Yes, I know that title sounds funny. I know that living with ADHD doesn’t take practice. I can be reactive/un-focused/hyperfocused/fidgety/jittery/procrastinatory (yeah I don’t know if that’s a real word) without practicing. It’s practicing NOT doing them, that takes practice.
Just as there are stages of death and dying (I was raised by a geriatrics social worker so On Death And Dying was on the bookshelf. And read.) I believe that each of us could identify stages in our ADHD journey. Not everyone would want to, of course, because not everyone loves to categorize and name, and identify things like I do, but if you wanted to, you certainly could. Especially if you kept a journal (we ADHDers are’t big on memory, after all). Why do you think I keep a blog? It began in large part so that I could track my own progress and then go back later to read painful entries that I’m embarrassed that I ever wrote. But they were true at the moment.
I’m calling my first stage “diagnosis”. But, you say, it’s a lifelong condition! Yes, you’re right. But I didn’t know it. I could name earlier stages like “here I am in the 1st grade and I already know that something about the way I am doesn’t match up to the way other people are and I’m trapped inside at recess every day because I don’t finish my work”. I could also name “I’m a frustrated teenager with big emotions who doesn’t process ambiguity well and totally freaks out from time to time in a way that other people don’t seem to”. Or maybe the “holy shit, WTF is wrong with me, no REALLY, WTF is wrong with me, I need to fix this” stage of my twenties (during which a coworker slapped a copy of “Driven To Distraction” onto my desk). But the most useful place for me to start is with my thirties, and with diagnosis, because it’s the time when relearning how to frame my world became truly possible.
Then there was the “omg, meds are weird” stage” and the “gee, I love this therapist, she doesn’t think I’m weird” stage, and the “oh hey…THESE meds seem to work” stage and the “wow…I need to make some major life changes” phase, the “painful self-observation and inventory” phase, and the “wait, how much do I really NEED to change” phase. Right now, I’m mostly in maintenance mode. I like maintenance mode. At some point I’ll probably have to address something more proactively, but right now, I take my meds, I use my calendar, I’m practicing “inbox zero”, I’m cleaning my house a little bit every day, I’m doing remarkably well at eliminating piles before they become landfills.
It was at diagnosis that I was able to take a meaningful accounting of the many gifts that my social worker mother had given me. Fuller understanding was possible. Like birth. But with less screaming. (Though I actually didn’t cry when I was born…maybe I was born to be a Scientologist).
Throughout my extremely anxious childhood, my mother was there to offer suggestions about how to help myself feel better. By the time I got to diagnosis, I actually already had a fairly decent set of tools for coping and an awareness that other tools may be available. The importance of breathing. The power of positive visualization to alter mood and health (though visualizing on demand can be challenging for me…but that may be another blog post). Exploration of tools like self-hypnosis. The link between eating healthy foods and feeling good. Books about how having a BIG temper isn’t bad, but that you have the power to make positive choices when you are frustrated, and can redirect your energy. That each person has an obligation to those around them, to work toward making better behavior choices. I learned about how when you are tense you should spend time petting an animal (animals have truly been some of my best allies).
And I realize: I know that everyone doesn’t have the good fortune of that experience, and it sure gives a person with ADHD a head start in life to learn these things in childhood. Regardless of the fact that I didn’t have a diagnosis until adulthood, my mother did notice some of the things that I now know are symptoms of ADHD and she gave me tools to help me live with them.
That doesn’t mean that you’re doomed if you’re diagnosed later, of course. It’s great if kids can have some kind of beneficial intervention, but grownups are perfectly capable of change. We might have to work a little more consciously and earnestly. Changes to our lives might feel more jarring, than to a child, because we’re set in our ways. But nothing will cure ADHD, so we may as well work to make our journey more pleasant. Not perfect. Just pleasant. Or at least progressing, in some small way. And having the perspective of one who has had a longish period of time to practice certain things, I can really appreciate how that practice has changed my life. There are things I’ve practiced since childhood, that I still work on (like putting thought and reflection between my anger and my actions), but they are areas that I know I have made progress in (it’s much easier now). There are things I have practiced just in the past few years (like minimizing my piles and not just throwing things into boxes) and I can see that I have made improvement, but where I also see that I can make even more improvement…but it will take time.
When the diagnosis is made, your journey begins. It’s an opportunity and opportunity can be a mixed bag. What you do with that opportunity is up to you.