I wrote this essay a month or so ago, not knowing where it came from or why it happened or what I was doing with it. All I knew was that it was 3AM and I couldn’t sleep and it felt good to do.
It’s been sitting in my drafts ever since.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it seems appropriate now that I share this story.
I don’t like the ending so far mainly because how I feel about this topic changes every single day and because, frankly, I don’t KNOW the ending. That’s the problem with auto-biography, I guess.
But the point is, talking about difficult things is the first step in making them less difficult and more acceptable. And the stigmas of mental illness we hold in America (and largely the world) hurt an individual’s healing process and stunt our understanding of them (and the people who suffer them) as a society.
At a time and place where one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, it’s just high time we stopped being so ignorant about it. The recent controversy over the DSM-V notwithstanding, mental disorders ARE real, and CAN be managed with medications, therapy or in my case, both.
So, without further, adieu, here’s where I’m at with mine:
That Moment When You Get to Name Your Monster
My monster has a really long name: attention deficit (with hyperactivity) disorder. There’s also some mixed anxiety and depression thrown in there – just for fun. Oh, genetics.
I’ve given it many nicknames in the past: Lazy, Crazy, Depressed, Bipolar, Ugly, Childish, Dumb
But for the last year, I’ve been calling it by its true name…ADD. Because that’s what my monster is. I didn’t believe it at first, but the more I learned about it, the more accurate it felt.
The other names for my monster just didn’t quite fit after awhile. It grew out of Depression and asked to be called Bipolar Disorder. And it got tired of being called that when your doctors kept piling on the meds.
Meds that didn’t work. Meds that made it feel tired and groggy when you took it, and nauseous and irritable when you didn’t.
So when it got its new name, it breathed a sigh of relief. There’s other monsters like you in the world, and it’s a shame that we named you the wrong thing for so long. That must have made my monster sad, misunderstood, angry, pissed off – I guess that’s why they were calling you Moody for awhile too.
But you have a name and it feels right. I’ve read books about you and I know you’re not made-up.
I have ADD. It’s one of the best and one of the worst parts of me. (And I’m trying so hard to let it only be a part. People aren’t monsters. Monsters aren’t people.)
I’m not a product of too much technology. Multiple screens in my face didn’t give me ADD. (People had ADD before the computer & internet. They just simply declared them dysfunctional members of society, put them in institutions or lobotomized them. We don’t talk about that because it doesn’t sound like something Americans do to other Americans. But we did. )
I don’t have a lack of willpower (in fact, I try harder than you truly know to do basic things like eat 3 meals a day, pay my bills on time & keep in touch with my friends).
I don’t have a behavior problem.
I’m not going to outgrow this.
I’m not immature. (I’m acutely self-aware of my shortcomings because of my self-esteem issues coupled with all all the the therapy I’ve had. Immaturity isn’t one of them.)
You get it, right? Most people don’t know a whole lot about the disability, but that’s what it is: a disability. I’m doing a pretty good job overcoming it, but sometimes you get down, ya know?
The test for ADD is bullshit. You sit in a room with a computer, and an apathetic nurse turns on a computer program for you.
“Click on the X’s. Don’t click anything else.” The nurse leaves. You are confused.
A (you flinch and click. Shit.)
(Ahh! You missed it, and while you’re agonizing how you missed it and how you’re going to fail, 10 more letters have gone by, no doubt including a stupid X.)
T (click. FUCK!)
And so on….
So you do this nonsense for 10 minutes or so but it feels like hours and you have no idea what the metric of success is here. You’re too smart for this shit. This test made you feel like a chimpanzee in a research lab. You decide not to contemplate the broader philosophical meaning of that sentiment and read a magazine instead. Apparently the test was supposed to take a lot longer.
Then you’re in the psychiatrist’s office. This is where the real test starts.
You are face-to-face with the reason the “weird socially awkward psychiatrist” stereotype exists. She has these big glasses that magnify her eyes to the size of cereal spoons. Her face is way too wrinkly for how perky her tits are (should have had a face lift at the same time she got those done). Her sweater is the color of your pee after a night of really heavy drinking. (You want to say she smells like it too, but that’s just getting mean and too far from the truth.)
But when she types. Oh, Lord. When she types.
