or supplements.
In January, I told her I had seen my PCP about worsening pain & fatigue and I had a list of possible medications we might consider after testing. She scoffed, “This isn’t something you’ll fix with a pill!” and recommended a 30 day paleo cleanse diet. With a straight face, no less. I was filling out paperwork for my new shrink the next afternoon.
She was wrong about the pill, by the way. And also kinda right and we’ll get to that, but not today.
My new shrink immediately changed the depression med in my first appointment. In the second, he tweaks it and, as we’re trying to deal with the ongoing fatigue problem, he mentions the outside possibility of using ADD medication, among other possibilities, if things don’t improve. We decided to see how the tweak changes things and discuss over email in 2 weeks.
I drove away confused and incensed. ADD meds? Was he serious? I was in full blown “Oh, fuck him” mode when I realized two things: that any time I have an oversized reaction (like “fuck him” to mentioning a possibility of considering a future treatment), there’s usually something else going on; and, a therapist once asked if I had a messy room as a kid. Very, I replied. “You might have been experiencing ADHD,” he said, “You may want to discuss it with your doctor to see if it’s still affecting you.”
I never followed through with his suggestion because reasons but his words came back as I was roundly cursing my current shrink. After a deep breath and weary sigh, I decided I should ask Dr. Google what was going on so I could build evidence against this ludicrous idea. There’s self-tests for everything on the Internet and most are pure crap – dumbshit clickbait (“Are you an old soul? Take this test and find out!”) or drug company marketing. But I repeat myself.
I found some tests for adult ADD on reputable academic and medical sites (you can still trust Harvard, I think). I took them and pegged the meter on every last fucking one of them.
At the two week email check-in, I emailed and told him yes, I had made the changes we talked about and yes, fatigue was a little better but still not very good and by the way I’ve been thinking about what you said in passing and I think ADD meds might be helpful because it seems like I have some ADD-like things going on. He got me in the next day.
I told him my experiences and he said it sounded like solid evidence of ADD. Based on what I answered about my childhood, he said I had been likely been dealing with it my whole life without knowing it. We discussed treatment options and, knowing it would be trial and error to dial in the best medicine and dose, made a plan and followup appointment in 3 weeks. He made it seem all so calm and normal, like it might take a few tries but we’ll get ‘er done. I picked up my prescription from the pharmacy that afternoon and Saturday morning, took the first pill.
Even though it was just a few days ago, I have trouble describing how beautiful and incredible Saturday was. Imagine waking up from a long, troubled nightmare to which you had resigned yourself and looking around at paradise. Imagine suddenly being able to trust your gut when you haven’t had a gut to trust in years. Imagine all the hopes and dreams you’ve slowly discarded and given up being laid in front of you once again with a giant flashing sign that says, “Go ahead – take some!” There was a shattering of ego, a sudden and direct connection with the world, and not just hope but assurance that everything was, is, and would be OK.
All of which, taken together, might explain why I was sitting at the east side recycling center weeping with joy and relief at the sunset. I had put the recycling in the back of the car to drop off on the way back from a grocery run and, unlike the 20 previous times I’ve done this, actually remembered to stop at the recycling center. The cardboard and cans, which always spent a couple weeks riding around with me before I remembered to drop them off, spent maybe an hour in the car on Saturday. I remembered everything on my short grocery list with no effort and no actual list – no standing at an endcap trying to remember what I was forgetting while fighting the formidable distraction of string cheese on special. I made pleasant small chat with the cashier without critically replaying the conversation over and over in my head for the rest of the day.
I know, it doesn’t sound like much but trust me – it was a fucking miracle.
Sunday was more of the same. I followed up on the little landscaping project I had launched Saturday with a goal of getting it done by dinnertime Sunday. The deadline goal wouldn’t happen but it wasn’t a big deal – a couple mistakes and an idea that didn’t quite work were met with an adjustment in plans and continued work instead of a frustrated, half-assed, and hurried finish. I decided on a good stopping point, got there, and then cleaned up so it would be easy to finish on Monday.
While I was working, doubt crept in. Did I subconsciously lie on the ADD tests? Was my perception of myself and my behavior accurate? Or was I just going bigger than ever before with self-delusion in an effort to rationalize my shortcomings?
I decided to check on my childhood behavior from the person who bore the brunt of it and the conversation went like this:
Me: I’m trying to check my perceptions on this ADD thing, like in childhood – was I really disorganized and messy?
