AN ADHD SUCCESS STORY – A GUEST POST FROM DAVID KAISER

Hello everyone! I am the 35 year-old “success story,” David, that my mother Ellin wrote about in this blog entry. I put success story in quotes because, like all of us, I am still a work in progress. Frankly, have not entirely let go of the demons of growing up — and living with ADHD.

I have a few thoughts to share, especially with those still battling these demons, parents with ADD and ADHD children, as well other family members who face these challenges.

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It’s easier as an adult to see the strengths of having ADHD (hyper focus, for example), than to see it as a child. However, it doesn’t have to be that way, at least completely.

Everyone can benefit from what I was taught in college and learned on my own about dealing with learning disabilities. ADHD or LD is not a prerequisite to benefiting from being embraced and embracing yourself as an individual. I have seven non-verbal learning disabilities as well as ADHD. There was and is a lot of stuff going on.

Focus on your strengths. Use them combat your weaknesses.

No one is good at everything. Some of us are square pegs and will never fit in typically round holes. Concentrate on things you are good at. Build your career of things you do well and about which you are passionate.

Of course you need to get through school first, but even there, by focusing on what makes you special and unique, you can push through, in college more so than high school.

In college, the answer is more important than how you reach the conclusion. That’s where I struggled in high school. I would say, “I can get the answer, but not your way.” That never seemed good enough. In college, and even more in the professional world, answers are critical. Unique perspectives can prove good, as well as profitable.

Be organized! Find a way to do it comfortably and effectively. Organization helps everyone.

Never forget that everyone is an individual and unique. Encouraging all youngsters to do what they are good at and rewarding them for it would help everyone. Further, instead of telling everyone they are a “winner,” which, even to children seems disingenuous, reward them for what they do well. Help them develop a sense of purpose and pride in their individuality.

Bottom Line

Everyone should be taught to embrace what they do well and not forced to focus on what they do poorly. Especially not at the same time.

Everyone needs to learn math even if writing is their specialty, but if you focus on figuring out what makes someone good at writing, it will help them with math and other studies.

This would be a big improvement educationally for every child, ADHD or not.

LIVING WITH ADHD … BEFORE IT WAS FASHIONABLE – ELLIN CURLEY

My son had ADD and ADHD in the 80’s before the diagnosis came into fashion. He was going to an expensive private elementary school in New York City. He was bouncing off the walls and “disrupting” his class.

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He spent a lot of time out in the hall, resulting in huge gaps in his basic reading, writing, and arithmetic knowledge … and only exacerbated the situation. Eventually the school called my husband and me into the office and told us our son had a problem. They told us we should get a tutor and a therapist to handle it. They could not (would not) deal with it.

We already had a therapist and didn’t think a tutor was the answer. We decided to move the whole family to our weekend home in a small Connecticut town where the public school system had a Special Ed Department. Shortly after the move to Connecticut, a new therapist diagnosed my son with ADD and ADHD. She put him on Ritalin in its most basic and unrefined form. The drug has come a long way since.

ADHDBlogRitalin was a mixed blessing. It had major side effects and only worked a few hours a day. At least we finally had a diagnosis and knew what was wrong.

The local public school had staff and programs to help my son academically and socially. We were surrounded by caring people who were at least trying to help.

Unfortunately, back then, understanding of ADHD and how to help kids with learning disabilities was very limited. In the end, all they could do was hold his hand and get him through each year. It damaged his self-esteem. He never developed confidence that he could succeed at anything.

We were lucky. We found a college in Vermont. Landmark College is solely for kids with learning problems. There, for the first time, my son was given tools to cope with his issues. He learned ways to work through and around them so he gained a sense of control over himself and his life. He began to function well. The school taught him how to build on each small success.

He learned to tell when he could get things accomplished and when it was a waste of time to try. He learned how to break each task down into manageable steps, to organize his time, work space, and work.

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He uses these skills in his job with a hedge fund in New York. He uses them to get the laundry done, to keep his house stocked with essentials.

