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Out of the Closet and Into the Light

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  • Out of the Closet and Into the Light

    Out of the Closet and Into the Light
    by Allison Russo, ADDitude
    August 9, 2017

    “When you live in total squalor—cookies in your pants drawer, pants in your cookies drawer, and nickels, dresses, old New Yorkers, and apple seeds in your bed—it’s hard to know where to look when you lose your keys,” writes Maria Yagoda in The Atlantic.

    I don’t know what prompted me to open the link, except that the story was in The Atlantic, and I love to read well-written articles. It was a piece about women with ADHD, and, based on my ability to sit still and keep quiet, I thought I had nothing to concern myself with. But I clicked anyway, and there was something about that first line that made my heart sink into my stomach. That sounds so much like me, I thought.

    I often worry about dying unexpectedly. Thinking about the look of disgust burrowing under my husband’s beard as he pokes through my underwear drawer and finds candy wrappers, stray change, the decade-old diaphragm that never fit, receipts from 2010, and the newborn-sized diaper that hasn’t fit our daughter in almost five years makes my anxiety blow through the roof because I’ll have been exposed. And, yes, I’ll be dead if that happens, but I try to keep my scattered, disorderly habits hidden as best I can. Even if I am dead I still don’t want him to ever see that side of me.

    If I’m completely honest with myself, he sees that side of me daily: the vacuum that has been sitting in the middle of the doorway for a week, the cabinet shelves that I never remember to close, the pens in the bathroom, the bar of soap in the guest bedroom, the laundry basket with a smattering of clean and dirty clothes, headphones, stuffed animals, and unpaid bills. And the plants, my plants, scattering their dead leaves as if to say, “Why? Why couldn’t you have taken just 10 spare seconds to keep us alive?”

    I was supposed to be getting dinner started, but I had to see what this woman was talking about in her article, which was reading a little too much like an autobiography. There’s no way I could have ADHD, was there? This has to be a coincidence. But the more I read, the more anxious I got.

    Anxious isn’t quite the term I’m looking for. Perhaps “excitedly nervous” describes what I was feeling — a feeling akin to being a few pieces away from finishing a 5,000-piece puzzle that’s been mucking up the table for a month and not knowing if you still have all the pieces.

    “Women with the disorder tend to be less hyperactive and impulsive, more disorganized, scattered, forgetful, and introverted. They’ve alternately been anxious or depressed for years,” says Dr. Ellen Littman, author of Understanding Girls With ADHD. “It’s this sense of not being able to hold everything together.’”

    Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. And absolutely, positively, check.

    So this sounded like me, but I’ve always had the ability to self-diagnose just about anything, and I wasn’t about to let my hypochondria get the best of me this time. Besides, how embarrassed would I feel to have ADHD, not only due to the stigma that surrounds the disorder but also due to the fact that I was a 35-year-old woman. A grown woman absolutely, positively could not have ADHD.

    I dug a little deeper. Dinner would be late, but I didn’t notice the time and the empty table until my husband came home. I was too focused on all this new information, so I certainly couldn’t have a deficit in my attention.

    A quick Google search for “ADHD symptoms in adults” made me question all that I had believed about myself for the past 35 years. Everything that Dr. Littman had said in Yagoda’s article was mirrored in the dozens of authoritative sites that I visited over the next hour.

    All those quirks about myself that I despised — from being unable to keep a clean room as a child, finish large school projects as a teenager, and losing the twist tie moments after opening a loaf of bread. Everything was suddenly so vivid. Could it be that all those seemingly unconnected flaws were always a part of a larger problem?

    As I poured over the information, my husband opened the door, home from work. I startled, closed the computer, and said, “Honey, we’re ordering a pizza tonight.”

    I wasn’t ready to share my discovery with anyone yet.

    In fact, it wasn’t until six months later that I was finally sitting in the psychiatrist’s office to get my official diagnosis. I wasn’t sure what I thought about ADHD and its rampant overdiagnosis, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of that statistic. I cautiously handed her a list of all the things I had thought about over the past six months (an extremely organized list, at that), and waited for the questions. She spoke with me for an hour before setting down her notebook and looking me in the eye. “Well, I can tell that we are not going to come away with just one diagnosis, but this much is clear. You have off-the-charts ADHD. You were never diagnosed with this before?”

    We spoke for another two hours. I walked out the door with four “new” disorders. Many of them had been clear to me for a long time, but I was too afraid to put a name to them. Too afraid to open up to someone else. Too afraid to ask for help. Most of all, I was too afraid to become someone I no longer recognized. What if medication turned me into a zombie? What if I lost my passion for making music? For writing? Who would I become?

    Who would I be if I weren’t the woman that spent an hour a day looking for her phone? What would my husband and I have to joke about if I simply put the twist tie back on the loaf of bread when I was finished with it before I lost the damn thing?

    As of now, I am not being treated for ADHD because some of the other disorders were higher on the list in my treatment plan. This is not abnormal. Many adults with untreated ADHD have comorbid diagnoses, and I was no exception.

    In the meantime, some of my medications make my ADHD symptoms easier to manage. I’m learning to slow down a bit, and there are days when I lie down in bed for the night and think, “I didn’t lose my phone even once today. It’s a miracle.”

    Being diagnosed, but not treated, for ADHD has been a wonderful learning experience. I’ve read lots of books on the disorder, joined online support groups, and learned different techniques for coping with my struggles. For instance, for the first time in my life, I use a planner (and stick with it) after doing a Google search and discovering “planner pads,” which have been reviewed by many people with ADHD.

    Above all, I’m learning to not be so hard on myself. I’ve spent my life feeling bad about myself. From being late to daydreaming to losing things, I was always telling myself that I was a failure. Stupid. Worthless. An ADHD diagnosis has added a key piece of the puzzle that has helped me realize that there’s a reason behind these behaviors, and there are ways to cope with these behaviors, both with and without medication.

    I only wish I had known sooner. Much sooner. Who would I be today had I gotten a diagnosis in elementary school? High school? College, even? How would life be different?

    I’ll never know. But I do know this: My future looks much brighter.
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