Usually, I embrace ADHD. Last night was not one of those nights. I posted this on Instagram last night, and figured I would post it here too. Because ADHD is not just a punchline; it’s not a joke. ADHD is more than distractibility, more than “hyperactivity”, more than forgetfulness, more than what people “see”, and way more than people perceive it to be. Way more than many people can even try to understand. It is real.
Awhile back, I learned of the C-Pen Reader from the Learning Disabilities Association of Manitoba. After learning more about it, I felt like the C-Pen would be a tool that would help me as a person with a learning disability who learns best through listening rather than seeing—as I’ve written before, I primarily now read audiobooks, and frequently use text-to-speech or VoiceOver on my MacBook, iPhone and iPad when reading longer texts. This switch has greatly enhanced my retention of what I read. But what about actual paper documents? It becomes a hassle to scan dozens of pages to have them convert.
Enter the C-Pen.
In video, because it probably makes more sense that way.
Disclosure: I contacted Scanning Pens in the UK requesting to review the C-Pen Reader. They got back in touch quickly sent me one out via a Canadian distributor. I am in no way obligated to provide a favourable review.
My last 3 posts have been somehow swallowed up by StableHost following a tech issue last week. I’m really unsure what the deal is, but they have been trying to help me for several days and I am just hoping that I can actually start my October blogging on time. Because, like last year, I have plans.
Plans to hit refresh on the blogging, and this time, perhaps try not to throw myself into too many things at once, although we know that, hello, it is me. That’s not going to happen. Like last October, things will look roughly the same around here:
Travel Tuesday (as I still have many things to report on!)
Wordless Wednesday (honestly, because I am lazy)
Fun Fact Friday
Recap Saturday (in which I will perhaps tell you just normal stories or tales of my ADHD brain from the week.
Since we missed Recap Saturday this week, here is an ADHD story for the week:
I went into my room to find a specific hoodie from my closet-I-mean-floor, and I could not find it. I resigned to another hoodie and picked it up and carried it out of my room.
Reading with VoiceDream reader on my iPhone – a PDF or electronic text document is read in fairly life-like synthesized voices. Also shown, my Bose noise cancelling earphones.
Unlike many people with learning disabilities, I have always enjoyed reading. However, enjoyed is probably somewhat of a loose term. I read constantly, but remembered very little of what I actually read. (Bonus: buy books once, reread them a bunch because you don’t remember what happened). This all started to make more sense when, in 2013, I was diagnosed with a learning disability affecting my processing and memory of information acquired visually, and my processing speed, among other things. In the few years since gaining this information I’ve found a lot of resources that have helped me in ways I hadn’t realized were actually a struggle for me. Now I almost exclusively read audiobooks, retaining far more information with my ears (and allowing me to keep my hands busy at the same time).
Fortunately, audiobook or eText access goes beyond costly audiobooks at Chapters and Audible subscriptions (look, I’d rarely spend $14.95 on a print book a month!), and there are more options out there if you are a person with a disability. To this day, I’ve not touched an audiobook on CD, although I’ve experienced some technology oddities I now avoid (looking at you, Direct-to-Player app of last year!)
Upon learning of my newfound love of audiobooks, my friend Stephen told me about CELA–the Centre for Equitable Library Access, also/formerly known as the CNIB Library.
CELA membership is available to Canadians with a library card to a participating library, who also have a print disability. My learning disability, as well as visual impairment or physical disabilities that prevent people from reading print books, are classified as print disabilities under Canadian copyright law, which also allows people to access works in an alternate format. Signing up for CELA was easy, as it was based on self-disclosure. Other services sometime require proof of disability from a doctor, psychologist, teacher, or other “authority”, as in the case with the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS – Canada) or Bookshare (Canada/US). (I’ve got forms for both stacked up beside me for my yearly appointment with the psychiatrist later this week!) Each of these services provides electronic books either as a recorded mp3 or that can be read by the right technology, such as a screen reader or app.
CELA opened a whole new world for me in reading, in tandem with the audiobooks available through my public library. As well, assistive technology, such as Voice Dream Reader and iOS speak screen (a recent find compatible with kindle eBooks!), has helped me rediscover reading, and allowing me to access longer or more complicated texts without just being completely lost. Now, I don’t just read books–I enjoy them. I remember more of what I’ve read. I can recommend books to people because I remember things about them. It’s exciting.
And because of audiobooks, because of CELA, because of assistive technology?
It’s #BellLetsTalk Day, which here in Canada is the one day of the year that people—for better or worse, and sometimes to just bash Bell—stop to talk about mental health. I’m not getting into the Bell thing—it’s a thing.
