3/27/2015

You’re Not ADD (Part 5): Want some Prozac?


Trying to get a diagnosis can be quite a thrill ride.

On my health plan, they have a process by which people are diagnosed with ADHD. First, you go to the 2-hour talk on Adult Attention Issues, where they pass out a test. Then you wait three weeks and they send you a letter. Yes, you have it. No, you don’t. It’s like getting accepted into college... or not. If you do, you get some meds and 4 appointments with a therapist who may or may not know anything about ADHD in adult women.
“When you have ADHD,” the teacher droned on, “you need to be entertained or you lose interest.” I wanted to bolt after twenty minutes of her slow-moving, monotone presentation.
— Kristen Caven
If, because they have awesome services in the Pediatrics department, you ask your child’s psychiatrist something like, “I think he’s this way because of me,” they won’t really talk to you; they’ll say to go stand in line in the Adult department. (If you cry, because you don't understand and are desperate to ask questions like "is it because I was a terrible mother and could never teach him how to floss every night because I can't remember to myself?" Well, they’ll close the door extra-fast.) So, you just keep worrying and having all these questions that no one will answer until you do all your listening first.
In the Adult Attention Issues session, which is standing room only, they describe every aspect of what it feels like to have ADHD. I sat through this meeting twice, five years apart, and had to sit on my hands to keep from raising them every two seconds to chime in with additional information, since it was all so familiar. The test is full of questions that make you sound like a loser, which I’m not. On some questions, I had to be perfectly honest and answer both “Rarely true” and “Always true,” since one answer is correct when I’ve got fun things going on in my life, and the other is correct when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I wanted to explain this to someone, but no one ever asked me what I meant.
The first time I went through the process, they said I was on the borderline, not “disordered” enough to have ADHD, and the psychiatrist kindly offered me some Prozac or other anxiety medication. But I am not a fearful person, I told her, just an overwhelmed one. I only really worry about one thing: can I keep my shit together without dropping all these balls I seem to attract? Besides, I am keenly aware of my body and highly sensitive to medications; I even ask the dentist for a half-dose of novacaine. So Prozac? Thanks but no thanks.
The second time I went through the routine, same story...except now you had to wait 3 months to talk to a psychiatrist if you were 'borderline'. I decided to go ahead and take the 6-week Adult Attention class while I waited. It was all I could do, again, to keep from blurting out and being the cleverest one in the room. “When you have ADHD,” the teacher droned on, “you need to be entertained or you lose interest.” I wanted to bolt after twenty minutes of her slow-moving, monotone presentation. The woman next to me was just as agitated at the poor organization. We supported each other in chiming in. But the teacher said, “please hold your questions and comments until the end.”
One day I got a call, asking me not to return to class. I was baffled and hurt, feeling like I did in first grade when the teacher saw me as a trouble-maker after I screamed from a bee sting. The concussion had added to my antsiness, but was I really as disruptive as they said? Turns out they had intended to kick my confidante out of class for other awkward reasons, and the teacher (who assured us she didn’t have ADD), mixed us up. But I couldn’t take any more. They gave me a refund and I went back to square one.

2/01/2015

The Fast Lane Towards the Future


I've gotten us lost, I've made us late, and I can't stop tearing up. We're visiting colleges with our son, and it's bringing up big feelings.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
Enzo’s in the driver’s seat. I’m next to him and his dad, “Dave,” is in the back, relaxing, reading a book. We are weaving in and out of the fast lane on our way to visit a college in L.A.
Tears are leaking out my eyes, and I want to hide them — except I lost my sunglasses two weeks ago.
— Kristen Caven
planned ahead for this trip. I put in hours of researching, building a Google Map and printing out parking passes, scheduling several school visits per day and a trip to Disneyland in the middle to celebrate his last high school summer vacation. This morning, however, we were late to the first tour, since I had everything packed but my glasses…and we had to turn around and go back.
Without wifi, I can’t access the Google Map I made. We’re trying to use Waze to avoid heavy traffic. Leaving the first school, I program the name of the second into the car’s GPS, and between one road map and another, I soon manage to navigate us onto side streets where we go more than 7 miles per hour…but stop at every light. Now we’re late for the second school tour, too.
When we pull up in front of the building the car’s GPS brought us to, twenty minutes late for the tour, we are confused by our surroundings. Turns out the car found us a satellite campus. I look at the college map I printed out, which has no relation to this place we are in, and notice the address under the logo. I program that into the car instead, and we turn around and go back the way we came.
The breezy chatter we’d been enjoying all morning has stopped. My mind is now going in loops, bargaining with the executive misjudgments I’ve made in the last few hours. I'm wondering if it’s ADD or anxiety or just this… this feeling that is welling up inside of me, subconsciously sabotaging my well-laid plans, this feeling that we are driving to what might be Enzo’s new home a year from now, far away from our family.
Tears are leaking out of my eyes, and I want to hide them — except I lost my sunglasses two weeks ago.
I hold back my sobs, because I don’t want to distract Enzo from the amazing job he’s doing driving on this trip. He’s got his license now. He’s getting his life together. He’s less afraid of being on his own than he should be, knowing what I know about what he doesn’t know aboutthe demanding world he’s growing into. He hasn’t noticed I’m taking notes at all these talks because he isn’t — because neither of us will remember all the details and dates of this crucial information. But I don’t want to shake his beautiful faith in himself.
We pull up to the right campus and see a group of students gathered around a fountain in the distance. I make Enzo pull over and jump out with his dad. Shaky, I get in the driver’s seat and go find a parking spot to have a little cry and pull myself together. Because somehow — and I don’t know how but it always does — this is all going to work out just right.

