A year. A lot can change in a year.
A year ago, for Bell Let’s Talk Day, I told my story. It was long, rambling, discombobulated, and inconclusive – in other words, it was an accurate representation of my life. I don’t know if it actually helped anyone, but at the very least it allowed me to express things that I had been feeling and dealing with for a very long time. More than that, however, it managed to change the course of my life and set me down the path I’m on today. As to whether or not that’s a good thing, well… the jury’s still out. On my mental health journey, it seems that every “answer” is accompanied by a load of new questions. I’ll warn you right up front – this year’s entry doesn’t have any more of a conclusion than last year’s. A lot can change in a year, but as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The piece I wrote last year was met with overwhelmingly positive response and I was pleased to find that it struck a chord with some who read it. Afterward, a number of people reached out to me, and in typical Andrew fashion, I read what they had to say and then never replied (this is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for me). If you were one of those people, I’m sorry. Know that I appreciated what you had to say and that it was never my intention to ignore you. It’s just something I do now. To everybody.
And now, before we continue, a short detour, because I want you to have an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works – it is currently 2:42 AM. I have typed roughly 250 words and I started this piece over an hour ago. I’m having trouble focusing, and when I do focus, I can feel my perfectionism creeping in. I have to pause after typing out every single sentence to go back over what I just typed in order to add or remove words in order to help elucidate my thoughts. I literally just did it. I just added the word “just” into “what I just typed”. I’m now currently reading back over this entire paragraph. I just changed “because this is an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works” to “because I want you have an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works”. I am not making this up. This is what it’s like for me to write things. It is driving me crazy, but I’m determined to get this written. If you notice any instances of odd pacing or sentence structure from here on out, know that it’s because I’m actively fighting my instincts to get this piece finished so that I can go to sleep. I have now read over this paragraph four times. I am not fucking kidding. But I digress…
A short while after writing the piece, I was contacted by my uncle, who happens to be a psychologist. He wanted to take me out to dinner for my birthday. My parents told me that they had forwarded him my story, so I was aware that it would most likely be a conversation topic at dinner. What I didn’t expect was for him to ask me whether or not I had ever considered that maybe my depression stemmed from other underlying issues – namely, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Of course I had never considered that, because ADHD is that thing that every kid I went to school with was over-diagnosed with, right? Kid won’t stop talking in class, so you pump him full of Ritalin, right? It seems like I was woefully misinformed on the topic. ADHD is most commonly associated with children, but it’s also present in many adults. It’s often first diagnosed when a child is struggling in school, but I had never really struggled in school, so why would my parents have suspected anything? I mean, sure, I was a hyperactive kid who never shut up, particularly when I was supposed to be listening in class, but schoolwork was never a problem, at least not in any way that affected my grades. And yet all throughout my life, the thing I heard over and over again was, “If you just applied yourself, think of what you could do”. Because here’s the thing – sometimes, symptoms of ADHD can be masked by intelligence. This may seem like a humble brag, but trust me, it’s not. My entire life, throughout all of grade school and university, I was able to get by by doing, well, the least amount possible. Because it’s true – I WASN’T applying myself. And I never really understood what that meant. I always had a hard time studying and getting my work done, but the stuff I WAS able to do was always good enough. Which means that yeah, I’m smart. It also means that in my entire life, I have most likely never lived up to my potential. Nothing I have ever done has been as good as it COULD have been. And I think that a part of me knew this, and I think that part of me attributed it to a lack of effort on my part. And don’t you think that you might get depressed and develop crippling anxiety and self-esteem issues if, deep down, there was a part of you that thought that you had never truly tried and succeeded at anything? Every failure in your life, every bad grade, every bad job, every lost friend – it was always because you didn’t “apply yourself”, because you didn’t try hard enough. Unmet potential. Lack of fulfillment. Inability to complete tasks to the best of your abilities. It all seemed like a surefire recipe for depression to me.