What I am getting into is this country has taken the time to pause and reflect. This is awesome. I have seen so many of my friends on Facebook share their struggles and triumphs and stories of living with anxiety and depression; of going to therapy and of choosing to try medication. People who have dealt with these things since childhood, or who are navigating mental health concerns for the first time as adults. To all of you who have shared your stories—today or any other day—I am so proud of all of you. Thank you for being bold, embracing who YOU are, and sharing your journey: I hope that it makes people in your world see “mental illness” differently, and see you just the same, because you are. You are important and your story is important. Every damn day, not just today—the highs, the lows, your story is important. Every. Freaking. Day.
I am right here with you.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, but one that is also considered by some—including the Canadian Mental Health Association—a mental illness. Like depression and anxiety, ADHD is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, specifically neurotransmitters.
And I’ll be honest, there are days that I can’t believe that. There are days that I see attention deficit disorder as a blessing or a gift or whatever cheesy, cliche thing people say and how could that be a mental illness? How could it be something that isn’t awesome? Days that I am on my A-game, that I have witty remarks that come out the right way, and that words just fly out onto the page in front of me, and days that my energy is exploding out of me in a way that actually feels good.
Except, more often, there’s the flip side to ADHD. The self-doubt, the feeling that I can’t do things right because I have failed to meet expectations so many times, the times I cannot focus enough to figure out the simplest of things—or even when I can focus, there is information my brain simply can’t process. There are the times that not only can I not understand why I am reacting to things the way I am, but also that it is a tidal wave: my feelings just crash over me and I can’t figure out how to just stop this and react how I know is “normal”. It helps—a bit—knowing that this is common for kids and adults with ADHD alike, that we legitimately feel things more intensely and for longer than other people do . But it only helps after the fact. There are the times I hyperfocus and fail to get anything done that I actually need done and only let myself down; others that I again feel like I’ve failed someone else. The words “I forgot,” or “I’m sorry,” are not less true when they come out of my mouth: I mean it. But I get it: it’s hard to accept, again, when you’ve heard it before, because it looks like carelessness. I don’t blame my ADHD—I blame myself, because ADHD and I coexist. I am not my diagnosis, but I cannot separate from it, either. ADHD isn’t just about academics: it’s about life. And it sucks when your failures or shortcomings are not for lack of trying, they are just because my brain is not wired that way.
But here’s the thing. It’s so much better than it was. It’s better knowing that there is a reason why some things are like they are. ADHD is not an excuse, but it is an explanation, if even just for myself sometimes. It’s better knowing how to figure out strategies that work rather than just feeling like I’m stupid. It’s better knowing that this is how I am wired, and that is okay.
My first appointment with my psychiatrist back in 2013, she did not say it but she clearly made a note that I appeared anxious. I started medication for ADHD the next day. When I met her again a month later, early in the appointment she commented that I seemed less anxious even just on a very low dose of Concerta, and asked if I had felt anxious before. I told her that I hadn’t, but that things just “felt better” inside me. It was hard to describe—she understood. Every appointment I have seen my psychiatrist she actually asks about side effects. She asks how things are going. She asks how my mood is. Every time. Because she knows the statistics.
Research states people with ADHD are at increased risk for mental health issues: nearly half of people will experience an anxiety disorder, well over a third will deal with a mood disorder like depression, and 15% will develop a substance-use disorder.  However, if ADHD is managed correctly, be it through whichever combination of exercise and therapy and medication and eating well-ish, these things can either be caught early and treated early—maybe even be prevented. Maybe.
I am fortunate, I do not currently have any co-existing mental health concerns. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t, won’t or can’t happen.
ADHD medication doesn’t give a person with ADHD any special ability to concentrate. I probably still focus less well than most non-ADHDers on 72 mg of Concerta a day. I don’t know because I’ve never had a non-ADHD brain. But do I feel better? Yes. Even though all of the above that I still struggle with. Part of it is because of medicine, but part of it is simply knowing what I am working with, knowing that other people experience this, knowing other people get me.
Now, don’t shut up just because Bell does.
Because we need this conversation. And we need the conversation to go further: to ensure mental health care is easily accessible—and affordable—for all Canadians. To make therapy with high-quality therapists affordable and accessible*. To ensure that services are available on demand, when people need them—weeks, or months, or years later. As a Canadian, healthcare for your body comes with the package—its a right. But care for your brain? It’s still on the table. (Which is closer than it’s been for a long time.) Stories are important, but so is access to care.
We need this conversation because we need every Canadian to feel confident they can be supported when they choose to share what they are facing.
Because my diagnosis is NOT about whether or not you believe it exists or not. It exists.
And we are living, breathing, singing, dancing proof that WE EXIST.
*Affordable and accessible therapy, to me, means to make therapy that is not income dependent or not something that is dependent on (awesome) charitable organizations like Aulneau, or educational institutions like the University of Manitoba Psych Services Centre. I’m uninsured, and if I can’t afford insurance, I can’t afford a $150 an hour therapist: which doesn’t mean that I should (or in some cases can) just wait longer.