What it was like, What happened, then what it was like for a while

What it was like

In 1994, I was in the best physical condition of my life. Lean, aerobically fit, and reasonably limber. I had 5 years of sobriety and a solid recovery network of people I helped, and people who helped me.

I had gone back to finish an interrupted undergraduate degree, and made the Dean’s list with excellent grades. My biggest problem was that I needed to make a career change. Financial sector underling work had paid my tuition and rent for a few years, and grateful as I was, I also knew I had no real interest in that work. Also, I had recklessly taken on third shift work, totally underestimating its toll on my mental health. I quit without a plan, and now my sleep and dietary cycles were melted down.

I cast about for a few years, breaking into film production work in Chicago, only to realize that I had not studied the technical aspects enough to go far on a crew, but I also lacked enough focus to produce my own projects in a way that would provide me a living.

Despite my ability to talk my way into a job, I was unable to focus on any task long enough to complete work. The sleep disruption rippled through my mental and physical health, and I did not know how to break out of the pattern.

But with no idea of what was wrong, I soldiered on, ignoring background suspicions that I had inherited my father’s BiPolar condition. 

What happened

A friend suggested I be evaluated for ADHD, and I was diagnosed: ADHD – mixed Hyperactive and Distractible. I was given SSRIs for anxiety, and the first night on the medication I slept better than I could remember. 

Coincidentally, during my video work, I had researched this new emerging phenomenon called the Internet, I stumbled into work as a technical writer. 

The feelings of relief from getting paid work I was actually good at combined with the exculpatory lightness from the diagnosis into a cocktail of joy. I was not morally unfit! I was not a loser! I was not doomed to perpetual distraction!

This joy and relief was so strong, that after reading most of Halliwell’s excellent book Driven to Distraction, I pretty much stopped learning about the disorder. Apart from taking meds, I coasted. When the SSRIs made me lethargic and nauseated, I just told my doctor I needed to try a different one. This went on for 10 years, and eventually I realized the only thing I was getting was side effects.

A pattern developed at work: I would get bored after a year or two on a job, and then switch to another one. I thought nothing of this at the time. Lots of people moved around in tech. Also, I felt the energy drain away from my work, my body, my mind. I did not look into this. I tried to survive it.

What it was like for a while

At some point, I went off the meds. Once I got past the SSRI sick (10 days) my career began to take off in new directions. I was promoted twice in rapid succession.

After ditching the SSRIs, I began to doubt that I had ever been ADHD in the first place. I figured I had just been run down, and the initial meds helped me sleep.

But two things changed: I became a dad, and then a few years later I got promoted to a leadership role.

Where I had been able to make up for my inefficient use of time by ballooning out my hours to catch up periodically, now I had to get home from work to help give my wife some help. Also, I had no life skills to contribute to the family – budgeting, fi\xing things, proactively planning for the future. These all fell to my wife. This burned her out, created stress, and baffled me. Then I had less energy to devote to figuring out how to grow my career.

Most of all, the personal dimension of leadership caught me by surprise. Having read not one thing about what leadership is, I wrongly assumed I could just keep going my best at my main job, and occasionally give tips to the other folks on my team.

All these changes combined to make demands on my skills that I did not know I was unable to meet.

The result: I crashed and burned at work, first slowly, then rapidly. And our marriage became a painful series of battles, apologies, and resolutions to do better, try harder, be better.

Next: Diagnoses #2

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