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ADHD, the Quarantine, and Me

bekahhw profile image BekahHW Originally published at bekahhw.github.io on ・8 min read

A couple of months ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD. One of the things I’ve learned after being diagnosed is that there is so much I don’t know and I’m learning every day. Yesterday, someone shared this tweet in our Virtual Coffee slack and it helped me to break down the parts that I’m really struggling with right now. I’ve only told a couple of people, though it was both a surprise and not a surprise. And honestly, I was waiting to write this blog post until after I “got a handle on it.” Spoiler alert: I don’t have a handle on it. Maybe I never will. But maybe this will help someone out. Maybe it will help you to know that being at home during quarantine with kids has intensified my symptoms in ways I couldn’t imagine. Maybe it would help you to know that I miss those hours I spent hyperfocusing on code maybe more than anything else during these times. Maybe it would help someone to know that some days things are ok, and then other days I learn something new about ADHD and it sends me down the rabbit hole of looking at my past interactions and feeling a new pain, a new wound because I can see that those times someone told me that I talked to loud or too fast or too much was a symptom of my ADHD. Maybe it will help someone.

A Little Backstory

Growing up, I didn’t have the ADHD struggles I’ve commonly heard about. But about a year ago, I read more about ADHD and started seriously thinking I might have it. I mentioned to my sister-in-law (a counselor) that I might have it, and she said, “You didn’t know?” And then in true ADHD fashion, I kinda forgot about it. Because I did well at school and work, it didn’t feel like a problem. And here’s the thing, knowing what I know now, I think the reason I did so well was because though not all of my family is diagnosed with ADHD, I’m pretty sure they would be. And I believe the coping mechanisms that allowed my parents to succeed, allowed me to succeed in school and work as well.

See, where it really affected me was in social situations. If you checked out that tweet I posted above, you’ll recognize the categories that changed my understanding of my own experience with ADHD and my understanding of myself: Hyperfixation, Getting Upset Easily, and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria–if you’re going to read one article on this, this is the one. I’ve always had a hard time making connections, and I’ve been in situations where people have criticized my passion in social situations. “You get too excited.” “Shhh, why are you talking so loud.” These are the things I remember, how I think of myself. Another big one for me is Memory Loss, “Why didn’t you do X? I’ve told you a million times…You’re just not trying hard enough…You just don’t care…” And even when I told my doctors I was having problems with focus and concentration, they said, “That happens to moms.” So for a long time, I’ve been accepting this as my life, hoping that maybe this “mom-brain” would go away.

It’s those comments that have made me feel like I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough. To be a programmer, to be a mom, to be a friend. These feelings and my lack of understanding of how my brain works differently than other people’s that have led to anxiety. And most of this hit me in adulthood. It wasn’t until I heard other people talking about it, until I read other people sharing their experiences on Twitter that I had the courage to ask more about it.

ADHD & Coding

I’ve spent a lot of my life being good at hyperfocusing. I like and enjoy a lot of different things, and coding is one of them. Looking back at my post-trauma self–the one where I had anxiety, depression, and PTSD–I realize why life felt so chaotic. My brain was spending all its energy bouncing from traumatic memory to traumatic memory. And it hadn’t hit me until just now that when I started coding, I got back my hyperfocus. I always say that coding saved me, but that’s by extension of hyperfocus. It can be comforting and it feels normal and when I have hyperfocus in my day, I’m much better able to handle any other chaos that comes. When I find something that I hyperfocus on, I also want to talk about it and do it all the time, which can also make social situations challenging. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to hear about what I learned about writing tests today. It becomes a large part of my personality. But I find that when I do have that in my life, things like my memory improve. I don’t have an explanation for that, but I’m sure someone else out there does. The point is, when I have hyperfocus in my life, I feel like I can complete the tasks that I have scheduled for the day, that I can almost relax. I feel the most like myself.

ADHD & the Quarantine

Here’s where things got bad. Like really bad. I love my kids. I have four of them. And I’ve spent a lot of time taking them places (museums, hiking, after school activities) by myself. And that’s when I feel like I do my best momming. I think a lot of it has to do with my ability to focus on new and interesting things, whereas being in the house, there are so many things that need my attention–the kids, the dishes, the cooking, the laundry, the leaking sink, bills, work, etc. Being in the house without focus is like being hooked by a thousand different strings pulling me in different directions and I can’t ever finish anything because I’m hooked in too many different directions. It’s exhausting.

