Thursday, August 24, 2017

Diagnosis: Are You Kidding Me?!

I have so much to be grateful for.  I have been blessed with 5 beautiful boys and an amazing husband who is not only my very best friend, but my eternal love and companion forever!  We have such amazing Army adventures and for the first time in a LONG time I am feeling better about my outward appearance since the big weight loss.  I am training for another half marathon, and I am right on schedule... what more can I want?  Then why oh why am I so unhappy?

You see, I have a deep secret.  One I have kept inside my whole life.  Only, I really didn't know it was secret... I have learned at a very young age how to cope and adapt and appear mostly normal to everyone around me.  I always got excellent grades, I was always the teacher's pet because I was quiet but I participated and I never acted out.  I never got in trouble, not even once -- I even got an award at the end of my 6th grade year for never getting in trouble since kindergarten.

I was a good kid.  Then I hit puberty and went a little nuts.  I was a very difficult teenager.  I was angry, I was moody, I had super low self-esteem. I slept A LOT or didn't sleep at all.  I started skipping classes in high school because I was bored and I thought my teachers were wasting my time.  My grades started going down my sophomore year, and I honestly could not have cared less.  I KNEW I needed good grades to get into college, I just couldn't get myself to care about it.  Sure I wanted to make something of my life, I had a super high IQ, I knew I was talented and smart, I just didn't really care enough to apply it.  I wasn't lazy... just unmotivated.

My parents then moved my sister and I from the city we grew up in to rural southern Utah. In fact, we moved right down the street and around the corner from my future husband!  I thought I would be more bothered about the move, because "normal teens" I knew would have been furious and really struggle with the life change.  I was okay with it.  Although, for the sake of all teenagers everywhere, I pretended to be a little outraged. I did get a rise out of people by showing up to school the first day with purple and pink hair (This was the mid-90's and colored hair was way outside the norm).  I found a group of friends that accepted me, mostly... one of which became my future brother-in-law.  I survived high school, for the most part.  I was so ahead academically from living my life in gifted classes in the city, that the small town stuff was a no-brainer and I hardly even had to show up.  I think I only got caught sluffing class once, and I sweet talked and BSed my way out of it... I was good at that.  Because of my big blue eyes and blond hair, I was often underestimated and I took advantage of that all the time.  I was really good at playing innocent, when I was clearly guilty as all heck.

Now, I know what you're thinking... that doesn't sound too different than what most teenagers go through.... here's the thing, that's what I wanted you to think.  I LONGED to be normal.  I wanted to fit in, for the most part anyway.  I was an introvert, but I still wanted to be asked to dances and feel like people saw and cared for me.  I wanted to have friends.  But inside, I knew I was odd.  Different.  I didn't quite measure up.  I felt unworthy of attention.

I managed to graduate high school with honors, and off to college I went.  This is where I really started struggling.  My mom wasn't there to sing annoying songs in the morning to get me out of bed.  She wasn't there to make me meals and tell me to do my homework.  I started to develop serious anxiety bordering on depression.  I couldn't go to sleep at night and I stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning, then I couldn't wake up for class.  I tried, I really did.  Then I stopped caring.  I stopped going to class because I realized I could just show up and pass the tests, because I was really good at that.  I couldn't sit still in lectures, it was almost painful... and I kept getting distracted, like thinking about what I was going to do later, who I was going to hang out with, the book I was currently reading, whether or not that guy over there was checking me out... hey, is the teacher looking at me?!  What did he just say?!  All. The. Time.

I started drinking Pepsi.  It calmed me.  I became addicted and drank a 12 pack a day.  I gained weight so I switched to Diet.  I felt better, I started passing my classes.

Then just before I got my associates, I completely freaked out.  Total melt down and missed ONE final.  PE.  And they wouldn't let me graduate.  My mom was livid.  I didn't care.  Whatever.  I was too tired and anxious.  I wasn't good at school.  I was ready to move on.