As my uncle and I continued to talk, and I learned about more of the symptoms of ADHD, I saw myself in them. There were so many things that I had just accepted as part of myself – fidgeting, restlessness, lack of focus, short attention span, difficulty making decisions, difficulty starting things, difficulty finishing things, difficulty controlling emotions, wandering thoughts, divergent conversations, forgetfulness, poor time management, poor money management, excessive talking, constant interruptions, chronic procrastination – the list goes on and on. And ADHD often presents alongside depression or anxiety. It fit. After years of wondering what was wrong with me (and, frankly, hoping there WAS something wrong with me), it seemed like I had unlocked another piece of the puzzle. My uncle told me that ADHD ran in his side of the family and that he had always suspected that I had it. When he brought it up to my parents, their response was basically, “You know, now that you mention it…” I must confess, it felt good to once again feel like I had an answer, but I was wary of getting my hopes up, because every other time I felt like I finally had my answer, I ended up more lost than when I began. At the time, I couldn’t have predicted how right I’d be. This was just the first step in a long, frustration journey.
About a month later, in April, I had made plans to return to Calgary for Easter. I wanted to stay for a while to enjoy the Calgary Flames in the playoffs (lol, R.I.P.), and my parents made an appointment for me to see a doctor that had been recommended to them. The appointment, of course, wasn’t until the end of the month. I don’t know why I thought that any part of this would be simple or easy. Even after all I had been through, I was naive. I thought I’d go into the doctor, he’d confirm that I had ADHD, he’d give me some meds, and I’d be on my way, back to Langley in May to continue my burgeoning career in standing in the corner of a TV set pretending to do something while a C-tier actor solved a crime (for the record, I absolutely loved working as a background actor and would encourage anyone else to do it). I would end up never returning to BC, apart from a brief trip over the Canada Day weekend to pack up my belongings.
My first appointment with my doctor was a letdown, because it was my first indication that things weren’t going to move as quickly and definitively as I was hoping (Once again, I have no idea why I thought that this was something that could be handled quickly and easily. That is not the way anything involving mental health ever works. Sorry.). I explained my situation to the doctor and before doing anything else, he wanted me to get blood tests done. Which I did. I filled out questionnaires and forms pertaining to ADHD, anxiety, and depression. I was tentatively diagnosed with ADHD and mild-moderate anxiety and depression (apparently an official ADHD diagnosis is a long, difficult, expensive process), and I was eventually put on the lowest dosage of Concerta. Eventually, the dosage was bumped up. Eventually it was bumped up again. And again. And again. I attempted to make lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, drinking more water, eating better, and sleeping better. I even bought a FitBit. Some areas improved. Others stayed the same. I started seeing a free counselor at my doctor’s clinic. Throughout all of this, I had never once felt any different from the Concerta, and it was my understanding that when ADHD meds kick in, they KICK IN. At one point my doctor and counselor decided to shift to treating my depression rather than my ADHD (which may or may not have been real, since I had never received an official diagnosis from a clinical psychiatrist). It seemed to me that the theory was that maybe I merely had symptoms resembling ADHD that stemmed from my depression and anxiety. My doctor started me on Escitalopram, in conjunction with the Concerta (of which I was now taking what I was told was the maximum dose). Days passed. Weeks passed. MONTHS PASSED. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
By June, it was evident that this was something that was not going to have a quick or easy fix. It was decided that it would be best if I moved home for the duration of this process (my things had been sitting untouched in my room in Langley for almost 3 months by this point). So off to Langley we went. Drove up Friday, packed up Saturday, drove back Sunday. It was a shitty weekend (To all of my friends in BC that I haven’t spoken to in 7 months, I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye to you. I hope you’re doing well. Love, Andrew). Upon returning home to Calgary, I continued to take my medication, and drink my water, and walk, and sleep, and eat. And yet, a funny thing happens when you do a bunch of stuff and see literally no results – you stop doing them. I didn’t have much money. My EI ran out in May and I used up my final cheques from background jobs. I was regularly paying for high doses of medication that wasn’t doing anything. I was going longer and longer between visits to my doctor. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement. I had basically given up my whole life to pursue this treatment. I left friends and work behind to get “better”, and what did I have to show for it. I eventually discovered that if I missed taking my medication, it didn’t affect me at all. So I stopped. Cold turkey.
