A Mother and Daughter Learn and Grow Together

By Theresa

Two years ago, at age 33, I learned I have ADHD and that it permeates nearly every aspect of my life. While seeking help for my impulsive, energetic six-year-old daughter, I was surprised to see myself in many of the checklist items. The doctor was seeking participants for a study of mothers and children with untreated ADHD to determine if treating the mothers might delay the age at which children started medication.

My early diagnoses of Tourette syndrome and migraines were blamed for my early difficulties in life and these were the conditions the doctors treated. I was always a very good student, but worked many more hours on homework in every grade level. Medications for anxiety, depression and tics (most notably hard eye rolling and very frequent blinking) that came with my TS were all consuming for years. I know many people with TS also have ADHD, but I don’t have a lick of hyperactivity or impulsivity, so I didn’t make things difficult for teachers and nobody considered ADHD.

I was often overwhelmed in grad school as I studied to be a Special Education Preschool Teacher and then again in failing grad school while attempting to switch careers to Physical Therapy.

One arm of the study was behavioral interventions for my daughter and me to work on together. That proved to be more effective for my daughter (and our relationship!) than the medicating mom trials. The few medications I tried either increased my tics or migraines. One afternoon I was exhilarated, focused and productive before tics hit so suddenly I had to pull over and calm down before I could l drive safely home. It’s been interesting living at the intersection of these diagnoses, and recently two months of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been the most effective treatment. I am still willing to try different medication options to see if it could decrease in symptoms and make life easier. I don’t want to leave anything untried. My new career plan finally takes into account my challenges, which I believe is a direct result of getting my diagnosis. I will return to being a Special Education teacher but this time in the homes of infants and toddlers. This means no classroom to keep organized, clean, and full of rotating thematic decorations and play experiences. It also means I work with each child one-on-one, giving them and their caregiver my full attention.

With my diagnosis came an acceptance that chastising myself to try harder had not “worked” for the first few decades of my life. Trying harder to be on time, to spread my attention between the students, remembering to move the laundry I started last night before it mildews, to break large tasks into small chunks long before the deadline… just led to failure and guilt, thinking I had to be even harder on myself so I’d learn.

I am so hopeful that the shift in attitude since my diagnosis, the skills I have learned with CBT, plus the wiser career choice will be an effective combination to keep overwhelm and guilt at bay. I’d sure love to hear stories of other people whose ADHD intersects with TS, migraines, being female or parenting a child with ADHD!

    • Jillian
    • May 11, 2017
    Reply

    I am 44 years old and every day I practice ‘solving’ my ‘problems’ so that I can be fully present for my 3 year old daughter. When I was growing up, my mother suffered from clinical depression. [and I now strongly suspect ADHD]. From late childhood, I too began a roller coaster of depression [and I now know, ADHD]. I kept this to myself and because I felt ashamed and because of the stigma in society about being emotionally challenged. My entire young adult life in high school, college, and early career was colored by the twin struggle to be free of depression and to stay organized. One day in my late 20’s my primary care physician prescribed me Wellbutrin because I told her that I could not stop smoking to matter how often I tried. This was the first ‘breakthrough’ in my life. The depression I had felt for so long lifted instantly, and I stopped smoking permanently — I was about 28 years old at that time. I began to feel a measure of control over my life. But despite good friendships and managing to remain employed though a lot of job-switching, I came into my late 30’s finally coming to realize that something else was just not working — I had no shape to my ‘career’ and I dead-ended professionally. My best friend commented one day that she read a story in the New York Times about women being vastly under diagnosed with ADHD because they had different symptoms from boys/men. I immediately began reading about this subject and recognized myself AND MY MOTHER in every checklist, every description. By now I was 41 and a mother for the first time in my life. The joy and responsibility of this made me decide to dedicate every day of my life to ‘solving’ my ‘problems’ so that I could stop the trail of misery and be present for my daughter. So, I now take medication for the ADHD in addition to Burproprion for depression. My greatest hope right now is to give her a joyful and meaningful early life so that she never struggles so silently and for so long as I did. This has given my life, finally, some shape and meaning. I am still working on the symptoms of ADHD and am still looking for a therapist and a way to live with or manage the overwhelm. For example it takes a lot of focus for me to tackle stressful things like bills and completely house projects. This is a work in progress as I have only understood the ADHD issue for two years. I would say the greatest challenge I have is NOT FEELING BAD about who I am on a daily basis because I know now that the twin issues of ADHD and depression have cost me having a meaningful career, something I wanted from an early age. But I have hope because of all the advances in understanding. I really do appreciate other women’s stories of struggling with ADHD because I stop feeling so alone.

    • Tiffani
    • May 10, 2017
    Reply

    You story is so common to mine. I was also late ADD to be diagnosed at 35. Worked harder than ever one else in school and Masters in Engineering with straight As, due to my persistent and grit. My son was diagnosed first and more I learn and researched found both of us hard classic warning signs. Although I don’t have any co-morbids, my son is classic ADHD and huge disruption for public school, almost kicked out of school at kindergarten 1 month in. Unfortunately we had to move fast and started other meds first. I haven’t had much luck finding right therapist for both of us. So glad to hear you figuring things out. Gives me hope I will too!

    • Kathleen Elsner-Madsen
    • May 10, 2017
    Reply

    Theresa, you are an incredible writer. I’ve known you for over 10 years and I have never ceased to be amazed by you! Your resilience, determination, thoughtfulness, kindness, incredible parenting, and many other attributes (including your wonderful laugh that I love to listen to) speaks volumes to your dedication to overcoming obstacles. You are an inspiration! Love you.

    • Tricia Elsner
    • May 10, 2017
    Reply

    As your friend and former paraeducator in preschool, you have always amazed me with your perseverance and determination to get things done! It makes me so happy to see how much better you are doing now with the cognitive therapy. You are a fabulous mother and friend! I can’t wait for you to start your new career and be able to get back to helping children and families again. What a great article!

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