1/11/2015

In the Driver’s Seat with Enzo!


Now that my ADHD teen has the keys to the car, he's borrowing the keys to my blog.

Life in the Fast Brain | by Donald Caven | posted by Kristen Caven
I’ve been driving in one way or another for about ten years now. When I was seven, I got my first Mario Kart game on my hand-me-down GameCube. I played that endlessly, not aware that there was anything more to cars and driving, until one day, at around age ten, I borrowed Need for Speed from my neighbor, and everything changed. I started with my first car, a bright red Mazda, and went nuts. I beat all the races, I bought all the cars, and my knowledge of automobiles grew.
When I drive by myself, there’s no self-esteem ding when I make a mistake. Which I do — I'm new at this.
Fast forward seven years to today, and I’m now in my second month as a licensed driver. Yes, a licensed driver on real roads, the kind that that require driving with an actual car. Actual roads are strikingly different from the world I speed around in on my Xbox. I can’t “press Y to rewind,” I can’t participate in underground street races down at the shipyards without my parents disowning me (or going to actual real-life jail), and I can’t win races or buy my dream Lamborghini. Driving in real life is slower and easier, and a lot more fun in some ways. But still, it’s got its share of new challenges.
In my eyes, driving in video games has a few key advantages over driving in real life. Fancy cars like Bentleys and Porsches and Ferraris are commonplace, and everyone is driving one. In real life, though, I’m constantly distracted by these luxury sports cars that appear every once in a while going the other way down the highway. Every time I see one of these, I point it out to share the marvels of automotive technology to my passengers, but...“ENZO! KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD!”
I admit I can be a distracted driver when I’m surrounded by exotic cars. But what is harder is when my parents criticize something about my driving, be it nit-picking or an actual, legitimate concern. Fortunately, one of the ways around both problems is to drive by myself. When I drive by myself not only is there no audience to excitedly point out cars for; there’s no self-esteem ding when I make a mistake. Which I do — I'm new at this.
Possibly the most stressful part of driving with ADD is having back seat (and front seat) drivers. My wonderful mother and father are great to drive with—one at a time. However, on occasions where the three of us are all in the car, things can get hectic. Sometimes one of them starts to give directions, and the other chimes in to correct them. Often, the opposing set of directions will result in us getting to the same place in the same amount of time, but no matter which set of directions I follow, I end up in the middle of the tension. Then I have to do my best to tune out the arguing and try to listen for directions from my choice of parents. It makes me miss driving in a virtual world, where the only people yelling in my ear are my friends, who I can more easily ignore than my parents.
Here are a few suggestions — okay, Mom, requests — for helping a young ADD driver:
  • Be kind. We get it, even if we still seem a little bit distracted.
  • If we mess up, we understand that we’re messing up. We have ADD and we’re rebellious teenagers and we're learning; we’re not doing it to bother you!
  • One set of directions is enough. We finally made a rule in our family that only the person in the passenger seat is allowed to direct the driver. (Certain people — I’m not mentioning names here — sometimes have trouble following this rule...)
  • Be a good role model. If we do something, and get snapped at for it, it’s hard to keep our eyes from rolling when we see you doing it when you’re driving!

12/29/2014

"You’re Not ADD (Part 4): You’re A Fine Girl"

