My day job for 14 years has been working with people with ADHD, and each day has been filled with miracles and blessings. Young kids with ADHD that articulate their challenges in simple and beautiful ways. Teens that lurch to surprisingly mature intuitions. Adults that break out of decades-old ruts to rebuild and redirect their lives.
In medical school, budding physicians are taught to “take a medical history”. That phrase can misdirect impressionable young minds. The process sometimes looks and feels more like pulling teeth or forcing confessions. “Where does it hurt?” “What have you taken for it?” “Where can I poke to make it hurt way worse?” Anyone admitted to a teaching hospital can attest to the painful number of times that they are asked to answer the same litany of questions for each person involved in their care.
Histories are “taken” but stories are “offered”. Experience eventually teaches that a physician’s job is to invite and elicit stories. In mental health care, we coach people to tell us what it’s like to be them, hoping to gain a glimpse “behind the curtain”, to understand a small portion of their true minds.
Over 14 years, I’ve heard thousands of stories of life with ADHD:
“My mind is a racetrack which is fine when I’m busy, but it won’t stop when I need to sit down or go to sleep.”
“Every thought that goes through my mind comes right out my mouth, and I can’t stop it.”
Those are symptom descriptions from two insightful children. Adults have longer histories and often describe the impact of ADHD throughout their lives:
“I’m exhausted from trying 110% and never accomplishing more than 50%.”
“There’s a gap between what I know and what I’m able to do with it.”
“My life is ruled by either momentum or inertia.”
“I’ve figured out how to cope, but not how to succeed.”
The most rewarding stories to hear, though, are the miracles. Every day people tell me the stories of their struggles and changes. Because my part of their story involves adding medications to their already-profound efforts, many of the stories are “breakthrough” stories.
A seven-year old boy who had been “lost in his own world” most of the school day: “When my teacher tells me to write something, my pencil isn’t stuck at the beginning. I just keep writing.”
A nine-year old girl in a class with behavioral scorecards (green = expected behavior, yellow = minor infractions, red = terrible, horrible, no good, very bad): “I always used to get red or yellow, but this month was all green and two purples!” Purple? “Purple is when you do something really good for someone else.”
A college student who had been on academic probation after his first year, then started treatment: “This is my sixth straight semester on the dean’s list. I’m on a mission to show [the college] they should never give up on struggling students.”
Two parents describing their daughter’s progress: “It feels like she bloomed this year. She’s happier and her teachers are thrilled. To us, she’s still herself, but now it’s the best version of herself.”
The wife whose husband had mistreated her for years: “My mind is clear. I can see what he has been doing and why I need to leave him. I’m confident in myself for the first time.”
The husband who had been unfaithful: “My wife looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘You’ve changed. Now, I forgive you.'”
I could go on. These are just a few that came to mind as I wrote this. There are hundreds more.
But I need to get this post published, so I can head to work. You might imagine how much I look forward to my job each morning. People with ADHD are such a gift in my life.