Candid Chaos Chronicles: Clair's Light Bulb Moment
Candid Chaos Chronicles Part 2 is authored by Clair, a mother in her 40's. She was recently diagnosed with ADHD and wanted to share her pre-diagnosis experiences along with what life has been like since starting medication. Her story features her time at university, jobs, marriage, infidelity, parenting, and more. Warning: the following story mentions alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and suicidal thoughts. Reader discretion is advised.
Serendipity has long been in my list of top 5 favourite words. It's also the reason for my ADHD diagnosis at age 44.
When thinking back on how it all came about, I have an image in my head of Light Bulb Moments happening to adults around the country, which - in domino-style - resulted in other adults finally finding out the reason for the chaos in their lives. In my case, there are four adults who I know personally - a friend of my friend, my friend, myself and then my brother. Within a year, we all received our ADHD diagnoses. Before this time, we spent our entire adult lives (and parts of our childhoods) feeling that something wasn’t right and being fobbed off and misdiagnosed... which is why we all thought of each other when we learned more and more about ADHD.
"I also now know that RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria) more than likely played a part in my anxiety."
For me, things started to feel "wrong" shortly after leaving home at 19. I moved to a different city for university and within a year of being there, had fallen completely in love for the first time; he later became husband #1. In retrospect, I think the intense feelings I had completely overwhelmed me. There was euphoria but there was also massive vulnerability - to give myself completely to someone else was to risk being hurt. So there was also enormous anxiety. Now that I know more about ADHD, I know that it's very common for our feelings to be so much more than "normal". Emotional Dysregulation is a core symptom of ADHD; we feel much more intensely than Neurotypicals. For me, there is no middle ground. I’m either flying or burying myself as far underground as possible. I also now know that RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria) more than likely played a part in my anxiety.
In addition to this, there was the issue of hyperfocus. My partner was my hyperfocus. I let go of friends. I let go of my sense of self. And I completely let go of the reason I was there in the first place: to study. I scraped a "Pass" by the skin of my teeth and was very lucky not to be thrown out. I was called into the office and warned every year that I could be.
Up until this time, I'd always managed well in academic settings, which is part of the reason I would've never considered myself to be ADHD. I wasn’t particularly great at concentrating in class and would often daydream. I was called a “chatterbox” on all of my primary school report cards. But when it came to passing tests, I did really well. Studying would always be left to the last minute, but then adrenaline would kick in and I'd manage to cram masses of information just to regurgitate it on the exam and forget immediately after. The same was true of essays at uni. I could be out the night before, wake up first thing, and write an essay with my heart racing. My best results were obtained this way, much to the disgust of fellow classmates. One said, “You are the cleverest in the class but you are also the biggest slacker. It’s really not fair!”
"This was to be the first in a very long list of unhelpful remarks I've heard from GPs."
It was around this time I really started self-medicating. I drank far too much alcohol and snorted large amounts of amphetamines. Only at these points did I feel calm and relaxed. My anxiety had started to produce feelings of dissociation, which I found incredibly frightening and was unable to get help with. I went to the GP and told him I felt like I was going mad. All he could say was, “if you feel like you're going mad, then you definitely aren’t. You just need to relax.” This was to be the first in a very long list of unhelpful remarks I've heard from GPs.
At 24, I started a post-graduate diploma. I convinced myself and the Admissions Office that I changed; that I was more mature and would work hard. As the result of a scathing report from my first university, I was asked to attend an interview. I was grilled for 2 hours on why I should be given a place when I had done so badly before. With the "gift of the gab", I won over the admissions officer and was accepted. I then went on to become a Regular in the Student Union, and - in the end - didn’t even graduate. I had actually done worse the second time around.
"I was constantly frustrated with myself. I felt ashamed and consumed by guilt."
However, another serendipitous turn of events happened and I landed a job I loved. I got on so well with the interviewer and she didn’t check my supposed certificates. I started shortly afterwards. There were six of us in the office - a beautiful old townhouse. We got along, the job was varied, and I enjoyed it greatly. Within five years, I moved up from assistant to manager of the department. Luck has definitely been on my side on many occasions. But more than that, when I am doing something I love, I will give it my all. As a result, I was good at my job.