I returned to the doctor a week or two later. I told him that I stopped taking my meds. He told me he didn’t want to prescribe me anything further until they had a better grasp on what was actually wrong with me. They put in a request for me to see a psychiatrist for an official diagnosis and encouraged me to continue seeking counseling. I did. For one session. On a good day, motivation is… hard to come by for me. When nothing is working, motivation is… well, it’s non-existent. It was now August, and here was, living at home, broke, unemployed, and no closer to finding a solution to any of my problems. If I’m starting to sound like a broken record, imagine what it feels like to BE that broken record. I think by this point, I had even begun to doubt that I had ADHD. Once again, it felt like I was simply looking for an excuse to explain my own personal inadequacies. And then I ran out of money.
There’s this thing called car insurance. How it works is that I don’t know how it works I’m not an adult all I know is you can’t drive without it and one day my payment didn’t come out of my account because there was no money in my account and now I had to borrow money from my parents so that I could drive again. I needed money and I needed it fast. So guess what happened? Can you guess? I called my old Starbucks and asked if they needed help. I had officially hit my version of rock bottom. After graduating from high school, I had worked for a Safeway Starbucks, quit, worked for a real Starbucks, quit, worked for another Starbucks, quit, worked for a third Starbucks, transferred to a fourth Starbucks, and then quit that one. Now here I was, asking for my old job back, the same job that I had quit on THREE. SEPERATE. OCCASIONS! 30 years old, with a diploma, living with my parents, working at Starbucks for a fourth time. It was the most depressed I had been in quite a while. For the record, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with working for Starbucks, just that I felt like there was something wrong with ME working for Starbucks, again, at this point in my life. It was humiliating and frustrating and seemed symbolic of so much in my life. Starbucks, to me, had come to represent failure. Failure as a university graduate. Failure as a part of the work force. Failure as a person. If you work at Starbucks and you’re reading this, this is not a judgment on you. It was a judgment on myself. And it sucked.
The days were long and boring, yet somehow stressful. If you’ve ever worked at Starbucks, you know that there’s always drama, and my Starbucks was no exception. We were in the midst of a change in management, and things were not transitioning smoothly. Furthermore, I found that in light of my newfound knowledge, working at Starbucks this time seemed to make glaringly obvious the ways in which my ADHD inhibited me. I was slower than everyone else. I found myself jumping from task to task while leaving each one in an unfinished state. I would hyperfocus on certain things, unable to let them go. I was constantly double-checking things, unable to trust my own memory, or my counting. None of this was new. This was how I always was as a barista previously, it’s just that this time, I felt like there might be a reason why.
It was around this time that I started seeing a psychologist, at the urging of my parents, in an attempt to get at some of the root causes of my issues. I also returned to my doctor, to check back in on things. I was told that the psychiatrist I had been referred to had declined to work with me until I had what they considered a “normal sleep schedule”. Unfortunately for them (and me), I was now working at Starbucks again, which meant that I would never again have a “normal” sleep schedule for as long as I live (it is currently 5:04 AM). At the urging of my psychologist (who DID believe that I had ADHD), however, I talked to my doctor about getting put on some new meds and I was prescribed Adderall. At first, I didn’t notice anything. Then one day, I took 30mg, and… something? Maybe? If I had to explain it, it was like… I had a good day. It wasn’t the mind-blowing experience that some people have on Adderall or other stimulants. It wasn’t definitive or drastic. It was subtle, but it was there. It was like I was finally able to get through the day without too much hassle. Up until this point, every single day I had ever worked at Starbucks, the time flowed like molasses. I used to struggle to make it through 5-hour shifts. Every second seemed to ddddrrrrrraaaaaagggggggg oooooonnnnnnn fooooooorrrrrreeeeevvvveeerrrrrrrrrrrr. For the first time, I understood what someone meant when they said “this day has gone by quickly”. Is this what everyone else felt when they worked a shift at Starbucks? Is this what people were talking about when they said things like “the busier it gets, the faster the day goes by”? Because I had never in my life found that to be true. It wasn’t necessarily the result I was hoping for out of the medication, but it was enough. I was encouraged.
