Stigma Fighters: Cait Reynolds

You will not find my picture in the dictionary next to ADHD.
But, I have it.

I am not a hyperactive eight-year old boy. I am a 40-year old woman. My diagnosis came at the age of 39, after a lifetime of anxiety, crushing self-expectation, even more crushing self-disappointment, and a healthy serving of feeling like a moral degenerate.

It’s not surprising that this diagnosis came to me so delayed. ADHD researchers are discovering that there has been gross under-diagnosing of girls and women because the manifestation of the symptoms is influenced by society’s gender constructs and expectations. Women like me are just now beginning to have ADHD considered as a diagnosis. Yet, when you know the symptoms, it’s (pardon the pun) a no-brainer.

For example, I hate yoga. Yoga fills me with rage because of all the doo-dah about “concentrating” and “emptying your mind” and “focusing on the now.”
Here’s an sample of what is going through my brain on the yoga mat:

Am I doing this right oh left knee stretch he should not wear basketball shorts to yoga I hate the girl next to me with her leg around her head I wish I could do that I need to eat more greens I need to get gas for the car Jupiter is a gas giant how many other gas giants are there well that brings up a problem of statistics when you don’t even know what your real end number is oh shift position now other side I should be focusing on my breathing I am breathing look at everyone around me breathing they look so blissed out I hate them I have to empty my thoughts am I emptying my thoughts don’t forget to cook the broccoli before it goes bad is my mind clear is it is it???

Now, admittedly, this is a stream of consciousness that runs through everybody’s brains like white noise in the back ground. However, there is no soundproofing in my brain. With ADHD, my thoughts are like listening to Metallica turned all the way up while trying to practice a classical violin solo.

There is no off-switch to the endless freeform word association engine. From the minute I wake up to the minute I fall asleep (which is a whole other issue), my thoughts are relentless, exhausting and loud. Everything gets thought at once. Everything clamors for attention and makes me feel like I need to make a decision, prioritize, re-prioritize every single thing I think of.

Making lists means very little when you can’t figure out what to do first because your brain simply cannot figure out what order your tasks for the day go in or what is most important for you to do first. I understand the abstract concept of prioritizing, but it’s like my brain literally hits a brick wall when I try and apply the concept to something concrete like whether to shower before or after I start the laundry.

Add in the fear choosing the wrong priority and not being able to deliver for yourself or others, and you begin to live in a constant state of vague fear. This turns into anxiety, and anxiety isn’t fun.

I am always afraid to start something new, and so I procrastinate. I am always switching out or abandoning projects because I get scared I’m not working on the thing that is most important.

For a very, very long time, I looked at the people around me and simple wondered at their ability to say, “I am going to do this,” and then sit down and do it. I wondered why I couldn’t be like that. Why didn’t I stick with things and see them through? Why did I procrastinate to the point of brinksmanship with every assignment, whether it was in the classroom or in the office?

I decided I was just lazy by nature, and I believed that laziness was tantamount to a moral defect because I lacked a good “work ethic.” I didn’t deserve success because I just couldn’t work hard at anything or achieve anything. I accepted the consistent refrain on my performance reviews that I didn’t pat attention to details as just another indicator that I wasn’t good at much of anything.

There are a lot of other symptoms I have to greater or lesser extents, but I guess my main point is I grew up thinking there was something wrong with me when it turns out that the chemistry in my brain is just a little off.

I am working on ADHD behavioral therapy and taking Adderall. It’s not entirely one or the other, but rather the combination of the two that has finally given me some relief. Now, Metallica plays a much lower volume. If I approach tasks correctly, I can get them done. Better done than lingering in prioritization limbo, no matter what the priority actually is. This is all a work in progress for me, with the emphasis on “work.” Add a whole decision-making process before every simple task, and you get the idea.

When I got my diagnosis and saw how closely the symptoms matched my own experiences, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and placed into my hands. I now had a choice about my life and what I was going to do about it. I chose truth, help, medication, and hard work. I am lifting that weight in my hands every day and am getting stronger for it. I am no longer congenitally lazy. I am no longer undeserving. I am no longer a failure-in-the-making.

I am a good person with a good work ethic who just has to go about things a little differently with different expectations. I will make mistakes and struggle. But, I will never give up because I now have hope.
Oooh, look! Squirrel!

Cait headshot 1

Transplanter, writer, lover, human being. Not necessarily in that order.http://caitreynolds.com