ADHD And A Stroke
In 2014, I had a severe stroke that caused some paralysis on my right side. I was 54, and finally starting to not take my health for granted quite so much. I had recently switched to a diet of mostly organic food and reduced my intake of sugar and white flour. Although the stroke was quite unexpected, I couldn't be too surprised since my family has a history of heart disease. Genetics add to the risk factor , just like with ADHD, which also runs in my family. I did have a stressful job trying to keep up with my coworkers, the majority who were in their 20s and 30s. The stress likely contributed to the risk as well.
Yet, even after factoring all that, the biggest culprit was undiagnosed ADHD. People with ADHD tend to procrastinate until situations are at crisis points. Then, more often than not, we go into panic mode. Making bad choices or just ignoring our symptoms until it's too late. I actually felt I was in quite good shape, yet that was not entirely based on reality. In fact, I had hardly ever gone to a doctor in my entire adult life for checkups of any sort.
Not to say I would have done so without ADHD, however, ADHD does make it hard to stay organized. Scheduling doctor appointments and then keeping them seemed to me nearly impossible. It was just easier to wait until something forced me to go.
Six months before, I had a smaller stroke that caused no paralysis. I can still remember that stroke like it was yesterday. I was visiting my son's new home before I had to go to work at 3:30 PM. As I stood there checking out his new television, I felt like I was going to pass out, but didn't. I sat down until I felt better. I still had intended to go to work. Walking to my car I felt lethargic and had my wife drive me home. By the time I got there I was pretty sure something was wrong, but decided I'd be okay. By that evening, it was obvious something was definitely wrong. The weakness became more focused on my right side, which we now know was a sign of a stroke. My wife drove me to the emergency room. After three days and a battery of tests, I was out of intensive care and had stabilized. My wife came in for a visit and we heard the staff talking just outside the door. The lead RN was suggesting I should stay a few more days to have some more tests done before releasing me. The other three staff members were telling her that my charts looked good. They were just about to release me.
That's when that good old ADHD trait of impulsiveness kicked in big-time. Without hearing her side of the story. I immediately concluded I was ready to leave. She flat out told me if I left I could die, and I'd have to sign a release stating as much. She did her best to talk me out of it, but my mind was already made up. I signed the release and walked out of the hospital. I went back to work the next day.
I'm convinced ADHD had a role in that extremely bad decision. Dr. Russell Barkley, PhD. an internationally recognized authority on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD), lost his brother to a single car accident at age 56. Barkley believes this was due to the symptoms common to ADHD such as a risk-taking, distractibility, and impulsiveness. Ironically, Dr. Barkley had conducted studies during his career on the dangers of driving and ADHD. Unfortunately, his brother ignored all his warnings.
I was not making regular visits with my doctor, which of course, was because I kept putting it off. Six months later, I had a major stroke. The previous evening I had stayed up until around 3:30 AM working on a project. When I woke, It was difficult to get out of bed due to weakness in my legs. I assumed that I just didn't get enough sleep. I popped my head out onto the patio to say good morning to my wife, Linda. She immediately commented that I sounded drunk. I remember thinking that was strange, because I heard myself as speaking completely normal. My body grew weaker throughout the morning until it became clear we needed to go to the hospital again. this time It was a struggle to walk up the incline from the parking to the entrance. I insisted I didn't need a wheelchair. As soon as I checked into the ER, I was in a wheelchair. I was in a wheelchair for the next couple of months until I could walk with a cane.
In-hospital physical rehabilitation lasted a full month. Once again, my blood pressure was a constant threat. The doctors had a hard time finding the medication to control it. They tried several different combinations of blood pressure medication. Still nothing seemed to bring the pressure down. It reached to above 200/100, far higher than normal.
Finally they found the combination that did the trick. My blood pressure came down to just above normal levels. I could finally go home! My general practitioner had to sign a form before my release. He refused because I had not been to see him in months. I don't blame him for that reaction. Yet, if people understood ADHD more, they might have empathy with us. One more reason why I'm making this film.
