I’ve been pretty open about mental illness on this blog. I’ve talked about my struggles with depression, anxiety. I’ve shared my medication history, complete with the turmoil of hellacious side effects. I’ve touched on my various diagnoses, which have included, in the past, both Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Yikes.
What I’ve kept quiet about – partly because this blog just goes through dry spells when I’m too busy applying makeup to post, partly because it’s just ridiculous, and partly because, well, maybe it’s not so romantic and/or entertaining? – is that I acquired, in the last year or so, yet another new diagnosis that I feel pretty much wipes the crazy slate clean.
Good bye, Crazy. Good bye sweet, tragic Mental Illness.
Hello, ADD. You silly, fumbling, spacey fool.
Sounds about right.
Now, the depression and anxiety are still very much fully present and in place. This means that I can still claim to be a poet instead of a screenwriter.
What this new diagnosis of ADD (it’s an acronym which, traditionally, requires punctuation with a period after each letter, but I don’t like the way the dots look, plus I looked it up and punctuating thusly is now considered both “outdated” and “superfluous,” so I’m off the grammar hook on that one) means is that the near-total uselessness of all those anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and particularly the mood stabilizers is completely clarified. By the way, what I just did in the previous sentence, and often do on this blog with my excessive parentheticals, is really, really representative of someone affected by ADD. In fact, statements that begin with “By the way…” are also indicative of an attention disorder. “By the way…” meaning, in this case, beside the way, or alongside the way, or away from the way, not directly on the way, or path of the conversation, indicates that the speaker has become distracted by something from the original point.
The original point? Ah, yes.
A Little Bit About ADD
So, when you are reading about ADD, as I have done a lot over the past several months, you find that it is most often diagnosed in (bratty, annoying, hyperactive, male) children, but that if you don’t fit that bill, you can be skipped over. Girls and boys who have quietly left the classroom and taken their brains with them to places like Daydreamlandia on a regular basis can be skipped over. They’re shy, they’re sweet. They’re not a problem. They’re not stupid, but not gifted. They have some talent. Give them a high school diploma and call it a day. Once older, women with ADD tend to be misdiagnosed in favor of more girly disorders like Bipolar and Borderline Personality, for a random, hypothetical example.
If you look back though, and all the books and articles I’ve read say this same thing, you can see the little glimmers off ADD in your history. Both “talks too much” and “daydreams a lot” are indicators of boredom, and boredom is a HUGE thing for ADD. All kids are bored, but if it becomes a problem…. “If it becomes a problem” is sort of the harbinger for mental illness. We all wash our hands every day, but you wash your hands that 50th time, and you’ve got yourself a harbinger.
Aside from daydreamy boredom, another indicator that I’ve picked up from my reading is what I like to call the weird-o factor. It comes from an equation that looks like this: boredom + massive amounts of creativity + all these other kids are assholes = you’re a WEIRD-O. The books don’t call it that, but let’s just get real here. Were you a weird-o little kid? Did you do weird-o shit? I’m not talking lighting fires and all, that’s another barrel of worms, but I’m talking about…
Okay, for example:
Amber Gets the Weird-o Award
When I was a kid, I was in the Bake Sale on Steroids program called Girl Scouts. When you first start out, you’re called a “Brownie.” So, I was in Brownies. Yes, I was the nut in the Brownies.
We had several excursions, and on one of these excursions we went to McDonald’s. We ordered our food, sat down, and as is the story of my life, I quickly became Bored With All These Bitches.
I decided to entertain myself. I quietly took off the lid to my milkshake and began to open ketchup packets then squeeze the contents into the frothy vanilla goodness. Next, pepper. I gave it a stir. One of the other girls noticed what I was quietly-doing-all-to-myself-without-bothering-anybody and pretty soon there was a group of girls around me urging me to drink what I had just concocted.
There’s weird-o’s, then there’s sadistic bitches. I know to which group I’d rather belong.
So anyway, I did. I drank it. You put me on the spot with something like that, and unless I sense intense and immediate danger to my person, I’ll generally do it because I am highly susceptible to social pressure. I want to make and keep friends. That social pressure didn’t get me successfully through the ropes course on a youth group field trip in middle school but, like I said, Sense of Intense and Immediate Danger to My Person.
Fast forward to some time later (several months, maybe?) and the Girl Scouts were having their awards ceremony in our troop leader’s living room. Now, allow me to preface this next bit by announcing that the troop leader of this particular little faction was a Complete Shit-Bitch, and her daughter, also a brownie in the same troop, was a Little Shit-Bitch. We were made to stand in a semi-circle in her living room, hold up our three fingers and recite the Girl Scouts pledge (I would quote it here but I can’t because they’re a mafia and they’ll take a hit out on me) (kidding, I just don’t think it fits in my storyline at this moment) before receiving our individualized awards. Each brownie got something specific to them, based upon something the troop leader had seen them do during the year.
Oh, you can already imagine, can’t you?
There were visual aids to accompany each award, and as my troop leader came towards me with a picture of a milkshake and fries (looking back, I think I might’ve thrown some french fries in there), and beside it was a picture of a crown of broccoli. I was struck with just a brief moment of confusion before my heart sank in disappointment.