And maybe it sounds weird, but before the quarantine, I was working from home and things were fine. But that’s because I had an expectation of working 3-4 hours a day at a certain time, and knowing I would be able to finish something. And finishing something feels pretty damn good. But when quarantine hit, I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was parenting these kids for like 16 hours a day and because of social distancing and my husband’s job obligations I didn’t have much help for a while. To top it off, my coding drastically decreased and I didn’t have that focus time. So I didn’t have the relief and reset that I find with hyperfocus. I had four kids at home that now found me as their mom, teacher, BFF, fill-in-whatever-else-they needed-me-to-be-that-day, and it has been a constant and chaotic time. And for a long time, I felt like a failure every single day.

Once school ended, things got a lot better, but I still struggle. I don’t have the quiet coding time that I used to have. I’m carrying more responsibility than I did pre-COVID. And I find it really hard to not have a set time period to code. So my schedule frequently looks like this: code until a kid needs something or is crying or is telling on another kid for eating ice cream before breakfast. Take a break to help said kid(s). Repeat. And so what ends up happening some days is I feel like I’ve neither done all the coding I wanted to get done nor have I parented in the way that I want to. Everything is frustrating. And sometimes I’m feeling pretty desperate for time to have a brain that doesn’t feel like a pinball machine. The days that I do get a couple of hours of kid-free code time, those are the days that I feel like I can take on the world.

Treatment

I wanted to write this post after I was treated and felt good about where I am. But this is my current frustration. I’ve had people recommend I try CBD blunts, essential oils, diet and exercise changes. And while those things may help some people, with my current situation I, and my therapist, strongly feel that I need to try medication.

Before trying any of the commonly prescribed medications, my doctor wanted to try an off-label or new use of a medication for six weeks. The problem is, that medicine made me so incredibly tired. So tired that I fell asleep around 2 or 3pm just because I sat down. So tired that when I went to see my therapist I couldn’t remember if the light I had gone through was red or green.

After some modifications, my doctor decided to prescribe me Vyvanse. I had hope for the first time in a long time. Except when I went to pick up the prescription, my insurance company rejected it because they want my doctor to sign an authorization form. How the prescription that my doctor signed is not enough of an authorization, I’ll never know. But now I’m waiting to hear back from a doctor who is on paternity leave in the hopes that I can have my medication. In the hopes that the anxiety caused by my brain’s inability to focus right now can find some relief.

This is a new journey for me, and I’m grateful to everyone out there sharing their ADHD stories because I wouldn’t understand any of this unless I read your story first. One of my favorite Twitter accounts and blogs that was recommended to me is Ŕene Brooks, so if you’re interested in learning more, she’s a great place to start. I didn’t want to write this until I had answers I could share. But through the guidance of others, I’ve learned that my answers might not be the ones that work for you and it might take a really long time to find the answers I’m looking for. And maybe just reading about my experience is enough to help someone feel not alone. Not everyone will understand you. Sometimes it’s even the people who are closest to you.

When I was diagnosed I was both overwhelmed and had a sense of relief. I was fortunate enough to have people in my life that I’ve met in the Twitter tech space that I could ask them about their experiences. And understanding this whole experience has been a challenge that feels kind of like a choose your own adventure story except when you make a decision you get sent to a page that doesn’t make any sense with the story you’ve already read. And in those times, I go back and read those conversations, because they are a treasure trove of information that remind me that I am ok. One of the best pieces of advice that I go back to when I’m having a tough day is “the problem is you’ve had the wrong set of instructions for your brain this entire time.” I just sit with that and take a deep breath. This might mean writing my own instructions or taking bits and pieces from other people, but for sure it does mean to not judge myself based on the wrong set of instructions I’ve been using, a challenge in itself.

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BekahHW

@bekahhw

Hey! I'm Bekah. I'm a career-changer. Bootcamp grad. Dev. Writer. Mom to four kids.

Discussion

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You're my hero, Bekah. Literally. I'm so grateful you shared your experience. Thank you ❤️

 

Thanks, Arit. This one felt particularly vulnerable ❤️

 

Wow, you truly have an amazing backstory, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one fucked over by 2020, but honestly, I think it's just the year being cursed.
Keep up your amazing work. I believe in you.

 

Thanks for sharing your story! I’ve similarly been struggling with ADHD and finally sought help this summer. I’m now on Vyvanse (40mg) and it’s significantly increased my consistency and mental fortitude. Best of luck in your journey!

 

You did well. I couldn't imagine how I could cope with switching career to coding and taking care of four kids. I struggle already with zero kids.

 

Thanks, Annie. I used to feel the same way. But you adapt when you have to.

 

Thank you for writing this. Some people do feel like ADHD is made up, and some others talk about the adderall issues with students using it as a study drug, I recall some documentary I watched on Netflix about these things. There may well be some overprescribing and issues with that, but when you’re an adult and diagnosis explains so much of your life then it’s very affronting when people even raise these issues. Especially when you are successful and have 4 kids!!!