I opened a used bookstore.  I loved books and I could sit in there alone most of the day and read and play video games on my computer.  It was perfect for me.  But again I got bored.  And when 9/11 happened, I decided I needed a change.  Closed my bookstore and went on a mission.  I had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue in college.  I was so concerned about my abnormal issues I saw a few different doctors.  Most of them thought I was full of crap and dismissed me.  I figured I was going crazy and no one would listen.  I looked and acted normal for the most part.  I was smart and creative... I was just odd.  Nothing wrong with that right?  So here I was 21 years old, tired all the time, stressed, anxious, and serving a mission for my church.  My companions didn't much care for me... I could only pretend normalcy for so long without telling them off for being lazy (I thought) or unorganized, or not following the rules to a T.  Rules are SUPER important to me.  I think I had one companion who loved me for me and that was the best part of my mission was being with her.

I served with honor and came home.  I thought, okay, I will come home get a job and get married.  But I seriously put off all the guys.  I couldn't figure it out, what was wrong with me??  I could sew, cook, draw, clean, write, I was great with kids, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom like nothing else!  I wanted to be a good, supportive wife... and I was very religious and traditional.  I wasn't super skinny or beautiful, but I honestly felt I made up for those short comings with who I was on the inside... but most guys didn't go for it.  It was like I opened my mouth and their eyes glazed over.

Which brings me to secret number one:  I was and am a human lie-detector.  My BS meter is through the roof!  My kids HATE it. I can also tell what people are feeling or how they feel about me.  I am extremely empathetic... or how I like to call it:  I have a great gift of discernment. But I hide it most of the time.  No one likes to know you know they are lying to you.  No one likes you to know they can't stand you.  So I pretend like I don't notice... I get more friends that way.  But you know, it hurts a lot.  It took my husband a long time to believe me when I told him so and so didn't like me, so I didn't want to hang out with them or sit next to them in church.

So I pretty much tested the dating waters when I got home from my 18 month mission in Southern California.  Guys were jerks to me.  I thought I would never live my dream of being a wife and mom because I was fat and ugly... and weird.

Then Ben came along and looked at me like I was the only girl in the room... actually I was, but that is beside the point.  My long time readers and friends know that from our first date to the day we married was exactly 5 weeks.  It was fast... but we both went into it knowing what we were doing.  You see our first date was like a very logical, rational, well thought out interview.  I didn't care for games, and neither did he.  I was sick of playing around and not getting to the point.  I told him exactly what I wanted in life and he told me the same and our goals matched, so logically and reasonably, we decided that we would make a pretty good pair.  Turns out we were right!  Almost 13 years and still going strong!  Ben was the best choice I ever made. (For the whole story click here).

We forged our lives together, meeting our goals together one at a time.  We grew together. We learned together. And we made our lives wonderful together.  Ten months after we got married Sam came along, and parenthood and schooling on Ben's part consumed our lives.  Our families didn't always understand our choices, but we always thought that they were right for us.  And we have done very well for ourselves.  Was it easy?  Heck no!!  But tried to be the best we could be.

You all know the rest.  Ben has Inattentive ADHD (previously called ADD), and so far, our 3 oldest boys have it and I pretty sure the babies have it too.  College was a struggle for Ben.  It took him 8 years to get a bachelors degree... even though he was the hardest worker I knew, he also worked full time to support me and the kiddos (by this time we knew their issues and it was vital I was home with the kids).  Ben survived off of very little sleep and worked hard.  He wasn't a great test taker and that was were he struggled, but he is so brilliant and smart that he really did know his stuff... better than his peers even!  But tests gave him anxiety and he would blank out.  Because of being in the Army, Ben is not allowed to medicate, so I learned all there was to know about ADHD and I supported and helped him the best I could.  I also worked with the boys.  We knew Sam was "special" when he was very small.  But we were blown away when Nephi's Kindergarten teacher approached us with ADHD concerns. (Story here).  Then a couple years later, a friend that had kids with ADHD pointed out that we should get Sam tested, after he swung on her chandelier and wouldn't get off her banister at a little party he went to at her house.

Over the years, I have become a professional on ADHD, all the symptoms, all the treatment options, how it manifests in men and boys... I could seriously write the book... if I could bring myself to finish any book I start.

Which brings me to now.