My Mom: BWAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA(breath)OOOHOHOHHOHOHOOOOO(breath)
Me: Missed homework due dates? Late for things?
My Mom: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA(breath)
Me: Didn’t listen to instructions and did it my own way?
My Mom: OOOHOHOHOO… please – oh, my…heeheeheehee
You don’t hear my mother’s belly laugh often but it is a wondrous and joyful sound. So much for misremembering my childhood.
I still wasn’t convinced about current day behavior so I asked the woman who’s most familiar with that, my wife:
Me: Do I interrupt people or finish their sentences?
Me: Actually, the choices are rarely, not often, sometimes, often, or very often.
Her: More than very often – always.
Me: How often do I have trouble wrapping up the final details of a project or…
Me: Do I ever…
Me: You don’t even know what I’m asking!
Her: If it’s on that list, I say it’s always and I’m standing by it. If someone else asked me these questions, I’d think they were trying to be sneaky while asking about you.
Hard to argue with that.
On Monday the mental clouds that disappeared Saturday rolled back in later in the day. I could feel my energy disappearing in the afternoon as I finished up the last plantings; the easiest and most enjoyable part of the project was suddenly exhausting and difficult. But it was done and, again, I can’t tell you the last time I started a personal project like that and finished it in less than a month. Hell, even just finished it! Even though the clarity and calm of the weekend was receding and quickly at that, there sat the proof at the end of my driveway that something had fundamentally changed.
Tuesday was not good. That easy feeling of sudden freedom was gone – so gone I wondered if it ever really existed, landscaping project or not. Anxiety jumped in the game and before long I was convinced I could play the scene in Awakenings where DeNiro’s character realizes his sudden reemergence into life is slipping away right in front of him and I could do it better than Bob himself.
Two things brought me back to reason. First, even if Saturday was a 10 and today was a 2, it was still better than the same day a week ago, a month ago, and seriously better than anything in February. Second, I turned to the first refuge of the desperate, Google, and typed in “so i’ve just been diagnosed with adult ADD”. Returned results included several people who found themselves in the same situation: finding out in their 40s that a good deal of their life has been spent dealing with, managing, and avoiding relatively simple tasks made nearly impossible by screwy brain wiring. The best pieces of advice all came from people who had gone through it, including one man who got his diagnosis in his mid-60s. They were pretty much the same: it will get better, but not steadily or predictably. Figuring out the best treatment is a roller coaster ride but worth it. You will want to give up. Don’t. You will think you’ve got it solved forever. You don’t. And more from dozens of people who once stood where I am, convincing me that despite how I felt in the moment, what I was going through was normal. And it too, for better or worse, would pass.
Which brings us to today. I adjusted my medication within the limits from my doc and it’s better. Not great, but better. Good enough to take care of all my house and work responsibilities and give myself permission to spend the day sorting things out, writing it all down, and putting some of it up for everybody to read. I’ll drop the doc an email after a full week of data and we’ll adjust from there.
There’s so much more I want to talk about, like my friend Jennifer. Almost every day, she publicly cherishes the gift of that day’s 86,400 seconds and invites her friends to join her in living deeply in each and every one of those moments. Or the guy at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins who, on a night more than a decade ago, asked me over and over again, “What’s your passion? You NEED to have one. What is your passion?”
I couldn’t answer him any better than I could relate to Jennifer’s daily commitment to living in each possible moment. Neither made sense a week ago or a decade ago and today, I get it. I finally get it beyond a lukewarm, “Yeah, I guess I should…” I don’t yet have a passion nor am I carpe-ing the ever-loving diem out of all 86,400 seconds but I now know why it’s important.
That’s what’s been happening the past couple of days and a little of what I’ve been processing. There’s more, like yesterday’s dinner with another couple that sounded great when I was invited but felt horribly awkward when I was there (yes, it was just me) or like contemplation of failures and shame and regret and hope and redemption and grace, but all those stories and high-falutin’ ideas can wait. My foundation’s done been shook and it’s time to create the new normal.
And now, a return to poetic imagery to bring us full circle and wrap this up with some class:
Much like the flower breaking ground and reaching for sun, I didn’t ask to be planted in this particular piece of earth, nor did I ask to sprout. But now we are here, I finally know what’s going on and I can choose to bloom or wither.
I’m grateful to finally have a choice.