I’m 62 years old and a former journalist, TV producer, marketing director, publisher and small business owner living with ADHD. Six years ago, I started having symptoms of confusion, memory loss, and dysphasia. I could no longer remember simple things like my office passcode, my own cell phone number, how to turn on the dryer, and what day it was. This is just a small list of things that slipped my mind on a regular basis. As an overachiever whose self-esteem was measured by my career achievements, I was scared to death that I was losing my mind. I was convinced I had early onset dementia. It was only a matter of time before I would need help with daily living. After years of achieving my professional and financial goals, I was frustrated, angry and depressed because I was broken and unable to hold down a job.
It was a nightmare. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have anything to look forward to. My career and personal life came to a screeching halt. I tried to hold down my current job in marketing at the local synagogue, but I knew my boss was getting extremely frustrated with my mistakes. Like my ADHD, I tried to hide my failing memory from coworkers and friends, blaming errors and forgetfulness on lack of sleep and hormones. Remembering appointments, birthdays, how to get across town, and names, were like using a toothpick to dig out letters from a bowl of alphabet soup. I felt like a failure and constantly worried about getting fired from my job. My life felt out of control and I wasn’t sure I had any fight left in me.
After a few weeks of an internal pity party for myself, I started seeing a therapist who helped me put things into perspective. She reminded me that my self worth was not determined by my job title. She also told me to stop looking into the future, focus on the now, and recommended that I see a neurologist before jumping to the worst possible conclusion.
Funny, I had always been the person who others came to for advice and prided myself on my intelligence, independence and resilience. I had as much resilience as a deflated balloon.
I tried my best not to think about the what ifs and took my therapist’s advice to get a medical professional’s opinion. Apparently, she did not think “Google” was a reliable source for a clinical diagnosis. After multiple doctor visits, I was finally approved for an MRI of my brain which ruled out dementia or Alzheimer’s. This was both good and bad news. Although, I still did not have a clue to what was happening to my brain.
After the MRI, my neurologist sent me for a sleep study since sleep inefficiency can negatively impact brain functioning and memory. I had to admit, this made sense given my monkey mind and inability to sleep for more than four or five hours at a night. Despite a year of being treated for sleep apnea, my memory improved slightly. So once again, I found myself searching for answers.
Stumped, my neurologist scheduled me for a “psych study” involving nearly four hours of verbal and written questions. The results concluded I had ADHD. This was not a surprise to me, or my friends, family and coworkers. I have always had trouble with concentration and am easily distracted by sounds, shiny objects, and repetitive houghts. According to my doctors, the ADHD diagnosis fits with my memory issues.
I had never considered that my ADHD would be partly or totally responsible for my memory problem. I’m still not 100 percent convinced but can see how my brain’s inability to concentrate, lack of focus and impulse control could result in poor memory. I don’t know about you, but I often have to double check whether I’ve locked the front door behind me, left the coffee pot on, or forgot my purse on the way to work because I get easily distracted.
On a positive note, there are many positive traits associated with ADHD such as: resilience, creativity, adaptability, drive, sense of adventure and humor.
I am pretty certain if it were not for my ADHD, I would never have had the courage to start a business, the creativity to work in marketing or the adaptability to work part-time while seeking answers and solutions to my somewhat unreliable memory.
There is one thing I now know for sure, being happy is a choice. Even on my worst days, I make a mental list of the positive things in my life. I try not to worry about what others think and celebrate the small victories. I also believe humor is the best medicine.
Learning to cope with a mental illness is extremely challenging and no one can truly understand someone else’s struggles. My best advice to anyone is to be honest with themselves and others. Hiding one’s true self, in my opinion, is like playing hide-and-seek on a sandy beach.
Read more in Part 2: The Complex Brain.
Written by Candace Schoner, freelance writer and producer of the podcast Speaking Candidly with Candace
Like most of us, my life has had its ups and downs, starting with my early childhood. I used to joke and say that when my mom gave birth to me, I was already wearing a pair of glasses. The truth is, I can’t remember a time when glasses or contact lenses were not part of my daily attire. Back then, I wore super thick lenses supported by big round frames (aka “coke bottle glasses”), which made me an easy target for bullies. Despite the constant fear of verbal and physical abuse, I never told a soul about what I was going through.
I think I was around 5 years old when I learned my severely compromised vision was a result of being nearsighted, combined with a “wandering” eye, which is also referred to as a “lazy” or “wall eye.” Because of this, I was forced to sit in the first row of the classroom just so I could read the blackboard. Unfortunately, having a front row seat did little to solve my extremely short attention span (which, I’d later find out, was a result of having ADHD).
As the youngest child of an alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother, I spent most of my time trying to be invisible. Despite my poor vision and low self-esteem from being bullied and my mother’s constant criticism of my weight, hair, and choice of clothes, I secretly dreamt of working in television either as a writer, producer, or talk show host.
