Tara Campbell continues her story of living with ADHD through the time when she accepted professional intervention and made that first visit to a psychiatrist.
With my feet firmly beneath me, my heart pounding within me, and my father walking beside me, I entered the office of a family friend and psychiatrist. I was 20-years-old and had one hope: Let there be an answer.
Weeks before this appointment in Vancouver, while still at university in Montreal, I reached out to my parents to ask for help in figuring out why I was continuing to struggle with school. My first year of playing collegiate hockey was a success, but I was constantly scrambling to keep up with complicated drills and plays; and in the classroom I was failing. Years and years of just squeaking by were catching up to me, and frustration with my own mind was reaching a climax.
My dad, in his supportive ways, had an appointment set up for me when I returned home for the Christmas break. As we sat down with the psychiatrist I had no idea what to expect, but I remember feeling hopeful. I also remember the outcome, but most of the details of the session are lost in my mind, likely having never landed amongst the chaos.
My thoughts become extremely intense and I become trapped in them.
I recall being asked questions, but not what the questions were, or how I answered them. Most clearly, I remember being hooked up to an EEG and watching as waves streamed wildly across a monitor; the psychiatrist asking me to slow down my breathing in an attempt to slow down my mind. It only spun faster and faster and into a negative spiral. Once I’m in this state I have a very difficult time gaining back control. My thoughts become extremely intense and I become trapped in them. It’s akin to a storm moving in on my mind, the violent winds slashing through, twisting my thoughts and shaking my foundation, the walls collapsing around me.
As our session came to an end we sat down to hear the psychiatrist’s assessment. He explained I had symptoms of ADHD but he wasn’t going to diagnose me because he didn’t want me to be labeled. I remember thinking that’s odd but I trusted him, as did my father. I left that day with a few coping strategies, but without a comprehensive plan to guide me through and to a better understanding of myself and how my unique mind works.
I wonder to myself: How many moments have I lost over the years in the recesses of my overly-active mind?
After returning to university to finish my second year I continued to fail my classes. I was also sidelined from hockey because of concussions. The combination of not being able to play, and not understanding why I was still faltering academically, left me feeling hopeless. My hyper-focused ADHD mind didn’t know how to sort through what felt like an insurmountable mess. I was fixated on all that was going wrong, and I couldn’t see how I was going to make it better. I left university, my teammates, and my hockey career behind.
This part of my life, like so many others, plays back with very little clarity. As I search my mind for the images, words and emotions, I am left with only fragments, whispers, and tingles. I wonder to myself: How many moments have I lost over the years in the recesses of my overly-active mind? I don’t know, I never will, but I do know I hold tightly to the moments that found their way through the clutter and managed to stick to my slippery mind.
I was constantly struggling, overwhelmed by too much information coming at me too quickly
I hold onto these memories because now they inform me. They are the pieces to a puzzle I’ve been putting together my entire life – with corners bent and edges curled from years of trying to make them fit into places they didn’t. Why, I asked myself? Was it such a battle to slow down and take my time and put the pieces together? Why was I so restless? What was I searching for or running from? There was a time in my life I didn’t believe I would ever find the answers to these questions.
In the years following my departure from hockey I searched for something to replace what I had lost, eventually finding journalism. In it I found some semblance of what I had known as an athlete; setting goals and working hard to reach for them – but it came at a price. I was constantly struggling, overwhelmed by too much information coming at me too quickly; too many distractions and too many people. In many ways it felt like school all over again.
Still I kept pushing on, determined not to fail. I found ways to cope, isolating myself from others and using all of my focus and energy to keep up with the demands of the day. I was always on the lookout for something new, another city, another reporting position, another challenge to distract my restless, weary mind. It was exhausting.
I needed to slow down, take deep breaths, and assess how I was feeling, but I didn’t know how – my mind wasn’t wired to do that. I just kept pushing, until one day I couldn’t push any more. I was 35-years-old reporting in the far north of Canada on the day I surrendered. Months later I finally receive an ADHD diagnoses and slowly I began to learn how to calm the storm within my mind.
Photos: Courtesy Tara Campbell