I am now... older... and have kids and I was diagnosed as a teenager. It’s hard at home with Covid and working but I also recognize my wife shoulders a significant amount of the kids stuff so full respect to you. I do my best but husbands should be given more time and understanding from workplaces (and we should make more effort ourselves).

I have at various times been on and off medications including Ritalin, dexamphetamine and Vyvanse and also behavioral, exercise and other therapies. Of the medications Vyvanse is the better one because it is slow release and consistent. One drawback I have with the medications is that whilst it provides me with motivation and passion for what I am working on, it sometimes interferes with my ability to make sensible prioritization decisions. So for example I will hyper focus on something that is interesting but not important or perhaps completely irrelevant for my job. In that sense it is enhancing my tendency to distraction and hyper focus, and it becomes really important and hard to course-correct what it is I am working on.

One thing that is really important is sunshine and nature. Whilst it is easy to get into the zone with these medications and work for long stretches I think it is important to get outside and spend some time not looking at a screen, preferably looking at nature.

Thanks for sharing your story, it’s important that more people do.

 

I'm a heavy procrastinator, I don't know if that's because I have ADHD or because I'm lazy af. Quarantine didn't help either as 95% of my free time is spent playing games. I'm currently trying to learn Vue.js but after a hour I get distracted and go back to playing games or just noodle with my guitar.

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this! I "inherited" some ADHD from my kids -- ie, understood somethings about myself while learning to raise two dual-exceptional children -- and it put some pieces together for me. I know EXACTLY what you mean about coding & hyperfocus. (LOL my problem? Too MANY things to hyperfocus on - coding, my fiber crafts, learning to paint, identifying birds, reading, games ...)

I won't give advice but if it's reassuring at all - I've long since launched both my kids, they are successful on their own terms, and I am happily coding away (remotely) in my 'third act' dream home up on the south shore of Lake Superior, which my spouse and I somehow managed to get to!

 

Really enjoyable read Bekah, this latter part resonated with me, “When I was diagnosed I was both overwhelmed and had a sense of relief”... it can be scary when new situations are thrown at us, however in this case, it can enable us to have that ‘aha’ moment that really connects many dots and maybe reside some confusion from past experiences.

My final comment would be that I admire you and many others who have a world of responsibility to others but still manage to succeed under these conditions. Personally, my current levels of responsibilities are very pale in comparison and I find daily life a challenge as it is. All the credit to you!

 

Ooof, your situation sounds a lot like mine, though I only have one kid.

The quarantine had me struggling, too, until the pieces for ADHD started falling into place for me, too. I was already working with a psychiatric nurse practitioner, trying to work out some severe fatigue issues I was facing (that seemed at first like depression, which I've dealt with off and on over the years), so that was helpful in fast-tracking trying ADHD medication.

Even so, I spent several long weeks desperately trying to be functional and do the work that I needed to do, and ended up in a sort of crash-course in coping mechanisms for retaining focus. I came across the book Make Time via the author's interview on a podcast I listen to, and while I haven't yet read the book, the interview had an action item that stuck out to me -- scheduling my day with a calendar template. When I had first heard it, I kind of laughed it off, because it seemed like some type of privileged pipe dream sort of thing. Schedule my day? I can't do that! My days are too different!

But after some time of my subconscious mulling it over, I realized a way that seemed like it would work for me, and in my desperation to be productive again, I gave it a try. The biggest thing for me was remembering that I don't have to stick to it religiously. It's just a template for my "ideal" day.

I ended up combining it with ClickUp (a to do list program on steroids, let me tell you) to make the items "todo items" that happened to sit on calendar, a pomodoro-like timer app for focused blocks (my trouble had been less about hyperfocus and more about getting focused, so this may or may not be relevant for you, but might be useful for avoiding going overboard with the hyperfocus session length), a knowledge management/aggregation system (I really like Foam, but Notion, Roam, and Obsidian are also great options), and a closed door (and working out with the husband to tag-team handling kid issues).

I still struggle some days (honestly, it's sometimes hard to focus on "work" stuff when it seems so banal and pointless compared to all the crap that's going on right now), but I found these things help, especially when I really need to get something over the finish line.

