Daily Life | Disability | IBD | Work
As long as I can remember, I have been ‘differently organized.’ In second grade, I was the kid with books, crumpled paper, and (as much as I hate to admit it) empty snack wrappers bulging out of my desk. I wasted countless hours fumbling through my desk for pencils, fresh pieces of paper, or overdue homework assignments.
As I got older and peer pressure mounted, I learned how to appear slightly more organized on the outside. I kept separate binders and folders for each class and put aside time every night to make sure everything was in its place. This was much harder than it sounds.
Soon, I became “the organized kid” in school, but my life was still far from organized. My room was always overflowing with books, clothes, stuffed animals, and various freebies. I hated living in this mess and did a regular deep cleaning of my room. I would drop everything else and become obsessive about vacuuming and whipping down every corner. For a few days, my room would be immaculate. As the weeks passed, however, my space would, once again, become inundated with junk.
In addition to struggling with organization, I silently fought poor executive functioning skills. On the surface, I was an ‘A’ student, a stressed-out perfectionist who submitted everything on time. Behind the scenes, I was a dumpster fire. I hyper-focused on some assignments while leaving others to the last minute. Panic attacks were an everyday occurrence, and I regularly lost daily essentials like my phone, wallet, ID, etc. These executive functioning challenges haunted me through college. For a long time, I blamed myself for being dumb, lazy, messy, careless, and sloppy.
Then, while seeking help for my Generalized Anxiety Disorder during my senior year of college, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (inattentive type). This diagnosis explained so many of my challenges and helped me start addressing them. I started implementing strict organization standards on myself. I began recognizing when I was hyper-focusing and trying to correct myself.
I was slowly (emphasis on slowly; there is no quick solution) making progress with my organization and executive functioning skills when life decided to throw a new curve ball my way; severe Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I was suddenly inundated with so many doctor’s appointments, procedures, medical bills, and medication schedules that my brain could not keep up.
Despite trying my best to keep my calendar up-to-date, I relied on text message reminders for all of my doctor appointments. There were one or two times that I accidentally scheduled different appointments too close to each other and needed to reschedule. Medication was also a challenge. There was one flare-up and C-Diff infection that required me to take 26 pills a day (at different times). I tried a seven day AM/PM pill container and a timer on my phone, but there were still a few occasions when I messed up the timing. I would get to the end of the day, and realize I had skipped my 2:00 PM dosage.
IBD also impacted my ability to focus in a way I had not experienced since elementary school. For years, I managed my attention issues with caffeine. As long as I had a coffee in my hand, I could sit in front of the computer and focus (to some degree). I sipped coffee from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM most days, totaling a few cups by evening. Not surprisingly, my days of chugging coffee came to an end when my gut decided to turn against me. When I am flaring, a sip of coffee is enough to send me running to the bathroom like a sprinter (it is amazing how fast an unathletic person can move when the stakes are high).
When I first cut back on coffee, my ability to focus was shot. I would sit in front of the computer to work on a paper for my master’s program and suddenly catch myself staring into space thinking about something completely random.
The work that I once loved suddenly became a stressor, triggering memories of childhood educational trauma. There was no easy solution for my attention issues. When I am not in a pouchitis flare, I nurse about half a cup of coffee a day. I am not sure if it is the caffeine itself that helps me focus or the placebo effect, but I manage to stay on task most of the time. When my pouchitis is flaring, I rely on extra water and hydration drinks like DripDrop. I also keep a fan on my desk at work and home because I find that the breeze keeps me alert.
I still find myself drifting at times, but I have gotten better at pulling myself back into the moment. On days when I am really struggling, I set my timer for twenty minutes. When the timer goes off, I check in with myself to make sure I am staying on task. After checking in, I set the timer for twenty minutes again and repeat the process.
The biggest challenge I am currently facing with my ADHD is keeping track of medical bills. I am on multiple monthly payment plans that I am struggling to juggle. As a disability services professional, I am continually developing strategies and solutions to help students address challenges like this, yet I cannot seem to help myself. Despite all of the planners and calendars and post-it note reminders, I still find myself jumping out of bed at 11:45 to make payments.
I have come a long way in managing my ADHD symptoms, but they still crush me sometimes. I cannot help but feel like a failure when I make a late payment on a medical bill, forget to schedule an important appointment, or cannot find my phone. While I do not think these feelings, rooted deeply in childhood trauma, will ever vanish completely, I am determined to keep moving forward.