Life, Death, & Ritalin

Today I realised the last time I wrote and published a blog was October 2022. It’s been a while!

From about 2018 through until Oct 2022 I wrote continuously – sharing ideas, experiences and knowledge.

Then I just stopped.

Weirdly, part of the reason I started writing was connected to my ASD diagnosis in 2018. There was so much to explore, and share, with working in the tech space and supporting general awareness and inclusion. This was at the time partly triggered by Microsoft providing me a platform to present and share, along with the few years I spent in the MVP Program. It was also connected to my passion and support for driving awareness and inclusion in general.
While the blogging was partly triggered by diagnosis, it’s strange to think that the reason I stopped was also related diagnosis.

In that last October 2022 blog I wrote about ADHD, which was partly to do with things I had learnt over time as the partner of a man with ADHD, the parent of 2 kids with ADHD, along with being someone going through my own assessment.

Realising that I haven’t published a blog in that long isn’t a surprise as I know I have been quiet. This quiet phase has been on my mind along with what happened, why it’s been so long, and also how to come out of it.
I’ve pondered it occasionally, then parked the thought of writing and stayed in my cave. It wasn’t until a friend at Microsoft recently asked me about it, along with commenting “I’d love you to write about death, grief and ADHD, if you’re ready” that I really started to think about what had been going on.

Why would I write about something so personal? Well… I’ve thought about the occasional post relating to the work I’ve been doing, but it felt odd to pop-up online after so long without some reflection before moving forward. And of course if sharing helps anyone, in any way, that’s reason enough.

LIFE

What can I say… Life. It’s busy, fast-paced, and can be overwhelming at times. Even more so for a mum of neurodivergent kids who has her own sensory issues and stressors.

My life always had forward motion. Momentum.

I was working hard and enjoying moving up the corporate ladder while raising young kids and always on the go. Until a pandemic happened. But let’s not dwell on that!

That wasn’t the hardest bit.

We pivoted. We home-schooled. We kept going.

Somewhere between 2017 and 2023 there were multiple diagnostic assessments of the kids, my spouse, and myself. We’ve taken time to understand diagnosis. We’ve read the books, watched the YouTube content, worked with the Occupational Therapist, Psychologists, and tried to be the best parents we can. And I think we’ve done pretty well.

Life did get a bit much, so I shifted priorities and made some big career decisions. At some point through 2020 – 2022 I gradually decided I wanted things to change.

It’s not entirely clear when this started to shift but somewhere in those couple of years, along with being a parent, I also became a carer for my aging mother. To be fair, co-carer with my older brother.

And over time this became increasingly difficult and emotional.

While I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s not my story to share in detail, what I will say is that I spent the last few years trying to support someone slipping back into the depths of alcoholism. A person who beat their demons and stayed sober for over 20 years, disappeared back into addiction.

It’s so complex and deeply sad. And is the real reason I went quiet, even if I didn’t realise at the time.

Even sitting here at my computer right now I pause on what to say next. To dive into that dark pit means swimming in the horrible thoughts and memories. I avoid going into that locked chamber, that box I put on a high shelf that I don’t like to reopen.

The simple response here is my life became really difficult. I travelled back to my home town often throughout the last few years. At times staying for a number of days to do whatever I could to care for mum, hoping that with love and support we’d get our mum back. Over and over we put so much time and emotional energy into whatever we thought might help her turn a corner, to then be disappointed by how her addiction had such a strong hold driving lies and manipulation.

The more she fell, the more she stopped hiding or caring that we could see the addiction taking over. With this going on I struggled to keep myself ok. And with that I became very aware of the feelings of this 8-10 year old girl (deep inside me) who all those years ago was scared of the person who was supposed to keep her safe.

I had nightmares return. I couldn’t drive by my childhood home and turn to look at it anymore. And I struggled to look my mum in the eye when I would go see her.
Sadly, she knew. Her last words to me were “Meg, I’m sorry”.

The best way to be who I could for my kids and continue in this difficult phase was to strip back life, shut down a bit and just focus on my home life. And try to find moments of joy and gratitude.

DEATH WATCH

When a person shows no sign of wanting to change it’s so hard to know what to do. Especially when you just wish you could have them back. The old them.

I didn’t have any clue how to help my mum. I wasn’t equipped for what played out over the last few years.

And, I have a feeling my AuDHD made things more difficult, as I struggled on other levels to understand and cope.

Firstly, just not understanding why someone would do that to themselves, over and over. I just wanted her to stop.

When your children stand there in tears trying to convince you to go to rehab, you feel like the intervention style conversation will make a difference… that’s what happens in Hollywood movies!

Looking back I think it triggered RSD in me at times – Rejection Sensitivity Disphoria. I mean, surely we are worth living for. I know that sounds self-centred, and boy it did when I was living it. I just thought her wonderful grandkids and family around her were worth sobering up to be around and have in her life. It took time for me to try and understand the darkness and demons at play, and understand addiction on any level.