My basic workflow looks something like this:

  • Get up and get dressed
  • Get coffee and take meds (I've got a combination of Adderall extended and regular release, so I take the XR at breakfast and the regular at lunch; also, Vitamin D and Saint John's Wort, because it and Adderall is apparently the only combination of their type that don't interact 😆 and I still struggled a little with depression-like symptoms)
  • Sit down for "day planning time," where I review/think about my day template and do a sort of mini "sprint review" type of session, where I decide what I work on for the day (or at least for the morning)
  • Check email/messages quick, in case something else needs me and to kind of get my brain going
  • At least try to work for a couple of hours
  • Break for lunch (and meds)
  • Check email/messages again as part of lunch break
  • Plan afternoon if not already planned
  • Do the planned work (usually, this is "less-deep" work, like administrative stuff that needs done, so I can be more easily interrupted)

If your husband really can't break away during the day, it might be useful to lean into "mom mode" during the day, and then block off a couple of hours in the evenings after your husband gets off work for your own deep work time. He takes over the role of handling the kids and you get your "reset" time. The key here is making sure he knows and understands your needs and you two work out an arrangement that works for you. (If you need larger blocks, consider taking weekend days to yourself or something.)

You'll find your groove before too long, I think. You've got this! :)

Except when I went to pick up the prescription, my insurance company rejected it because they want my doctor to sign an authorization form. How the prescription that my doctor signed is not enough of an authorization, I’ll never know.

Ugh...that's known as "prior authorization." It's basically a hoop the insurance makes you jump through, because they don't want to pay for that thing. The insurance companies will say it's to prevent being prescribed something you "don't need" or "might have dangerous interactions" and as "cost reduction," but I call BS. I worked on one of the original systems that drug that particular segment, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, so I have a good idea of both the process and what they generally want prior authorization for, as well as all the costs and inefficiencies in the system (it's "cost reduction" in that a great many people just give up on the process and go without their treatment entirely). And frankly, insurance companies shouldn't be the authority on whether you "need" a given treatment -- that's the entire point of your doctor -- or whether it's dangerous -- that's the point of the pharmacist and the doctor.

I recommend finding out what the retail price of your medication is and make sure you have that banked, in case the insurance company wants to fight you on it in the future. This won't be the last time they push back on it, and you don't want to be without your meds when they do. It might suck to pay the retail price (though things like GoodRx can help reduce that cost), but unexpected gaps in medication plans such more.

 

Thanks for sharing your story, I loved the part of coding helped you I was feeling the same I couldn’t understand the effect. I know what is being diagnosed when adult.

 

As someone diagnosed as an adult, post college, I relate so hard!

Thanks for sharing!

 
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Hi, I found your article via the weekly email by Dev.to. While I do agree that some ADHD symptoms could be real and could have an impact on one's life quality if left unattended, I am quite suspicious of the narrative pushed forward by big pharma that you need to spend a lifetime on their drug offers in order to "be normal". There are multiple investigative reports on how doctors are subject to massive marketing campaigns to promote and prescribe the drugs, even when it might not have been necessary and when the potential negative effects are unclear, e.g. nytimes.com/2013/12/15/health/the-..., amazon.com/ADHD-Nation-Children-Am..., pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows..., etc. Some voices like Nicholas Nassim Taleb have also been vocal on how they see the massive psychological drug industry as iatrogenic. I have also seen first hand how some teenager's life was turned upside down and might possibly never return to normal again the rest of her life after she started taking psychiatric drugs (she gets really unstable, probably more so than before, whenever she stops the drugs, but on the drugs she's so lethargic she can't do pretty much anything). As a disclaimer, that is anecdotal and not about an adult, of course.

Some would even go as far as to say that most of what people call "ADHD" is just within the range of normal human behaviors/traits. There's apparently even a book about how a lot of successful people have ADHD: amazon.com/ADHD-Advantage-Diagnosi... No matter what, at least I certainly wouldn't see it as something to be ashamed about or not want to tell the others about. It's just a part of who I am.

Instead of handing your brain over to some artificial chemicals, I think the unique thing for human beings is the ability to learn and grow throughout your life, adapt your personality traits to your strengths (e.g. hyperfocus really shines for programmers) while learning to be aware of and control the negative aspects.

Various literature have mentioned certain shared traits between some forms of ADHD and the autism spectrum. When I reflect back on my life, I had real problems controlling my emotion throughout my childhood and teenage years. However, now that I'm older, have more life experiences, have traveled quite a bit, and have read books (fictions which don't preach, but provide emotionally impactful stories and exemplary characters; non-fictions which provide actually constructive suggestions and doable practices, instead of just listing the potential negative effects of your traits and then saying "drug is the ultimate solution") and practiced skills that require mental consistency to succeed at (e.g. reaching a top ranking in online games is actually all about one's mental strength, self-belief and self-control, so that you can calmly turn things around when you're losing and hold on to the win when you're winning. This is just an example. I believe it's the same for many other skills.). I am happy to say that I can't even remember when was the last time I lost my temper for anything. I am now able to quickly get a grasp of myself no matter faced with what kind of situation, and just keep going forward consistently.

