A Missive on My Misfiring Brain

Nothing can ever prepare you for it—that moment when you realize you’ve become your mother or father, or both. I had one of those moments a few weeks ago, driving with my husband and daughter. I commented on another car I saw (technically I called out a “slug bug”…yes, we still do that). Then not more than a couple of minutes later, I made the same comment…with absolutely no recollection of having already made it.

“You just said that,” they said to me, to which I responded, “No, I didn’t.” It took some convincing, and even after I cajoled myself into believing them, I still didn’t remember those words coming out of my mouth.

Then the ribbing started: “It’s bad enough you don’t listen to us when we talk to you. Now you’re not even listening to yourself.”

As I began to apologize (for the millionth time for this very transgression), I had a flashback to conversations I had with my mom when she was about my age.

They usually went something like this:

Her: “When do you work this week?”

Me: [telling her the days and times.]

Her [just minutes later]: “When do you work this week?”

Me: “You already asked me that. God, Mom, don’t you ever listen to me? It’s like you don’t care about what I have to say…”

I’ve experienced a version of that amnesiac round-robin with my husband and daughter more times than I can remember (literally). It was during the one in the car that my brain made what could be one of the most sanity-saving connections of my life.

When my mom was about the same age as I am now (mid-forties), she was diagnosed with ADHD. I still remember the day she got the news: She cried with relief because, as she told me, “My whole life I thought I was stupid. Now I know what it really was.”

And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s the same with me.

During those conversations with my mom, she’d get this look in her eyes, like she had mentally stepped out as soon as she’d asked me a question. The same thing happens to me. My vision even changes…a gauzy curtain blurs the edges of the person’s face and my eyeballs stick to their sockets.

It seems my hearing is affected, too. As soon as I’ve finished asking the question, my ears shut down, the only sounds remaining are the hundreds of thoughts that hurtle through my head simultaneously.

That’s the hardest to cope with: the inability to shut my brain off as it moves from one unfinished thought to the next. Most days it feels as if I’m being mentally pummeled by powerful jets of water from hundreds of fire hoses, each stream a separate idea, plan, or directive, with a single collective goal of trying to drown me. When I try to focus on just one, I have to fight the compulsion to turn my attention from one unfinished task to the next, leaving partial memory-prints on everything I see or hear or touch. I fail every time.

Multi-tasking used to be my mantra. Now it’s my unmooring.

From lemondropdesigns, at Easy.

From lemondropdesigns, at Etsy.

Recently, when my husband and I were sitting in the living room, I looked over at him staring off into space while simultaneously picking at a hangnail. I recognized that look and its paired unconscious action—I’m usually rolling the hem of a shirt or a hoodie string, or folding the tassels on my purse, like a Catholic fingering her rosary. I asked him what he was thinking about. He said, “I’m thinking that’s a bad hangnail. I should pick it.”

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Yeah. That’s it.”

I can’t even…

I have other ADHD symptoms, too, some more pronounced than others. There are only two symptoms on this entire list that I don’t have: poor organizational skills and chronic lateness, but only because I use four different calendars/planners and check them twenty times per day. Everything else is me to a ‘t.’

Collectively these symptoms affect me in another way that is so ironic it’s laughable: I’m a writer who has trouble reading. “Trouble” really isn’t the right word—it’s the equivalent of adults calling overweight children “chubby” because calling them fat is too cruel. The “trouble” is that I skip over about every other paragraph. While I’m scanning the words and sentences on the page, those fire hoses start dowsing my brain, and I’m flooded with the words and sentences in my head. I can’t fathom how many punchlines, how much context, how many exquisite turns of phrase I’ve missed in the nearly forty years I’ve been reading.

What’s most painful is that whatever is going on with me is causing my family to doubt how much I care about them and what they have to say; that I can’t give them even a moment of my undivided attention. I know how that feels—like you’re being emotionally shunned, like there’s something else more important than you and it’s all inside the other person’s head.

And so in two weeks I have an appointment with a psychiatrist. I don’t know what I fear the most—that I have ADHD or I don’t. If I do, there’s a strong likelihood that a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy can help me. If I don’t, then…who knows.

I know it’s not cancer. It’s not fatal. So, yeah, I’m trying to get over myself already.

But it still eats at you. It still alters your life and the lives of those around you. It robs you of your potential and the sweet ability to be in the moment for more than just a moment. It foils the quieting of your mind.

And it’s never just about a hangnail.

I wrote an update here.

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What about you? Anyone out there have ADHD? If so, how do you cope? Have any of you been on the cusp of getting news that you’re not sure you want to hear? What was it and what happened?

