I am not your stereotype. People often have a preconceived notion of what Attention Deficit Disorder looks like. They imagine little children running around like wild animals, having temper tantrums, not paying attention, lacking the desire to learn. When I explain that the scene they imagine isn’t anything like my life, they don’t believe me. Possibly they imagine me running around my house when I get out of work like a madwoman—arms flailing, jumping from sofa cushion to sofa cushion. (I don’t have the energy.) They assume my house is in shambles—dirty dishes in the bathtub, car keys in the freezer, dog food on the nightstand. (It can get disorganized, but nothing like that.)
ADD manifests in people differently, although the term suggests a problem with attention, mine is with memory. I can’t remember what I am thinking. I can’t recall what I should be doing, or what my priorities are. I could tell you what I was wearing on Columbus Day in seventh grade when Jason Almeida asked me to be his girlfriend—light blue, ripped jeans and a periwinkle baby-tee with a pink heart sewn on the chest—but I can’t figure out what training I attended yesterday at work, or, mid-conversation, I may have to stop and ask the person I’m speaking with what point I was trying to make.
I can’t remember whether I fed my dog, so I feed her again. I can’t remember whether I returned a friend’s call, so I call again. I can’t remember whatever it is I am trying to remember. This means that bills are never paid, tasks are not completed at work, and people feel neglected. I forget friends’ birthdays; I forget to put gasoline in my car. The alarm doesn’t go off because I didn’t set it, and I wake up late for work. Once I am already on my way, I realize the tank is empty, and I need to turn off the highway and stop at a gas station so that I don’t end up on the side of the road, with the lever resting on empty. My life is a constant struggle of trying to remember things that I do not even realize I forgot.
My life is a constant struggle of trying to remember things that I do not even realize I forgot.
I know I have the ability to find my thoughts. I just can’t figure out how. The thoughts are lost, and I always feel like I’m bordering on panic. It’s similar to losing a piece of jewelry while swimming in the ocean. You had the ring on your finger, yet when you emerge from the waves, your hand is bare. You didn’t even feel the metal slip away while you let your hands crash into the waves and move your body along the water. Like my thoughts, the ring can’t be found. You know where they both are—the ring sinking somewhere in the ocean, my thoughts trapped somewhere in my brain.
Sometimes I see the glint of a thought in the murk, so I push deeper, concentrate harder. This is what it feels like most of the time. Forgetting something, pausing to remember what it is I’m trying to recall, the sudden feeling that I might be headed in the right direction, but unsure of the exact location. Forging through, I spend much of my day in limbo. There are moments of clarity, times of unknowing, but between the two, I sort of float in the indeterminate state of uncertainty. A constant reminder that I am misplaced.
When my thoughts are not lost, they are unpredictable, and I’m unable to grab at them. When I was depressed a few years ago, this was much worse. It was like an amusement park ride, the merry-go-round, where thoughts circle around and around and around. I try to keep my eye on just one horse, but it rides away, blends into the others. Almost being able to reap the reward, but never being prepared enough to get the prize.
I am supposed to remember to take my medication. After two years of missing doses, I’ve finally started to remember to take the pills every morning. Before, I only took them every two days, or once in the morning and the next day in the evening. Never with enough regularity to make the medication work.
I complain about not being able to think and having jumbled thoughts, but I have the opportunity to do something to make myself better, and I don’t do it. I won’t feel better if I don’t take the medication, but if the medication wears off, I just don’t remember that I need more.
Most people might envision a simple solution: Remember to take the medication. They might suggest I find some way to set up a reminder system that will force me to take my medication. That, in fact, is correct. I need to set up a foolproof system that forces me to take my medication. I have tried putting my pills on my sink so that I take them when I brush my teeth in the morning. I forget, or I knock them down the drain by accident. I have tried taping them to my calendar. I forget to look, or it takes me a minute to figure out what day it is, and by the time I’ve sorted that out, I can’t remember why I am staring at the calendar. I send myself automatic emails at work: “TAKE YOUR DAMN MEDS, ERIN!!!!!!!!!” That worked for the first week. Then I forgot to keep sending the emails.
I used to be opposed to taking medication, especially because Attention Deficit Disorder is medicated with controlled substances. I grew up believing I could handle all of my problems without any outside help. To be unable to handle thinking makes me feel like a failure. Failing and forgetting do not make for a successful brain.
Even now, when I can feel the effects of the medication, I’m still ashamed. Prescriptions for controlled substances can only be dispensed in thirty-day sets, so every month, I need to contact my doctor and ask for a refill. Then, I need to pick up the prescription from her office, which is twenty minutes away, and travel the twenty minutes back to my hometown pharmacy. I need to wait in line, have all the documents ready before it’s my turn. I need to present a form of photo identification. The pharmacy clerk takes my ID, looks at me, looks at my prescription, and looks back at the ID before writing my birthday and license number on the prescription.
