In my last 2 posts, I shared how I’ve been able to look back with hindsight and finally see there were signs and symptoms all along from childhood into adulthood (Part 1) and how my first hands-on, real-world exposure to ADHD (that I knew of) came only once our family began fostering (Part 2). Perhaps my diagnosis would have come sooner if there had been more ADHD awareness in the circles of my life. Fortunately though, by the grace of God and thanks to my teenage foster daughter, Starla, I was able to get educated and my own previously undetected ADHD.
ADHD Symptoms in Girls and Women
Unfortunately, it’s all too common that symptoms in girls get ignored or missed altogether. There is reason for hope though. Society at large may be on the precipice of recognizing attention needs to be paid, because rates of ADHD diagnosis in women are skyrocketing — we just need to keep raising awareness.
She Opened the Door for Me
OMG. We thought we knew what ADHD was from our previous fostering experiences. And yes, we were certainly introduced to ADHD. But, then we met Starla. That’s when we really got educated. Additionally, she had other co-occuring (comorbid) conditions which complicated her life further. Some of the things she struggled with were things like Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Peter Pan Syndrome (yep, it’s a thing), and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (aka, ODD) as well.
And what a surprise party that last one is! Sweet merciful chinchilla! Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a behavioral disorder characterized by persistent defiance and disobedience. Fun, right?! Around 40% of ADHD kids show signs of ODD, though some fortunately outgrow it by around 8 or 9. Boys with ODD tend to be more physically aggressive with explosive anger. Girls tend to express symptoms more indirectly through refusing to cooperate, lying and manipulation. Starla was of the indirect variety and she had certainly not outgrown hers yet.
Timing is Everything
Technically, Starla had aged-out of the foster care system just before she came into our care. Knowing she wasn’t ready to be completely on her own though, she electively decided to receive extension of foster care services (EFCS). Shortly after her high school graduation, she moved in with us and became our foster daughter while she worked and attended college.
Despite how much we cared for Starla (and still do!), it was a deeply complex challenge living and working with Starla. My heart and soul was wrapped around the mission, though. I wanted so badly to help facilitate positive change for her at such a critical time in her life. And so, with this highly driven, interest-based nervous system of mine, I hyperfocused into doing everything I could for this sweet, troubled girl … trying so hard to set her up for success in the face of what at least “felt like” her fighting me all the way.
“The Queen of Distraction”
Many, many, many moons into her placement, she was still struggling. We were all struggling. I was researching Starla’s symptoms and conditions like crazy to help her regain her academic footing. (She was on academic probation due to grades and her EFCS was at risk). I was also on a plight to improve home life for all of us. That’s when I stumbled upon this book entitled, “The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus, and Get More Done” by Terry Matlen.
In order to better understand Starla’s ADHD-related struggles, I decided that we (myself, Starla and the Hubs) were going to read this book one chapter at a time individually, then come together and meet like a book club to discuss our findings. I knew ADHD was at the center of all her other mental health struggles, and I just hoped that if we could get a handle on how to help the ADHD first, … maybe it would help everything else, too.
I highly recommend this book to anyone challenged with feeling like you have more than your plate can hold, ADHD or not.
Surprise, Surprise … Lightbulb!
Well, lo and behold, I related on a personal level way more than I ever imagined to almost everything in the book! It was astonishing really. Captain Curl related as well (but that’s a future post). I even recognized systems and solutions the author was suggesting which I had already incorporated into my life on my own out of sheer necessity!
We never completed the entire book due to life distractions (red flag?), but we did get through the greater part of it. Regardless of not finishing, the words on these pages brought to my attention for the first time what “might” be going on with me. It was just something I’d never considered before.
In fact, I was so taken aback by the possibility, that I even mentioned it to my primary care doctor, Dr. Elsie, at my yearly exam. She told me we should definitely continue talking about it. I also indicated the idea to my son’s therapist, Monique. (We’d connected Estee with a therapist shortly after Starla moved in with us to strengthen his support system and provide an additional safe place where he could talk and express any big emotions since foster care is kind of a big deal. As sensitive and empathetic as Estee is, we could see him being affected).
