by Linda Atherton
My mother had a stroke when I was 9. My family never recovered. By junior high, I knew my brain worked differently from those around me. I had no idea why. In high school, I asked for help from the minister who ran the youth group where I played music. Rather than helping me, he molested me, adding to my PTSD (undiagnosed until my early 50s.)
Running from Myself
I married at 22, divorced at 38. Married again at 41, divorced again at 49. I tried to outrun my problems by changing partners, changing majors, changing jobs and moving (19 times in 21 years). Each time I knew now my life would be great! Of course, I soon caught up with myself and had to start again.
By my mid-thirties, I was suicidal and sought help for my depression. A psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant for 6 months, while my therapist was supposed to teach me how to stop making myself depressed. Of course, that did not work. Once the antidepressant was gone, I slipped back into the black hole. I did not tell my therapist since I assumed it was my failure.
I’ll Be an Artist!
While working with my therapist, I did realize I wanted to go to Art School. So, at 40, I sold my house and most of my belongings, and moved to Maine for Art School. Despite profound depression, I made it through the four years of art school and graduated with honors. But it was a rocky road. I suffered outbursts of uncontrollable rage, severe anxiety attacks and aural hallucinations. I ignored them and kept going.
But I’ve Got to Eat
After graduation, I took a high-stress job unrelated to art. Appearing normal was exhausting. I was anything but. Despite working with my therapist, the night of the first company Christmas party, I came home with the intention of killing myself. I spent Christmas week that year in a mental hospital. I was depressed and having multiple episodes of dissociation. I couldn’t imagine things would ever get better. After that first suicide attempt (there were a couple of others over the next year or two), I also started seeing a psychiatrist who recognized my ADHD immediately. I was 46. That was an eye-opener. ADHD medication worked well, but only for short periods after which I would turn into an angry, holy terror so I stopped.
About 6 months later, job stress finally pushed me to try to suicide again. I took a month’s leave of absence. I realized that if I valued my life, it was time to quit both the job and my drinking, another longstanding problem. I never did resign, because I got fired two days before I was due to return to work.
The Right Job Can Make a Huge Difference
The timing of my firing was a blessing in disguise. I soon found a great job, working as an office manager for a small architectural firm. The environment was perfect for my ADHD. I could take my dog to work, and I had a variety of things to do. When my focus was good, I could work on the bookkeeping. When it wasn’t so good, I could do creative tasks like graphic design or work on our website or physical tasks like cleaning the office, running errands, or even taking the owners’ dog for a walk. It was such a great place for me, I stayed for the next 18 years. I retired in 2018.
Not long after getting that job, I stopped seeing both my psychiatrist and my psychologist. I was sick of each one telling me the other wasn’t doing me any good. The psychologist said pharmaceuticals were bad for me; the psychiatrist said therapy was bad for me. I did well enough without them for a while, but then became depressed again.
So Can the Right Professional
This time, I found a psychiatrist who was also a therapist. He was a godsend! I was 50 when he diagnosed my PTSD. I worked with him to learn to control my runaway dissociation. For years, I had told doctors I was depressed, but I also knew something else was going on. None listened.
I worked with that psychiatrist until he retired. I was lucky enough to find a second psychiatrist/therapist to work with me. Because of my complicating issues, I’ve been adjusting my treatment through the ups and downs of life. I finally found a treatment that works, and I can trust my brain functioning now in a way I had never been able to.
Finally I Can Tackle My ADHD
During the pandemic isolation, when the mess in my apartment reached critical mass and I was completely sick of it, I realized it was time to deal with my ADHD. I had to learn how to live with myself. I started reading ADDitude magazine and joined ADDA. I’ve watched many ADHD webinars. I also signed on for a 4-week organizing group, which worked so well for me that I just started my third round.
It’s Never Too Late
I am still, and will always be, a work in progress. But at 69, for the first time in my life, I am content, happy, and confident in my ability to live my best life and make it my own. I am grateful to still be alive. I’m thankful I have found the right people at the right time to help me find all the pieces and put them together.
I am also genuinely kind to myself these days, which is new. I was always extremely self-critical and demanding. It was the only way I could keep myself going. These days, I’ve stopped expecting perfection. I work hard to stop my habitual negative self-talk. It’s amazing how much easier it is to move ahead after letting something slip, when I don’t berate myself for it. I laugh now, tell myself it’s OK, and remind myself that I can do this. And the truth is, I REALLY CAN DO THIS!