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How did I survive 53 years of undiagnosed ADHD? I definitely didn’t survive unscathed. One of my saving graces was that I had a ferocious appetite for books. The structured classroom environment, with the teacher lecturing for a week, homework, and then the dreaded test never worked for me. Much of the time my brain translated the lectures into the voices of the parents from Charlie Brown.
I did learn to draw however. I got great grades in Art, Music, and Creative Writing. Had this been an art school, I would graduated with honors. This was public school, however, and that meant preparing students for “real” jobs.
Most of my early education was in the 1970s. I had never heard of ADHD and I'm pretty sure neither did any of my teachers. Instead of being screened for ADHD, my symptoms/traits were taken as lack of interest or in some cases, outright rebellion. Eventually, boy did I rebel. I realized early on, that if I was going to make anything of myself, it wasn’t going to be on their terms. Maybe some people can pull off the whole quote “me against the world” thing without the negative baggage that usually accompanies that attitude. I started to take on a boat load of that baggage. Anger, low self-esteem, drug abuse, anxiety, and the list goes on and on. Welcome to the world of co-morbidity with undiagnosed ADHD.
My parents confessed to me once that they did not expect me to live past 20 due to my drug abuse and reckless behaviour. I basically was experimenting with anything and everything and probably should’ve died a few times over. Deep down I was losing the battle for my self-worth. The way I saw it, the educational system was the antagonist. It was the end of the second act, and I was getting my butt kicked.
But all was not lost. Without knowing it, I had been learning coping skills for my ADHD. Some of them were mere bandages, while others proved to be useful, and I still use them today. It was a very hit and miss process and it took years to pull myself off the floor.
In my early 20s I met the woman who I would marry, and start a family with. Shortly before we married, I went cold turkey from all drugs and alcohol. I never went back. Amazing what love and prayer can do. I didn’t even drink so much as a beer for a couple decades. Now I can enjoy an occasional beer (one of the seven wonders of the world) without ending up binging until I pass out, or doing something incredibly stupid.
I went from working in minimum wage jobs for decades to making a six figure income (although that didn't last). I now love furthering my education and constantly take courses in all kinds of subjects from art to quantum physics.
Now 56, I have five children and three grandchildren. I was only diagnosed a few years ago and believe the best part of my life is just beginning. So, although not unscathed, I did survive. Not just survived, but thrived. I took the hard road, but you don't have to. Get diagnosed now and save a few decades of struggling.
Looking around at my little studio where I do my video editing, music, writing, OK...pretty much everything I do on a desktop computer, I can see that it's way past time to do a little organization and cleaning.
Let's see, a quick look around reveals several software boxes, my old computer with the cover off and hard drive laying on top of it. On top of the hard drive there is some printed materials. My monitor speakers have become stands for various objects such as webcams, video gear, old DVDs, books and the packaging from some RAM I bought a year ago (just in case I need to return it).
I won't bore you with the rest the items on my desk, let's just say I could fill a page with the inventory of mostly useless items mixed with items required to do my job. It's always overwhelming to think of starting to organize my desk. Some people like a messy desk because they know where everything is. I actually prefer a neat desk and work area, although after I do organize everything, I often can't remember where I put things that I need.
Then there's the actual process of organization. I usually start by grabbing any paperwork that's laying on the desk. Usually within a minute, I begin reading pages from little notes to myself from months ago to those three pages of a novel I started and never finished. By the time I get to the half empty software boxes and try to match them with manuals and software DVDs, I'm pretty much ready to have a coffee break.
So from now on I'm referring to organizing my desk... "desktop archaeology". Perhaps I can convince a local community college to let me teach a course on it. After all, not many people can spend so long cleaning their desk while gleaning so much arcane knowledge of the history of said desk's clutter.
Although my work area gives the impression that I am one of those who works best in a chaotic work area, I secretly yearn for the desk cleaning elves to descend and work away while I happily edit on my computer. Ah, must create another note: Remember to design a desk cleaning robot. Like Roomba. Deskba? Hmmm.