There is always a second glance. Once, while handing over my ID, the pharmacy clerk told me that his daughter takes the same medication. He asked me whether I have a boy or girl, and then he realized the name on my ID is the same name on the prescription.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t have assumed. You just look so professional and, well…,” he says, stammering, “you just don’t look like you’d need this.” I’m not quite sure how to take his comment. Do professional people not need medication? And if they don’t, does that make me less of a professional? And if, because I rely on a medication to help me stay focused, and I’m viewed as less than professional, who am I? I wish I’d asked him.
I tend to fill my prescriptions on Saturday nights, after I leave my second job, where I work as a psychiatric case manager for adults with mood and personality disorders. I’m exhausted because by this point, I’ve been working every day without a single day off in weeks. I’ve driven the forty-five-minute trip home; it’s almost midnight. I need to be back at work by 8:00 am, which means I need to leave the house by 7:00. I want to get in and out of the pharmacy as quickly as possible. At this point, I’m lucky if I’ll sleep five and a half hours. More than likely, I’ll only have four or five.
I usually see the same pharmacist every month. He’s an older man, and he’s always busy when I show up, but he stops what he is doing as soon as he sees me and always fills my order in less than ten minutes. He’s nice, always makes me smile, and remembers my name.
My mother tells me he used to be friendly with my father. The next time I see Bruce—whether that’s his real name or not, I can’t be sure, but that’s what I’ve taken to calling him—I wonder what he thinks when he fills my orders. As a pharmacist, you know all of the medication prescribed to every member of a family, but you don’t have access to any of their medical records. You don’t know whether Wellbutrin is prescribed as a method to help someone quit smoking or to alleviate their depression. You don’t know why a person needs the medication you are preparing for them. You can only speculate. Now that I know Bruce knows my father, I wonder about him. I wonder if he’s only been nice to me because he is familiar with my family or because I’ve actually developed a rapport with him. I wonder if he knows my name because I stop and talk to him whenever I’m in the store or because he sees Corriveau on the prescription and remembers who my father is. I wonder if he ever looked at my prescription history and thought, Wow, what the hell went wrong with her?
I want to ask him how he remembers this, but I don’t.
Either way, Bruce does his job well. Recently, my doctor changed my medication from the capsule to the pill form. Before he even looked at the computer, Bruce asked me if there was a change. “I thought you got the suspended release not the long-acting,” he says before I walk over to the seating area. I want to ask him how he remembers this, but I don’t. I just smile and tell him that yes, a change was made, and thank him for being so cognizant.
* * *
I don’t realize how much I appreciate Bruce until he isn’t there one late Saturday night. Traffic is heavy, so I don’t arrive at CVS until about 11:55 pm. I don’t look as presentable as usual. I haven’t put on any makeup that day. I am more tired and worn out than usual. One of my clients was suicidal today, and I spent the entire night talking to him about what was bothering him, making him sign a safety contract, taking away all the possible tools he could use to hurt himself out of his apartment. These included: all knives, forks, letter openers, any rope or twine, his belts including the one on his robe, can openers (in case he opened a can of tuna and used the serrated top to cut himself), razors, plastic bags, duct tape, car keys, medications, light bulbs, bottles of house cleaner. It would have been much easier to just lock him out of his apartment than to take almost everything out of it. Fortunately, nothing happened. From the way he was talking, I suspect his suicidal claims were just a behavioral outburst, his way of searching for attention. But I’m not a mind reader, and I didn’t know what he was thinking. If he tells me he is feeling suicidal, I am not going to question him; I’ll trust those words. By the time I arrive at the pharmacy, I am tired, physically and emotionally. I want to sleep. I don’t want to have to go back to work in the morning.
There is no one in the pharmacy section of CVS besides the pharmacist and me. He looks flustered, we make eye contact, and I decide to just wait patiently at the drop-off station. Two minutes go pass.
“I’m busy,” he shouts, with his back turned to me. I don’t quite know how to respond, as I never expected him to say this. Should I just turn around and leave? Stand there silent or begin an argument? A moment later he turns and says, “Oh, you’re still there?”
He grunts and, with much exaggeration, stops what he is doing, and drags his feet over to the drop-off window. “Yes?” he asks, looking at me. I already have the prescription and my identification in front of me. I push them closer to him.
“I just need one prescription filled,” I say to him. He pushes my ID back to me.
“What are you giving this to me for?” he asks, and I start to second guess myself. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you don’t need to provide an ID when you drop off a prescription for a controlled substance, just when you pick it up. I put it back in my wallet. “Ritalin!” he exclaims, “I’m not filling this now, sweetheart.”
“Excuse me,” I ask him. “Why can’t you fill my order?”
