Blog roll: Digging out of the quicksand of ADHD

Sometimes it’s only when you hit or see “rock bottom” that you truly realize how far you’ve sunk.

About 8 years ago I was diagnosed with ADHD, a by product of getting my older son diagnosed. It made sense, and looking back it made sense out of lot of things in my life as a kid, teen, and thereafter.

I used medication for a time, but 1-2 years ago I decided to stop. In hindsight, this was a bad idea. Like probably really bad. But I was doing OK and thought I could handle it. I wasn’t even sure it was helping after all.

(Yeah, it was.)

That sinking feeling

For the last year or more I have been consumed with bitterness, depression, and anxiety. When your own mind becomes your worst enemy, it becomes hard to tell friend from foe, until everyone and everything becomes more noise to just shut yourself away from.

When you have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the world won’t shut up. Neither will your head. Left unchecked, it tends to be noisy and it shouts a lot, spewing constant garbage you don’t want to or need to hear.

It’s a bit like being in a room with a loud fan. Sometimes you can tune it out or get used to it, but it’s always there. And it’s humming, stressing, grating on you—especially when you want to concentrate on something else. There have been days—far more than I can count—where I just wanted to crawl under a desk and curl up. Other days I spent in a constant, internal rage. Many days I just wanted to run far away.

But I couldn’t tell you why I felt that way if you’d asked me. You get locked inside your own head. You’re fighting to keep the barriers up to keep the noise out.

It’s like every zombie movie ever: the survivors barricaded in the house with you are all noisy assholes. And the Zombies are everything else. There’s rarely a winner in this situation. The survivors fight amongst themselves. A mistake is made.  The barricades break, the zombies come in, and everyone dies. Maybe you survive. Maybe you don’t.

Even if you do, you’ll just end up in another house full of assholes. And so the cycle continues.

Slowly sinking into quicksand is also an apt metaphor. Every inch you claw back only sinks you three further. Whatever greatness or value is yours becomes lost to the scraping sand that clouds your vision. The temptation to let go only gets stronger.

Where did it all go wrong?

At this point, in hindsight I suspect quitting medication around 1-2 years ago was the first step to a long, slow sink into the mire for me. Life was already busy an stressful, managing 2 kids (both ADHD) and trying to keep a house afloat as a full time breadwinner and house dad.

Losing my closest friend (and a powerful life anchor for me) late last year to cancer shoved me further into the hole. I’ve been consumed and withdrawn. I went from being a stellar employee to a struggling one.

Hiding away

I hide all it well. I have a wall of self-deprecating humor and a measure of shy wit. I can be sociable, funny, and even personable in the right conditions, particularly when I feel like I’m more in my element. It’s easy to hide behind funny, smart-ass Facebook comments, among a sea of bright exclamation points, funny cat pics, and . gifs.

Close friends in particular would probably never guess at the battle raging inside my head, the frequent tears shed, and the sometimes pure unadulterated rage I fight against. Inside my head, everybody is kung-fu fighting.

Say hello to my little friend(s)

This is ADHD. and its stalwart companions that are rarely far behind: Depression and Anxiety. They often travel as a trio, funneling a cycle of shame, guilt, and frustration at the world and all its loudness into a self-destructive twister inside your head. It’s so much more than an inability to focus or concentrate. Sufferers can experience it in a broad spectrum.

When we joke about shiny objects and squirrels, it’s our funny way of acknowledging our inner turmoil, even if we shed a tear inside while we joke about it.

ADHD is not a lack of will, as some may be prone to believe. If anything, I suspect it is largely my will that has helped me survive long enough to recognize that I can’t continue this way. It’s my will that keeps me training nearly every day. It’s will that has gotten me through 35 years and 3 black belts worth of martial arts training, and still keeps me dedicated to it.

Will is practically all I have. Even if I have more—which I do, but I can’t help but notice that I fall back on using “IF” in this sentence—the unruly trio inside my head rarely lets me see or acknowledge it.

Will is not enough. I’ve used training and exercise to cope through the years long before I realized I ever had a problem. But rising age and added stresses—kids, health issues, life in general—conspire with and strengthen the enemies in your head. I’ve been a good father, but also a terrible one. And even when I may have been a good one, I feel like I’ve been a terrible one.

Hitting bottom. Or at least seeing it.

So reaching a point near the bottom of the pit, I finally broke down, visited a new therapist, and I am resuming medication.

There’s an unfortunate stigma and misperception about ADHD and medication.

ADHD medication does not change you or who you are. I think instead it’s more accurate to say that it help remove obstacles to enable you to be who you already are—the best version of yourself, less burdened with inner struggles. It won’t “cure” you, but it doesn’t deprive you either. There is (unfortunately) no shortage often well-intended videos that may try to paint ADHD in a better light by implying that ADHD doesn’t “exist”, and that medication somehow fundamentally alters who you are if you use it.

Not everyone with ADHD may need to use medication. There may be some merit to it being over-diagnosed. Sometimes dietary adjustments and life-skills can help channel it. But it won’t always–and often isn’t–enough, particularly if you skew higher in the spectrum. Even in relatively mild cases, medication may still be the best tool. But at least talk to a professional and evaluate all your options. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right combination of life changes and/or medication to help you sort it all out.

Hopefully, you can do it sooner rather than later.

For myself, I can already feel the medication helping. It’s like all the lights are coming back on in my head again. The survivors in the house are much more pleasant. I can see a low branch and begin pulling myself out of the quicksand. I don’t want to punch everyone (just nazis, mostly!) 🙂

I’m starting to realize how far I’d sunk, and crying at the madness of it all.  And if any of this sounds like you, then know you’re not alone. You can get help. Asking for help is often harder for us than getting it.

I have a ways to go to regain my footing. But at least I can see a ledge now.

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