Celebrating your Mental Health Diagnoses.
I am no stranger to mental illness. I come from an eccentric family of wonderful people who have struggled with depression, anxiety, manic depression and addiction. I am not breaking any confidences when I say my amazing sister, Maria Bamford, struggled mightily. She is a successful comedian and speaks of her struggles with depression/anxiety often on stage. I always felt that I needed to be tough and strong and I sensed that my sister was vulnerable. I was the oldest child, did well in school and went on to Medical School. I wasn’t a perfect kid. I was a bit of a risk taker and often bristled at authority. I ended up grounded for most of high school but my record was more or less unscathed.
A few years back, I was practicing as a Physician (80%**), A part time Interior Designer (50%?), running a website (30?), a house (12%) and raising 4 kids (100%). To say it was “kind of crazy” is like saying Ben and Jerry’s super fudge chunk is kind of “good”.
I found myself pouring over the pages of “driven to Distraction” the classic bestseller on ADD by Harvard Physicians John Ratey and Ed Halowell. I was blown away. I saw parts of myself in every page. Could it be? I finally went to the psychologist who took a very thorough history and then decided doing a few attention tests was indicated. He thought it was possible I had ADD and needed more info. **Estimated percentages and actual may vary).
I thought, modestly, with my post lunch Mocha on board, that I was killing the T.O.V.A test (which measure your ability to attend to a hideously boring stimulus over time). When I finished at the computer I looked over and said brightly, “Well, what do you think? “ He smiled broadly, “Yep- you have definitely got it”. Apparently, I had performed so poorly on the test it was a slam-dunk diagnosis of ADD, Inattentive type. Now, I am not here to debate T.O.V. A or if ADD is even truly a diagnosis. That is what is so ridiculous (in retrospect). I want to talk about what an amazing GIFT it was to receive it.
I went home and I read approximately 54 tomes on the subject (they say the way you do one thing is the way you do everything). Of course I skimmed parts that I did not find interesting. This time as I skimmed, something I had done forever, I laughed (Hello! I have ADD now…that’s what we do). Then I cried. I cried for the little Sarah, who was too much, too loud, too insatiable with too many questions, too many ideas, too much energy. I cried for the young adult Sarah who literally spent the first two years of college at the library studying in complete isolation in order to get the grades I needed to go to Medical School. I cried for the exhausted mother of 4 little kids who had worked full time with a spouse who also was a physician and gone much of the time. But, something had shifted. What I always suspected (something was different about me) was confirmed.
Then, I got busy. One of the gifts of ADD is that, I am like a dog with a bone. When I decide its going to happen, look out, because…well…just look out! I hired an ADD Coach. I began to try out low doses of medicines with my MD to see if it helped. I talked to everybody I knew who also had the diagnosis to see what I could glean from their experience. Some of the stuff I had read in the books was disheartening. Yet, I learned there was so many amazing people that were creative, productive and LIVING well out there. I just wanted to know how to stop feeling overwhelmed.
I began to navigate the world in a new way, newly aware of my unique ability to hyper focus on things I loved and tune out anything I was uninterested in (or was boring). Think about that for a minute…how lucky was I? I realized why it was challenging to keep a Google calendar with 6 different schedules on it updated. I forgave myself for wigging out completely anytime a new sport would commence for one of my kids- the barrage of detailed emails, practice schedules, endless stream of phones calls for car pooling pushed me over the edge. Other parents seemed completely non-plussed like it was no biggie. I actually had hard data (from the professionals) that I should not be doing work I hated like taxes, keeping track of other’s schedules and remembering mind numbing things like dental appointments.
People started to show up in my life to show me about how OK it all was. Martha Beck and her lovely tribe of coaches were cackling and giggling on a phone call I was on (to discuss the possibility of Coach Training). They joked about how it was very likely they all had had ADD. Martha said something like, “oh yea…I have the attention span of a Squirrel!” I was like, GOOD God-! You mean somebody thinks this is funny, absolutely no big deal and speaks of it in public! Learning to be Transparent, Authentic and Open (TAO) from that tribe helped enormously. It was ok to be me and, in fact, I might get demerits if I was NOT!
Next, unbelievably bright and shining lights like Jeannette Maw showed up in front of me to help me relearn my own beauty. With Jeannette, not only was it ok to act like you had just “snorted rocket fuel“, it was celebrated. In fact, I realized that was what people from miles around came for- just to witness Jeannette in that place of complete BLAST OFF. I was one of them. I know what it feels like to be that enthusiastic…that “high on life”. In many ways, that is what ADD affords you…glimpses of ecstasy and cosmic connection (and the polar opposite of course). I was developing more and more compassion for myself and for others all along the way.
I finally decided to take a 6-month sabbatical from Medicine to focus on my coaching practice and me. I found deep reassurance and healing in the woods
I stumbled into shamanism, which, to me, seems uniquely positioned as a technology of the people. Shamanism actually views mental health crises as an initiation. If the village offers healing and the person stricken has a desire to heal, the once weakened person is destined to become a powerful healer in their own right. I like that idea. So, if you have just received a diagnosis or are close to someone who has…I like to think of the exciting and amazing possibility that they are being prepared for something greater.
Recently I asked for a healing from my ADD on a shamanic journey. I was not sure what was supposed to happen, I just knew I was ready to finish the chapter or go to another level. Days later, several things happened which resulted in a convergence of feeling empowered and laughing hysterically for a weekend with friends about my ADD. I realized that I belonged AND that the more I revel in my MUCHNESS, my Sarah-ness, my ADD, the better off we all are. I launched a call at Good Vibe University on this topic the next week.
I have mad ADD skills and I am no longer afraid to use them. I am becoming quite enamored with my own “MUCHNESS” (Alice in Wonderland). What excites me most is watching more people falling in love with their own MUCHNESS. Because the world needs us…and it’s later than you think (wink). ~Sarah
**Entering a theta brain wave state induced by drumming to connect with the spirits does shamanic journeying or energies that reside in “non ordinary reality” or a quantum physicist might call the matrix or field. Perhaps not so coincidentally, theta is where many of us ADD, Inattentive subtype people live)- so we may be uniquely designed to do it)
Some Resources for those who love someone diagnosed with ADD or wondering if they have it:
Driven To Distraction Edward Hallowell MD and John Ratey: Two doctors from Harvard who both have ADD and are brutally honest and compassionate about what its like to live with it and the patients they treat with discussion of treatment and strategies.
You Mean I am not Lazy, Crazy or Stupid? Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo– funny and fabulous but practical guide to diagnosis and management.
and my own Born to FREAK: A Salty Primer for Irrepressible Humans – “New Age meets “Saturday Night Live” in this sort of surfer girl’s guide to inner peace.”
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Peace and the courage of 5.6 honey badgers, Sarah