They say attention deficit is invisible in girls, and now I understand why: we work our butts off to appear normal.
My personal opinion, as my readers have surmised by now, is that ADHD is a brain type but not necessarily a disorder. I believe that, by choosing the right attitude, we can overcome our challenges and figure out how to live with our limitations. Or better yet, get our mysterious minds to work in our favor. I know that because I managed mine so well that even I couldn't tell I had it!
It’s not a disorder when your life has some order...
— Kristen Caven
As a child, I had grownups demanding and directing my focus. On my own, I had to learn ways to work with my quirks. I never in a million years imagined I had ADHD. I wasn’t hyperactive; I was happy. Having to come back inside three times before I was truly ready leave the house was normal in my family. I thought all young adults had chaotic lives — jobs that didn’t work out, moving 10 times in 3 years, romances in the double-digits.
They say ADHD is invisible in girls, and now I understand why. We care what people think about us and work our butts off to appear normal. We gather support from our friends and try to solve our problems. We focus constantly on self-improvement, and apply our anxiety to managing our symptoms.
I created a lifestyle that leveraged my chimerical focus. My freelance art and design business provided plenty of stimulation in short-term, one-on-one situations, where I could use my problem solving skills brilliantly and hyperfocus beautifully, working under pressure on a kaleidoscope of projects. As a new mom, I could move mountains during nap times.
But when I had problems, they were certainly ADHD problems. I’d put a positive spin on the lost days, the stupid mistakes, or the despair now known as RSD — but they are a fact. Therapists and coaches always helped, but the troubles always returned.
When I’d be tested for ADHD, which happened several times over the years, I tried to be honest. If I’d had a good week, I’d answer no to questions like “I take on so many commitments that I can’t keep up,” “I can’t get things done unless there’s an absolute deadline,” “I have trouble keeping my attention focused when working,” and “I am forgetful in my daily activities” — even though the answer on another week might be TOTALLY!
My husband was no help, either. On the quizzes, he’d compare me to my other family members, next to whom I seemed incredibly sane and stable. And they never asked the million-dollar question, “Do you and your spouse fight constantly over the things she sort of forgot to tell you and the way she can never quite finish folding the laundry?"
So over and over I heard the answer: You’re too functional to have ADHD.
And for years, I agreed. Because I had the good sense to idiot-proof my life with spare keys. Because I had friends who, when I was in a mood and jerked them around, would forgive me. Because I remembered that bright days were always around the corner from bad days. Without a clock to punch, I could always take the extra time I needed to do the job right.
But I could never get the help I really needed.

12/22/2014

"You’re Not ADD (Part 3): You’re Artistic"


The ADHD brain is disorganized by nature. Any structure I've imposed on mine has come through my creativity.

Do you fidget? No, but I doodle in the margins of everything. Are you driven by a motor? No, I’m driven by my insatiable quest for Beauty. Do you daydream a lot? Um, yeah, duh. I'm using my imagination...
I was never bored, since my mother kept me supplied with pencils, crayons and notebooks — all the medicine I ever needed.
— Kristen Caven
When the therapist interviewed my mother to see whether I’d had ADD as a child, mom resisted. She was loath to define me — or any child — pathologically. She had always played up my strengths — and thus my messiness, my inconsistencies, and my “elsewhere-ness,” were simply seen as by-products of my creative nature.
In Driven to Distraction, Dr. Hallowell talks about how, lacking an inner structure, a mind with ADHD needs to structure itself around something. How grateful I was thatmy mother welcomed me and encouraged me to structure my mind around creativity! I was never bored, since she kept me supplied with pencils, crayons and notebooks — all the medicine I ever needed. The impenetrable bedroom was a work-around. I developed my talents and work always came easily. Someone always needed a sketch for something or other. "What is creativity," asks Hallowell, "but impulsivity gone right?"
Approaching/wading through midlife, however, I was feeling inwardly burdened by my creative nature. My schedule was packed with social events involving costumes, my files were bursting with unfinished sketches and drawings, my house was cluttered with interesting things that needed dusting, and my computer was filling up with unpublished novels. I could barely juggle my twenty clients, all of which wanted a different slice of my graphic design and writing and drawing and designing and creative consulting talents, with all of the volunteer work I wanted to do. On the ADHD screening, however, I showed up as stable, having owned the same business for 20 years and being a pillar of the community.
Searching for connections one day, I found a wonderful article by organization coach Ariane Benefit about my Meyers-Briggs personality profile, the rare borderline ENTP/ENFP.
In Is it ADHD or Creative Personality Type?, she writes, "Creative personality type refers to people who thrive on growth, change and novelty, and tend to get bored with anything that is too repetitive or that stays the same for too long. They also:
  • prefer exploring new ways of doing things,
  • take more risks than the average person,
  • challenge the status quo,
  • want to try new things,
  • delight in solving problems,
  • prefer to research and continuously learn new things over implementing routines."
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t it sound a little like the Interest Driven Mind? Or ADHD? The huge number of successful celebrities who are comfortable with a little creative chaos tells you there might just be a connection between the two. I guess it’s whether or not you can stand by your strengths, grow your intelligence, and have a purpose. Without clear goals and a guiding structure, creativity can be cancerous, growing in every direction and taking over every room in the house. It becomes, to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald on the second page of The Great Gatsby, “that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of ‘creative temperament.’" Distractible, Impulsive, and Hyperactive.
Distractibility is a fact of life — there is always a new and interesting idea. Impulsivity is energy — to act on my ideas. And hyperactivity, well, that will help me go the distance. I call these extra voices in my head my muses. By doodling in the margins, I give them something to do so that I can make some forward progress on my best intentions. It’s the power of creativity.

