When I saw a therapist friend of mine to find out if he had any suggestions for the anxiety I was having, as well as an inability to finish projects, he decided to ask me some questions before telling me the usual remedy for anxiety.
I should first let you know I was talking to my friend with two prejudgments I had already made about therapy and medication.
The first was that I was against any medication for things like depression (everyone gets depressed, right), anxiety (everyone gets anxious at times), or lack of focus (because a space cadet was a label I got early on, and I liked how it made me feel apart from the “norm”).
More importantly though I was against any medication because my family had a pretty bad record with drugs. I’m in AA. I’ve been sober for 12 years now. My father was an alcoholic too, and after 18 years sobriety, started drinking again after abusing prescribed medication. In two years he was dead.
My sister was prescribed medication for depression, and shortly after began drinking again. (I think she may have had ADD, and been misdiagnosed, but I’m no MD). She found sobriety for a while after that. Unfortunately after a couple of years of sobriety, she went out and shortly after died.
So I hope you can understand my fear, and disdain for medications for mental problems. I thought the steps of AA alone would save me. Well, I waited until I had 12 years sobriety, and found the steps just weren’t enough. I just couldn’t shake this feeling of anxiety.
But that wasn’t the main reason why I was talking to my therapist friend. I was talking to him because I could never finish anything. Well that’s not true. I finished a lot of things. I had a BA; I was a talented inventor, and a hang glider pilot of 12 years. I had skills, but I could never seem to follow through on most of them. And it was driving me nuts! I always seemed to have at least five or six projects going on at any one time. And if a project ran in to any problems, I would drop it.
I realized I got off on the high of new ideas. It was a rush. But the high would peek, and then I just wouldn’t care as much.
As a person who wants to be a successful inventor, this is a perfect description of hell. And I was in it. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get out, until I got to the point of where I was willing to do anything to get over this problem, including taking medication.
Now, up until that point I considered taking medication equal to a death sentence, because I only had to look to my family to see the results of what would happen. Not to mention I had seen many people in AA go out on medications as well. So please understand that when I asked my friend about this problem, I was doing it with a huge portion of dread, and fear, should he recommend that I look to therapy and possibly medications of some sort.
He asked me to describe how I was feeling. Then he asked me to tell him a little about my past and growing up. After a short time, he said, “You know, it sounds like you may have attention deficit disorder.” He gave me a referral to a MD physiatrist, who specialized in ADD. This really scared me because I had gone to my family doctor (which I don’t recommend), and in two minutes got a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug. I never could bring myself to fill it though because I just didn’t think my family doctor knew that much about mental stuff.
Now at the time, here was my opinion of ADD. ADD was for parents who couldn’t handle being parents, and instead, wanted kids who were doped up enough to calm down enough to look and act almost like adults. Sorry, did I mention I can be really critical and judgmental (ha ha)? I only knew one person in another 12 step program (debtor’s anonymous) who admitted having ADD as an adult, and it never occurred to me that my experience was similar to his.
But at least I had learned in AA if you wanted to take action, that meant taking action, even if you think it’s not going to do anything, or it’s really scary, and/or unaffordable.
So I met with this specialist on ADD, and spent quite a bit of time answering questions for him about my life, and my behaviors. At the end of it, he looked up at me and said, “It sounds like you have ADD, but we’ll need to look further to see if there is anything else there too.” He gave me a book “Driven to Distraction”, and began to outline what ADD is, and how it affects both children and adults. He also mentioned he had ADD too, and so I felt a little better, because I discovered he understood the feelings.
I was floored. No, let me try and be more specific. I felt the same feeling that I felt when I stepped into my first AA meeting. He was speaking my language, to a tee. The lack of focus, inability to pay attention in social situations and relationships, addiction to- (fill in the blank here)-, school records filled with “potential”, and little results, restlessness, thrill-seeker, bright, creative, problems with authority, and quick temper.
These also happen to be a good description of a dry drunk, or sober, without serenity. This is why I had held out for so long before seeing someone. I thought I was just flawed, broken. Bright, but broken.
He recommended medication. I clinched my teeth, and said OK.
I read. I began the medication. I was nervous as hell, because I felt it was only going to be a matter of time before I went out and got loaded, and shortly after died. What choice did I have? My back was up against a wall.
So I was dammed if I did, and dammed if I didn’t.
Within two days, the most amazing thing happened though. My critical self, which held a full-time office in my head telling me how I wasn’t going to succeed and that I was a fine chap who just didn’t have enough drive to get anywhere in life, left. Just plain moved out, and hasn’t been back since.
It was like a ten thousand pound weight was lifted off my head. About this time, I also saw my projects in a new light. Well maybe I should say any light, because they now looked as chaotic and scattered as they really were.
So for the first month, I just put everything on hold, and enjoyed a vacation from my old self, and discovered another gift of the medication and therapy: the present.
My mind had always been on alert, waiting for the other shoe to drop, which is fine if you’re in a war zone, which I wasn’t. It’s like I had a forest to guard, and was always setting traps. I had always blamed it on my mother, because that was how she was. But with it gone, I found I could really enjoy conversations better, the view better, and that thing I had gone for therapy for in the first place, focus.
Since I started treatment for my ADD, life has changed quite a bit. It’s not perfect. I still have my problems like any normal person. I still have to work, and pay my bills, be a dad for my 4-year-old son, and a husband for my lovely wife. But frankly after all these years of being on a soapbox about medication and recovery, I’m convinced of two things.
The first is that I don’t have the letters “MD” in my name at all, so I don’t know squat about mental illness, and that unless your name has an “MD” after it, you might not either. I’m humbled, and sorry to everyone I’ve ever spouted off to about the dangers of medication in recovery. I just hope I didn’t contribute to anyone’s death over the years by holding them back from getting help outside of AA. I would add that it was important (just for me) to have the recovery I had before seeing a therapist, and beginning any kind of medication. Medication is great, if needed, and therapy too, but in recovery, the steps and all the work I’ve done in recovery have been priceless. But that’s where I stop offering any advice to those in recovery, because frankly, I just don’t know what’s good for anyone other than me, and even there I’ve been proven wrong more times than I care to admit.
The second is that I have ADD, and I’m a thousand times better now that I’m doing something about it. And that I’m no longer broken, just slightly askew.
In fact, I’m so happy how it’s changed my life, I started a web site, to attract and meet other people who have had similar experiences, or perhaps are wondering if they, or someone they know might have ADD too.
So like in AA I’ll say, “Take what you like and leave the rest.” And if you don’t hear your story in mine, but still think you may have ADD, stick around and read some other folks stories cause you may find that story that fits yours.
(L.T. is starting a web site for others to share ADD stories. If you would like to send a story to CHADD Dimples, he will forward it to the author. -Ed.)