UPDATE: A Missive on My Misfiring Brain


Oh, what a difference a few weeks makes. Last we left each other, I was looking forward (??) to finding out if I had ADHD or not. Based on its genetic tendencies (my mom was diagnosed when she was just a few years older than me) and a thorough review of the literature (every frickin article I could suction my eyes to), I was pretty certain I’d also been visited by the attention bandit.

Turns out my hunch was correct—I have it, no question. Although, given the emotions churning inside of me since I received the diagnosis, maybe bipolar disorder might be more accurate: I’m relieved and grateful, and am experiencing one epiphany after another. But at the same time it’s like I’m in mourning, second guessing a life that “could have been.” I’ve bounced between “Aha!” and “Oh, shit!” so many times I might have a concussion.

Relief is the overarching emotion. I was terrified of what “it” might be if not ADHD—this is where my curiosity and love of research is not helpful. Instead, I’m lucky—there a number of effective treatments for ADHD, usually a combination of medication, and new learned behaviors and skills. I’m in the middle of a trapeze act of balancing symptoms with side effects; I’ll gain my footing soon, I’m sure.

I’m grateful my doctor identified “it” immediately: “Do you realize you answered ‘yes’ to every ADHD item on this symptom checklist?” he asked me. Yup…I sure did. “Do you realize that because your mom has ADHD and smoked while pregnant with you, and you were a low-birth-weight baby you were almost guaranteed to have ADHD?” Nope…I sure didn’t, but my dad will be relieved to know he’s not the cause of all my problems. Mom’s finally taking one for the team.

There have been so many light bulb moments since the diagnosis I’m glowing like a human Christmas tree. For instance, so many parts of my life have seemed random and disjointed:

Wanting to be no place other than where you are, physically or mentally, but finding it impossible to stay put and present.
Believing you’re getting so much accomplished thanks to your superhuman “ability” to multitask only to realize you’re no further along with any of it than when you started.
Embarking on a new project with a manic, hyper-focused energy, only to walk away a short time later like you’re leaving a bowl of lukewarm, canned peas on the table.

But in the context of an undiagnosed ADHD brain driving my life’s bus, it all makes sense.

The hardest part of getting this diagnosis at forty-six instead of sixteen is fighting the urge to “what if” my life. I’ve been surveying some of the choices I’ve made, many of them impulsive and short-sighted, and the choices I didn’t make because I had no self-confidence or concept of perseverance. Sometimes the sadness and regret is a tad too much. It’s bad enough I’ve told myself for years that I’m lazy and flighty, and lack stick-to-itiveness. But there have been many times I’ve willingly put my health and safety, my relationships, and finances in jeopardy, even though doing so never fit the idea of who I believed I was at my core.

I know we can love the person while still despising what they do (or don’t do). But I have never been able to reconcile why I deliberately, often eagerly, choose to act in a despicable way when I know my actions will make it exceedingly difficult for others to love me.

As I learn more about ADHD, I find myself wondering if my actions or inactions could have been, in some small way, a blind struggle to right my chemical ship. For instance, dopamine is the neurotransmitter in the brain in charge of motivation, focus, impulse control, and our pleasure/reward center, among many other functions. It’s the lack of which that is believed to contribute to some ADHD symptoms. Is it possible I’ve been unconsciously trying to top off my dopamine levels?

This is the part I don’t talk about…the shameful and embarrassing bits, the roads I disregarded and the ones I trampled on, the ones I’d give anything for a “do-over.”

I hesitate to bring this up, to speak about it through the filter of ADHD because it feels…cowardly and like I’m trying to shift the blame.

I’m not—the blame for my choices, all of them, lies solely with me. I’m not trying to hide behind this diagnosis or use it as a convenient excuse. Anyone who knows me well knows that personal responsibility is my credo. It infuriates me when people don’t take accountability for their actions. It’s why I’ve avoided managerial positions in my day jobs and why, given a different child than the one I gave birth to, I’d most likely be a tyrannical parent.

So I’ve stood in front of the people impacted by my abysmal choices, including the person in the mirror, and have accepted responsibility and apologized for them. I own them…every single one. But I can’t shake this niggling feeling, wondering if this could be a partial explanation for choices I’ve made I know aren’t me. Could it be a fragmentary answer to the question for which there’s never been a rational response: “Why?”

Okay, enough, already! Time to drag myself out of this pitiful “what if” swamp.

Here’s what else I’m feeling: fucking excited! Overall I’ve lived an amazing life and have enjoyed a measure of success regardless of going undiagnosed until now. But when I imagine what else I might be able to accomplish once I have my symptoms under control and implement new strategies, I’m practically giddy.