He’s doing well now, but it saddens me to think how different he might be today if he had learned these coping skills in kindergarten rather than college. He could have skipped years of feeling inadequate, helpless, and hopeless. He might have enjoyed learning, explored other career paths. Above all, he’d feel would have felt better about himself.

Supposedly, schools and parents are better equipped in 2015 than they were thirty years go. Hopefully they have learned to support families and children with learning and behavior issues. I know there are many new drugs, presumably more refined and effective. Hopefully, new approaches to ADD and ADHD are more sophisticated. I hope kids with disabilities are given the tools to take control of themselves and their lives at an early age, before the damage is done.

That’s what I hope. Everyone talks about it, I’m just not sure what the reality is.

ROCKS. BOULDERS. LIFE.

A rerun (with editing) from 2013. Shorter. Pithier. No less true.

Asking for help is easy. Getting it may not be.

I don’t mean getting someone to review your post or help you carry a heavy box up the stairs. Those are easy things, no big deal. You’ll happily do such things for anyone, even a stranger … and they for you.

What about when you can’t manage the basic stuff of life on your own anymore? When a bag of groceries is too heavy? When a flight of stairs looms Everest?

Ask you family for help? They’re busy. Maybe they can find a little time around Thanksgiving. Or New Year’s.

“But I need help today!” The silence is deafening.

Growing older has plenty of good, solid reasons for fear. Real issues of being left to the care of unfriendly strangers, unable to manage day-to-day tasks are more than a little scary. There’s nothing psychological about them.

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Everyone would rather not need help. Universally, people prefer self-sufficiency. When that’s no longer an option, the world has a frozen, dark look. It’s not your world any more.

There are boulders in the middle of your life. Immovable. Huge, heavy, solid. Waiting.

WHAT? – GARRY ARMSTRONG

This is a lengthy comment to a blog posted by the imminent eminent wordsmith known as Evil Squirrel.  Squirrel’s blog For whom the Beltones ... was a humorous look at the history of aids for the hearing-impaired and the advertising of the 1980s.

Squirrel, this is truly evil. Maybe even blatantly racist if I can find an angle. I love it! You’re yelling to the choir with this one.

garry and tom walpole TV

As you may know, I have needed hearing aids since I was a kid, back to the days when they were the small portable radios with a wire and earpiece. It was damned humiliating for a young guy.

As time went by, technology upgraded me to tiny, all in the ear aids. They were invisible on TV so it was great for me since I wore my aids all the time at work — except when I did live shots. Then, I had to replace one of my hearing aids with the IFB thingy which allowed everyone to talk directly into my head. Everyone could — and did — talk at the same time.

Sometimes there were two or three dozen people talking and shouting into my IFB as I calmly did my live reports. And smiled.

Often (simultaneously), the other hearing aid would pick up frequencies from nearby radio towers. I had a myriad TV people shouting into my IFB while Air Traffic Controllers yelled into my hearing aid. I calmly delivered the live reports. Then I went out for a few drinks.

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Marilyn actually saw and heard a tape of one of these live shots, The station had accidentally recorded the stuff coming in through the IFB instead of the sound track for the story. She was awed. How could I function during all the clamor? Looking back, I’m awed too. I’m an awesome guy. That’s why they paid me the big bucks (not).

I interviewed Eddie Albert when he was filming “Yes, Giorgio” in Boston. Eddie was sunbathing along the Charles River. He smiled when he caught a glimpse of my tiny hearing aids. Pulled his out for comparison. A lot of “WHAT?” went down that day.

Fast forward to the present, I have the current behind the ears model hearing aids. My hearing is getting worse.

Huh? Can you hear me now??”

Garry with Terriers - Dogs

Postscript:

I didn’t always wear my hearing aids on a regular basis. Back then, it was worse (much) than being called “four eyes”. One night changed my whole attitude.

My date had reached that critical point where you wonder if “it” will happen. The lady answered my query. I misheard her answer.

End of evening.

RETIREMENT IS SERIOUS BUSINESS

I stopped working more than five years ago. I was too sick to keep going and I was old enough so the market for my services was drying up.

I started getting disability almost 2 years after I was physically unable to work. It turned out my monthly disability check was less than a week’s pay as a working person. I tried intermittently for several years to find part-time work that might bring in a bit of money. So life wouldn’t be so difficult.

