I went to the doctor today for a leg injury. I hurt myself playing a Nintendo game. Yup! You read that right. I’m a 42-year-old woman who hurt the fuck out of her leg playing Nintendo. To be fair, the game is an exercise game. I was jogging in place when it happened. But regardless of how embarrassing the injury is, I went to the doctor because it’s been several days and it still hurts. He did some doctor stuff and said i had inflammation in a bunch of places and that the leg thing was probably a muscle spasm. He prescribed me some muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories, and blah blah blah et cetera boring.
Before all that, though, as soon as he walked into the room, he said, “Because things are slow around here these days I had a chance to look at your chart, and I think I might be able to really help you with your mental health.”
I was like, “Oh, great.” Thinking, Oh god, I’ve heard that so many times.
So after the leg stuff he said, “Let me ask you some questions.”
“How many anti-depressants have you tried?” (“A million.”)
“Are you always moving your body, like tapping your feet, playing with your hands, fidgeting?”
“Do you do several things at once, but not get anything done?”
“Do you check your phone a million times a day?”
“Do you watch TV while looking at your phone or Ipad, etc.?”
“Does your brain feel like a chaotic circus all the time?”
I answered yes to all of them duh. He asked, “Do you know what I’m describing?”
“ADHD,” I said.
He nodded enthusiastically. My eyes widened and I was like, “FUCKING… oh, sorry…”
He said, “you can say whatever the fuck you want in here.”
“Ok,” I breathed, “Fucking… I’ve been saying this for years now and no one will listen to me.”
“Yeah,” he said, “When I saw the soup of meds you’re taking I figured you’ve tried everything under the sun and nothing is working.”
Exactly. Fucking exactly.
“I might cry in here right now,” I said.
I was not comfortable with this dude at first. He was wearing an American flag mask, which is a big red flag for me. Like, oh god get out of here red flag. But I stayed. And it turned out he was the first fucking person who was willing to say, “So if you’re open to it, I’d like to put you on a trial amount of Adderall.”
“I am open to it!” Jesus Christ, I’m so open to it.
Dude proceeded to pull a bottle of Adderall OUT OF HIS POCKET. His own prescription.
“I know this seems shady as hell,” he said, and I laughed. Frankly, I’m much more comfortable with shady, in this case. Shady is, ironically, honest. Being too careful about how things are “supposed to be done” scares me much more and is a huge part of the reason no one has ever actually helped me before. Thinking about this fills me with grief, for me and for all the people who need someone to be honest with them. To be fucking shady if necessary.
He handed me a pill. “Break that in half,” he said, and handed me a little Dixie cup of water.
“The great thing about this is that you’ll know today if you have ADHD. If this makes you feel like you’re on meth, you probably don’t. But if you feel kind of chill and focused, you probably do.”
Did you catch the part above when I said that I am 42?
Why hasn’t anyone tried this before?
The funny (not haha, or maybe darkly haha?) part of this is that I saw a different doctor recently who came to a different conclusion about my symptoms, which was that I have bipolar 2. She put me on a mood stabilizer. There has been a lot of emotional processing around the sort-of-diagnosis of bipolar 2, but it made sense to me. The thing is that ADHD and bipolar 2 apparently have the same fucking symptoms. So now I’m on a pharmacy’s worth of pills. I mean, it’s ridiculous how many pills I take per day for my mental health right now. Add in the muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories and you’ve got yourself a fucking parody of the American health care system and Big Pharma.
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A couple years ago I went to a new psychiatrist in the hopes that she would hear me out about my hunch that I had ADHD. I spoke to her for ten minutes or so about my symptoms and the fact that no medications have seemed to actually help me long-term with depression and anxiety. They help at first but then they don’t. The solution has always been to up the dose of whatever I’m taking at the time, which she did by the way. This always helps at first, but then, it doesn’t.
As I spoke she nodded, looking at my chart and saying “mm-hmm.” I looked at her fancy degrees, framed, a reminder of the power structure in the room.
After half-listening to me she said, “My first thought is that it is not ADHD because depression and anxiety have many of the same symptoms.”
I immediately started crying in her office. I couldn’t stop the tears. She hadn’t heard me. She didn’t care. She agreed to send me to a psychologist, only because I cried I think, to “assess” me.
The second I walked into the office of the psychologist I should have walked back out. There were no American flags, but he was condescending, patronizing, belittling, demoralizing, and other big words meaning he made me feel like shit. He was noticeably surprised that I had gotten into UW’s MSW program, which I was in at the time (I am still technically on leave, unsure if I’ll be returning).
“That’s a really tough program to get into,” he practically yelled, the subtext being something like, Are you sure you got in? Maybe you’re confused.
“Yup,” I said.
He then suggested that maybe I was having all these symptoms now because I had always done well enough in school but was now surrounded by people who are smarter than me and was therefore struggling.
I could have said something right then. Fuck you, for example. Instead I just sat there. My role is to sit there, isn’t it? To let this expert talk down to me because he’s the expert? I wanted to get up off the couch in his office. I didn’t. This is my only hope, I thought. He is the only psychologist in Seattle who takes my insurance and does this particular assessment, apparently. And whether that was true or not, I was certainly not up for doing the research to find someone else. Just keeping my appointment and getting myself there was a personal triumph.
His assessment consisted of giving simple surveys to me, my partner, and my parents. My parents didn’t remember shit. I told him that. He then gave me an intelligence test. (Isn’t ADHD unrelated to intelligence? I asked.)
After the test he seemed surprised by how well I did. (Fuck you.)
He then proceeded to tell me that I didn’t have ADHD because I did well on some of the tests he would not have expected me to do well on if I had ADHD. (Aren’t these tests irrelevant for ADHD diagnosis?)
What happened next should have been satire. Since I didn’t have ADHD, he decided to give me some tools to use for my little brain problems. At this point, I shit you not, he explained to me how to use a day planner. This blew my mind obviously, seeing as how it was such a creative and helpful suggestion. Thank god for the experts.
I just sat there, nodding. Hating myself for just sitting there nodding.
I cried my way home.
My anger about that interaction never lessened. In fact, it has built over time. I have known what was going on with my brain. I have related to every meme and comic and list about people with ADHD, but I haven’t been able to fully claim it because that fucking dickhead expert discounted my own experience and that was that.
There are so many people with stories like mine. Especially women, and especially especially women of color.
I don’t feel like I’m on meth. I feel awake, alert, and like I have to write. I am grieving so much right now. I have been miserable for so long. Blaming myself. And I am not naive enough to think that starting a new medication is going to solve anything. It may not even end up helping. But the acknowledgement. The acknowledgement of my own lived experience. I start crying with gratitude every time I think about it, and then cry about the fact that I have to feel grateful for this.
I left the office today and turned the radio up. I sang along loudly with “Call Me” by Blondie, and then “Rocket Man” came on. I pulled into the parking lot of Target, where my pharmacy is. I sat in the parking spot for a minute, tears wetting my face, neck and clothing.
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time, sang Sir Elton. It has. It’s been such a long, long time. I am overcome with shuddering sobs thinking about it. Maybe I am Rocket Man. And maybe I’m finally touching down.