I remember the day I finally went to see someone for help. I was 19, a college sophomore and slipping into the tangled soup of chronic depression. When I heard the doctor pronounce the words, something inside me shifted. Not like an avalanche, rather like shoving a massive boulder a short inch. But enough to notice the change.
I told the college counselor that I had already begun to feel better.
“That’s normal, and great news. When we can put a name on it, we can tackle it,” she told me.
She was right. When we call the pain or the struggle or the heartache out into the light of day, bring it from the far reaches of our tender hearts, and hold it up for examination, we can often feel as if the pain or struggle or heartache has shrunk, become malleable, puny, even.
When the teachers suggested we take her in for testing, I humored them. A mother knows her child, and I knew this kid was just bored. She just needed a challenge. They needed to get off my case and give her harder work to do. I watched her. I knew her. She could sit for hours and paint or read. She often studied her books until she had the dialogue memorized. That’s not ADD, I told myself, as if I knew anything.
So I rolled my eyes and answered the questionaire. I rolled my eyes and answered the doctor’s questions. I rolled my eyes and asked teachers to evaluate her.
Then the doctor pronounced the words. ADHD.
I was susprised. And chastened. And confused. And at the beginning of a very long set of new standards and ideas. I had a name for it, but I didn’t believe. Furthermore, it was not my diagnosis, but my child’s. I could not work my way into her brain and produce the right chemicals. I could not wave a wand and make it go away.
In the first case, a diagnosis was a relief. I was an adult. It was my issue and I knew I could make a plan to overcome.
In my daughter’s case, I felt stranded and alone and confused. Much of what is written, or had been written at the time, was written about boys. Very little of what I read sounded at all like my child. in addition, my friends whose kids had ADHD (all boys) saw near immediate relief with medicine and therapy. That was far from our experience.
I thought the diagnosis would appease them. I had thought, if she does have ADHD, we’ll be able to name it, and bring it out into the light, and to make it smaller. And that’s partly true. But there was no relief. There was no immediate empathy or understanding. There was no guide. There was just this beautiful, amazing girl, and her lost mother.
The diagnosis is the beginning because only then can we confront it. We begin with the diagnosis so we can find the information we need. Often, we must keep digging when those around us found their answers with a simple scratch in the dirt. We begin her because where else can we begin? The diagnosis is not an end, is what I’m trying to say. It is merely one part of a complicated puzzle that seems to keep changing even as we piece it together. But it is a start.
If you suspect you or your child has ADHD, or a similar “disorder,” (the medical term), seek a trained professional, because though it’s daunting, its a better place to start than in the dark.