An Open Letter To My ADHD Brain
Updated: Jun 14, 2022
Although this isn’t a travel-related blog, its a post I should have written a long time ago. This post is real-life Meg. Sometimes I get lost inside my head, and my distractions take me away from things I enjoy doing (like writing this blog). If you have ADHD or know someone who does, then maybe this open letter to my brain will help you understand what it’s like to live in a head full of chaos!
The Letter to My Brain
Even though I don’t want to be angry with you, some days it is hard. Today is a particularly rough day because I have multiple to-do lists popping up in my thoughts like those red alert bubbles on my phone. I hate the red alert bubbles because to me, unread messages and reminders are mind clutter. Clutter, in general, is the one thing that forces me to shut down and become practically incapacitated. Now, my every thought turns into a slow-moving brain suck. It’s kind of like trying to take a step in quicksand, and just an FYI, walking in quicksand is terrifying.
Today’s headspace is brought to me by a variety of menial daily tasks. Instead of processing the tasks one by one and marking one thing at a time off of my to-do list, I’m at an impasse. I feel like each time I try to accomplish something important, the image of Nedry from Jurassic Park shows up and waves a finger at me. “Ah, ah, ah. You didn’t say the magic word!”
At least I recognize this waving-finger roadblock. I try my best to maneuver around it because I know that it’s not laziness; it’s not avoidance; it’s not procrastination. It’s my ADHD.
Three Years Ago
Three years ago, I would have joked about my self-diagnosed ADHD. I would have shouted, “Squirrel!” or “Oooh, sparkles!” and I would have laughed about my distracted headspace. Three years ago, instead of dealing with my tasks, I’d crawl into bed and take a nap until motivation came and bit me in the ass practically forcing me out of bed. Of course, I always found my motivation, but it was never timely. That’s why I vacuum at midnight and write papers at three in the morning. After hours of avoiding what I had to get done something would inspire me to get moving, even when that inspiration came at the most inconvenient times.
Three years ago, I finally realized that maybe I did have ADHD. I recognized ADHD children in my classroom almost every day. I certainly didn’t have the “H,” but something wasn’t right with my ability to focus and prioritize, either. My usual coping mechanisms weren’t working anymore, and even the most simple of tasks became unbearable.
It was also three years ago that everything came crashing down on me when a particularly nasty evaluator in my building decided to target me for the school year. This evaluator’s reputation was infamous. Every year this evaluator would find a few people (almost always women or gay men) in my building to fix. By giving us poor evaluations and making us look bad, this evaluator could then repair us and make themselves (the ambiguous pronoun is intentional here) look like the teacher-savior. I knew this about this evaluator going into the school year, but this person’s wrath was unavoidable, and I spend the first 3/4 of the year with a bullseye on my back.
My headspace became consumed by the negative feelings this person fed me. I grew afraid to walk outside of my classroom for fear that I ’d be chastised. My broken projector in my classroom was my fault. The dimming bulb in the projector was also my fault. It was my fault that I shared a computer cart with another teacher and we had to trade the cart in the middle of the class period. It was my fault that I brought a school threat to my evaluator, and it was also my fault that my senior students called my attention to that threat. I hated walking to the copier for fear that I’d run into this person. It was almost like this evaluator lurked in the dark spaces waiting to pounce on any little thing that I could have possibly have done wrong that day. And when I was caught doing something that this person deemed as wrong, this evaluator found fuel and excitement in my fear and perceived missteps.
Instead of thriving that year, I began to sink. I always took pride in my teaching abilities. I worked endless hours to be the best educator that I could be. I always valued constructive and positive feedback. I knew I wasn’t a perfect teacher, and the only way that I could become a better teacher was to fail a few times. But when my feelings of inadequacy took over, and this self-loathing fire began to snuff out my light, it became increasingly difficult to prioritize and stay on top of what needed to get done in a day. Instead of remaining an hour or two late, I started staying four hours after school. Instead of relaxing at night, I brought more and more work home and almost never felt caught up. English teachers always take longer to grade essays and written assignments. That’s a given. For twelve years I worked at home when I couldn’t get things done during the day. Any teacher will tell you that it’s practically unavoidable anymore, but the workload that year became so heavy that I couldn’t even function.
