In Which Steff Talks About Her ADHD

I found out last Friday that my company’s letting us work from home when the Winter Olympics rolls into town in a couple weeks. My office is in the thick of Olympics Central in downtown Vancouver, between the major “live event” locations and all the sports stadiums. I was already having panic attacks about getting to work in what planners suggest will be the same volume of traffic influx daily as THREE Superbowls would generate, with possible two-hour waits just to get a train. (I died a little inside when I heard that.)

But working from home? Like, omigod. Discipline will be tough, but a deadline is a deadline, and my work has tangible starts-middles-finishes, with daily deadlines, since I watch television and caption it for a living.

My biggest struggle I face right now is not my weight; my weight is partially a byproduct of my ADHD — because ADHD causes problems with maintaining a routine or even achieving one, but also makes me prone to becoming hyperfocused on whatever I’m doing at any time — like eating.

Because I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD for well under a year, it’s been a massive learning curve — the realization that I’m not some fuck-up that can’t manage time, but that I’m biochemically disposed to not be able to do so without extensive systems in place. I’m only now starting to try and put those systems into play, but because of the chaos of the last two months before Christmas (keep in mind, I’ve only been diagnosed since July…), that’s just happening now.

This temporary change at work is at an exciting time. The idea of being able to remove from the equation some 8+ hours of work commute a week, plus, the flexibility of working in shorter, more powerful bursts (I hope?), and the ready access of being at home so much more for accomplishing things like healthy cooking and keeping the home in a decent state, might just make all the difference in my being able to start to get a handle on things.

The next two weeks will be me trying to lay a groundwork in place that’ll let me be successful working from home.

I’m not sure I can even begin to explain how hard I find this working-with-ADHD thing these days. I think I was always pretty good at basic functioning under ADHD, but I never used to try to accomplish much. I was fat, depressed, and not very interested in pursuing much, for about a decade. That’s not a hard lifestyle to “stay on top” of.

Then I tried to accomplish things. Whew, that was tough. But I had a plan. Every weekend had a schedule, I stuck to my rough plan, and I accomplished a lot. I changed my diet, I got active, I lost weight. Turns out, exercise & diet are the best ways to manage ADHD. So, when I was doing between 6-10 hours of high-intensity exercise a week and eating well because I was cooking and planning my diet, I was more on top of task-accomplishing than I’ve ever been.

I spent the better part of a year living at THAT level, and while I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD at the time, I’ve never felt as crisp and clear as I did then — mentally speaking. My writing came back, my focus was strong, my goals were tangible. I was doing it, man!

But then I blew my back out. I went from sometimes doing an insane 10+ hours of hardcore cardio — like climbing up & down 30 flights of stairs or cycling 35km without resting — to doing FUCK ALL for the next 6 months. It was 2 months before I could do exercises of any worth, and about 4-5 months before I even began doing cardio.

For 2 months I couldn’t clean, I had a cockroach problem, and life was fucking hell. For 9 months, my schedule was loaded with 3-4 appointments with care professionals every week. I could barely cook or clean for myself in the early days, and, as a result, my life completely came apart on me.

I did not KNOW I had ADHD, remember? But all of a sudden I lost control over everything in my life. Nothing has ever left me feeling so impotent as just trying to tread existential water while living alone on a 4th floor walkup, without a car or the money to make life easier, with a back problem as bad as I had before Christmas of ’08. Unbelievable.

Emotionally, I was getting more and more angry about everything being so out of my control. The overwhelmingness of my life was just suffocating me from sun-up to sun-down until about April, when I could finally ride my scooter again (mechanical problems & weather & heavy painkiller sedation kept me off if for most of the first 6 months) and making my life more efficient became possible — barely.

Then, boom. My friend hands me this book, says I should take this ADHD quiz. So, I do. I’ve always been a good student — aced that bitch. Shazam.

I was getting 90% of the questions, and I answered about 150 of ’em, so that tells ya.

Bret Easton Ellis once opened a story with something like, “Richard didn’t use an alarm clock. He was comprehensively alarmed.” I’ve always identified with Richard.

Then July hit, right after the diagnosis, and I had a back injury relapse, and I just folded. DONE. Fuck “improving” myself — I just wanted to get out of the year alive. Overcome the back injury, find some semblance of normalcy, stop needing so much rehab from professionals I had to pay for and clutter my already-full schedule with.