“Oh, so now you’re getting sassy with me, aren’t you? Waited until the middle of the night to fill these controlled meds, and now you just want me to stop everything I’m doing because it suits your needs.” He waves his hands in the air as he says this, and I have a hard time not laughing because he reminds me of one of my clients who circles his hands in front of himself when he’s nervous.
I know there are a lot of rules about filling controlled substances, but I’ve been here before at this time of night. That can’t be why he doesn’t want to fill my meds.
Yes, I think, I do expect you to stop whatever you are doing behind the counter and fill my medication. For all the years I’ve taken anything, be it birth control or antibiotics, I’ve always had the order completed while I wait. It’s like going to a restaurant and having a waitress confront you about your interest in food. He is a pharmacist. It’s not like I showed up at his house at 1:00 am, a drug-sick little puppy looking for my next fix.
I don’t have the patience to argue with this man or even converse with him any longer.
“Is Bruce working tonight?” I ask, hoping he’s just taking a break, that I can wander the store until he returns and helps me.
“Listen, sweetheart. I’m here to help you, and like I said, I don’t have time to be filling your drugs right now.” He emphasizes the word drugs. “You can come and pick it up tomorrow, maybe.”
I’m furious with his ignorance, yet too tired and frustrated to even come up with a response. I stand there and stare. He shifts his feet. Fidgets with my prescription paper, and looks away from me, then back at me, away again, and finally says, “What do you want from me?”
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and when I open them, his brows are furrowed, slanted toward his eyes in irritation. I think for a minute about how my grandmother used to tell me that my face would permanently be stuck like that when I pouted as a child. I imagine this man’s face being stuck like that, and how he’d interact with people in happy situations like weddings and births if he always looked like he was so miserable. Then I started thinking about the women who have so much Botox that their faces retain a look of excitement for days afterward. Their skin is so taught that they always look youthful and excited. Even now, my ADD distracts me.
“Here is what you are going to do,” I start. “You are going to look up my insurance information in the computer. Next, you will put in this current prescription. As soon as it is approved, you are going to go behind that counter over there, and count out thirty pills. When you’re done, you will put them in a little bottle, place my identifying label on the bottle, and then I will meet you over there by that counter with those registers, and I will pay you my $30 copayment. Understand?”
He looks at me, blinks his eyes once—twice maybe—and then backs away, goes to the computer, and begins entering the information necessary to fill my prescription.
I’m proud, I realize as I sit in the waiting area. I never stick up for myself. Always too shy to create conflict, I let others have their way and shove my needs further back until they are unrecognizable.
“Don’t expect me to get this quickly,” the pharmacist says, interrupting my thoughts.
I close my eyes again, take another deep breath. I’m zoning out, not paying attention at this point, because with ADD, you either make the choice to obsess about the little details you have available to you—the irritating, rude man, the way his voice sounds when he says the words drug and Ritalin—or you fall into a vapid void of thoughtlessness. I’m in the void now; it’s safer there. If I were to obsess any more, I’d be more miserable.
Some time goes by, and I notice the pharmacist laughing, talking to the man who is leaning against the counter where I stood moments ago. “Those Yankees are going to do it this year, I’m telling you. I’d put a thousand dollars on the Yankees winning the series.”
Now, it is one thing for a person to have no customer-service skills. I can handle that, even if it drives me crazy. It’s another thing to stand there joking and gossiping with a stranger while blatantly making me wait. And to do so while celebrating the New York Yankees? That is crossing the line. I refuse to sit, being purposely forgotten, while an ignorant, rude man roots for my Red Sox’s arch nemesis. I will not stand by and watch this happen.
I rise from my seat and walk with serious intention over to the cash registers. There is a clock behind the register that wasn’t in my view when I was sitting down. 12:39 am. It has almost been an entire hour since I stepped foot in this building. All I need are thirty pills. Thirty pills. That’s almost two whole minutes that could be dedicated toward putting each single pill into a container. Two damned minutes for each pill, and he has not even stepped away from his counter to begin counting.
“Excuse me,” I say, interrupting their conversation. I begin my rant. “I have been here for almost an hour waiting for you to do the job you are paid to do. You have berated me and broken HIPAA regulations by shouting out my medication. If I do not have my pills in my hand in five minutes, there will be consequences.”
I want to smash this man’s head against the counter a few times. I want to watch it bounce like a basketball against the floor, but I just stand there.
“Listen, sugar,” he begins. Sugar? Honey? Sweetheart? Not only is he violating medical record laws, he’s bordering on sexual harassment.
He continues, “If you don’t stop your violence, I’m going to call security.” I actually turn around and look behind me. Violence? Was someone behind me threatening this man? I might be direct with my words, but I’m a five-one petite, blonde girl dressed in work clothes. I’m exhausted, and my body language reflects my fatigue. I don’t look threatening.