As time progressed we knew it wasn’t changing and I lost hope. To be honest this was when I started grieving – while she was still living.

All of this was dark and deeply emotional and I just had to survive. I had to get up each day, give any smile I could muster to my kids as they went out the door and just focus on work and earning a living.

In the few weeks before she died there was a comment “we’re probably on death watch now” from a support worker. The reality was after several falls and a ‘shadow’ on the brain she had changed and we knew we had lost her already. Then I found a stash of pills – paranoid hoarding behaviour – and knew things were not going to get any better.

What became important through this phase for myself was emotional regulation – trying to feel all the deep feelings going on in myself, be aware of them, and be cautious of how I moved through it all. At times with stress, AuDHD, and all the chaos of work and family life it was challenging not falling into meltdown mode, depression, and losing myself to the struggle.

There were also additional struggles with myself – under the ongoing constant worry and stress I found it harder to remember things and persist with my work and maintain focus. With the brain in that survival state it was harder to maintain basic level needs and have the ability to be as productive and on-the-ball at work. Again, another reason why I gradually shut down some socials, stopped writing and being as engaged in the tech community. Home life because my escape, place to recoup and just deal with it all.

MEDICATION

Prior to the pandemic I had been prescribed Beta Blockers for occasional anxiety. I didn’t have major issues but had surges with pressure and phases of overwhelm. It helped me be good at my job, manage all the demands in life and feel ok.

As we moved deeper into the pandemic I was aware I was taking them daily, so checked in with my GP and made a decision to try ongoing anxiety medication.

What stayed on my mind was that I am not a worrier. My brain is always processing, but it’s not negative or sad. As silly as it sounds, I thought anxious people were negative and constantly going over things that had occurred or concerns about the future. That didn’t feel like me.

Flash forward 1-2 years and an ADHD diagnosis gave me a new perspective. My brain is always busy. It’s rapid-firing, and brings lots of challenges, but not necessarily worry. This diagnosis helped tremendously. I sunderstood myself much more and went off to the GP to talk medication. I wanted off the anti-anxiety medication and to take time to consider ADHD medication.

The first step was to be unmedicated for a phase. I still had the beta-blockers if there was a surge of overwhelm that I wanted help with, but I also wanted to get to know myself taking into account new knowledge of ADHD and what was actually going on.

I spent a year just working, reading, feeling, and living. I explored new awareness of self, and tried a few shifts in habits like reviewing caffeine and sugar intake, basic sleep hygiene, and questioned my relationship with alcohol. Then in Feb this year I started Ritalin.

TODAY

As I sit here, I feel very fortunate. Why? To have the resources and opportunity to have a diagnostic assessment and option of medication. Many people have felt the impact of the ADHD medication shortage and had a tough time. Thankfully Ritalin wasn’t in short supply.

I’m not anxious. And, my brain has calmed down. Ritalin help me go from feeling like 5 TV’s were playing at once in my head, to perhaps 2, or even sometimes just 1.
I can breathe, focus deeply and feel more in control of my energy and what I pay attention to. I can also remember things, which has been my biggest challenge. I have struggled with working memory issues for years, the frustration that lead to an assessment in the first place.

With all of this, I am healthier. The reduction in stress hormones through my body, in constant ‘fight or flight’, has meant my organs can function normally and everything just works well. I feel so much better.

I take on things, in work or at home, and stick to them. I complete things. And I am less reactive and impulsive.

Ritalin isn’t a magic solution. I don’t now have an advantage over people nor have I become this super productive worker. It levels the playing field. It helps move from surviving to living.

Unfortunately the start of my Ritalin journey coincided with my mother’s death, in late January this year.

I was cautious about taking such a serious controlled medication at a complicated time.

Being aware of the possible side effects – like irritability – was crucial while dealing with a difficult time including planning a funeral with siblings and just moving through the grief curve in general.
In the first month I know I felt angry and more serious. It was hard to tell if it was medication, or just the impact of losing so much. There was an initial week or so with lots of headaches and fatigue, along with a daily Ritalin crash, but I stuck with it and things settled into a better general state.

There’s also the added layer of the genetics around ADHD and wonder of what her life, and issues, could have been with the opportunity for assessment, understanding, and any treatment. But that’s a chapter to close.
 

For now, I focus on myself and my immediate family. I try and move forward, learn and grow, and to be the type of parent that scared 8 year old needed. I want my kids to have a better childhood starting with the basic love and support any human deserves.
Through volunteering, writing, and back into presenting I continue to support whoever, wherever I can. Along with shifting my career into a more meaningful direction which I am loving!
Life this year is about recovering, rebuilding, finding my voice again, and most importantly finding my smile.

If you, or someone you know, may need support don’t hesitate to explore options.
Some initial Australian sites you may find useful:

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation – Alcohol and Drug Foundation (adf.org.au)

Beyond Blue | 24/7 Support for Anxiety, Depression and Suicide Prevention – Beyond Blue

Home | Al-Anon Family Groups (Australia) Pty Ltd

Take care.

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