This is an English language translation of Päivi’s story, first published 22nd September, 2018 in Finnish. The original article can be found here [may need to be copy/pasted]:
My lack of strength was put down to a depression symptom.
Päivi Butcher, 41, lived for a long time thinking that lack of strength and challenges with managing her everyday life were a part of her personality. When Päivi was 38 years old, the symptoms affecting her life finally got an explanation, she has a primarily inattentive type of ADHD. Here is her story:
I’m at home cooking when my children return from school. Another piece of paper to be filled out is put on the table. It feels like there’s new things to be taken care of daily -messages from teachers, questionnaires and online forms to be filled. The amount of things to do is never ending.
As I go through a pile of papers I can’t help thinking about all the other chores to be done, from cleaning to grocery shopping. Stress, and feelings of chaos and inadequacy raise their heads. I try to think where to start but I can’t concentrate, and I stagnate. Soon I remember that the school fair is close, and I’m supposed to bake for that. I start feeling worse. I feel overwhelmed and like I don’t have the energy anymore.
How do other parents manage it? Take care of their children, their home, their job, their relationship and free time. Cooking, cleaning and chauffeuring their children to hobbies. They seem to manage all that effortlessly. Why is everyday life so much easier for others?
I got my ADHD inattentive diagnosis at 38 years old. Even though as a child I had noticed I was somehow different, a neurological condition was never suspected as I followed the rules and didn’t distract others.
I remember how I often forgot my school books and sports equipment at home. Often, I picked them up during recess. Otherwise, I was strict about my belongings.
I always revised for exams at the last minute and memorised sentences by heart. Seeing details was easier for me. Perceiving the big picture, and how things related to each other was challenging for me. I did well at school, nevertheless, and it never occurred to me that there was something weird about my way to learn.
I’ve always had a good imagination and sometimes I was hit by inspiration which made me act right away. For example, I could be enthusiastic to clean the wardrobe. In the middle of the cleaning project I’d realise that it was time to cook or something else. When I tried to get back to the project I had lost my motivation and the project was left unfinished.
I managed well at work, but it was tiring for me. Every morning I left home in a rush and ran to the bus in order to make it on time. I was never late but I was in a hurry daily. Every time I was about to leave home I had to brush my teeth or do something else.
When I had a customer service job, I wondered why it was so stressful. When I had a job that included other tasks on top of customer service, I felt like I had a hundred things to do simultaneously. My work was interrupted constantly – a coworker would ask something,the phone would ring, and I would get new emails. I lost my train of thought and it took time to get my focus back on the task I was doing.
I didn’t suspect there was anything special behind this. I just thought I stress out easier than other people. I decided to accept that even though I had always done well at everything I did, I had to work more towards it.
I noticed the biggest change in managing everyday life when I became a mother. There was a lot involved running the everyday life. Working, cleaning, grocery shopping, paying bills and paperwork. I felt that I always had too many chores to be done, which took a lot of energy away from nice things like friends and hobbies. It was like I was performing everyday life. I felt I was worse than others as I wasn’t up to as much as other parents. I tried to keep up appearances. I didn’t talk about these feelings to people outside of our family, because I didn’t want to be considered lazy. But keeping up appearances took its toll, too. My mood started to drop.
I had been to the doctor over the years, to talk about the feelings I was having, but my lack of strength was considered to be a sign of depression. I didn’t question it as I didn’t know what else it could be.
A few years ago, I reached a limit. I wanted to really find out, if there was something else behind my symptoms. I did not believe my challenges were due to depression. I went to a doctor specialised in neurology with a list of my symptoms. I had listed on paper all the symptoms which made my life difficult: feeling of overwhelmed, feelings of having ‘a thousand’ things to do all the time, and my challenges with time management.
I also strongly felt that I could not fulfil my, and my society’s, expectations. It was also hard for me to start and finish non-motivating, boring tasks. I was sent for vast neuropsychological tests. I received a diagnosis: ADHD inattentive. It used to be called ‘ADD’. The diagnosis was a relief. It was important for me to have an explanation as to why I felt stressed and had lack of strength.
Getting the diagnosis also started a process within myself. For a while I was upset as I looked back, wondering; “what if?” I was upset because if I’d known about the diagnosis, I could have been more forgiving of myself, and I could’ve asked for help with my challenges. But soon I managed to turn my thoughts in a positive direction.
I have tried different medications, but I’m still looking for the one best suited to me. I’ve also had some coaching, where I was given concrete ways to manage the everyday life. For example, cooking and planning a shopping list are challenging for me, so together we made a weekly meal plan. The concrete ways would have probably been helpful but it was difficult to use them in practice.
I also started to go to a support group, which I still attend. That has been the most supportive and helpful to me. It is so relieving to hear others share the same thoughts and experiences that I go through. Nowadays I can see my strengths more clearly. I can hyperfocus on things that I find interesting, and I always get very excited about things.
I can do a motivating task for hours without having breaks, and gather vast amounts of information about a subject that interests me. I also have an inner passion for things that are important to me and with those, I am relentless.
At he moment, I go to Red Cross for work experience, which has brought some welcome routine to my life. Everyday life is ok now, even though I still have the same challenges. I feel it’s important to focus on your strengths and finding ‘your thing’. My biggest passion is raising ADHD Awareness. My dream is to work in the neurodiversity field and to have a meaningful job.
I would like this condition to be understood better, and for people to get their diagnosis early on, so as many as possible would get an explanation for their symptoms and the needed support in time.
At the moment I’m looking into the different choices and paths to get to work in this field. I will possibly apply to study social and health, in order to be able to help people struggling with the same issues. I wish others could get help sooner than I did.
(Since the interview Päivi has started social and health studies. She continues to passionately raise ADHD awareness on Twitter, @Finnattentive.)
Thank you to Päivi for sharing her story in English. The original article has some lovely images, please check out the link at the top!