Other than mentioning my thoughts to these healthcare providers and a very few others though, I didn’t really pursue my own mental health any further at that time, because I was still focused on the kiddos.
Seasons of Change
A few seasons later, Child Services moved Starla out of our home and into a more independent setting where she would live with roommates rather her foster family. And though we would, of course, always be here for her when needed, we would no longer carry the exact same heavy burden of responsibility we did when she lived at home.
As you might expect, we had a lot of mixed feelings and emotions, especially since the plan we were originally on had changed. This happens all the time in the world of foster care. And you never get used to it. We did feel relief from that sense of burden lifted I mentioned above, but the real relief here was driven by how proud we were of her and seeing how far she’d come. Starla was taking names and slaying it like a Rockstar. In fact, she was perfectly stunning us with the way she was taking responsibility and confidently getting things done. Starla was like a new person.
To be completely honest though, in spite of the lightened load and parental pride, we were still reeling in the wake of the last year. So, we decided to take some time to decompress and process our experiences. We put our home on hold (from fostering) for the time being. Meanwhile, Starla struggled with finding her way with her newly increased independence. She got herself into a few precarious situations which I don’t know how to sum up other than she got herself a “real-life education,” the hard way. I’m proud to say that, though she really went through some tough stuff, she has recovered well, and seems to have resiliently taken the lessons learned to heart and is doing really well.
Stuck in a Holding Pattern
Our hope was to re-open our home to fostering more youth by the next season, but we just couldn’t seem to get there. I felt especially stuck and was personally torn between my deep desire to foster and the urgency to be more present for my family at home. (It was clear they needed me to come back from whatever place I’d gone). We knew compassion fatigue was likely at play, but I still couldn’t figure out why I felt like I was just emotionally and logistically struggling to find solid ground. Unable to catch hold of any sense of stability or direction, I couldn’t focus or stay productive in any capacity. I was a hot mess.
My Turn at Therapy
So, I started seeing my son’s therapist, Monique, individually. You see, Estee had gotten to a great place and was really ready to put a pause on his therapy. When she asked it I would be interested in seeing her on my own, I was more than confident she could help me, so I went for it. Since Monique had been learning about all of us for the past year through Estee’s individual and family therapy, she already had the full back story and it just kind of made sense and felt like a right transition.
It wasn’t long at all, before she looked at me straight in the face and told me what she thought was going on. To which I immediately responded, “But anxiety can ‘look’ like ADHD” and “But, I always made good grades growing up, how could I have ADHD?” To which she replied, “ADHD can ‘look’ like anxiety”… and “People with ADHD can be highly intelligent.”
Point made. Point taken.
As a result of her consensus, she sent me home with some ADHD quizzes to take and a resource website to review (ADDitude magazine). She suggested if I felt comfortable with it, to share my results from the quizzes with her and we’d go from there.
ADHD for Me
Needless to say, I got myself some high scores. I really couldn’t keep denying the obvious. So I shared my results and we talked about next steps and options. We discussed the fact that I could really be helped by medication … That when taken properly, it’s not addictive. And it wouldn’t necessarily need to be forever. Even if I only took it temporarily, it could give my brain a long-needed break so everything doesn’t have to be so hard. It could put me on a level playing field with neurotypical brains.
So, our next step was to reach out to either a psychiatrist or my primary care physician. I ended up deciding to see my primary care doc, because I didn’t want the excruciating wait to get in to see a psychiatrist, plus I adore our doctor. She’s simply the best, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. Dr. Elsie is the most compassionate, eccentric, lit-up-like-a-Christmas-tree genius of a doctor I’ve ever been lucky enough to know. Even though she was booked for months, she squeezed me in when I let her know what was going on. After discussing, Dr. Elsie was pretty convinced I could be helped with medication, and thought it best to start med trials that same day as a part of my overall treatment plan.
Beforehand, I’d confirmed that Dr. Elsie had experience with ADHD. She had. Turns out — and it makes perfect sense — not only did she have experience treating ADHD, Dr. Elsie shared with us at my appointment that she, too, has ADHD! What’s funny is … part of the reason Indy and I have always just loved her to pieces is because her mind is always popping with thoughts and she picks up on everything! And even that makes so much more sense … Wow!