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I Thought I Was The World's Biggest Screw-Up Until My Son Was Diagnosed With ADHD

Photo: Paul Biryukov / Shutterstock
exhausted mother caring for son

A friend and I were having coffee one afternoon when she asked me where I was with my writing.

Nowhere. I was nowhere.

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In the middle of a trendy West Hollywood café, with writers typing away on laptops all around me, I broke down in tears.

Every task was difficult, especially writing, and it was getting harder to concentrate as I got older. I felt overwhelmed and trapped in my own head. I knew I needed help, but didn’t know where to get it. 

“I can’t live like this anymore,” I told her.

Soon after that, in the fall of 2019, I sat filling out a questionnaire for my teenage son.

He, too, was having trouble getting his work done and his grades were slipping so I had made an appointment for him at an ADHD clinic to get him tested. As I answered the questions about my son’s behavior, it all sounded very familiar. 

Have difficulties organizing tasks and activities? Check!
Fidget with hands or feet or squirm in your seat? Check!
Easily distracted? Check! 

I flashed back to myself in high school rifling through my backpack searching for an assignment I didn’t finish.

And in college, after a lecture was over realizing I was daydreaming and hadn’t heard anything. Then as an adult trying hard to remember the name of the person I was talking to because I did not listen when they introduced themselves, instead wondering where I could get her exact shade of lipstick.

I immediately called one of my childhood friends who also happens to be a doctor. I hesitated to share with her what I thought was a deep, dark secret. 

“I think I have ADHD.”

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“Oh, yeah,” she said without pausing. “You totally have ADHD,” she said.

Turns out, it was no secret. And she wasn’t the only one who knew — from my husband to the teacher my son had in 5th grade — it was obvious to everyone but me. 

It’s not that I didn’t know I had a problem. I’ve always had trouble focusing, being on time, and meeting deadlines, but I thought it was because there was something deeply wrong with me. I could not focus because I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or worthy of being wherever I was at the time.

While ADHD felt like a life-changing discovery, it had to be put aside. After all, this wasn’t about me. My sweet and interesting teenager needed help and it was my responsibility to make sure he got it. 

After waiting months to get an appointment, my son’s testing day finally arrived. The psychologist who administered the test sat with us to explain that my son did in fact have ADHD. 

I wanted to jump in and say, “I have it too!” But as I had read, inappropriately interrupting a conversation — something I have always been guilty of — is a sign of ADHD and I had been making a point of trying to listen and wait for a break in the conversation to talk.

Instead of hijacking my son’s appointment, I did my best to listen and learn the next steps.

I would make an appointment for myself later, I thought. I had already been researching and implementing different tools to help get me through a workday. On my desk sat a giant Hydro Flask of coffee, a timer set to 20 minutes, and notebooks filled with to-do lists.

“Things are going to change,” I thought. My son was getting help and soon I would be, too.

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But right after my son was diagnosed, the world shut down.

All of my symptoms became much worse during the pandemic. Instead of wondering where I could find that same deep shade of red lipstick I saw on an acquaintance whose name I forgot, I was consumed with worry.

I got COVID in March of 2020 and passed it on to my family.

My husband was hospitalized twice and suffered from Long COVID for more than a year. We were locked down and my teenagers and college student niece were home trying to navigate online school. 

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My focus went from trying to teach myself and my son how to be organized and productive to taking care of everyone in my home while keeping my head above water. It was all I could do to get through my freelance jobs while going back and forth to the doctor. 

I finally hit a wall after weeks of sleepless nights and countless hours spent staring at a blank computer screen.

I scheduled an appointment to get ADHD testing by the same woman who had diagnosed my son. When her smiling face appeared on my laptop screen through Zoom, tears filled my eyes. I’ve never been happier to see anyone in my life. 

Like my doctor friend, the therapist was convinced I had ADHD. The next step was to see a psychiatrist to prescribe medication.

It was amazing how a small dose helped me focus enough to get through a big work project while the chaos of the pandemic continued to swirl around me. I also went back to therapy. 

While the world is still chaotic, my brain is less so, which means I can better focus on what needs to be done instead of running around in circles. I wish I could say that everything is amazing and now that I am getting help I have 10 chapters of my book done and my son is getting straight A’s.

But it’s not that simple.

Just because I have tools and medication to help me focus does not mean that I can always focus on the things I’m supposed to focus on.

Did you know that the leading cause of death of pregnant women in the United States is homicide? Did you know that Linda Cardellini was in Legally Blonde? Do you know all the places you can buy Mochi donuts in Los Angeles? I do because these are just some of the rabbit holes I’ve gone down in the last month while trying to get work done.

Like everything in life, working around my attention deficit requires, well, work.

It takes structure and planning to write articles and do client work.

I often think about what I would have done with my life if I had the diagnosis when I was my son’s age. I can see my young self popping Adderall in order to drink more at a keg party in the Arizona desert where I grew up or selling the small blue pills for money to buy shoes.

I don’t know if I had the maturity in my teens or 20s to do all of the things that I do now to be productive. I do know that feeling lost and like an outsider made me a scrappy, problem-solver who could intuit her way through any situation.  

I’m hoping that my son won’t make any of the mistakes I made growing up or have as hard a time navigating his way through life as I did. All I can do is try to learn as much as I can to help him.

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Yvonne Condes is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles. Her articles have appeared on KCET, Mom.com and she's contributing editor to Picturing Mexican America.

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