Why my challenges are also a blessing

A few months ago, I challenged myself to do something scary. Really scary. I spoke about having ADHD and dyslexia in front of hundreds of people over two nights here in Bozeman.

It was a PechaKucha talk meaning I had six minutes and 20 seconds to tell my story. I created a Powerpoint of 20 slides that played 6 seconds each behind me on stage at The Ellen Theatre. It was a powerful experience hearing people react to my words as I spoke.

It was also affirming having folks — even people I didn’t know — praise the presentation. More importantly, I was surprised and pleased to have several people thank me, themselves having been recently diagnosed or having struggled with these issues for years. Some even sought me out for advice.

Whoa!

If I think back on the days when I first started keeping this blog, I realize how far I’ve come from that anxiety-ridden, depressed woman. Now, I feel strong, confident and capable. And I’m getting things done … not despite, but BECAUSE I have ADHD.

Don’t get that? Watch the video.

It all ADDed up — Part I

You’d think I’d have been upset. But a few years ago, when a psychiatrist told me I had Attention Deficit Disorder,* it was a relief.

That diagnosis — one I’d always suspected — didn’t exist during my childhood. But it explained a lot about my life. Why I experienced so much failure in school, jobs, relationships. Why I’d made so many less-than-ideal decisions. It also confirmed that, like many with ADD, I have dyslexia  my brain sees things differently than so-called normal brains so I had trouble reading and writing.

pexels-photo-278888

So here’s the ugly truth: I struggled in school though I did well enough. My teachers and parents seemed to know I was intelligent but didn’t know how to help me focus. I had to work hard to get good grades.

Particularly in my first few years in college.

You see, I thought I wanted to be a biomedical engineer and the thought still appeals to me. I love the idea of conceptualizing and creating things to help people live better lives. And although I did well in science and math in high school, unlike my college cohorts, I did not take advanced placement courses. Remember bell-curve grading?

So there I was at a midwestern university with more than 100 students in an un-air-conditioned lecture hall. The temperature and humidity were nearly identical at about 100. The chemistry class was taught by an assistant whose command of the English language left something to be desired. Not exactly the best learning environment for even the most conventional of learners.

By the end of the first week of my third semester at this university, I was throwing my shoes at my dorm room door in frustration. I decided something had to give.

Needless to say, I never did get a degree in engineering. Was that a failure? I sure saw it that way at the time.

Skip forward several years. After transferring to Goucher College — a small, liberal arts college that was women-only at the time, I found a new world. More nurturing than the university where a dean told me my SAT scores were the lowest in my class (they were in the top 80 percentile or better nationally). The only reason I got into the school of engineering was because I was a women, he added.

Yes, that really happened. But that was 1979. Although I was aware of gender discrimination, it didn’t occur to me that’s what this was. In reverse. But not really. By accepting a student who didn’t fit the criteria of the school, weren’t they merely setting me up for failure? Probably.

But I don’t blame anyone. It’s just how things were then. And besides, that’s not the point.

After four and a half years of college, several changes in majors and a parental bribe to pay for off-campus dance classes in exchange for not changing my major once again (this time to dance therapy), I graduated with a degree in elementary education. Big whoop. (Apologies to education majors everywhere — a very noble and under-appreciated profession). But before I had finished school, I realized teaching was not for me – not in the traditional sense anyway.

I hate to admit it, but I probably read only half of what I was assigned in college and still managed to graduate with decent grades. I just didn’t have the ability to focus enough to read that much. And I needed more focus than most given the dyslexia.

According to Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D., “About 50 to 60 percent of people with ADHD* also have a learning disability,” he wrote in ADDitude magazine. “The most common of these is dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that affects reading. Eight to 17 percent of the population is affected by dyslexia, and it is vastly misunderstood.”

As a very young child, when I learned to write my name, it would often come out Joby (the legal spelling of my name is Jody, but I changed it because I didn’t like the aesthetics of the J and Y). Turning that ‘d’ around should have been a clue that I had this so-called disability. But again, we’re products of our time.

Although it was 1877 when German neurologist Adolf Kussmaul coined the term word blindness to describe people with reading difficulties, there is still not much known about dyslexia. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that scientists started investigating the underlying causes of the condition.

