It's important to take a look at just how much ADHD can impact a child and their parent's lives. It is NOT just a challenge that a child faces in a classroom it impacts every aspect of their lives.
The absolute best part of my job is getting to interview parents from across Pennsylvania and hear their remarkable stories. We all know that parenting is hard, especially if you are raising a child who is struggling, and often times my conversations with blog interviewees get emotional. I leave every call feeling inspired by the strength and resilience that was just shared with me. This week I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing my own dad; Dave Johnson to discuss his personal experience with ADHD. By sharing my dad's story we hope to remind you that YES ADHD is a mental health challenge and that it is never too late for you to prioritize your own mental health, parents' mental health matters too. My dad sought out mental health help in his 30's when he had 4 young children and is a better father, husband, and employee because of it.
"During math class, I would talk and joke until I heard 'MR. JOHNSON' yelled across the room, and then I'd do it again the next day. In retrospect, a lot of my fooling around in class was probably from boredom and an inability to pay attention." said my dad. "I am not trying to brag or anything but I was able to joke and charm my peers and teachers to the point that I think my issues with attention kind of flew under the radar for a long time. I learned from an early age it was much easier for me to deal with people if I could make them laugh. I would move people on to a different topic with jokes and divert their attention from whatever the issue was. I made people laugh to change the subject. I had a second-grade math teacher who wanted to break pencils over my head but she loved me and joked with me and passed me because of it. Being the youngest of 4 too I found out early if I could use my personality it was best for me."
"I don't remember having bad grades but maybe it was my teachers who brought it up because I was evaluated. I went to counseling for a short bit of time but I honestly only went because I knew that after I would get to go to our local diner, Tom Jones, and get this special they had called the Jobo (a cheeseburger, french fries, and lemonade); it's all I thought about during counseling. I don't remember when or why I stopped going but nothing ever really came from it and nobody brought up ADHD," said my dad.
It wasn't just primary school that my dad struggled to pay attention; this challenge followed him right across the graduation stage and into college. All of my life I remember hearing stories about how my dad partied too much and that was the reason that he never completed his degree. While these stories are funny and a staple at any family gathering, during our conversation he was able to dig a little bit deeper into his college years. "I make jokes about leaving college because I had too much fun but no doubt about it I was avoiding class because I didn't know how to do it. When I talk about college I talk about how my party side affected it but if things had come easier to me I wouldn't have avoided class like I did. I remember sitting in my dorm room looking at a piece of paper not even knowing where to start this one essay. It's easy for me to make light of things and laugh about this part of my life but that's a very scary and isolating feeling to not know how to even begin to do the work I had to do."
"I took a computer class in college for the first time and I really tried hard at it. I had to do all of these things in a row and I was supposed to get 22 pages of information to print out. I hit print and all 22 were blank; in that moment it didn't matter how hard I had tried I felt like I just couldn't do it. I signed it put it on the professor's desk and never went to that class again," said my dad.
Switching to commuting from home still did not help my dad's grades so he decided to drop out of school. He worked in the restaurant industry as well as other odd jobs until he found himself in medical sales; originally as a driver. "I drove and got in multiple accidents driving a medical truck trying to focus on the route, the timing, and driving itself. They took me off the road because I just couldn’t focus properly." Luckily he was able to use the people skills he had gained throughout his life to climb the corporate ladder and he found himself in a sales role. This role eventually became the reason that he brought up his focusing challenges with his doctor.
"I was in sales and my manager said that she’s never seen someone build such great relationships with accounts but that my numbers didn't really back it up. The relationship I had down but the follow-through and the detail work was lacking. It wasn't really a conscious decision to bring my challenges up. I was at a physical and casually brought it up to my primary doctor at the end of our appointment. After our discussion, she recommended that I try taking Adderall and I told her that I would give it a try."
"It changed my life - but don't get me wrong it's not a magic pill. I think the medication mixed with the ultimate recognition that I have ADHD has made me a better father and husband. My wife was at first a little hesitant of me taking it but she was supportive and excited for the potential that it could help both my life and hers. It was never something I hid from my kids it was just a medication that I took just like any other medication someone takes for anything," said Dave.
When asked how the medication and subsequent diagnosis changed his experience as a father he mentioned that it definitely helped but it didn't eliminate all of his challenges. "There are certain things about being a father that I was so keen on. I never had any issues with the physical and emotional aspects of raising children. I had bad habits and as they got older things needed to be done and I got overwhelmed with deadlines and requirements. Field trip signatures, soccer practice, picking up the violin from school, back-to-school nights, you name it - with 4 kids within 6 years of each other we had a lot going on. We kept adding deadlines and requirements and I kept pushing them off and off. Putting things off was a huge issue and Adderall did not solve that. It's an issue I am still working on if I'm being completely honest."
Looking back my dad is very happy that he brought up his attention challenges to his doctor that day. My dad along with every other parent knows that oftentimes your own needs are put on the back burner in order to make sure that your children have all that they need. When it comes to mental health and asking for help when you need it he said; "I don’t care about the stigma. Other people aren't there when you're struggling. The people that would judge you would not help you in the first place so they don’t matter. I know your plate is full. But it would be less overwhelming if you took care of yourself and your mental health first. It's not selfish to prioritize yourself once in a while; it makes you a better person and a better parent."
Speaking as the child; I too am glad that my dad prioritized his mental health. Not only did it help him better organize and run our house smoother but it also taught my siblings and me that it's okay to not be okay. It was shown early on by both my dad and my mom that asking for help is a sign of strength - not weakness. I am grateful to both of them for this invaluable lesson.