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ADHD and Me?…Wait What?

So I haven’t written in a while. My bad. But let’s skip ahead because big things are afoot.

Well actually we have to skip backward first technically–to January.

Over Christmas break I made a resolution: to start seeing our school counselor this semester. I recognized that my anxiety has been really limiting me and overall making life much harder than it needs to be. I further recognized that I wasn’t doing everything I could to deal with it. Here I am at college where counseling is offered for free by a super awesome support staff–and I wasn’t taking advantage. So I resolved to change that.

It’s one of the harder things I’ve ever done–definitely not something I was super comfortable with. Or am for that matter. But I got started and that was the hardest part. And I’m SO GRATEFUL I did.

See I went to get help for anxiety, but it turns out most of the symptoms I, my family, and other medical professionals have attributed to an anxiety disorder my whole life are not actually, well, anxiety. Not at the core at least. Actually I have ADHD.

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Like this but a child

Admittedly, when Dr. K first brought it up I was SUPER skeptical. All I knew about ADHD was encapsulated in the stereotypical image of a little boy bouncing off of walls, which is essentially the opposite of me in every way. But since then I have learned that there is a type of ADHD–predominantly inattentive type–that presents without hyperactivity (or at least any hyperactivity is internalized). The more I found out about this type of ADHD, sometimes called ADD, the more the lightbulbs went off. But still I was skeptical.

Finally last week I got started on medicine to treat ADHD and holy cow. I couldn’t believe it. I still almost can’t–I’ve never had a medicine work so well, so quickly and with so few bad side effects. From the very first day I’ve felt so much better! I feel much more calm–less anxious, less constantly overwhelmed; I’ve been sleeping better than I have since I was a little kid; I’ve felt more like interacting with people and less stuck in my own head; my migraines have been better; I can focus better and more consistently; I don’t have to fidget so much… I could go on, but you get the picture.

It’s like putting on glasses.

Or like the fire that’s been burning in my brain my whole life has finally been put out.

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My brain without medication

It’s so freeing.

It does so much more than just help me with my schoolwork. I finally feel like myself–like the me that I know has been inside somewhere but has always been locked away.

So I guess the moral of this story is, if you’re having a hard time with your mental/emotional health, suck it up and go get help. Yes, it’s hard and kinda scary. But it could change your life!

How Can an Illness be Invisible?

“Invisible illness” is a term you see thrown about a lot these days, but have you ever wondered exactly what it means–how an illness can be “invisible?” Well if so, good. You’re in the right place, cuz I’m about to explain. Or try to at least.

See these two good-looking sisters? Pretend for a moment you don’t know which one is me–just by looking at the picture can you tell which sister has an immunodeficiency? Migraines? Anxiety?

No. You can’t. Let’s be honest–you can’t even tell which of us is older (me people! Me. The one with bad vision. Everyone always thinks she is older). That’s what an invisible illness is–a condition that can’t be identified by just looking; it’s the pain that no one sees, the panic that no one notices, the everyday struggle that goes unrecognized, the illness that goes unseen, unrealized, sometimes unbelieved–that is what is meant by “invisible.”

Really almost all chronic illnesses fall under this category because so little of what goes on with our bodies is visible to the naked eye. And yes, this is good because I think most people, sick or not, prefer not to stick out. But it’s also bad. Why?

Well let’s go back to me as an example. Except for my inability to smile normally for pictures, I look like a pretty average college student (I think so at least). So people who don’t know me, who say, see me in a morning class but not in an afternoon one, would assume I’m just skipping that second class. And that, in turn, would change the way they look at me. I know this from high school; most kids I had classes with the last couple years of high school thought I just skipped class all the time. So did some of the teachers. Because they couldn’t see what was wrong with me, and because at the time, I didn’t even know exactly what was wrong with me, they didn’t believe that a teenager could really be sick that much. Therefore I must just be a lazy, liar skipping class and then making up tales to cover my butt.

We humans have a hard time believing in what we cannot see. It’s silly, but it is definitely a thing. When applied to invisible illness, it causes people to say stuff like “but you don’t look sick,” in turn causing an increased co-morbidity of chronic illness and homicidal impulses (kidding). But hearing stuff like “but you don’t look sick” or “but you’re too young to have all these problems” does get old real fast. Not that I would like people to come up to me and say, “wow you look awful!” That’s not what I’m getting at here. What I’m getting at is that all people with invisible illnesses want is for you to believe them. Believe when they say they’re in pain, they’re in pain–even if you can’t see it. Believe when they say they’re tired, it’s more than just being a little sleepy. Believe them when they say they’d love to, but they’re not feeling up to it. Just believe and be understanding. Those two actions alone can significantly lift the burden of an invisible illness.