Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rear-view Mirror

I can recall going through "down" periods even as a very young early as 3 years old. My parents would see that I was very quiet and somber and often ask me, "What's the matter?" I didn't have the ability at that age to articulate it. I would not be able to convey much more than, "I don't know...I just feel sad." I was also (and still am to a large extent) very shy. As long as I can remember, I've mostly felt out of place...that I don't belong. More often than not, I feel uncomfortable unless in familiar surroundings and around people with whom I am close and have grown to trust.

This was problematic as the son of a Marine Corps aviator. Our family moved a lot when I was very young, as he was transferred cross-country for different assignments. At 2, we moved from Monterrey CA to Virginia Beach, VA. At age 5 we moved to Irvine, CA. At age 8, we moved back to Virginia Beach. I can only assume that having these moves occur during my developmental years has manifested itself in my personality traits. My natural shyness had to be overcome since I found myself in new places trying to make new friends so often. I compensated by acting out... getting into trouble... attracting attention to myself. I became the class clown. All throughout elementary and high school and even into later years, I would seek out mischief despite a mostly disciplined upbringing: A continuation of this learned behavior. But throughout it all, those periods of unfocused sadness would still come around. I remember one fall being so out of it that I completely forgot I was on a baseball team. I only remembered when I opened a seldom used drawer and saw the uniform there... brand new.

Exhibiting signs of manic-depression did not prompt my parents to seek any sort of psychological counseling that I can recall. And that wasn't abnormal. We were raised in a different time by parents that both came from a more traditional background. The kind where if you have a problem you just "deal with it". I think it was still a time when people were afraid to go to a shrink lest everyone hear about it and start rumors that they were insane. Not many people were really aware or educated about attention deficit disorder until I was already in college. Even then it carried a negative stigma with it... perpetuated by people like my parents. We would see a story on the news about it, and my parents would say something along the lines of "That's the problem with America these days. Everyone is making excuses for themselves. No one wants to work to solve their problems, so they just medicate their children..." and so on and so forth. What they said made sense to me. After all, there were high incidences of mis-diagnosis and abuse of the prescription medications. I remember automatically thinking ill of people I met that took meds to cope with what I had been taught were imaginary illnesses. I thought that they were "just lazy", and that taking Ritalin was a cop out. Perhaps it was this disdain that allowed me to ignore the attention deficit, manic-depressive, and obsessive-compulsive traits that I had exhibited throughout my entire life.

It wasn't until I was in my late 20's that I began to think maybe there was something abnormal about the way my brain worked. At work I found myself unable to stay with a task for more than minutes at a time. I would start multiple projects before finishing others as a way to constantly keep busy yet never be working on the same thing for too long. Some people even mentioned that they believed I might have ADHD. At first I just dismissed it... figuring they were too quick to put labels on things. Then I began to educate myself on the subject. I began to think that maybe I had some related condition.. some sort of "adult onset" version...since I couldn't recall having these problems when I was young. As I continued to educate myself about the condition, I realized the signs have been present all along... it just had't been enough of an obstacle for me to really examine closely it until now. One by one, memories of situations from my past came back to me, and all the pieces began to fall into place. I was 30 years old when I had this moment of realization. I was somewhat disappointed that it had taken me this long to stop and take the time to much more closely examine myself. A long period of introspection followed that continues today and throughout the rest of my foreseeable life. There have been countless revelations, epiphanies, setbacks and complications. It wasn't until I was 32 that I finally sought out professional help. There was no level of ambiguity in the eyes of my physician. His diagnosis was fairly emphatic. ADHD with associative symptoms of manic-depression and OCD. These disorders are the result of chemical deficiencies in my brain...something that has been present since birth. I combat these issues now using a combination of psychotherapy and medication... of which the "cocktail" is till being fine-tuned.

The improvement to my overall quality of life has been dramatic. I liken it to a paraplegic finally obtaining the use of a wheelchair rather than dragging himself across the floor. So many things continue to be explained and corrected... And while the differences in some areas of my life are like night and day... there are others that will improve more slowly. I will continue to take time to work on these things. But, its like having painted a mural in the dark for so long, and finally having the light turned on.

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