11/15/2014

Cartwheels in Your Mind

What young love is like for my teen and his girlfriend — ADHDers both.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
Enzo has a girlfriend! It's the most wonderful thing. With teenagers pressuring each otherthese days into going farther faster — and furthermore, first base now being what third base used to be — I was ecstatic when he told me he found a girl to hold hands with!
TopPicks Love ADHD Heart
They both love hamburgers and unpretentious people. They even take the same medication!
— Kristen Caven
The lovely young lady is smart, cute, poetic, and funny. The two of them click as only two outside-the-box thinkers can, traveling on bursts of imagination and creating sweetness together. They both love hamburgers and unpretentious people. They even take the same medication!
As is our family’s way, we gave her a nickname. “Busy” has always got something to say and something to do. A short ride in the car with her takes you on a long journey with her interesting ancestors who were involved in historical events. It’s sometimes hard to get a word in edgewise, but she’s so charming you don’t really mind.
Together, the two of them have decided the difference between having hyperactive or combined-type ADHD (what she has) and inattentive-type ADHD (what he has) is that with the first kind, you can’t stop doing cartwheels. With the inattentive type, you can’t stop doing cartwheels in your mind.
Sadly, since school has gotten out, the unstructured nature of summertime has challenged young love. First, there is the busy-ness; for weeks at a time, one or the other is off and away on the adventures that breaks bring: Camps, sleepovers, and family trips. And when they’re both in town, one or the other of them sleeps until noon, or their phone has run out of batteries, or someone just spaces out. For days, Busy had so many sleepovers she lost track of time and forgot they had plans. Enzo’s heart broke, thinking she wasn’t interested anymore.
It was one of those challenging parenting moments. “Dave” and I had to fight the urge (sometimes winning, sometimes losing) to get involved and try to solve things. Busy’s folks were worried, too, aware that her cartwheels were making her beau’s head spin. The four of us bit our nails for days, hating to see Enzo in pain, doing inner cartwheels around this unintended rejection. We only sent midnight texts to each other once.
Eventually the moment came when Enzo asked for the car keys to go camp out on her doorstep. He came back with a smile on his face after hearing how insomnia had been playing havoc with her attention. He had tucked her into bed early, kissed her goodnight, and told her he understood.

10/25/2014

"You're Not ADD (Part 1): You're a Blonde"

My friends had no trouble identifying what was different about me, but getting an official diagnosis was harder than I thought.


When my son was diagnosed with ADD, the inattentive kind, it put me on my own path to understanding my own attention pitfalls. As hard as it was to get him sorted out at fifteen, my own out-sorting has been even more challenging. This post begins a new, intermittent (naturally) series about trying to get to my own diagnosis.
Blonde Hairdo
There are those of us out there who wear our difference so naturally that it becomes part of our personality.
I hear stories all the time about how quickly doctors prescribe Adderall and Ritalin to anyone who seems a little distracted. But there are those of us out there who wear our difference so naturally that it becomes part of our personality.
Here is a list of character traits that have been assigned to me (mostly fondly, to my good fortune), and to so many others who may be secret ADHD sufferers.

  1. Quirky
  2. Weird
  3. Chatty
  4. A Social Butterfly
  5. Naturally Stoned
  6. Lazy
  7. Unmotivated
  8. Half-a*ed
  9. Spontaneous
  10. Flexible
  11. Energetic
  12. Distracted
  13. Spacey
  14. Space Cadet
  15. A Dreamer
  16. A Visionary
  17. In My Own World
  18. On My Own Planet
  19. In La La Land
  20. Moody
  21. A Temperamental Female
  22. A Bit Nuts
  23. Bubbly
  24. Ditzy
  25. Dizzy
  26. Scattered, and my personal favorite....
  27. Blonde 
OKAY! I can own that! My blonde hair twists and curls chaotically, in every direction — not unlike the mind underneath it.
Blondes have more fun, right? And, because they help me laugh at my own moments of idiocy, I am often amused by jokes about people being dumb. Songs, too. ("Cuz I’m a blonde — B-L-A-N-D! / cuz I’m a blonde — don’t you wish you were me?" — Downtown Julie Brown)

My favorite blonde joke, for those of you who still remember Wite-Out™ and Liquid Paper®, goes like this:
Q: How can you tell a Blonde has been using your computer?
A: The little white marks on the screen.
A funny image to be sure, but the message behind this joke is actually deeply relevant to the ADD journey: until you get the right diagnosis, all the corrections you TRY to make can’t really solve the problem.