One. letter. at a. time. Two. full. sentences. of this. agony. before. she. acknowledges. your presence.
(You briefly contemplate if the computer program was just a warm-up, and that the real measure is how long you stay attentive and polite while she types the alphabet over and over. If you kill her and then forget what you did and leave to ask the receptionist where the bathroom is, you have ADD.)
Thankfully, you’re wrong.
She tells you you’re in the 25% percentile.
“Well, it means either you have ADD or you don’t. So we’re going to give you a prescription and see what happens.”
This is called science, guys. She went to a lot of college to tell me that.
But let me just say. Damn did I feel good on Adderall. I want to be clear here: good. In the most pure form of the word. Not like “goooood” said with a Cheshire-cat smile and Asian-slitted eyes and exhaling a healthy suck from a joint. And not breathy post-sex “Ughh that was good” And definitely not sped-up frantic feeling like I was immortal.
I mean, I just felt good. Content.
I got things done and I wasn’t anxious about it.
I remembered to call and had pleasant conversations with not just my mom, but my siblings and dad too.
I made smarter choices.
I felt okay going to sleep at night – not like I still had a million things to accomplish.
I felt normal. I felt okay.
(Notice that none of these things have to do with school, even though I was in college at the time? Schoolwork was always a salvation, an escape, a safe place where my moods, insecurity, all my crap that clouded my judgement in my non-academic life, where none of that shit could get me. Because I was Smart. I got As. I was Not A Disruption In The Classroom. That’s why they misdiagnosed me as depressed and bipolar for so long. Because I didn’t mouth off in second grade or fail high school math. Intelligent kids don’t have ADD, didn’t you know that?)
So, I’m coming on the year anniversary of my diagnosis, almost a year from the first time a therapist in Syracuse first planted the ADD seed in my brain, and I still have a long way to go. I’ve been to much more caring, intelligent, sympathetic doctors than the quack who diagnosed me. I call her a quack, but at the end of the day she was correct. I don’t want to say “right” – that’s too strong. All she did was read a chart, and she did it the correct way.)
I’m coming to terms with the fact that this is an issue I’ll always deal with. I’m learning how to cope with the side effects of my medication, the biggest being appetite loss (soup & smoothies are your friends!)
And I’m facing brand new challenges to my ADD brain in adulthood.
How it has been hard to make friends at my new job because I am so focused on not getting behind on work, and because sometimes my Adderall gives me tunnel vision and I don’t leave my desk for hours. Not to mention I almost never want to get lunch.
How I go a day only eating half a can of soup and don’t remember that I need to eat until I stand up and almost faint.
How I can’t find a damn doctor in my area that I like that’s in network.
How paying $300 a session for the care I need isn’t an option.
How my impulsiveness STILL gets me in trouble and I blurt out things without thinking them.
How I am powerless against the clutter pit that is my bedroom.
How I have so many creative ideas, so many dreams – and keep getting stuck in taking actionable steps towards making them happen.
How we still know so little about the ADD brain & what happens on a chemical level.
And as a result of the lack of that knowledge, and an overall misrepresentation of behavioral and mental health issues in general in this country, the stereotypes I face when I tell people this so important fact about me.
But despite all of these setbacks, it feels good to give my monster a name. And now I know my monster isn’t ME. I’m Kelsie. My monster is ADD. I’m not bad. I’m not wrong. I have ADD. It feels good to give it a name so I can get to know it, figure out its patterns, and use it to my advantage (hyperfocusing is AWESOME, amiright?)
I hope that maybe one day we’ll just be good friends, and that my monster will just be one more thing that contributes to the sum total of who I am.
That days will go by and I won’t think about it. That I won’t constantly switch between beating myself up for my shortcomings, and worrying about if I’m becoming one of those people who hides behind an illness, using it as an excuse when the individual messes up. (I don’t EVER want to be one of those people. Ever. But I have my days; I think everyone does – we’re human.)
It’s always going to be a struggle, but it will make me a better person in the long run despite those moments in everyday life where it definitely makes me seem worse (“Sorry, what did you say?” “No…I really DID forget about my soaking dishes from 3 days ago. It’s not a lame excuse.” “Wait stop talking until I get a post-it to write that down.”)
But right now, I’m just doing my best everyday to make it work. All I ask in return is patience and understanding, for both my monster and me.