My troop leader explained to the group that I had begun to make better, healthier food choices, pointing back and forth from the milkshake and fries to the broccoli.
That was my award. My award was taken as an opportunity to get a joke, to make the other troop members and their parents laugh.
My award was a reminder that I was a fool, and that the best I could do was to try to not be a fool.
While the other girls received their awards for shit like citizenship and bravery, I got an award for only openly being a dumb ass just that once.
Never mind that, at that point in my life, I still hated broccoli. Never mind that I had gone to McDonald’s WITH THE WHOLE FUCKING GIRLSCOUT TROOP, so FUCK you and your stupid HEALTHY FUCKING FOOD CHOICES. Yes, I put ketchup and pepper in my milkshake but WHOSE fucking unhealthy idea was it to take us all to a FAST FOOD restaurant in the FIRST PLACE, YOU BITCH?
Now, I’ll post the Girlscouts Pledge and Law for you, in case you want to check it for
grammatical inaccuracy hypocrisy:
The Girl Scout Promise:
On my honor, I will try:To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
The Girl Scout Law:
I will do my best to behonest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
respect myself and others,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.
So, other than the fact that my second grade teacher wanted to hold me back, essentially, for daydreaming too much (I remember very vividly a comment she made to my mother during a parent/teacher conference for which I, the student, was also present, that I “just wasn’t there” during class, that she would look at me and my eyes were open, but I was “somewhere else”) to the point that I couldn’t long divide, the incident in Girl Scouts came to my mind very clearly when I, doing what the books had said, looked back through my childhood for indicators of ADD. There was a lot of other shit to sift through, but there were also these things – the daydreaming, the weird-o-ism.
Finally, coming up on a year ago, I went to a doctor and got the (correct! I believe, finally) diagnosis, with a little help from my friends.
Word of Mouth
I don’t really think I ever truly believed that I had Bipolar Disorder or certainly not Borderline Personality. Some features, yes, but not that extreme. But how to account for the restlessness, agitation, creativity? Depression wasn’t enough. Anxiety wasn’t enough. There was something extra going on. Not mania, but something that could look like that if you’re wearing a certain lens. One psychiatrist took it down a notch, to Bipolar Disorder II, which is a milder form of the illness, but though that felt like a closer fit, it never felt like a true fit. I had several people tell me fairly definitively, “You’re not bipolar.” But they weren’t psychiatrists. And they couldn’t offer an alternative explanation for my more whacked-out behaviors.
Then came along a new, dear friend.
Or, rather, I rolled up to her and started talking. I didn’t stop for a long while. Later on in our relationship, she recounted that she couldn’t recall that I had blinked the whole time. Or at least not very often.
She had ADD. She was taking medication for it. She told me that she definitely for sure thought I had it too. That was the first time I really seriously considered it.
Because not only did she say that she didn’t think that I had Bipolar Disorder, but she presented an alternative explanation for my excessive talking, restlessness, procrastination, whimsy and weirdness.
Also, she had dated a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder. I was assured that I definitely, definitely, was not that.
It was still a long time before I mentioned it to a doctor, but if I’d never run into this woman, it might’ve been never. I might’ve continued to bounce from diagnosis to diagnosis, prescription to horrible prescription, never really feeling understood, never really knowing how to get someone, particularly a doctor, to understand me.
Unless you’re a white, male child living in a suburb, ADD is not a very popular diagnosis to explore. Among that subset, though, it is so popular that the diagnosis altogether has become scoffed at by the medical community and by society at large. It’s the jokey diagnosis du jour, and not nearly as serious or real or damaging as one of the mood disorders.
Unless you’re suffering from it.
And if you’re suffering from it, and you’re not a white, male child with classic, hyperactive symptoms, living in a suburb, but you’re female (or male), and shy, and quiet, and depressed, and anxious, and creative, and weird, and maybe a little melodramatic in describing your symptoms to a healthcare professional, you’ll find yourself misdiagnosed until this miracle called word-of-mouth hits you – a caring friend who gets to know you well enough to give you their honest first impression of you, or a lover who gets to know and absorb enough details about you to provide an honest opinion, or a stranger who writes a blog that you find after searching “I’m not a nut” in your Google search engine. But the thing is, they have to have heard about ADD themselves, and they have to know that it’s not all seven-year-olds frantically flapping their hands in the air after they’ve had sugar.
When you find that, though, when you find ADD, and it fits, it’s a feel-good, finally-found feeling. You'll start to see it everywhere, and you'll start to pass it around, word-of-mouth. But remember, it's not ADD unless it meets that "If it starts to be a problem...." mental illness harbinger standard. See a medical professional to find out of your weirdness meets the level of disorder.
Hello, ADD. Meet OCD over there tapping the wall in the corner. Meet Depression, she’s on the couch. I think they’re both going to like you because you bring a little life to the party. Actually, you’re probably what’s kept us all alive this long. You’re upbeat and imaginative and a mile a minute, when you’re not procrastinating. We need to focus you a little bit, motivate you a lot more, but that’s okay.
Welcome, my weird little friends. You get the weird-o award. In a world of shit-bitches, it’s a good thing to have.
It’s a badge of honor.