Controlled Chaos: Inside My ADD Brain
"I think that I am living proof that having ADD
doesn't have to stop you from doing anything you set your
(This article should have been done a long time ago. I
ran into a number of problems getting from this point to the
end of this article. First there was tag in the back of my
shirt that was causing me to itch. Then, there was the constant
Monday morning chatter among a few of my coworkers, who always
seem to do their chatting right outside my cubicle. The phone
is ringing and my voice mail is packed full. I have reports
to write and clients to see, if only I could find the right
case file. In the middle of all of this, I'm trying to read
some records for one of my clients, but the doctor's handwriting
is worse than Egyptian hieroglyphics. Then, I look at the
clock. It's only 8:05 AM and I'm already exhausted.)
The two words that describe my life best: Controlled chaos.
If you can relate, then you probably know what it's like to
have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If you're completely
confused, welcome to the world of the ADD brain. My brain
can go from 0 to 60 in about 25 minutes because it's decided
to stop for a Caribbean cruise and coffee break along the
way. It's a state of total confusion a lot of the time, but
I sure didn't choose for life to be this way.
I am a 27-year-old social worker from San Jose, CA. I was
diagnosed with ADD in 1997. ADD isn't a "condition"
that I have; it's a part of who I am. It's just like my eye
color, hair color, or the fact that I'm right handed. However,
for most of my life, I had no idea what was wrong. I just
knew that I was different.
I think my parents thought they had it all figured out.
They sent me to numerous mental health professionals, in an
attempt to figure what was wrong with me. First, they said
I was depressed, and then I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
They had it down that I had a mental health condition, just
not the right one. I never could sit still during those appointments
and every second seemed like torture. It seemed like there
were too many thoughts in my head. I felt like I wanted to
jump out of my skin. It was worse than school. At least at
school we got recess.
I felt like a science experiment with all of the medications
and combinations of medications the doctors gave me. Some
of the medications did nothing, while others just made me
worse. I started feeling like a circus freak because I couldn't
control my actions or emotions. Puberty magnified this problem
times ten. I didn't hear the term "paradoxical reaction"
until much later, when I found out that it can occur with
individuals with ADD who are taking the wrong medication for
their condition. The professionals weren't paying attention
to why I couldn't pay attention.
Sometimes I think that being a little smarter than the average
bear was what saved me from a whole lot more grief and harassment
as a child and as an adolescent. I did very well academically.
This isn't to say that I didn't get the standard "Earth
to Emily" and "I don't like your attitude"
comments from my parents and from teachers, usually in front
of other kids. I couldn't save myself from all the comments
just by being intelligent. I tried really hard to fly under
their radar, to make myself invisible, but that just seemed
to make them home in on me like a heat seeking missile. For
me, there was nowhere to hide.
At the time, ADD was basically unknown, or if people did
know about it, hyperactive boys were the only ones being diagnosed
and treated. Now, it seems like ADD is getting more recognition
and nearly everyone has heard about it. Back then, they thought
I just had an "attitude problem" and I was "attention
seeking". Nothing they thought a good spanking or grounding
couldn't fix. They tried that route, but it never did fix
I was not diagnosed with ADD until I was in my junior year
in college. Ironically, I was an undergraduate in Clinical
and Counseling Psychology at San Jose State University. My
Child Psychology professor was the one who spotted my ADD
a mile away. I got okay grades, but I just could not sit through
my classes because I could not tune out the extraneous noise
in the classroom and in my own head. I got the notes from
a classmate and studied on my own. I refused to go to class.
After much denial and much encouragement from my professor,
I was evaluated and diagnosed with ADD. Finally finding out
what was really wrong with me was an epiphany. I finally realized
that some things were always going to be more difficult for
me, but I could finally stop beating myself up for being different
and stop feeling like I was hopelessly flawed. However, when
talk of more medication came up, I went through the roof!
I had recently turned 18 years old and I could finally refuse
to continue to be some doctor's medication guinea pig. Now,
they wanted me to take more medication. No thanks! I thought
they were crazy.
When I got a D in one of my classes, something that had
never happened to me before, I realized that maybe the doctor
was right. I began taking medication and my grades went from
Bs, Cs, and a D to straight As in one semester! I could actually
sit through my classes without feeling like I was going to
go insane because the person sitting behind me would not stop
tapping their pencil on the table during class. My medication
regime needed a bit of tweaking over time, but I think the
psychiatrist and I have found the right combination for me
- Wellbutrin and Dexedrine.
I think that I am living proof that having ADD doesn't have
to stop you from doing anything you set your mind to. My mind
was set on getting a Masters degree in Psychology or Social
Work, so I could practice child and family therapy. I was
extremely disappointed when I was denied entry into a Masters
of Clinical Psychology program at San Jose State University
twice because the chair of the program thought that I "couldn't
handle it" simply because I had ADD, in spite of my 3.8
grade point average and extensive work experience in the Psychology
I really believe that when God closes a door, he always
opens a window. I was snapped right up by a much more demanding
Masters of Social Work (MSW) program at San Jose State University.
I graduated in 2003 with my Masters degree and a 4.0 grade
point average. You should have seen the look on that professor's
face when I crossed the stage to get my Masters degree! I
don't think that she'll ever underestimate someone with ADD
I now work as a Social Worker II for the County of Santa
Clara. I work almost exclusively with severely mentally ill
adults and I really love the work I do. I am working on getting
my license as a clinical social worker so I can move to private
industry, such as an HMO setting, and do family therapy. As
a Masters student, I interned for the Kaiser Permanente Child
and Adolescent Psychiatry Department in Santa Clara, California.
I had a caseload made up exclusively of children with ADD
and their families. Some have said that I have a knack for
working with kids with ADD and their families. Little do they
know that I have it too!
I'm open about my diagnosis because I want people to know
that having ADD doesn't have to slow you down or keep you
from reaching your goals. It's just another part of who you
are. Anyone with ADD can learn to work with their strengths,
instead of constantly fighting the weaknesses. This is not
to say that my journey has been easy, it hasn't always been
that simple. However, I'm sharing what I now know with others
in hopes that they can avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into
and successfully conquered.
Sometimes you will come across people who are not supportive
and say that ADD is only an excuse. ADD is real and it is
a difficult condition to learn to cope with. However, it can
be treated and people with ADD can be very successful. Get
treatment and surround yourself with supportive people. Life
with ADD is never, ever boring and no goal is completely out
of reach simply because you have ADD.