As told to Michele Wojciechowski
October is ADHD Awareness Month.
All my life, I knew something was different about me.
School was always tough. When I was in elementary school, my teachers complained that I was either falling asleep in class or I was talking too much and unable to sit still.
I couldn't help it — any of it.
Eventually, one of my teachers recommended that my parents take me to the doctor for tests to see what was going on. The results came in: I was hypoglycemic and anemic. So, I began taking iron supplements for the anemia, and I had to stay away from certain foods to help the hypoglycemia.
But I continued to fall asleep in class, talk a lot and be unable to sit still. I found myself feeling bad a lot because I couldn't change my actions. I would often get to the brink of tears but wouldn't cry. I didn't want the attention.
Over and over again, I was told to get more sleep and to "try harder." Back then, you didn't talk about mental illness. They didn't test me to see if I had anxiety, depression or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As I would later find out, I have all three.
While I had problems comprehending what I read — I literally had to read through a passage five times to get even the basic concepts — I was really good at math. I knocked that out of the park, so I was put in an advanced math class where I did extremely well.
In college, I majored in materials engineering. Although I earned my bachelor of science, I remember being so stressed because of the workload and my reading problems that my hair was thinning. I had bald spots. I got migraine headaches that made me cry, which made my head hurt worse, and I had frequent stomachaches. Many times, I lay in the fetal position and sobbed. But, somehow, I got through.
Five years ago, my son was diagnosed with ADHD and, eventually, my daughter was too. Before their diagnoses, I hadn't even heard of the disorder. Once I learned about it and heard what the symptoms were, a lot of things clicked, and I was sure my children had gotten it from me.
I delved into ADHD to help my kids. Once I was really involved in the community, I decided I wanted to help parents with kids like mine, so I established an advocacy platform called ADHD Love to support parents of children with ADHD as well as parents with ADHD. I started a podcast, a YouTube Channel, and Instagram and Facebook accounts. My goal is to talk about every little aspect of ADHD from the parents' perspective and as well as what the children go through so parents can learn tools to help their kids.
Through this work, I encountered people who told me they'd gotten tested for ADHD later in life. At that time, I knew I was exhibiting symptoms myself, but I felt too overwhelmed to get tested. I kept saying that I'd get tested once things settled down with my kids, but I put it off. After all, I'd already lived this way for so long.
About a year ago, I started seeing a psychologist through an online service and finally received my own ADHD diagnosis — and it changed my life. I was excited! I felt validated. Everything I had struggled with throughout my life — from learning to personal and romantic relationships — it all made sense. I thought of all those years that I had "masked," a typical technique many people with ADHD use. Masking is where you try to avoid being noticed or asking questions, basically to pretend that you're not who you are. Even though my parents supported me while I was growing up and encouraged me to ask questions, I always wanted to disappear.
First, I began taking medication for my anxiety and depression, which are typical comorbidities for people with undiagnosed ADHD. Once that started to help me, I got medicine for my ADHD as well.
Now that I know what's going on, as well as how to deal with it, my parenting is much better. I used to be anxious and all over the place. When you have ADHD, your mind is moving 50 miles a minute. I'm a single mom and, before my diagnosis, I was always stressed. As a result, our home environment was very tense.
Before I knew I had this disorder, if one of my kids came home from school upset, I would immediately get upset as well and there was tension everywhere. But now that I can finally think clearly, I've changed my approach, and my kids and I attend family therapy.
Once I understood what was really going on with myself and my children, I put strategies into place that calmed the kids and changed the energy in our home. Now, If my children walk in upset, I immediately hug them. I greet them in the way that they need to be received in that moment. They know they can express their feelings.
That doesn't mean they don't still have their ADHD ways, but they're coming home to a comfortable environment. They can relax because I make sure we have structure. After they've gotten their hugs, they get a snack and do their homework. I'm more relaxed than I was before, and I'm so happy to see them.
After homework, we might dance, play a game or watch one of their favorite TV shows. At bedtime, I make sure they're calm, and even use an app with meditations and soothing sounds to get them to sleep. Being able to center myself so I can be present for them has made a huge difference. It's been so much better.
The bottom line is that ADHD doesn't have to be a scary thing. It's just that your brain processes differently, which means you have to be supported in the way that it processes. It's okay that it doesn't work the same way as other children or adults' brains do. It's okay that it's different.