Unfortunately, it never really got better than that. Since then, my dosage has been increased twice and I haven’t really noticed any other effects. To be truthful, I was hoping for a lot more, but as literally everyone has reminded me, the point of the medication isn’t to give me super powers (although I’m so jealous of the people who get them), it’s to level the playing field so that I’m at the same place as everyone else. So maybe this is all I can expect from any medication. I still find myself struggling with many things on a day-to-day basis, it’s just that now the day is a bit easier to get through. At least, they were.
In December, after a combined four years of experience as a barista, I finally made the jump to shift supervisor. Higher pay, more responsibility, and a boost to my resume. I figured it was about time. I figured that it would be a fairly easy transition. I could not have been more wrong. I have worked 22 shifts as a supervisor, and every single one of them has been a struggle. I find myself hyperfocusing on tasks I don’t need to do, while forgetting about tasks I do. From the start of my shift to the end, I’m constantly juggling multiple different tasks and responsibilities, and I’ll often have difficulty prioritizing which ones are most important and need to get done first. I find myself getting overwhelmed on a daily basis. My perfectionism kicks in and I’m unable to let go of a task until it’s done to my standards, and I have difficulty delegating tasks for fear (or certainty) that they won’t be done to my standards. I have this innate need for things to be counted properly and for all the numbers to “match up”. I’ve been known to recount entire tills because they were 5 cents over or under. I frequently find myself counting and recounting inventory, because I don’t trust myself to do it right the first time. I’m overly precise when sorting through our weekly tips, to the point where I find myself unable to proceed if my calculations aren’t exact enough. I find it difficult to move on with my shift if the freezer isn’t organized in an efficient and logical way. All of that stuff is bad, but worst of all are my time management abilities. I’ve seen it described as “time blindness” – “According to the experts, people with ADHD are fundamentally bad at understanding the passage of time. They easily lose track of time, underestimate how long stuff will take, or try to do just one more thing before they get out of the door. They call this ‘time blindness,’ and it can also be due to problems with willpower.” (Buzzfeed, of all places, has a really good, if simple, article on what living with ADHD is like). I’m constantly finding myself showing up to work a few minutes late because I lose track of time when I’m in the shower, or I underestimate how long it’ll take me to drive to work. Even when I draw up a plan for my shift, I find myself running behind on my tasks and sending people for breaks late (if I remember to send them at all). I frequently find myself starting tasks that I don’t have time to complete, thinking that they won’t take me as long as they obviously will. I have never finished a closing shift on time, some nights staying as late as 70 minutes after close. I was always slow as a barista. I’m even slower as a shift supervisor. It is incredibly frustrating and stressful, and I feel like I come close to panicking every single day. And the reason I don’t talk about it is because I’m embarrassed and ashamed. I feel like I’m making excuses. “It’s not me, it’s the ADHD. I swear!” But honestly, at times, it really feels that way. It’s like I have this compulsion that I have no control over. Which brings me to…
The fact that some of the things that I just described in the above paragraph aren’t necessarily symptoms of ADHD. More and more, I’m realizing that I have obsessive compulsive tendencies. I always have, but I attributed them to “I’m just particular”. And yet there I am, counting tills out by hand because I know that our cash counter isn’t calibrated properly and I can’t stand the fact that our tills might not actually be balanced properly. That’s not a common behavior for someone with ADHD. It IS a common behavior for someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (which is separate from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Symptoms of OCPD include an excessive need for perfectionism and control, preoccupation with details and lists, excessive devotion to work, an inability to get rid of items without value, difficulty making decisions for fear of making the wrong one, inability to delegate because another might perform a task incorrectly, and a belief that one’s way of doing things is the only correct way. SOUND FAMILIAR?! But wait, it gets better. I also exhibit some minor OCD symptoms, including almost every single Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior that they have a name for. For those unfamiliar, BFRB’s are impulse control behaviors that involve compulsively damaging one’s own body and appearance. Dermatillomania (skin picking)? Check. Dermatophagia (skin nibbling)? Check. Morsicatio labiorum (inner lip biting)? Check. Onychophagia (nail biting)? Check. Onychotillomania (nail picking)? Check. Trichotillomania (hair pulling)? Check. Not enough for you? Here’s the kicker – all of those BFRB’s are also linked to ADHD, and OCPD and OCD are often misdiagnosed as ADHD, and while I have way more OCPD symptoms than I do OCD ones, one of the major things separating OCPD from OCD is the fact that people with OCPD often don’t see anything wrong with their behaviors, whereas people with OCD are fully aware that their obsessive compulsions don’t make sense! Furthermore, stimulants meant to help with ADHD can actually exacerbate symptoms of OCD and OCPD, and while there are studies saying that all these disorders are linked, there are also studies saying that they’re more different than we realize, and here I am, presenting with possibly one, two, or maybe some degree of all three of them! Or maybe none of them! I don’t know! Nobody knows! Aren’t mental health disorders fun?!!?!?!