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Are You ADD? is an autobiographical documentary about the life of Director Wes Gray who went undiagnosed with severe ADHD for fifty-three years. It covers his struggles with common ADHD symptoms throughout his life in school, work, and relationships. The film ends showing how being diagnosed brought him hope and a passion to spread awareness about the reality of ADHD.
Look and Feel:
The film starts with Gray's narration over wide shots of NYC: "It is estimated that up to ten million people have ADHD and are not aware of it. They have never been diagnosed or treated for ADHD. That's equal to the entire population of New York City. For fifty-three years I was one of those 10 million." Animated charts will visually highlight facts during the narration. Clips from interviews with leading ADHD experts are used throughout, adding to the understanding of what ADHD is... and how devastating it can be when undiagnosed.
Using family 8mm film and videos, the film will examine director Wesley Gray's life along with interviews shot at 4K. Starting with Gray's first days in elementary school , where the symptoms of his inattentive type ADHD were first first documented in notes made by his teachers on his report cards. A visual of his 1st grade report card reveals the
teacher's comment, "Wesley is always looking out the window, daydreaming. "If only those daydreams could have been graded! I was always creating stories and worlds in my head... which, in the end, for me, turned out to be more beneficial than the required subjects." Gray said. ADHD was not widely recognized at the time (late 1960's) and Gray's inattention was often only seen as negative, not trying hard enough, or even laziness.
Although Gray was several grades advanced in reading, he struggled in many other subjects and his self esteem began to be adversely affected at an early age. The pattern continued into high school where Gray started using illicit drugs and skipping classes. Gray discusses the reason he thinks he was drawn to drugs and considers it may have been a way to self medicate to relieve his ADHD.
After high school his family moved to the Pacific Northwest where he met his soon to be wife. They married when Gray was 21 and they had five children over the next fifteen years. Desperate to provide for his family, he took any work he could find, yet over the next two decades found himself losing even the simplest of jobs.
Gray taught himself 3D animation by reading books and articles on the subject during his lunch break while working as a night watchman. He volunteered online to do some graphics for a game being made by a programmer at Jet Propulsion Labs on a personal project. Soon afterwards the programmer joined a video game division of JVC in Los Angeles and offered Gray a position as a 3D Artist. Although creative jobs were more suited (and higher paying) Gray still often found himself out of work and couldn't figure out why. He knew he wasn't stupid or lazy and had not touched drugs since his marriage. Finances did stabilize a bit with the creative type jobs. In 1995 Gray was featured on several television shows including MTV in Europe as an early member of the first ever internet band along with UK band Londonbeat and Dave Stewart of the Eurthymics among others. These experiences helped give Gray a much needed self-esteem boost and he realized his best shot at a stable income was in creative roles. Yet even with these periods of achievement, everything seemed to always fail in the end and he still couldn't understand why.
The title for the film came out of an encounter Gray had with his factory supervisor: Gray's job at the time consisted of repeating the same simple process on parts in an assembly line, He had performed this task thousands of times flawlessly for hours a day, day after day. However, every once in a while his mind would drift off into a much more interesting imaginary world. A very large mess would ensue at his station and would result in the shutting down of the entire line until it was cleaned up. " How the #$@# did you not notice that?" Gray's supervisor barked. "I don't know" was the only thing Gray could come up with in moments like those, that seemed to happen randomly. Several disasters later his supervisor asked him, "What are you, ADD?"
Ironically, Gray did indeed have ADD, but just took the comment as just one more insult in a lifetime of insults and innuendos. Frustrated, Gray enrolled in a one year business trade school and did very well at first. However, his varying grades on tests in subjects like accounting prompted his teacher to accuse him of cheating in front of the class. "How is it you can get an A one week and a F the next?" she asked. At the time Gray could only guess it was perhaps his hay fever making it hard to focus, which judging from the instructor's expression, was not a valid reason in her mind. On the final exams Gray barely passed and his accounting instructor told him "You should not be an accountant." Gray had spent that year full time in college trying as hard as he could to succeed. only to fail once again to break the cycle of chronic unemployment that was becoming an ever increasing strain on his entire family.