I’m not a quitter though. Rather than giving up that year, I pushed through all of the crap. I never let any part of my job slide. When I felt particularly overwhelmed, I’d make phone calls home to parents to tell them about all of the good things I saw from their children in the classroom. Those phone calls were my saving grace that year. Somehow, through some miracle, the year ended up just fine. I had a second evaluator step in to provide evaluations and feedback alongside this hateful evaluator. My days became less about fear and more about my successes as a classroom teacher. I ended the year with an excellent evaluation. My horrible year quickly became a blessing in disguise, but I couldn’t let outside forces hijack my head again, blessing or not. Although it was doubtful that I’d have another run-in with this evaluator the next year, I was determined to find out what my brain was doing wrong so I’d not have to feel that out of control again.
As soon as school ended for the year, I spoke to my doctor about my symptoms. He agreed that I sounded distractible, but he also believed in finding the root of the problem. He wouldn’t prescribe medicine without a diagnosis, so he referred me to a phycologist who specializes in ADHD. On our first visit, the psychologist gave me a questionnaire and provided me with therapy to determine if ADHD testing was truly needed. The questionnaire’s results were eye-opening. Each time I checked a yes box, I became increasingly aware that my symptoms have been present my entire life, and because I was missing the hyperactivity, I was able to cope using over-organization and list-making techniques. No one noticed my issues because I wasn’t a distraction to others. I was just a distraction to myself. I was functioning with ADHD, but I wasn’t efficient.
The Diagnosis: Inattentive ADHD
The tests finally came back with a diagnosis of inattentive ADHD. Actually, my ADHD is quite severe. I suffer from lack of attention as well a slower processing speed. I’ve found success in my life because I became almost obsessive and controlling as a means to deal with the chaos going on in my head. When outside forces interfered with my coping mechanisms, my ability to prioritize and focus became almost impossible. As much as I tried to control the situation, my type-A behavior couldn’t overrule the thoughts blending together in my head. Knowing that ADHD was causing me to feel out of control was a relief, and believe it or not, I am grateful for my diagnosis.
Meg, Did You Take Your Pill?
So, I became a medicated person. I’ve tried many different types of ADHD medicines to find one that works for me. Now that I recognize my symptoms, I can accept them. I am not embarrassed by my diagnosis. I am relieved that I actually have a diagnosis. I finally have a reason to why I get distracted by shiny objects and other crazy brain interruptions.
Now, I sometimes share my diagnosis with students who have ADHD. I let them know that they are not chained to the ADHD label. I help them by letting them know what worked for me before I found out I had ADHD, and I suggest similar tactics to help these kids feel good about organizing their lives by using technology to help keep their brains in check. Kids feel good when they see adults who they recognize as successful still struggle in the same areas they do. It helps these kids feel normal, and it frequently gives them someone to talk to who understands what an ADHD brain feels like. At this point in my life, all I can do is share what I went through so others might not have to be burdened with a diagnosis of ADHD.
While I am happy with my medicated brain, I can tell when my medication isn’t working anymore. I recognize the brain fog. I’ve noticed that the last few months, the sharpness I felt after starting my medication has worn off. I catch myself forgetting to take my afternoon pill, even when my phone reminds me to take my medicine. I also recognize that medicine doesn’t fix everything, and when the outside forces get into my brain space, sometimes talking to someone becomes just as important as taking my medication. I’ve also noticed that taking my pill sometimes seems like a chore. I have to tell myself OUT LOUD that I won’t feel this way once I take my medicine. As soon as I take my pills, I am able to focus better and feel less overwhelmed for a few hours.
So today, brain, I felt like sharing our story. I wanted to publicly share why the blog isn’t always updated, or why we don’t feel like going out after a particularly hard week of work. We aren’t anti-social. We are tired. We need to space to decompress to function like people who don’t have ADHD. We need time to process and heal in a quiet space when too many things get thrown our way, and we need to be brave enough to share WHY we think and act the way we do. ADD isn’t something to be ashamed of; my ADD doesn’t define me. I identify myself and my ADD is just part of my unique identification.
Now, I’m off to remember what I should have been working on instead of writing this blog. I know it’s on one of my lists here somewhere.