Sorry. That last paragraph kind of went off the rails. It’s 6:24 AM and I’m starting to ramble. Maybe I’m being too open and honest here and I’ll regret all of this when I wake up later today. Here’s my point:
A year ago, I was a slightly depressed, overly anxious 29-year old living in a condo in Langley, BC, working (sporadically) as a background actor. Today, I’m a 30-year old shift supervisor at Starbucks, living in my parent’s house in Calgary, AB, struggling with ADHD and all manner of obsessive compulsive tics and tendencies. My living situation has changed drastically, yet it doesn’t really feel like anything else has. I may be farther along than I was before, but all of the problems I had a year ago still exist – I’m just now more aware of the ways in which they manifest themselves, or at least I think I am. All of the weird habits and impulses I’ve had my entire life simply have new names now, which I suppose is progress, in a sense. But am I any closer to having definitive answers? Am I any closer to a solution? Will I ever feel “normal”? Will I ever feel properly equipped to succeed in life? Will I ever even feel properly equipped just to get by in life? I honestly don’t know. In the last 6 years, I’ve seen 3 doctors, spoken to 5 mental health professionals, and taken 4 medications, and I feel like I’m still no closer to any sort of definitive answer as to what’s wrong with me (if anything). I have been told that I have depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and I’ve also been told that I don’t have those things. I have exhibited symptoms of all 3 and I think there is a good case to be made for at least an OCPD diagnosis, if not an OCD diagnosis. There is nothing fast or easy about any of this. It is a daily, life-long struggle and I have no idea when, or if, I will ever have any of this under control. As I sit here, right now, writing this, I can feel myself losing hope. The lack of answers, the dead ends, the constant circular motion that this journey seems to take… it’s exhausting and frustrating and most days, I just don’t want to think about it or deal with it. I’m tired. I am exhausted. And it feels like it will never end. Much like this blog post.
If you’re still reading this, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “No. There’s absolutely no way this is how he ends it. Where is the HOPE?! Where’s the INSPIRATION!? It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day for crying out loud!” Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is all I have to give. Truth. Honesty. I’m sure for some, Bell Let’s Talk Day is about hope and inspiration, but for me, it’s about stigma. It’s about all of these things that we, as a society, feel we can’t talk about. It’s about all of these things that are left unsaid or unexplored, due to fear or shame. I’ll admit it – I’m ashamed of ALL of this, but maybe by sharing, someone will see something in here that they recognize, and it’ll encourage them to talk to someone about it, and maybe in a hundred years, enough people will have shared and talked about mental health enough to fully eliminate the stigma. I don’t know. But one can hope. There. THERE’S YOUR HOPE! Enjoy it. It’s all you’re getting from me tonight. I’m going to sleep.
P.S. And if you want to talk to me, you can. Text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – my DM’s are open. I promise that I’ll try to do a better job of responding this time.