All this to say, children growing up in the mid-20th century were not diagnosed with and therefore not taught how to overcome the challenges associated with dyslexia and ADD. We just learned to cope. Or we didn’t. And we failed. Occasionally.

* I use ADD and ADHD interchangeably.

Toilet Tawk

“Today you can go to a gas station and find the cash register open and the toilets locked. They must think toilet paper is worth more than money.”       — Joey Bishop

Is it just me and my dyslexic brain?

I just abhor washing my hands in icy cold water. So every time I come across one of these faucets, I get dismayed. You know, the sort of single-lever faucet that you pull up to make the water run. But with no markings to indicate which way is hot or cold, they’ve always confused me.

Befuddling faucet

Befuddling faucet

This is so befuddling to me, I don’t even know how to begin to explain my confusion. Suffice to say I just don’t know which way to turn the lever. So I go with the trial-and-error method (what choice do I have?) and inevitably, I end up with cold water. It’s just irritating.

So to those so-called sophisticated, minimalist industrial designers out there, fashion should NEVER trump function in my mind. And, really, does it need to?

I know, I know, first world problems. But while I’m at it, I might as well gripe about other bathroom-related issues: toilet paper and their holders.

So why is that some people just don’t change the toilet paper roll when the old one runs out? SO notwithstanding (after all, I probably never give him a chance since I use more TP than he does), I guess it’s just easier to prop the fresh roll on top of the empty roll and leave it at that. That is until it gets knocked off into the wastebasket.

I mean, really, is it that difficult?

I think Helen Hunt’s little schtick in an opener of “Mad About You” really says it all.

And speaking of toilet paper holders – again, I ask you, is it just me?

Why do people insist on putting toilet paper rolls on holders that, well, just don’t hold them? You know, the kind that are open on one end?

annoying roll

Admittedly, this makes changing the toilet paper roll IMMENSELY simpler. And, lord knows, we can’t afford to miss two seconds of that TV show or video game or whatever people are wasting their time on these days (including maybe reading this diatribe).

But is this so-called convenience really all it’s hyped up to be? Have you ever torn a section of TP off one of these things and sent the entire roll flying across the bathroom? And so there you are, pantaloons down around your ankles and you’re clumsily chasing a roll of TP around a tiny room before it completely unwinds all over the place?

I mean, really. Can’t we all just slow down for a second and change the toilet paper roll?

Phoney foibles

Yup, so I did it again.

It was back on Oct. 4 — I had another of those dyslexic, forgetful, foolish days.

In the car on the way to the airport I decided it was time to set a security code on my cell phone. And, no, I wasn’t driving — I have a hard enough time multitasking when I’m sitting safely in one place.

Anyway, in the past I’ve had luck with the pattern feature where you slide your finger over a pattern of dots you set in order to gain access to the wonders of the cell phone universe. I’m somewhat of a visual thinker so the pattern thing is usually pretty good for me. Some sort of color-coded do-dad would be even better.

But before I continue, a caveat: It was dark (before 6:30 a.m.) and I was functioning (or not) on cold- and stress-induced sleep deprivation. Both SO and I had colds so if it wasn’t his coughing keeping us up, it was my headache or worry … but, enough about that.

Anywho, I set a pattern and promptly forgot it. Not kidding. However, I was pretty sure I hadn’t turned the security lock on. I was able to get my boarding pass up on the phone, after all. But as soon as I got on the plane, I discovered I was wrong. I spent at least half the flight trying to crack the code to no avail. Crap those damn things are good!

It’s the bike lock all over again (see The stupid things I do thanks to my ADDled brain).

Got to Salt Lake City for a layover where the wi-fi is free. I spent about a half hour live chatting on my laptop with a Verizon representative about how I might get my phone unlocked.

It’s complicated and I won’t bore you with the technical details. Suffice to say, I wrote much of this on the plane to New York and didn’t know how I was going to call my parents when I got there. I hoped there was a pay phone somewhere. Remember those? In the meantime, I wrote emails to my parents and brother explaining my dilemma and suggested they call me at a certain time since I was still able to receive calls, I just couldn’t make them.

So that worked out.