Some traits are definitely hereditary since both my father and mother have been quite obstinate and temperamental, especially my father. I'm proud to say that I feel I have more emotional maturity than they had when I was a child. Of course, they are also growing and realizing their issues, and now in older ages they're quite wiser and calmer, which I'm glad to see.

I do think that some negative traits are hard to get rid of completely, e.g. the occasional anxiety, the fidgeting, the urge to take a gamble in some situations even though it's a rationally bad choice, the ease to hyperfocus on a distraction/some form of entertainment and lose track of the big picture, the inappropriate interruptions in conversations, etc. But being aware of as many as possible of them is a nice first step to take (thanks for the article and the Tweet, by the way), after which we can try to control them as much as possible whenever they're prone to occur, just like how I dealt with the emotional control issue. And even if we don't manage to control all those traits, we can feel a bit more assured in knowing that they are just part of the personality, and such a personality is not even that rare among fellow human beings. It must have offered some sort of evolutionary advantage for it to still exist nowadays. Just as I mentioned, my perspective is to understand, adapt, learn and grow, just as how a human being has always been supposed to do throughout the millennia :)

 

I have also seen first hand how some teenager's life was turned upside down and might possibly never return to normal again the rest of her life after she started taking psychiatric drugs (she gets really unstable, probably more so than before, whenever she stops the drugs, but on the drugs she's so lethargic she can't do pretty much anything). As a disclaimer, that is anecdotal and not about an adult, of course.

Yeah...you really can't compare an adolescent's response to psychiatric meds to an adult's. There are well-known and well-documented differences and it's why they're a last resort for kids and why the meds (especially for ADHD) are different.

I am quite suspicious of the narrative pushed forward by big pharma that you need to spend a lifetime on their drug offers in order to "be normal".

You've clearly never dealt with the fallout from severe anxiety, Bipolar, or the dysfunctional aspects of ADHD. It can literally destroy lives.

Are you suspicious of big pharma telling Type 1 Diabetics that they need an external source of insulin for the rest of their lives, too? Because that's how you sound on this.

And let me be clear -- I do not believe that pills will or should solve all of our problems. Hell, I study herbalism and aside from bandages and similar dressings, our First Aid kit consists of plants and plant extracts.

But we also do have prescription medications, because they saved our lives and marriage. I'm not even being remotely hyperbolic. My husband was on a literal death spiral until he got his Bipolar diagnosis and was properly medicated for it and the debilitating anxiety he suffered from. I was struggling to function at all, even with other coping strategies, until my ADHD was identified and I got medication.

Some would even go as far as to say that most of what people call "ADHD" is just within the range of normal human behaviors/traits. There's apparently even a book about how a lot of successful people have ADHD: amazon.com/ADHD-Advantage-Diagnosi... No matter what, at least I certainly wouldn't see it as something to be ashamed about or not want to tell the others about. It's just a part of who I am.

I'm a strong proponent of neurodiversity, so I do agree that the underlying traits are part of the normal spectrum of human physiology.

But here's the thing: those differences can come with side effects. It's kind of like the gene mutation in some branches of Africans that makes them immune to Malaria, but makes them carriers for Sickle Cell Anemia.

Additionally, our world isn't built for people outside certain margins of "error" on this kind of thing, and our individual demands don't necessarily allow for us to operate in our ideal ways. This mismatch leads to stress on the brain and body, which causes other issues and you end up with a sort of "cascading failure" of internal systems. Yeah, it was very likely an evolutionary advantage at some point, but we're not no longer in the kinds of environments that allowed that difference to flourish.

Very often, you can't coping-skills your way out of that, and no one here is advocating for being ashamed of being neurodivergent, having mental health issues, or for taking meds to help with the more dysfunctional disconnects. The original poster didn't want to talk about it, because she was still processing what it meant for her, and that's okay.

after which we can try to control them as much as possible whenever they're prone to occur, just like how I dealt with the emotional control issue.

And part of that working to control them can be with the help of medication, because for many people, trying to control those negative aspects takes so much energy that they're left with little, if any, to actually do things.

The single biggest trait that set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to make highly sophisticated tools. In the 21st century, those tools include medications that help us with things that would otherwise destroy some of our individuals.

If you don't feel you need medication for anything in your life, awesome. Let others decide for themselves whether medication is the path for them at the given point in their life.

 

Stuff like this is so not helpful.

 

Actually you don’t know what is being a ADHD, I was diagnosed late. Using Concerta® for more than 15 years changed my life.