10 thoughts on “A Missive on My Misfiring Brain

  1. Thank you, Kel, for your brilliant and always hilarious honesty. The hangnail just cracked me up. ‘I can’t even…’ Ha! But seriously, I’m so proud of you and your brave self for working to figure this out. Whatever the outcome of that visit, you will get some kind of answers and then you’ll know how better to move forward. It’s scary as shit when we think our parts are going haywire, but it’s most important to face it head on, which is what you’re doing. I’m making a doctor’s appt. today as well. Scares the crap out of me what certain tests might find. Things have not been great lately. But we have to charge into it so we know what we’re dealing with. I’m always here. Hugs.
    Kelly Byrne recently posted…My Dog Is Headed for The Bridge – Why Do I Feel Like I Am Too?My Profile

  2. I have been diagnosed twice with ADHD, once as a child and again as an adult. I’ve lived with my wandering brain for 57 years. I’m glad you’re getting checked out – peri-menopause and menopause can make it even harder to focus, so I’m not surprised that both you and your mom got diagnosed at this later stage in life. I have a friend who did, also. Because we girls don’t tend to be on the ceiling as much, we don’t get diagnosed so early. It was a fluke that I did. And if your mom has it, you probably do. It is hereditary. Which means you may want to get your daughter checked out eventually.

    My friend is doing well on the drugs she was given, I have never done well on drugs and did not respond well to Ritalin as a kid. What works best for me is adaptive behaviors – you’re already doing them. You have four calendars and check them twenty times a day.

    Finally, I’m really getting tired of describing ADHD as a disorder. It can be problematic – you have trouble with missing stuff while you’re reading. I can’t always focus on what I need to. But it’s basically a different way of operating that doesn’t fit in as well in a society that prefers to do things by the numbers. You’d have been great as a cavewoman – able to react quickly in dangerous situations, able to take in a lot of information from different sources and go after something that would otherwise be lost.

    There are gifts to ADHD. You can multi-task like no one else. In fact, instead of being your unmooring, it may be your salvation. Need to sit still to listen to a lecture – try bringing along some knitting. Okay, sitting still long enough to learn might be an issue, but once you do, it will make things so much easier. It’s easier for me to cook five different things and get them all to the table at the same time because I can multi-task.

    My reality is that I am all over the freaking place. It’s almost impossible for me to have one iron in the fire at a time. So instead of fighting it, I’ve decided I’m taking advantage of it. Project A is stalled while the beta readers go over it, I’ll work on Project B for a while, and maybe do some preliminary work on Project C because I can.

    You worry about your family feeling like you’re not listening. Fine. Work on that part, but also remind them that your brain is moving constantly. If you accidentally miss what they say, it’s because you can’t help it. They can learn some compassion and adaptive behaviors, too. Your brain isn’t misfiring. It’s moving at the speed of light. That’s actually a gift.
    Anne Louise Bannon recently posted…How to Make Gravy (A Dark Side of the Fridge Special)My Profile

    1. Thank you for that, Anne! I’ve read a lot over the last few weeks of this realization as I prepare for my appointment, and I’m trying to focus on the positives of it. It is cool that I can multitask and sometimes I feel like I’m a stallion of action and results. But there are a lot of times when I wish I could just focus on one thing for more than 10 minutes at a time. My inability to do that along with all the other stuff that keeps me hopping from one thing to another bugs the shit out of me because I think of all that I could really accomplish if I could just focus. Writing is one of those things—I’ve written two novels over the past two years and neither of them is finished, and I’m not even talking about going back and editing them. I ache at the idea of laser focus when I choose it.

      And you made an important point re: my family. As soon as I made the connection about what might be going on with me and I told them about it, they’ve been much more understanding. At least they know it’s not that I don’t care—I just don’t have the ability to hear them. Like you, I’m trying to find work-arounds until I can get some help. One of those is repeating, either out loud or in my head, what they’ve just said to me. It helps me focus a little better if I tell myself I have to repeat it back. But man, it’s hard! It feels like trying to write left handed when I’ve been a righty my whole life.

      And you can bet that if I have this diagnosis, I’m going to have my daughter tested too. Like you mentioned, I’ve heard that it’s hereditary.

      Thanks again for sharing your story. I really appreciate it!

  3. I’ve got a lot to say here, and the original comment is not loading, so pray forgive me. I’ll have to do this in multiple comments.

    I have been diagnosed twice with ADHD, once as a child and again as an adult. I’ve lived with my wandering brain for 57 years. I’m glad you’re getting checked out – peri-menopause and menopause can make it even harder to focus, so I’m not surprised that both you and your mom got diagnosed at this later stage in life. I have a friend who did, also. Because we girls don’t tend to be on the ceiling as much, we don’t get diagnosed so early. It was a fluke that I did. And if your mom has it, you probably do. It is hereditary. Which means you may want to get your daughter checked out eventually.

    My friend is doing well on the drugs she was given, I have never done well on drugs and did not respond well to Ritalin as a kid. What works best for me is adaptive behaviors – you’re already doing them. You have four calendars and check them twenty times a day.
    Anne Louise Bannon recently posted…How to Make Gravy (A Dark Side of the Fridge Special)My Profile

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