Nothing lasted long. More to the point, I didn’t last long. I hurt. I was exhausted. I worked more slowly than I did in the past. Finally, I gave up. I was 61.

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Garry had stopped working too. There were a lots of adjustments to make. On the psychological side, we had to learn to be retired. The world is different when you don’t have a job to define your weeks and days. I had worked at home a lot over the years, so it was not as abrupt a shift for me as it was for Garry. Eventually we slipped comfortably into not-working.

The financial part was — continues to be — challenging. The mortgage had to be lowered or we’d lose the house. Somehow, we got it done. Both of us had no health insurance for more than a year. Me for more than two, during which interval, I nearly died. Because no one would repair me without insurance. Eventually, I lucked into a doctor and a hospital who cared more for my life than my lack of insurance. I’m alive to write this only because of them.

We kept cutting back and cutting back. Last spring, our outgo and income became equal. Exactly. Assuming nothing outside programmed expenses ever occurs, we have the same amount of money as month. Which is absurd. Life is full of expensive surprises. Cars break. Pipes leak. Wells go dry. Appliances wear out. Dogs get sick. Meanwhile, fixed incomes have less and less buying power as inflation eats away at them.

I got sick. A lot. Big time. One nearly dying event was apparently not enough for me. I had to repeat it a couple more times, to make sure I got it right. Then there was breast cancer. Two cancers, one for each breast. I thought, having got through that, I’d earned a reprieve. Sadly, life doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t let you “pay it forward.”

This year, it was my heart. Five surgeries later, I’m back. Blogging my remodeled, rebuilt heart out.

The other day, I received an invitation from a well-known, quite prestigious website to become a contributing editor. This would require I write two posts a month, minimum. Really, they’d like at least one a week or more.

Serendipity is a personal blog. I write about my life, memories, experiences, thoughts. Occasionally, I put up an issue-oriented piece. The other site is more about issues and news. More impersonal, less anecdotal. A lot of politics. Government. Current events.

The point — for me — of taking on this other writing role would be to have a forum where I could post about different stuff, the stuff I avoid on Serendipity. The thing is, I’m not sure I want another forum. Or need one. Even though I’m flattered. It’s so hard to say “no” when the compliments are flying thick and fast.

Nonetheless, I take retirement seriously. I don’t work, don’t search for work. If I get a nibble (because my résumé is out there and headhunters find it), I have (finally) learned to say “no thank you.” My survival is predicated on not working. Not having deadlines. Keeping my anxiety level low. If I take it easy — low-key, low stress — I can have a pretty pleasant life. No money to spend, but otherwise nice enough. Do I want more responsibility? Can I handle it? I thought I had decided “yes,” but I find myself wavering.

These days, I take retirement seriously. As seriously as I ever took any job at which I worked for pay. It takes dedication to do retirement properly.

FIRMLY UNRESOLVED

To Be Resolved — We’re entering the final days of 2014 — how did you do on your New Year’s resolutions these past 11.75 months? Is there any leftover item to be carried over to 2015?


I have stuck to the letter, comma, and sub-clause of my 2014 resolution, which was to not make any resolutions. Despite that, I promised myself I would make every effort to live through the year. I would not give up.

We can’t control the outcome of multiple heart surgeries. Nor can we control the rate at which bones knit — or fail to knit. We can control some of the variables. Make sure we take medications, eat sensibly, get to appointments. Do what is within our power to help the body recover from the assault on it. But after that?

The rest is in the hands of destiny. God, if you believe in that. My job, for all of 2014, was to nudge destiny in my preferred direction, which is to say, keeping alive.

December 22, 2014. I am not where I hoped to be, but not so bad. My heart is doing pretty well. The new valve works. The redesign of the left ventricle and the arterial valve were successful. The pacemaker is pacing, My blood pressure is sometimes weird, but more or less normal.

My cut-in-half breast bone has not knitted. It grinds and grates. I can hear it when I move. It’s particularly unsettling at night as I shift in bed. The grinding of bone-on-bone is an ugly sound. I’m amazed at how many different activities affect ones breastbone. Who’d have guessed?