Last November, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's and put on a very strict eating plan.  You can see the whole story here.  I lost a lot of weight.  Seriously, I am down 125 pounds.  I am almost the thinnest I have ever been in my adult life.  I am running again, I fit in my favorite clothes, and I don't feel so self conscious when I go out in public... for the most part.  But as the weight came off, I became more anxious.  I was sad all the time.  I KNEW rationally, that I should be SOOOO HAPPY!!  That I should celebrate my achievements.  But I couldn't.  I couldn't wake up in the morning.  I couldn't get out of bed, and when I did, I physically struggled to even leave the house.  I had to force myself to walk out the door.  My temper was always on the edge and I would have serious melt downs over little things.  I was shaky.  Fidgety. Messes gave me so much anxiety, I shut down and couldn't move... and I couldn't bring myself to clean up even though it was causing me issues.  I started forgetting a lot.  Birthdays, appointments, etc.  I was losing things.  I was frustrated at myself for being so irrational.  What the heck was wrong with me!?

I started studying Hashimoto's and found that lots of my issues kind of fit.  Maybe I had food intolerance's.  I cut out dairy and lost 10 pounds in one week after a two month stall!  But my mental state was still in turmoil and being a wife and mom became such a struggle.  I started working out more if I could find the energy... but then I couldn't sleep at night!  I literally thought I was going crazy.  I cried a lot.  I had no hope.  I worried Ben would get sick of my crap and leave me.... I know he wouldn't but I couldn't think clearly.  I. Was. A. Mess.

I called my doctor and told him I was a walking disaster, a ticking time bomb, I wanted all my levels checked.  I went in got tested.  My thyroid meds needed changing.  So I got a lower dose.  The symptoms got worse!  Six weeks later I went in again and told him to check the Hashimoto antibody levels and all my vitamin levels.  He did, because he's a great guy and super patient with me.  He called me and told me that all my levels were normal, in fact, because of my excellent diet, my Hashimoto's was completely in control.  He said that if I hadn't tested positive back in November he would think I never had it to begin with.  Great news... but what the heck was wrong with me.  I cried.  He told me to think about things, to make another list and let him know in the next few weeks what steps I wanted to take next.  He didn't know, I was a mystery, but he was great enough to be open to my suggestions. I love that he recognized that I wasn't lying and that I was smart enough to figure this out and he would help me any way he could.

Last week was particularly hard for me.  I was mentally shutting down.  It wasn't just hard on me, my family was really suffering too.  I prayed like I have never prayed before.  God, I said, only You know what is wrong with me.  Was it depression and/or anxiety?  It didn't really feel like that was the root of my issues... just a symptom.  The thought came to me, what changed since November except your diet that could be giving you mental issues?

Then at last my prayers were answered.  In the last place I expected to find it.  On Facebook.  In an article posted on a support site I am part of for parents of kids with ADHD.  I was home alone.  Ben had taken the boys to church because I just couldn't do church that day.  So there I was, checking my feed when this article popped up: There's No Way I Could Have ADHD, Right?!

I don't know why I clicked on it.  But it changed my life.

I just sat there in shock as I read.  Missing puzzle pieces started shifting in my head and fitting together.  Things were making sense for the first time in my life...

I went to other articles:
What it Feels Like to Live with Undiagnosed ADHD
Hair Pulling! Skin Picking! Nail Biting! OH MY!
ADHD is NOT a Male Disorder

I downloaded a podcast that was highly recommended: ADHD in Adults Vs. Children: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

I. Was. Blown. Away.

Never once in ALL my ADHD research and dealing with it with my husband and my kids, did it ONCE cross my mind that I could have it too.

No one in my family was ever diagnosed.  We were a tough bunch that dealt.  We coped.  We sucked it up!

I feel to the floor in the kitchen, with my headphones in, still listening to the podcast... and I sobbed.  Uncontrollably.

All my issues.  Not my fault.

It wasn't my fault I was weird.  Odd.  That life was particularly hard.

My brain was wired differently.  And it was okay.  It. Was. Okay.

I have ADHD.

There was no doubt in my mind.

Everything... my whole life... made sense.

