For the inaugural post of “Free Talk Friday”, I’m going to get a little personal. For those of you reading this who know me, this might be a little bit of a shock; for the rest of you reading this, not so much (we haven’t met, so you probably have nothing to go on).
I have ADD/ADHD.
Now, this isn’t a case of adult onset ADD/ADHD where I didn’t have it as a kid and then all of sudden, boom, I have it nor is it an excuse for the difficulties I have had the past few years. It’s something that I have had since day one, though it is a lot more clear to me now in retrospect, and I have had the good fortune of parents who provided me with an environment that I would be able to succeed in. However, with that said, my journey hasn’t had been without its hiccups.
Let me spin you a tale of how I discovered, was diagnosed, and sought help for my condition. And, no, I didn’t do all three at the same time, that would have just made way too much sense.
The Unaware Times
Like I said, I had the good fortune of parents who recognized that I would need a little bit different parenting than my siblings and, subsequently, they adjusted in order to create an environment that I was not only able to not always slack off but was also able to succeed. I was doing well in school, completing my assignments on time, and not annoying the living daylights out of my teachers. As a result, I had developed an academic curiosity and an understanding of what a good work ethic was supposed to look like: make sure assignments were done on time and leave adequate time to prepare.
I took what I learned to college and, later, graduate school; I managed to avoid the pitfalls that many students fall into when they first move away from the watchful gaze of their parents, though not without great effort. So, I established a set of unofficial rules to follow: all-nighters were a big no-no for me, papers had to be written in small chunks (maybe 500+ words at a time), and my study location needed to be new every single day. If I violated any of those guidelines, then it was all but guaranteed that I was going to have a bad time.
There was exactly one paper that I didn’t give myself a minimum of a week and a half to write. And it was the lowest grade I have ever received on a history paper.
Yeah, technically I received a “B”, but I held my writing abilities and historical knowledge to a very high standard and I considered a grade like that to be unacceptable. It was a lesson I carried through grad school, guaranteeing that I gave myself enough time to properly finish any and all papers, no matter how small.
It wasn’t until I finished grad school and had moved back home that I realized there was something up with me, and even then it took me a while.
About two years ago, in October 2015, I moved back home from grad school, and I didn’t have a lot of time to rest from my travels. Immediately, I started to look for a job (or two) and to work on my applications for a History PhD. Both of those activities, which included a lot of writing and rewriting statements of purpose and writing samples and tutoring students in a variety of different math subjects. It wasn’t until around Christmas of that year that everything began to slow down. I fully intended to put my newfound free time to good use. I was going to work more as a substitute teacher, enroll in Latin and Arabic courses, develop new and awesome hobbies, read so many books, practice my drawing EVERY day, and write something of substance on a regular basis. Not only that, I was going to have a good social life and go to all sorts of events that my parish and community would put on. It was going to be a good time. So much productivity!
I only managed to do two, maybe two and a half, of those things. And even then it was a struggle. I somehow managed to thwart myself most days of the week, distracting myself with other, less intensive but way more time consuming things (mostly YouTube, if I’m going to be honest). I even put off things that I had to do for either my job or my classes, which was something I usually avoided doing.
I was very frustrated with myself. Why couldn’t I stay focused on any one thing for any amount of time? Why was I struggling to start or work consistently on things that I really wanted to do?
Then, in March of 2016, thinking back on the past couple of months and noticing a pattern with the rest of my life, it hit me. I must have ADD or something. I brought up that possibility with my parents, and they agreed. They never had me tested because they didn’t want me labeled, but they had their suspicions. Even my younger sister was able to piece it together well before I ever did.
But, I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t get tested or sought treatment. I figured that since I was able to do pretty well for myself for so long, I would figure it out eventually.
Boy, was I wrong.
The next few months, I languished in the same sort of active inactivity: I was still working and I started a new job search and I had done well in my classes, but I was still not accomplishing any of the tasks I had set before me. Even worse, I was having difficulty focusing on both reading for pleasure and playing video games.
It wasn’t until August that I went to see my doctor and have myself diagnosed. He asked me if there was anything I wanted to do about it, recommending that I try the drug Wellbutrin over Adderall or Ritalin; it is used for long-term control and its side-effects are minimal, so he was more comfortable with it than the hard-hitting “classic” ADD/ADHD medication. I declined because I thought I would be better equipped to handle myself now that I knew I had it for sure.
I struggled at my new job as a math teacher, both making sure I was on top of everything and keeping my emotions in check in the classroom (it was a… difficult school environment, to say the least). It didn’t help much that I was one half of their math department and the administration wasn’t the most supportive. Furthermore, it was preventing me from working on my PhD applications (like I said in the first post, didn’t get in the first time so this was my second attempt). I ended up leaving the job early November 2016, probably the most difficult decision of my life.
It was in this time I finally came to understand my predicament: that was the first year of my life when I was not in some kind of school program. In other words, I had no structure. For the past eighteen years of my life, I had the structure I needed laid out before me: deadlines, assignments, readings… pretty much everything had already been set. All I needed to do was follow it. Never before did I have to provide myself with structure and, given my struggles, it showed.
The next month, I revisited my doctor. This time, I wanted to give Wellbutrin a shot. I was tired of my scatterbrained tendencies, my mood swings, my seeming lack of drive, my absentee structure. I could not tell you how many projects I started and never finished, how many books I only reached the first chapter before it was buried underneath other books. I needed to do something and I saw this as a first step.
That was perhaps the best decision I made.
In a few weeks, I felt more in control of my life than I had in a long time. I returned to substitute teaching and found that even in the most difficult of classrooms I did not lose my cool like I had so many times before. I was able to finish most books within a week after starting. And, most importantly, I was able to write on a much more regular basis.
It was exciting and heartening, but there was more I still needed to do.
The Importance of Structure
If you spend enough time researching ADD/ADHD online, you come across a lot of different articles and posts on how to best handle it. The most common piece of advice I had seen, which also works well for anyone who wants to make a change for the positive, is this: set a schedule for yourself and stick with it.
Sounds rather simple, doesn’t it?
And yet it was the one thing that I struggled with the most. It’s something that we all struggle with. However, when we know what’s coming and when we need to do it, we end up able to accomplish what we need to do and what we want to do.
It only takes one step at a time. A commitment to exercise every other day. Scheduling time to write or draw or play music every day for an hour, a half hour, ten minutes, whatever. Just as long as you get down and do it and do it regularly, you’ll see improvement. Small, incremental improvement. But improvement regardless.
That’s why I started this blog. Yeah, my writing output has increased significantly since I started managing my ADD/ADHD better, but for a multitude of reasons and excuses, I never set up a scheduled time to just write. To have something to share with not just myself but it with anyone else who is willing to listen. This is why I’ve promised to produce a post every Wednesday and Friday, doesn’t matter how short or trite. As long as it’s written and shared, that’s all that matters.
I have had blogs before, but I never used them on a regular basis to improve myself. This time, it will be different. I will be different.
I want to be a historian and a novelist. This will be my first step into “authorhood”.
I know I’m not the first person to espouse the benefits of structure, but I want to be counted among their number. One person in particular, James Clear, has made it his life mission to help everyone change their habits for the better. It’s where I started and it’s where I recommend you start, as well.
As a disclaimer, if you suspect that you might have ADD/ADHD or any other mental condition, DO NOT self-medicate. Always consult with a doctor and come up with the best course of treatment for you. This story and course of treatment is specific to me and me alone, so do not take this as medical advice in any way, shape, or form.
The life advice, however, use to your heart’s content.