I picture conversations with people who are important to me in which I hear what they say, so they no longer question if they are important to me.
I dream of finishing what I start (my two novels, for instance). I imagine feeling confident that when I begin something new, it’s emblematic of who I am, not some aberration, and an endeavor that will make me and my family proud, not disillusioned.
I envision silencing, or at least muffling, the hundreds of simultaneous thoughts demanding my attention, except for the ones I choose to listen to.
I imagine finally living up to my potential and banishing the persistent sense that I’m not doing enough or could do better if only I “tried harder.”

After years of hiking up an invisible mountain and not being able to figure out why I was winded all the time…

After delaying the hike because I knew I’d never finish it or I’d get distracted by the sparkling pond at its base and all the pretty fishes swimming in it…

After charging up that motherfucker with phenomenal speed and purpose…and then reversing course about a quarter of the way through the climb after I got bored…

I now see the mountain for what it is, and I can’t wait to get to the top.

10 thoughts on “UPDATE: A Missive on My Misfiring Brain

  1. I’ve loved what you’ve said about this lately, Kelly. I’m a generation ahead of you (you’re my daughter’s age), and when I was growing up, no one had ever even heard the term ADHD. Too, bad, because, in retrospect, I can see evidence of it throughout my life.

    Actually, in my case they might call it ADLD. I’ve always been about as opposite from hyper as one can get. The ‘L’ could stand for ‘laid-back’ or even ‘lazy.’ The ADD definitely applies to me, though.

    With this inspiration from you, I may try posting a blog about my own experience with this. It won’t be as erudite as yours, though. More just sharing and not particularly educating anyone.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, David! I really appreciate it! And yes, I strongly encourage you to write about your experience…doing so has helped me work through the obviously conflicting emotions I have about this. Writing is definitely cathartic, no matter how “erudite” it might be. 🙂

  2. You realize, of course, that the reason I’m writing this comment now is that I sat down at my computer to do something else completely different and got distracted by my email. I get that you want to be responsible for your lousy choices – and I agree. But if it helps any, there’s a big difference between understanding the why behind those choices and excusing them. A drunk may do some pretty horrible things because she is drunk and not in control of her faculties, but that’s only the why. She’s still responsible for the drinking in the first place.
    It’s a balance – owning the bad behavior is being responsible, understanding and respecting the why is compassion. You deserve and need both.

    1. HA, Anne, I love your reason for commenting! I can totally relate!

      And thank you for your explanation of the difference between owning the bad behavior and understanding it. It’s a nuance I’m trying to wrap my head around because of the story I’ve told myself all these years. I struggled writing that part and had no idea how it would be received…

      Thanks again!

  3. Kel, you’re really brave to get emotionally nekkid like this. Good onya. But I knew that about you already. I’m so excited for you to find your balance and really live in that happy place without the frustration and guilt. And I totally agree with Anne. Owning and understanding are two different things and you definitely do need both. We all do.

    But here’s the thing, yes, you may have done some things that hurt yourself or others, you may have, at times, made it harder for people to love you, but good lord, name me one single person who HASN’T in their lifetime? Regardless of ADHD we are all human. We make mistakes. Some of us far more than others. 😉 (What’s my excuse? lol)

    I know we love to beat ourselves up, but please try to give yourself a break and keep looking forward, not behind. It’s hard and I imagine with a diagnosis like this where you feel if it could have been figured out sooner things might have been different, but as you said you’ve had a great life so far. The choices you made put you right here right now in this life you’re living. Other than feeling better and getting a handle on the ADHD, what would you change about your life right now? I feel like the answer would be a big fat nada (well, besides winning the lottery, natch). Big hugs. <3
    Kelly Byrne recently posted…A Farewell Letter To My Girl Who Was Never ‘Just A Dog’My Profile

    1. How about living closer to you? That’s one thing I’d change for sure! 🙂

      Thanks, as always for your thoughts, Kel! I’ve never been good about letting the past go, but I know it’s the only option—certainly can’t change it, can I? And it’s a hell of a lot more exciting to think of what might be instead of what’s already been. My goal for next year is to be more present, and I feel like now I have a fighting chance to do it. Cuz there really is so much to be grateful for…your friendship is at the top of the list.

  4. ‘What if I had…?’ is one of the worst questions in the world. It must be so hard, but what you do at the end of this is turn that on its head and say, ‘What if I now…?’ and look forward in that positive spirit, which is awesome. You got this.

    1. Man, I LOVE that, Sara…”What if I now…?” I’ve never heard that before. You need to bottle and sell that thing, sister! And it’s a perfect fit to my theme for 2016: Be Present. Thanks so much for reading…and enlightening me!

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