During this time, I got married. Four months later, I started an affair with my husband’s friend. Around the time anniversary cards were coming through our door, I told my parents that I was leaving the marriage (which they had paid for) and that I was with someone else. It wasn't a great point in my life, but it was necessary. I should've never gotten married in the first place, which was obvious to some around me, but not to me at the time. I got carried away. I didn’t stop to think. I acted impulsively. Reality soon hit home, though, and I became deeply depressed with constant suicidal thoughts. The man who was to become my second (and final) husband saved me. Moving straight from one marriage to another serious relationship may not have seemed like a good idea to many, but it was the right thing for me... and twenty years later, we are still together, still in love and have a beautiful family.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I left my job to become a full-time mum and eventually a home-schooling mum to my two daughters. Again, I was in a position that suited my ADHD. It was varied, flexible, and I love being a mum and watching my girls learn. However, my problems with anxiety and depression continued. Apart from during both pregnancies and for short times afterwards, I'd pretty much spent my entire adult life on antidepressants. I 'd seen numerous counselors and therapists, but had no real answers as to why I struggled so much.
"Why after doing a load of washing do I forget about it and often have to wash it all again, at least once? Why couldn't I drag myself off the couch when I had so much to do?"
As our family grew, my husband and I moved to larger homes until we settled in our current home 7 years ago. Our home is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sheep, cows and wildlife. It is a large house with a large garden. It is perfect but it is - or was, until Elvanse - a monumental mess. It got to the point that I just couldn’t appreciate what I had. I knew how lucky I was, but at the same time, I was chronically overwhelmed. I felt like I was drowning and the house was pushing me down. I couldn’t understand how I could have everything I ever wanted and more, but still struggle so much. My struggles also didn’t seem logical. Why after doing a load of washing do I forget about it and often have to wash it all again, at least once? Why couldn't I drag myself off the couch when I had so much to do? Why would I forget to order dog food or forget appointments time and time again? I was constantly frustrated with myself. I felt ashamed and consumed by guilt. I had medication for my anxiety and depression, a supportive husband, years of therapy... but things still weren’t right.
I started medication for my ADHD about 2 months ago, and I can say without any exaggeration that it has turned my life around. The first morning on the medication was so so beautiful. For the first time that I could remember, I felt calm and clear-headed. I was focused. I could get things done. My life is so much easier on medication and I have been incredibly fortunate that the first type and dose I tried (30mg Elvanse) worked. I barely slept the first two weeks, but I think this was because I overdid it. I had often had the experience that, when the switch is on in my head and I’m off on one, I later can’t sleep because I can’t turn it off again. I think this is what was happening those first two weeks. So I have learned to pace myself. In addition, I need to keep an eye on what I’m eating and stay hydrated. I'm also finding that the medication's effect varies greatly with my estrogen levels and this is something I am currently researching and working on.
When I look back on my childhood, I can see the signs. My mum once told me that when I was little, she had to stop visiting people, as I was just “too wild”. She also told me how embarrassing it was taking me to the playgroup that my gran ran, as I was the only child who wouldn’t stand still long enough to do any of the activities. My primary school teachers used to time how long I could be quiet or make me sit on my hands to stop me fidgeting. However, it was the 70s/80s, and the knowledge, support, and information just weren’t there. Also, despite being a bit wild, I was reasonably well-behaved in school and did well, academically.
Maybe along the way, a therapist or doctor should've picked up on my symptoms and realised ADHD was responsible for many of my issues. But even now the knowledge just isn’t there with much of the health profession. I had to fight with my GP for a referral. He told me, “adult ADHD is very rare”. Time and time again, women/girls are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, as most studies into ADHD have concentrated on mainly males and kids. So for an adult female who can present completely differently, it's incredibly difficult. Not only that, but we have our own separate issues with estrogen affecting dopamine levels and there's so little information out there. Studies have deliberately avoided using women who menstruate as they don’t want our "messy" hormones skewing the results. Fortunately, there are now people out there researching this and hopefully there will be more information available. Until then, the only thing I can do as a woman with late-diagnosed ADHD is keep telling my story and hoping that the domino effect continues and another adult will have that Light Bulb Moment. ---