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Controlled Chaos: Inside My ADD Brain

Emily Bredehoft

"I think that I am living proof that having ADD doesn't have to stop you from doing anything you set your mind to."

(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 me.

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 field.

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 ever again!

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.


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