No one can predict when my chest will heal. The answer is “In its own good time.” Not very doctorly. In the movies and on TV, doctors have answers. They know. In the real world, doctors have a pretty good idea, based on experience, how a procedure, surgery, or treatment will play out. But patients are individuals, so while a doctor’s best estimate could be accurate for 70% of his or her patients, that leaves a lot of wild cards. Of which I am one.

At this time last year, I was not sure I’d be here to celebrate Christmas. I was facing a terrifying surgery that turned out to be four terrifying surgeries and a couple of other procedures … much more than even the surgeon expected.

As to the million dollar question. “Do you feel better than you did before all that surgery?”

That’s a hard one. Though I was kind of dying, I didn’t know it. I attributed breathing issues to asthma and mobility problems to progressive, crippling arthritis. I’m lucky I can walk. As soon as the calendar flips over, I’m off to get shots to see if the pain can be better controlled. From my perspective (as opposed to a doctor’s viewpoint) my main issue is finding ways to control pain.

The answer to “Do you feel better?” is — “Define better.” I don’t feel better, but I am better.

I breathe better, but don’t walk better. I hurt more than last year, but the internal workings are in better shape. The surgery didn’t address the stuff which was bothering me most.

My spine can’t be fixed.

My best choice is to learn to accommodate. Anyone with chronic, disabling medical problems knows what I mean. There’s no enemy to battle and conquer. Direct confrontation will not win the day. It will just leave me exhausted and defeated. I need to be cunning, wily, and sneaky. I have to stay patient, adaptable. Be creative. There might yet be a breakthrough in pain control.

I live in hope.

LIVING IN SILENCE

A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry removed his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it. 

“That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.”

I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget when it’s not your problem.


Many people don’t consider hearing loss a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend. I am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts.” None of which are visible to a naked eye. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. Years later, I’m still angry. How dare she set herself up to judge?

People make assumptions all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m with him I take them aside, explain Garry cannot hear them.

“You need to make sure he sees you and knows you are talking to him,” I tell them. I consider it part of my job as his wife. It’s rough being deaf in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. With so many people talking at once , it is impossible for him to hear one voice.

Mostly I can hear. Most things. Not as well as I did when I was younger. Background noise is more intrusive and annoying than before, but I hear well enough for most purposes. I depend on my hearing to catch nuances, to interpret underlying meanings of what people say.

Garry used to be able — with hearing aids — to do that too. It was important in courtrooms, while interviewing people and of course, in relationships. It’s not only what someone says, but how he or she says it. Body language, facial expressions … it’s all part of the communications package. But his hearing is worse now and much of this ability to catch the subtler part of speech has been lost.

The silence of the woods after a heavy snow
The profound silence of the woods after a heavy snow

When the hearing part goes, other senses have to compensate — but nothing quite fills the gap.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “it.” Sometimes “it” is me. He often behaves as if he heard me though he didn’t — but he thinks he did. Sometimes, he didn’t hear exactly what I said. Or notice I was speaking at all. It takes him a while to process sound, to put words in order and make them mean something. It isn’t instant, the way it is for someone with normal hearing. He has to pause and wait for his brain to catch up. Sometimes, he puts the puzzle together wrong because he heard only pieces and what he missed was important.

There’s also the “what?” factor. How many times can anyone say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before he/she feels like an idiot?

Human speech is not the whole story. There is music, soft and loud. The funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog locked in the closet. Birds singing. A cry for help from a distance.

Garry can’t hear any of that. He could, years ago. So he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes which means someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad. Or an alarm ringing. The hum of the refrigerator.

All the little noises are lost to Garry.

What does silence sound like? When you hear only the very loudest noises, but none of the soft, little sounds? The explosion, but not a murmur? To be in that silence — always — is a different world.

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* Answer: Three.You can ask someone to repeat something 3 times. After that you are too embarrassed to try again. This is true for everyone, not just people with hearing problems. We all encounter accents we don’t get, mumblers, and people who speak too fast or too softly.