Fast forward to my very first experience working at the local TV station as an intern. While it wasn’t exactly my first choice of internships, I soon discovered that I had found my tribe and purpose in life. The adrenaline of a newsroom and camaraderie of working as a team was nothing like I had ever experienced previously. On my final day at the station, I was overwhelmed with emotion; I walked out of the newsroom sobbing, knowing that I was leaving this group of people who were more like a family to me than my own. They had shown me kindness and respect, and had offered help whenever I needed it. After years of therapy, I learned to accept that just because a parent says something, doesn’t mean it is inherently true.
The first time I voluntarily subjected myself to therapy was in college. To say that it was a waste of time is an understatement. Walking into the therapist’s office for my first session, I was immediately greeted with a smile and directed to sit in a rather uncomfortable chair. What, no couch to lay down on? I thought with surprise, having expected a bespectacled middle-aged academic in a tweed suit taking copious notes while I reveal my deepest secrets from a prone position.
After I took my assigned seat, the therapist looked at me and asked, “what do you want to talk about?” Obligated to say something after several minutes of awkward silence, I started to fabricate a story of a life that wasn’t at all mine. Honestly, I can’t remember what I said during our encounter, and I never went back to that office or therapist again.
Now three decades later, I have worked as a news producer, copywriter, editor, magazine publisher, marketing consultant, and podcast host. I could not have done any of it without the support from my friends, siblings, teachers, therapists, work colleagues, my ex-husband, and even strangers.
One of the greatest gifts I have discovered through it all is self-awareness. It is an ongoing process and requires examining the most painful areas of our life. Some people can do this on their own. For me, it required the help of several psychologists to get me where I needed to be.
Therapy has taught me many things, including that family is not just blood and DNA. We cannot pick our parents, but we can choose to include the people in our life who bring us joy, help us to grow, and support us along life’s often-rocky road. Life is hard - there’s no way around it. Some of us struggle with mild, moderate or severe physical disabilities, while others have invisible scars due to mental illness. There is no quick fix or magic pill to eliminate pain and suffering. The trick is not to remain stuck in the past or blame others for our current situation. We must keep moving forward, taking chances, and not be afraid to ask for help when we need it. In the memorable words of Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
I have always been easily distracted and found it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 40’s that I received an official ADHD diagnosis following a neuropsychological exam for memory loss. While the medical diagnosis made sense based on my behavioral traits, I never considered that my memory problems could be caused by ADHD.
Also known as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD is a neurological developmental disorder that most often occurs in children but can be diagnosed in adulthood. Those who are diagnosed later in life, like myself, usually experience ADHD symptoms at a young age, including not listening in the first place and nine symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.
ADHD can be difficult to diagnose in children as parents often confuse their child’s rambunctiousness, inability to sit till, and lack of focus as “normal for their age”. Today, a teacher may address the issue with a parent especially if the child’s behavior is disruptive in the classroom or affecting their school work. ADHD can also accompany autism, anxiety, depression, borderline personality, and numerous learning disabilities including dyslexia.
If you are diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, you most likely had it as a child. But if you did not experience these symptoms at an early age and are uncharacteristically distracted, overly impulsive, unable to organize your thoughts or experiencing memory problems, you may be suffering from a mood disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or mania.
Symptoms of ADHD can present quite differently from person to person and most diagnoses are made largely through observation rather than blood testing or other physical markers. ADHD symptoms can also manifest in different ways as a person ages. For example, in younger children, hyperactivity may present as an inability to sit still, while adults may simply seem restless. Thus, it's important for both children and adults with ADHD to stay physically active.
Like many people with ADHD, I tried to mask my symptoms by creating coping mechanisms. Instead of being seen as someone with a short attention span, I would say I was multitasking. When I got bored or restless, I took on new challenges and increased my level of exercise.
Due to the lack of focus and restlessness associated with ADHD, holding down a 9 to 5 job can be extremely difficult. Therefore, the key is to pick a job that makes the best use of your skills and where your challenges won’t create major issues.
Research shows that people with ADHD are often creative and think up unique ways to problem-solve. Look for a job that will reward you for originality and innovative thinking such as: marketing, sales, advertising, the arts, teaching and design. Jobs to avoid if you have difficulty staying organized or on task would be accounting, medicine, or legal services. Instead, look for jobs with more flexibility.
You may also want to consider starting your own business which has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, you can work independently and choose your own hours. On the negative side, running a business does require organization and accounting skills. As a business owner myself, I have learned to outsource those tasks that do not fit my strengths, including bookkeeping, billing and payroll.
Living with ADHD does not have to limit your ability to live a fulfilling and successful life. There are many entrepreneurs, celebrities, actors, politicians, and entertainers who are living with ADHD. Among them, Sir Richard Branson, adventurer and founder of Virgin Airlines, who is best known for his risk taking and big spending. While these thrill-seeking ADHD traits can be cause for concern, they’ve helped Branson become an inspiring, successful businessman.
If you are living with ADHD, please comment below and let us know your biggest success and be sure to tune into our biweekly podcast and follow us on Instagram for inspirational stories and quotes.