"So what took you so long to seek treatment?" asked my new psychiatrist. "I didn't know I had a medical problem. I thought I had character flaws," I responded dryly. Dr. K. nodded in that way that doctors do when a patient presents with something that piques their interest, like a suspicious mole. . .or a case of kuru. "Oh,you have a good sense of humor, I see."
Apparently not good enough to actually make her laugh. Instead of laughing at my joke (which wasn't so much a joke as it was a deeply painful admission), Dr. K. took her pen and noted it in my file. ". . .good sense of humor. . ." I was glad for that. I may never achieve my fantasy of becoming a revered author of wildly comical novels; but at least now my good sense of humor has been documented by a licensed professional. Take that, Guy-Who-Doesn't-Think-I'm-Nearly-As-Funny-As-I-Think-I-Am! Someone who is an expert in brains thinks I'm funny!Once we established the existence of my sense of humor, Dr. K. read through my file. "You definitely have ADHD. Did you take the TOVA [Test of Variables of Attention]? Oh, here it is. . .what was your score? Hmmm. . .yes. . .quite pronounced." I just sat there nodding as she recited from my file. I considered interrupting her with an "I'm sorry, did you say something?" But I refrained because I figured that a psychiatrist who treats ADHD people regularly has probably heard that one already, at least a few thousand times.
As Dr. K. continued to review my file, I strained my eyes to read the notes, from across her desk, and upside down. I was curious to know whether Dr. R., the psychologist who evaluated and diagnosed me, wrote down the words "poster girl." I figured he probably hadn't because that would have been unprofessional. But what others regard as unprofessional, I often find hilarious and evidence of a good sense of humor. (Dr. R., please consider your good sense of humor documented.)At my first appointment with Dr. R.--during which I filled out questionnaries and regaled him with family history replete with people who talked to themselves, and tales of extreme scatterbrainedness--Dr. R., looked up at me from his notes at one point and said, "You might just be the poster girl for ADHD." (Oh, Dr. R., go on. I bet you say that to all the inattentive ladies.)
Huzzah! Huzzah! Yes, please make me the poster girl! First of all, I've been feeling a little underappreciated these days - I could use a little recognition.
More importantly, a diagnosis of ADHD would answer so many questions. It would provide an explanation for the struggles I have experienced for 40-plus years - struggles that destroyed my self esteem and made my hopes and dreams of creative accomplishment seem like impossible fantasies. Struggles that made me feel like an imposter and a liar to anyone who actually was duped into believing I was competent. Struggles that threatened to end my marriage that I thought were all my fault for being a fat, lazy, defective, impatient, self-centered, stupid, unmotivated, and all-around gross person.
A diagnosis of ADHD would give me hope. It would mean that maybe I could take medicine. Maybe the medicine would help me, and the daily business of living wouldn't be so damned hard anymore. Maybe I could become the person I always wished I could be. . .
". . .The medicine won't change your brain," Dr. K. explained. "You'll still have your same brain. But it will wake up your brain, stimulate the inhibitory receptors and help alleviate your symptoms." I was excited. Yes, Yes, lets wake those inhibitory babies up; rise and shine, inhibitory receptors, who- or whatever the hell you are!
"So, Doctor, if I start taking the pills, how long will it be before I notice a difference. . .if they work, that is." "Oh, the medication works," Dr. K. assured me. "We know that it works. We might need to tweak your dosage, but you should notice a difference right away."
Alrighty then. . .what are you waiting for Doc?! Get your note pad out and start writing. I've got places to go, people to see, gee, I hope my hubby isn't trying to reach me because I forgot my phone at home, I'm due to get back to work, my boss is going to be pissed, I'm hungry, my back itches, did I put that load of wash in the dryer? where the fuck is my debit card, I saw a duck once. . .I'm sorry, did you say something?
God, I can't wait to get my hands on those pills. Please, Lord, let them work. My brain and body are exhausted. I'm desperate. I'm broken. I've tried as hard as I can. I can't do this anymore. Please let them work. . .