I’m excited, you know? I have no illusions — this learning to control my ADHD demons and find a plan that really works for me, so that I finally have the organizational grasp for accomplishing my Big Dreams — this is gonna be some hard-ass work and it won’t come without some prices paid. I know.

But I have the currency now. I have the means to overcome these things. I know the working out is crucial, I know the diet is crucial. I’ve mastered those things before, I’m on my way to doing so again. I understand the systems I need to try to create, I have the desire to pursue it all.

It’s gonna be hard — but the first thing I’m doing is making the choices over what gives. This is why my social life has been such a fail in recent months… I’ve been so overwhelmed by all that’s on my plate that I just don’t have it in me to go to a party or event that’s just going to throw even more sensory overload on me. I really just don’t have that in me. And, frankly, you don’t want me there when I feel that way. Que sera, sera, if people don’t get over the ego-fail of me cancelling. It’s not you, it’s me. Really.

So, as of Tuesday, I’ve ditched the shrink I was seeing. He’s more a social worker I was seeing for free. Free? Great, I’ll try that! I went for 6-10 appointments before I realized: I am not my damage. I know my damage. Mommy attempted suicide, Daddy drank too much, yada yada yada, and all the million other horrible things that happen to us all. But I don’t hide from those things and I haven’t suppressed my pain. I’ll talk about it, share it, and don’t feel I have to apologize or feel shame for adversities that weren’t my making.

I’ve been exploring those places for years. I don’t need a trained professional to guide me out of my darkness; I’ve been clawing at the light for a damn long time.

But what I do need is a way to get control back over my life.

The month of February is about trying out a new routine to see what happens.

The simple fact is: I can speculate about outcomes all I want. You can, too. But until it’s given a shot and a serious effort is made, speculation’s fuckin’ moot.

This year is about me taking control of my life. It’s about me getting what I want — not because I want it, but because I’ll fuckin’ earn it and I plan to take it. This is THAT year. I’m not my ADHD. My ADHD is just another know-thyself hurdle I have jump. And jump it I will… in good time.

Women will relate — me finding out that I have ADHD and that it explains why so many things have been so insurmountable for me (like time management) when I am one goddamned smart and driven woman, THAT was kinda like when I’ve found myself being a complete cunt for no reason, feel like shit about it, then I get my period and I realize, “Oh, okay, yeah, THAT makes sense.” It’s the same realization that I’m not to blame, but I also don’t need to stay a victim to it — knowing it’s there is huge in dealing with it.

Truth be told, early 2009, with my back injury, was the struggle of my life. Through it, I rehabbed every other injury I never knew I had, strengthened all the areas that have always plagued me, learned how strong & resilient I am both emotionally & physically, and even learned new areas in my life that needed work. Had I not had that injury, maybe I never would have come apart so harshly and had to seek professional advice. I’m grateful for that now, however endlessly hard it seemed at the time. Knowing I have ADHD is a very empowering piece to my puzzle. I know the problem now, and science knows how to overcome it. I’m smart, I will too.

Here, now, I feel overwhelmed. My home is in chaos after “phoning in” my cleaning since before Christmas, thanks to my recent bronchitis. There’s filth and disorder everywhere.

This weekend I have zero plans: My home will be my bitch.

And that’s where it all starts this year. This is the first week I’ve begun to feel healthy in 5-6 weeks. I’m stoked. What a daunting year ahead, but, oh, the possibilities. Yeah, baby. :D

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HAITI: My god. How tragic. Please give to ESTABLISHED aid organizations as much as you can NOW, because dysentery & other mass-displacement situations will be occurring soon. Red Cross, etc, are on the ground NOW. They’re THERE, helping. Give! Do not donate “things” like clothing, etc, for another 2 weeks — charities cannot distribute them now, they’re not a priority now. It’s about water, sleeping spaces, securing dangerous debris, avoiding mass outbreaks, and just feeding children. It’s medical supplies, water desalination, and other urgent needs that require your CASH donation today. After two weeks, donate to Haitian local & national agencies that will be operating on the longterm recovery plan. For now, just save lives. Red Cross has already run out of supplies in Haiti once. Give! Give! Give! Thank you.