Mr. Pharmacy Jerk continues, looking at me, “I can see why you need these drugs, sweetheart. You’ve got no patience. You can’t wait five minutes for me to talk to another man while you sit in your little chair. You’ll never make it in the real world.”
I miss Bruce.
Sometimes I wonder if I can stop the medication. I don’t like knowing I will be reliant on a substance my whole life simply to function. Even though I take the meds, there are still life skills I need to practice.
Sometimes I wonder if I can stop the medication.
I rewrite lists. Over and over again. There are many reasons I do this. I do it because if I don’t keep looking at the list, I will forget what it is I need to accomplish. I do it because once I start crossing items off of the list, it starts to look messy, and I don’t like to look at a messy list. My life needs to look clean and organized in order for me to feel clean and organized. So when the overwhelming list starts to look disordered, it blocks me. I feel like I can’t control it, and instead of pushing ahead full stream, I retreat. Because that is what I do when my brain feels overwhelmed—I make the conscious decision to retreat even farther.
So I make my lists and then I remake them. And then I make them again. I do this because list making has been consistent in my life. It might fail me here and there when my brain retreats, but in terms of consistency, I’ve always been able to rely on my lists. They’ve been with me since before I even considered ADD as a possible diagnosis. They’ve been with me for as long as I remember. College, definitely. High school, yes. I spent more time writing notes to my girlfriends and boyfriends than actually list making, but it was the same type of distraction. I listened with my brain in class as much as I could without feeling overwhelmed and then utilize the rest of my brain to creatively distract. If I stay attentive and distracted at the same time, I succeed. I take in the information that’s being given to me, and I release the information that’s bugging me.
Each of my notebooks has much more in it than class notes. My blank pages are covered with shopping lists and reminders and drawings of tattoos I might want in the future and directions to the closest gas station. I need to take the time to write the random thoughts floating in my head. I do this to make more room for the lessons.
I’m known for being a great note-taker, which is partially true. Even though only about six-tenths of my focus in class is on the lesson, I’d never succeed if I didn’t try to write everything down. It can be a bit of double processing, but as my boss says when she wants me to increase my documentation, “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.” This is especially important when it comes to my lists.
Tasks that seem ridiculously simple for some people to remember will not get done unless I create a to-do list. If “take out the trash” isn’t written down, the full bags will sit in the bathroom and the kitchen. The same goes for laundry. If I don’t write down that I need to wash and dry my clothes, I am not going to do it until I am completely out of every last outfit. This could be why I own so much clothing. I will be in the bathroom and notice the full trash bag every time I sit down on the toilet. And, yes, I will realize I’m running out of underwear, but, no, I will not be motivated to act unless it’s an item I can cross off a sheet of paper.
Welcome to the world of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.
It is a disease of piles. Everything in my life is a problem with accumulation. Physical piles, including laundry on my floor, bills on my desk, photos on the coffee table, empty packets of Sour Patch Kids and plastic bottles on the floor of my SUV. There are piles everywhere I turn. One trick that does not work for me is writing notes on Post-Its or scraps of paper—another accumulated stack. The notes disappear. Not all, but some. Some notes that were supposed to go together become separated, and while one note says, “Call the insurance company and get rental coverage added to your policy,” makes sense, I can’t call if I lose the other sticky that has the number written on it.
You might think I could just look up the phone number on the internet or call 411 for information, but I can’t, because I don’t remember the name of my car-insurance carrier, the same place that has insured me for the past decade. I try the internet, even though I have no clue what I’m looking for. I type in “insurance company, Fall River, MA” and see a list of possible agencies. Almeida Insurance sounds familiar, until I look at the address and realize the only reason the name sounds right is because it is down the street from my house, and I pass it on my way to work—not because I am their customer. I think to look at the addresses on the Google list in order to find my agency. I know it is off of Eastern Avenue because it’s also close to my house, and I used to order Italian grinders from the diner across the street. I scan through the list, but there are no insurance companies listed on Eastern Avenue.
This does not make sense. I can picture the building. It’s on Eastern Avenue. Wait, it’s on the corner of Eastern Ave. What is the name of the other street? I scan the list of address again. Many of the streets sound familiar. I’ve lived in this city almost my entire life; all the streets are familiar, I just don’t know which one is correct. I spend more than an hour looking at the list, clicking through all the websites, trying to sleuth my way to an answer. I call 411, ask the operator if she knows what insurance company is on the corner of Eastern Avenue in Fall River, Massachusetts. After I hang up the phone, without any more clues, I can’t remember why I need to call the insurance company. I go to a meeting, but I’m distracted the whole time, thinking about my insurance company. The next day, I’m looking at my computer screen trying to figure out what number is on the Post-It I taped to the screen yesterday. It’s my insurance company: Lapointe Insurance.
Now, if I could only remember why I wanted to call them.