The film shows via character narration, interviews, animation, and reenactments, Gray's struggle including his roller coaster income fluctuations, and his relationships with people. In one reenactment, in order to help the audience understand what ADHD feels like, a couple is having a romantic dinner at a restaurant. The man's wife is telling her husband a very important story. At first the man has good eye contact and focused on her every word. About halfway through the conversation using multiple audio tracks we start to hear what the man is really hearing in his head. The kitchen staff, other tables conversations, a bus going past outside the window, a kid asking his mom to take him to the restroom, etc. His brain trying to process everything at the same time. Of course, when his wife asks him a question, it's obvious he hasn't been listening and the romantic dinner is ruined. That along with other ADHD symptoms, were wreaking havoc on Gray's relationship with his wife, kids and others.
Cinematic style footage showing Gray and other subjects in the calm beauty of the Northwest U.S. is juxtaposed with Gray's narration describing the intense struggle he went through, and still has does to a lesser degree. At age 53 Gray finally read Dr. Hallowell's book Driven to Distraction. "I read the case studies one after another and realized I most definitely had severe ADHD and had all my life." Gray then adds, "The awesome thing was, all these people in the book responded to treatment and it improved their lives dramatically!" Gray went to see a psychologist for ADHD testing. "Afterwards I asked how it went" , to which the psychologist stated, "Remember all those tests you
failed in school? Well you aced this one!
Gray went to his family physician to ask about his options for ADHD medications. "I wanted to get help as fast as possible, having been warned that my job was once again in jeopardy for randomly forgetting to clock in at my computer." The nurse came in and performed a routine blood pressure check. Her eyes grew wide and she immediately brought the doctor in who informed Gray he needed to check himself into the emergency room as he was at risk of a stroke.
As Gray now knows, one common trait of ADHD is to put things off and act on impulse. Gray ignored the urgent nature of his condition and waited to go to the hospital. He then had a minor stroke and once again ignored the hospital staff's recommendation to stay for more tests. "At the time I was more worried about losing my job than my health" Gray said. He checked himself out and returned to work. A few weeks later he had a much more serious stroke and spent a month in hospital with his right side severely affected by the stroke. Unable to use his right hand, he lost his job which required both hands to control a mouse and a joystick to control 3D software . Over the next several months he recovered from being wheelchair bound to walking with a cane and can now work on his computer using his left hand and voice to text software. "I re-accessed my skillset and realized I could still do many of the things I love like writing, producing video, and composing music."
Gray's hope of starting on ADHD medication was dashed when his doctors were understandably more concerned with his blood pressure and heart than his ADHD. "What's funny, I now can see that my ADD is what probably got me in this predicament." Gray said. Almost two years later he has had to focus on his heart condition and work on reducing his blood pressure.. "For now I use diet, exercise and supplements to help manage my ADHD, but soon I hope to try a low dose of some of the nonstimulant ADHD medications out there. Everyone is different, you have to find what works for you." Gray said.
The film ends with Gray slowly regaining movement on his right side and starting medical treatment for his ADHD. Looking back, Gray considers his fifty-three years of undiagnosed ADHD to have been a greater disability than his stroke. "I consider ADHD an asset once you know what you're dealing with and treat it accordingly."
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Before I was Diagnosed.
- All those times I forgot my car keys were in my hand did not mean I'm stupid.
- Instead of getting angry when people assumed I was lazy, I can now understand their confusion.
- That picking arguments with my spouse was often a way I kept my frontal lobe active.
- When I lost jobs due to inattention, it was because I needed a better fit for my ADHD brain.
- When I "tried harder" and still failed, it was not my fault. I needed treatment for ADHD.
- That is is OK to not be interested in certain subjects at school. Find the subjects you love.
- That one day , in the future, I'd find out I have ADHD. So many things would be explained and the struggles I had while undiagnosed would only make me stronger in the end. Yes, I'm ADHD and life is good!