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. 😀


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12 thoughts on “In Which Steff Talks About Her ADHD

  1. Nic

    Your truthfulness is inspiring to me, a 54 yr. old ADHDer guy who has known for a long time I was different. I have been diagnosed for over 15 years, but the reality is that there is not alot of help or compassion available to us. I manage alright, financially ok, relationships difficult much of the time, but in the end we only have ourselves.
    ADHD racism is in its prime right now. I recall trusting my older cousin about my diagnosis. His response later, was that his friend, a doctor, thought it was a condition where people felt sorry for themselves! That ADHD as a condition did not exist, except in people’s minds.
    Only my family knows about my condition. I would never get hired if people knew, especially those who would prejudge me. But thats ok, I’ll manage, I always have and will continue to do so. Today was special though, because of your post, talking about my secret made my day! So thanks again and I hope your back is feeling better.

  2. Danielle

    Where do I start? Just started following your tweets through @typefaster. Caught my attention when I saw you post about ADHD. I’m I’m 28/female/from Abbotsford/ADHD/a writer.
    I was just diagnosed a year ago. I used to work at a counseling office and my boss helped diagnose me and get me working on dealing with my ADHD and anxiety. Then he complained about the very aspects of my personality that are ADHD-related and ultimately “freed me to work on other projects.” Now I am in school again p/t (nearly done), have started my own business (working from home, yikes!) and am trying to manage the two while keeping my house in order, my social life somewhat intact, and my health in check. Besides the ADHD/anxiety I’m working on losing weight (I identified with your comments about weight issues and not being able to stay on track) and I suffered a major blow to my health this fall and winter when I had H1N1, then an asthma flare up, then bronchitis, and then was hospitalized.
    I guess my point is to let you know that I identify so strongly with what you’re saying and experiencing. I wanted to share with you that I’m a similar person going through a similar situation, and that your forthright attitude is inspiring to me as I deal with much of the same crap.
    I wish you luck as you continue on your journey and sort out your stuff.

  3. John

    I remember when I found out I had ADHD a few years ago, and a lot of things make sense. Ahhh the places I would have gone had I figured it out and managed it earlier.
    I will say one thing, the drugs you can take for it (for me at least) are amazing in what the allow you to do.
    BTW – new reader and twitter follower and I like your blog here a lot.

  4. LarryLilly

    Telework/flexplace/whatever you might call it is great
    your in control.
    I do it one day a week (like today) The way I do it where I actually get more done than being in the office is I have a 60 minute timer. I set it to 45 minutes. I work straight through for the 45 minutes, then I set it for 15. In those 15 minutes I go pee, grab a drink of tea, snack on a piece of cheese, read blogs, whatever. Then I restart the 45 minutes.
    If at the end of the day I felt I could have gotten more done, I do it. I might work an extra hour or two when time/boring telly permits.
    As far as your medical issues, my first wife had a basket load of them, and its not fun. But with time, systems for control and staying on target you will thrive.
    Me? I thought I was dyslexic until I realized I am just spastic.
    .-= LarryLilly´s last blog ..Goodby Bandit, see you in the next life. =-.

    1. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

      You should follow @petequily in Vancouver, who’s an ADHD coach, and often makes great suggestions. I found the Driven to Distraction book really enlightening re: ADHD, and per @PeteQuily’s recommendation, am now reading The Disorganized Mind by Nancy Ratey with lots of tis and ideas for figuring out a style that works for each of us. 🙂

  5. Mike

    Great article; I’ve had a nearly identical life story as yours in the past year. I had a bad neck injury that prevented my from any exercise; my running stopped, my skiing stopped… and the anxiety started building. I started Googling around for information on anxiety when I stumbled onto an ADHD exam. I too aced it and have felt really empowered like you said, realizing that a lifetime of memory issues, time management, relationship struggles etc. were all normal and that I wasn’t alone. I bought the book “Is it you, me or Adult ADHD” for my GF, have signed up for ADHD coaching with Pete, and been on a 2-3 month waiting list for an ADHD specialist.
    It’s funny how us ADHD’rs figure out many of the same coping strategies on our own. Here’s the list of things I’ve found have helped me stay successful in business, and in control of my life:
    a) Blackberry – i have to schedule EVERYTHING. I email myself things to do, assign tasks, set priorities. NEVER trust your brain to remember something as simple as “call mom back”.
    >> Recently my coach Pete recommended I use the actual Alarm function for important meetings (as sometimes I accidentally ignore the pop up reminders)
    b) Stretching/Yoga; I have a routine I do every night for 20-60 minutes that keeps me sane. While I was running a lot (3-5 10k’s per week), I didn’t even notice I had ADHD… but now that I can’t run, I feel like Yoga can be my real saving grace.
    c) Being self-employed/work from home; I found it AMAZING for getting things done. I’m highly effective without interuptions. If there are any interuptions in your work environment, get rid of them.
    Ok thats enough for now… here I am hyper-focusing on your article and this comment when I should get back to work.
    Best of luck with your progress!

