In the name of brave and vulnerable truth telling, I have something to confess. My life is quite often a literal mess. While I can run a blog, produce a podcast, be a graduate student, and am a budding social worker, doing an internship providing psychotherapy to college students, my life is far from tidy. I have struggled with chronic disorganization my entire life. The explanation is far more complicated than, “I’m lazy.” Nor am I irresponsible, and my head is not in the clouds (for the most part.)
While I live out my big dreams, chores like picking up my medication, getting mail sent out on time, and putting away my laundry is asking a lot. I’ve had this issue from varying degrees since I was little kid. I talk about it in detail on the podcast during Episode 3. I want to share for the same reason I think storytelling is important. You are not alone, I am not alone, and our stories and our truth connects us. So, here is the dirty truth right here.
Since I was little, adults were pretty sure I had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I was carted off to be tested by my elementary school’s child study team, the people in a school who decide if students could benefit from special education services. But no, I was never diagnosed with any learning disability. So it was always curious that my papers were constantly disorganized because I never put my papers in the right folders. Finding my homework was a constant struggle. I remember shame and anxiety rising in my little body when a teacher asked us take out a worksheet from yesterday. My bedroom was a mess and I found it difficult to bathe when I was supposed to.
If I didn’t have ADD What the Heck Was Wrong with me?
I would like to say the answer came easily and I stopped staring out the window and was squeaky clean little girl. Not the case. Up to this writing I still struggle with completing tasks that seem like no brainers for others. My GPA is fantastic, I am growing the DC and CM community. I also have plates next to my bed that need to be thrown away.
In my mid-twenties, I went to see a therapist and explained my chronic disorganization. She had me fill an assessment for, you guessed it, adult ADD. I told her I had taken medication for it in the past, it triggered my anxiety and I just didn’t like it. We talked alternative treatments. She recommended something called neuro-feedback and explained it as going to the gym for your brain. She gave me the number for her guy.
I went, and the first session, the man did something called a brain map. He put all this goopy stuff in my hair and attached some wires to my head. It looked wild, but committed to “fixing” my ADD, I let him goop me up. The map was supposed to show how my brain works and how the treatment could help. Writing this out it sounds like a sci-fi movie, it felt that way too. I came back a second time to have him explain the results. The first thing he said to me was, “Did something happen to you?” I looked at him, confused. “Well, this brain map shows a PTSD brain, not an ADD brain.”
Me and My PTSD Brain
I returned to therapy dejected, and cried to my therapist. I had experienced partner violence in the past. After that incident, I was diagnosed with PTSD. However, I got a lot of help and a lot of therapy after that. It STILL changed the wiring of my brain? That thought pissed me the eff off. To think one person had the power to affect my brain was unacceptable. My therapist said, “But didn’t you have the issues of disorganization way before you were diagnosed?” Yeah, I did. I continued to feel like a failed science experiment that just could not be figured out.
The universe is beautiful and loves me, and did provide a framework in which I could better understand myself. Thank you universe, and thank you social work school. I learned two things that changed my relationship to my chronic disorganization. First, in a class studying children and attachment, I learned that being separated from your biological mother is trauma. It is traumatic even if you were adopted as a newborn baby, like I was. (You can hear all about that in Episode 6 of the podcast.) Odd as it sounds, I felt relief that the adoption was likely the root of my PTSD brain. That scummy ex just triggered it. However, it did not explain my chronic disorganization and struggle to complete menial tasks.
Then I got the second piece of the puzzle. My professor for human behavior is an expert in childhood trauma. She said, “In my opinion, I believe ADD is almost always misdiagnosed PTSD.” My jaw dropped. BINGO! My parents adopted me in the late 80s. The information about the affects of adoption was nothing like it is now. No one would have thought a girl adopted as a newborn would have any trauma. Little Alé, staring out the window while her teacher is talking, or frantically looking for last night’s homework, must have ADD.
The Cure for Chronic Disorganization: Letting Go of Shame
It would be lovely to say I made this self-discovery and my chronic disorganization problems lifted. Not so. With that said, this insight has changed my life. Being “messy” and having a hard time doing the boring stuff, like dishes, has been the source of a lot of shame for me. I was always afraid people would think I was lazy, heck, I even thought I was lazy.
My brain being a “PTSD brain” is no more my fault than my brown hair is my fault. I am not lazy or broken. This is not to say I accept life living in a chaotic mess, but when life does get messy (literally), I can be gentle with myself.
However, I know the areas that are difficult for me and I do my best to make my life a little easier. I know running errands is tough for me, so when I can I get things in bulk so I don’t have to run to the store as often. I get my anti-depressants in a few month supply. Paying bills on time and getting mail out was another point of struggle, so enrolling in auto-pay and emailing have been other beautiful gifts from the universe. Also, I ask for help. Often. When something is hanging over my head and really stealing my peace, I am not afraid to reach out to the people in my life that I know can help me handle it.
Alé Cardinalle | LSW Candidate 2019