I left my appointment determined to stop at the very first pharmacy I saw. I barely drove a block before I came to Shopko. Yay! The pharmacist told me that it would take twenty minutes to fill my prescription. Twenty minutes! What, are you having it delivered in by stagecoach?! ADHD makes it very hard to wait for things.
After what seemed like an eternity, the nice lady handed me my pills, Adderall XR, 20mg. During that grueling twenty-minute wait, I grabbed a soda from the cooler so that I would have a beverage in hand with which to wash down my maiden pill at the first opportunity. (Did I mention the waiting problem?) The pharmacist looked at me a little cross-eyed as I cracked open the auburn bottle and swallowed a capsule right there as she was still handing me my product papers and before I had even paid. Sorry, Lady, I got big plans. I don't have time for your delightful spiel today.
An hour or so later, back at the office, I prepared for a check-in meeting with one of the members of my staff.
Meetings have always been a bit of a challenge for me. Talking at meetings I could do. For hours. Nonstop. Just ask any of the members of my long-suffering gracious staff. As it turns out, I exhibit "verbal hyperactivity" as part of my condition. And here I thought I was charming and engaging. Oh, well. (I actually still think I am charming and engaging, but I understand that a little bit of that can go a long way.)
Listening, on the other hand has always been extremely difficult. I would mean to listen. I wanted to listen. I understand the theoretical importance of listening. I would try very hard. But I usually couldn't do it for very long. Too many stimuli all around me begging. . .screaming for my attention. There was a clock to watch, fingernails to pick, birds flying past the window, conversations from last night that I needed to rehash mentally and analyze. . .right then. But I would nod, and say "hmm" a lot. Occasionally write down a couple of words (or "notes") that were completely illegible and wouldn't mean anything to me later. I looked like I was listening and participating. But, in truth, I wasn't even there.
So here I was, preparing to go into a meeting. I noticed that I was starting to feel a tiny bit strange. I can't describe exactly what it was--kind of like the sensation you get after you've taken a decongestant. A little wonky. It's too soon, I thought. It must be my imagination.
Now in my meeting, sitting across from my assistant, I started to realize that, in fact, something was happening. The physical effects were obvious. My head started to tingle. I began to feel a strange chill run up and down my arms--a sensation that I've never experienced before. My tongue felt big. As I talked to my assistant, I found myself experiencing some difficulty talking. It's hard to describe it--my mouth would be trying to form words, but the words were not coming to mind at the same time. Speech and language were suddenly out of sync. All of a sudden, I had become the embodiment of a 1960's Japanese martial arts movie in which my mouth would physically shape words, but the words came fractions of a second after. I've been told--and however unkind the statement, it might be true--that my mouth works faster than my brain.
I was a little frightened. Was I having an allergic reaction? heart attack? A stroke?? I took a deep breath and in just a few moments, that sudden, initial fear of the unfamiliar subsided as I started to notice other things. . .wonderful things. I noticed that I was calmly seated in my chair. I wasn't fidgeting or looking at the clock every two seconds as if I had someplace else I needed to be. I was comfortable, for a change. No physical urge to wiggle around or leave the room. I just sat back in my chair and relaxed while I listened to my assistant express her concerns and ideas. Wait, did I just say, "I listened"?
Joy bubbled up in side me as I realized that I was listening to my colleague. She was talking, and I was hearing her. I understood what she was saying. I took notes that were actually legible and coherent. I felt no urge to interrupt her. I wasn't busy planning my next sentence as she uttered hers. I wasn't planning what I was going to make for dinner. I was there. With her. Listening.
Now, to be realistic, this wasn't the first time I've ever listened before. I hold multiple academic degrees from reputable institutions of higher learning. I'm a respected professional. I know to put the square pegs in the square holes and the round pegs in the round holes. By objective standards, I'm a reasonably accomplished person who couldn't have gone through life never having listened.
What made this moment remarkable was that it just happened. I didn't have to try. I didn't have to fight any urges or compulsions. My body didn't tense up. I didn't hold my breath as I often do. My brain didn't hurt at the end of it. Sitting in the meeting and listening to another human being talk felt as easy and natural as breathing. And this, I can say with all honesty, was the first time I can ever recall that being the case.