THE COMPLEX BRAIN AND DIAGNOSIS
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
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