I cried because I was relieved.  I had an answer at last!  I cried because I wasn't going crazy.  I cried because I had unfairly blamed Ben for my kids genes when it was my fault too.  I cried because I had hope for the first time in my life that things could get better!

I emailed my doctor that night.  I said: "I have ADHD!!"  He called me first thing the next morning and laughing said, "Yes!  I can't believe I didn't think of it.  You are exactly right.  Come in first thing tomorrow and we will do the evaluation and talk about it."

I went through the evaluation, and it was pretty smooth because my doctor knew me so well by now.  I was officially diagnosed (I am to follow up regularly with my new doctor when we get to El Paso next month), and he gave me a light dose of ADHD meds (same as my 10 yr old, Nephi's).

I took the pill when I got home.

Within 15 minutes, my anxiety, depression, anger, everything just faded away like the morning tide.  I was calm, really calm physically and mentally for the first time in my life.  No kidding.  The first thing I noticed was that it was so quiet.  How could that be?  I was surrounded by my 5 crazy loud boys.  Then it hit me.  It was quiet in my head.  My inner voice, that is usually SOOOO loud and thinking thoughts at a million times an hour... was silent.  It was the weirdest most wonderful feeling in the world!

And of course, I started crying.  I felt so happy. So peaceful.

My life is going to change people.  Everything is going to be different.  Without that weight on my shoulders, and proper treatment, life is going to be so bright for me and for my family!  For the first time in a long time, I really truly look forward to the future.

Why wasn't I diagnosed as a child?

In girls, we can manifest our hyperactivity internally.  I was bright, smart, well-behaved. I literally read 600 plus words per minute.  My mind goes so fast.  No one can see that.  No one could see my anxiety, stress, random bouts of depression.  Intense boredom. I looked normal.  I masked my inner weirdness by acting as normal as I could.  When I am excited, I can't mask it as well, and I talk fast, but not like a hyper person... just a happy person.  If you look back at all my posts, you can see it coming out in my writing.  I use a lot of !!! because everything is exciting to me.  And I have amazingly long run on sentences because I have a lot of thought to put down.

Also it wasn't caught because ADHD was still a tricky thing to diagnose back then and neither one of my parents were, or their parents.... but it's there somewhere undiagnosed because ADHD is VERY genetic.  In fact, if one parent has it, 50% of their kids will have it.  If both parents... yeah, my boys don't stand a chance.

85% of women with ADHD go their whole lives undiagnosed.  95% are self-diagnosed (we are master problem solvers and we know something is wrong, we don't give up until we get an answer) AFTER the age of 30.

I am one of those statistics.

Do I regret not being diagnosed earlier?  I mean, my life could have been SO different!

This was my first thought.  Then I squashed it.  I love who I am.  Who I have become.  I am a strong woman who has fought like crazy my whole life to control something I didn't know I had.  I have no regrets, only happiness that NOW is the time to get it really under control.  To have answers is liberating, to say the least.

Am I aware that many people don't believe in ADHD?  They think it's an excuse for bad parenting or lack of discipline...

Yes, after years of dealing with it with my kids and husband, I know there are people who don't believe in it.  That's their prerogative.  I don't care what they think... my advice to them: knock on wood, because chances are they may end up with ADHD person in their life.  It's a very real disorder.

ADHD is a bad thing right??

Wrong.  I mean, yeah it's hard.  It's complicated.  It is heartbreaking to feel different.  But we also have some pretty cool superpowers.  What I always called my "Getting in the Zone", is actually called hyperfocusing.  I didn't know that most people couldn't do it... it comes so natural to me.  Also, many of us are super smart and extremely creative.  We love to learn new things, but like to do it on our terms.  We do get bored easily, and we tend to finish others sentences when we feel like they aren't talking fast enough for our brains.  We can either read really fast, or listen to audiobooks on x2 or more and comprehend it all.  We are empathetic.  We are sensitive to other's feelings.  We are also hyper-observant... we can sense everything going on around us... I seriously thought every one could do this.  We are also quick learners and cool under pressure.  This is why Ben makes such a great soldier!

But People with ADHD are so weird...