But I guess I should have gone with my intuition and gotten a new phone BEFORE I left for New York. It would have at least saved me a bit of stress and definitely sales tax. But well, I guess I’m happy with my new phone and my new plan, but Jeez — why does so much of my life seem to revolve around losing and searching for things?

Perhaps I can take comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

According to a recent poll by The Trending Machine of 800 American adults, approximately 39% of them had forgotten or misplaced a common everyday item in the previous week. Surprisingly millennial (defined as people aged 18 to 34) were two to three times more likely to forget or misplace something than “seniors” (defined as 55 or older — I’m not quite there yet, but close — am I really almost a senior?). Millennials were more twice as likely to forget even what day of the week it is — really?

ForgetfulnessChart

Even with my current no-set-schedule lifestyle (yes, freelancing has its perks), I don’t typically forget what day it is or to bathe, for goodness sakes!

The Trending Machine consulted Patricia Gutentag, a leading family and occupational therapist, about this phenomenon.  Her response?

“Stress!  Stress often leads to forgetfulness, depression and poor judgment,” she told them.

And even more interesting (at least to me), “We find higher rates of ADHD diagnoses in young adults,” Gutentag reported.

Millennials grew up in the fast-paced multitasking world of mobile technology. They are expected to and seem to enjoy being omnipresently connected. Combine those demands with the stresses of everyday life and a probably lack of sleep and you get brains that just don’t function optimally.

I’m curious about you, dear readers. How often do you forget, misplace or lose things?

 

My question for any psychiatrists, neurologists or clinical therapists out there who research this sort of stuff: I know from personal experience that ADHD is caused by a particular brain chemistry. I also understand that brain chemistry can change through behavioral patterning and experiences. So if that’s the case, are we cultivating a culture of ADHD so that at some point the “disorder” will become the norm?

I sure hope not.

Not because I like having this distinction (if you will), but because I don’t enjoy the struggles I endure because of it. I think the world would be a better place if we slowed down and learned to enjoy each other for who we really are, rather than looking to our cyber-friends for instant gratification. Just saying.

Stay peaceful all.

 

 

The sour smell of success (or not)

“And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile — and learn from her mistakes.”                                     

                                                                                                                                           –Julia Child 

OK, I admit it … I adore spending time in the kitchen.

Preparing food, whether it’s baking or cooking, is one of those activities during which I become seriously hyperfocused. Time just stands still, which when baking, can be a catastrophe — thank goodness for timers!

Baking in particular is one of my favorite past times. I love the feathery feel of flour, the smell and color of fruits and chocolate and the aromas wafting from a warm oven.

And then there’s the sweet taste of success … well, most of the time anyway.

Take, for example, the cheesecake I baked after picking something like a pound of raspberries recently (see previous post “Berry, berry focused”).

It came out looking OK — better before we cut into it and put it into the fridge for a couple of days.

Raspberry Cheesecake

It may not be picture-perfect, but it tastes even more sour.

The taste though, um, well …

The crust and topping were tasty, the cheesecake texture quite creamy. (Personally, I prefer a denser cheesecake).

But the main issue I have with this so-called dessert is, it just isn’t as sweet as I expected it to be. Let’s just say the cheesecake filling was kinda sour. And seriously, I’m not into sickeningly sweet desserts.

Now some people (my friend and neighbor, for example) like their cheesecake creamy and a little tart. Me not so much.

In any case, I wondered as my friend raved over the cake giving her pooch last lick at her plate. Maybe she was just being kind.

But what might have gone wrong? Or was it just a bum recipe?

Today I looked at the recipe again. There were three parts: the graham cracker crust, the cheesecake filling and the raspberry topping. It was blueberry in the recipe, but what the heck.

Anyway, I studied the sugar measurements in the recipe and, though I can’t say for certain, I think perhaps I used only two tablespoons of sugar as directed for the topping rather than the full cup the recipe called for in the filling.

Chalk it up to dyslexia? Perhaps. Who knows?

At least it isn’t inedible, just not my favorite.

So, if you happen to live in the Bozeman area and prefer your cheesecake sour and creamy — I’ve got your slice right here. Just let me know, I might even deliver.