  6. L

    Really enjoying your blog, Steff–and this post really spoke to me in particular. Though I have not been officially diagnosed ADHD I have read a lot about it and am fairly convinced that it’s what I’m suffering from.
    The story of your past couple of years is remarkably similar to mine–you’d just need to substitute a broken foot for your back injury. I struggle with my weight, I struggle with my focus…and I struggle with my weight because I struggle with my focus, etc etc.
    My main question is how I would go about seeking help/meds and being properly diagnosed? I feel like I’m a pretty resourceful girl but when it comes to this I just feel completely at a loss. I have an appointment with my family doctor later in the month–can she refer me to someone?
    I have talked to many folks who are on meds for ADHD symptoms and find them incredibly valuable. I’d really like to get things under control here before I lose yet another year of my life to this but I just don’t know where to begin 🙁 How did you start down the road to treatment, Steff?

  7. Pete Quily

    Hi Steff,
    great post. Wish more people with ADHD would have the guts to go public with their ADHD, then there would be less stigma on ADHD and maybe govt and society would start taking ADHD seriously ie actually diagnosing and treating us and providing services for us instead of abandoning us.
    Many with ADHD are afraid of the label but frankly most of those don’t realize other people already give them other labels due to their behaviour and those labels are often a lot worse than the label ADHD. Labels are in themselves neutral. how you use them it what makes them useful or harmful.
    Addictions are rampant in ADHD, alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating disorders, sex addiction, internet addiction etc. In one study 33% of alcoholics had ADHD
    and ADHD is 80% genetic.
    Many ADDers self medicate with food one Canadian study showed 26.7 % of the severely obese women had ADHD, more than 5 times larger then the regular population.
    Also with ADHD it’s very crucial to learn to slow down our race car brains through regular non electronic relaxation. Otherwise we’re prone to overload and overwhelm.
    You might want to come to some of our local support groups, CHADD Vancouver meeting next tuesday
    and my Vancouver Adult ADD support group meeting
    Glad you’re turning the corner, lot of negatives to ADHD, but a lot of positives too, once you minimize, delegate and deal more effectively with the negatives you’ll have more time for focusing on the positives of ADHD

  8. Pete Quily

    you should contact your closest ADHD support group, they should be able to give you some names of people known to diagnose ADHD & treat it medically, unfortunately many don’t know how because they’re not taught in med school, and govt and media doesn’t think adhd is a serious problem because few people complain there’s not enough resources so they don’t add any.
    For example UBC medical students only get one hour on training on ADHD. BC govt closed down only adult adhd clinic in the province because it’s 1 year long wait list was politically embarrassing.
    If you’re in Vancouver i can email you out a list, if you’re outside of Vancouver you can google “ADHD support group your city” or go to my list of ADHD support groups here.
    If you’re looking for an ADHD coach you can search for on at
    If you have adult ADHD here are 10 ways to manage it.

  9. Zoeyjane

    I’ll lend you Scattered Minds, when I’m done reading it, too. The author, Gabor Maté is the same Vancouver doctor that wrote In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Inspiring and thought provoking, to say the least. And he has ADHD.
    Now, I understand nearly everything you’ve mentioned excepting the food issue – though I do hyperfocus on preparing food for others, or analyzing cookbooks or nurtition books/articles. What I want to know is how often ADULTS might be misdxed as bipolar, when they’re actually mainly ADHD. Pete?
    .-= Zoeyjane´s last blog ..On moving on up, part 2 =-.

  10. Pete Quily

    Thanks Mike,
    Yes Yoga is great for ADHD, stress relief plus all that needed boost brain chemicals ADDers are in short supply of ie dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine.
    And you’re right ADHD adults shouldn’t rely on their memories for things, that’s what God invented timers for:)
    Zoejane unfortunately I’ve heard many stories of people with ADHD mistakenly being diagnosed with bipolar and vice versa. And you can have both. With ADHD, co-existing conditions are the norm, not the exception. That’s why it’s crucial to get diagnosed by someone that really knows ADHD, sadly you can’t assume that’s the norm yet. Hopefully more people with ADHD will have the courage to speak out like Steff and maybe start demanding services from govt and health system and then they’ll start training medical professionals properly on ADHD.
    Most of the medical professionals who know ADHD well told me they learned about it on their own, it’s not taught or not taught well in schools
    Gabor Mate sometimes speaks in town, he spoke at my Adult ADD support group and is an amazing speaker, brain + heart and he has ADHD. He got great reviews.

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