Yeah, we are.  We KNOW it.  I recently joined a Facebook group for Adults with ADHD and I tell you, it's my new favorite group.  I am not alone in my weirdness!  These people are just like me!  It's so wonderful to find a place where I fit.  Yes, I have tons of friends... who love me most from a distance, yes, I know you are nodding your head like yeah, I love you Cat, but too much Cat is too much Cat... I can count on one hand my very best friends who actually enjoy my company often... and now that I think about it, most of them are probably ADHD or already loves someone with ADHD.  I'm not saying that it's bad thing that I drive people bonkers... because I get it.  Even more so now, so don't feel bad if you feel that way about me, I understand.

People with my kind of ADHD, yeah, it's kind of a spectrum, are extremely loyal to their loved ones.  In fact, so much so, that we often have what is called, Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.  It means: "extreme emotional pain of perceived rejection is a feeling unique to people with ADHD."  It can be debilitating and catastrophic.  It happened to me once about 7 years ago... click here to refresh your memory. If we feel rejected or betrayed by someone we love and care about, we have a complete melt down.  I mean, really bad stuff.  Many can even end up hospitalized for it.  I had actually had a mini episode a couple months ago when a family member criticized the way I was parenting my ADHD boys.  I was able to pull myself together after a few hours, and I forced myself to let it go... but it was really hard!

I could go on and on about what makes different and how our brains work, I've been dealing and coping my whole life thinking that I was just weird... but I'll save that for another time.

So what made me get all these really bad symptoms these last nine months?  What was different after November that set me off?

I stopped drinking my diet soda.  That's it.  Simple really. I was self-medication myself for MANY years without even knowing it.  I drank over a hundred ounces a day of Diet Coke (embarrassing confession)... because it made me feel calm and collected.  I had to quit to lose the weight.  Not a day went by that I didn't crave a sip... but not because I was thirsty, it was because I craved the calm it gave me.  Without it, I was flying blind.  Going insane because I didn't know what was wrong with me.  I couldn't focus.  I couldn't finish any projects.  I was discontent for no reason.  People bothered me.  Facebook stressed me out beyond reason.  I struggled to leave my house.  I couldn't sleep at night and then sleep too much in the morning.  And I couldn't pull myself together.  It was tough on all of us.  Caffeine was my life saver for YEARS.

Could You or a family member have ADHD?

Maybe.  I am not a doctor so I can't tell you.  But if you think you might, read those articles I linked above and listen to the pod cast.  Do your kids have it?  Then chances are you might.  I suggest you study up on it.  Ask your doctor for an evaluation and go from there.  If you have it, it is VITAL that you get diagnosed ASAP so you can get any help you may need.  You may feel like you can handle it now, but you never know when life happens and can set you off.  Also, I highly suggest the YouTube channel called How to ADHD... she is hilarious and very informative!!  My boys have a HUGE crush on her.  Also, follow the ADDitude page on Facebook for lots of great articles about ADHD.

What am I going to do now?

I am going to continue living my life to the fullest.  I am going to get out of bed every morning and choose to have good days.  I am going to continue to homeschool my boys and support my husband in his career.  I am going to pull out all my hundreds of unfinished projects (another big symptom of ADHD) and I am going to finish them!  I am going to FINALLY write and complete a novel!  I am going to help and educate others about ADHD and the symptoms and encourage people to get the help they or their family needs to live a semi-normal life.  I am going to utilize my strengths that I didn't know I had, and have a great life.  I am going to stop being so hard on myself, I am unique and that's okay!!  That is my plan, and I'm sticking to it! (At least until I get bored and make a new plan... *wink wink*)



PenderFam said...

Oh Cat! I love you! What a revelation for you and what a relief to have understanding. Makes me wonder about myself now, reading some of the things you've experienced. You are amazing!!

Damaris said...

You are such an amazing woman!

SandyZN said...

Sooo amazing! So happy you finally figured it out. My mother in law figured it out very late in life, in her 60s. The hyperfocusing and loss at other times. She is larger than life too sometimes. I feel like I may have elements of it too. Can't seem to get as organized as I need to be, and finish projects! And I don't drink caffeine, but so many people probably do to self medicate. What you describe makes so much sense! Thanks for bringing awareness to this important issue!!

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