Monday, August 24, 2009

Something to ADD to the discussion, Part I

Those of you who have been keeping up with my sister's blog have likely also been following the saga of her discovering that she has adult ADD. It's been a whirlwind of a month--well, a life, really--for her, and I'm glad she's discovered what's been going on in her head this whole time. She's suffered long enough with this, and it's time she got to live a more typical life (I won't say "normal" because who the hell knows what that means.) What this discovery has done for Kitty is immeasurable, and to say that I'm glad for her is an understatement. It's not just that I'm glad for her--I'm glad for all of us.

If you've dealt with mental illness, whether it was chemical or emotional or both in nature, you know that it takes a terrible toll on the person. What we sometimes forget is what it does to everyone else around that person. It's not just Kitty dealing with the effects of her ADD, it's all of us. While she's been struggling with it for around thirty years, I've been right there with her. I've tried to be supportive, but even the patience of a sister and twin soul can be tried. So, after talking with Kitty about it, I'm doing a couple of posts on what it's like to be sitting next to Kitty and dealing with her ADD while she's dealing with it too. I believe her posts on her struggle were incredibly brave, heartfelt, and educational, and they were also well-written. Here's hoping some of that well-spokenness rubs off on my tripe of a blog.

I can't even remember when it started. I just know that for the vast majority of my life, I've been standing in between Kitty and the rest of the family, counseling her, offering advice, and sometimes just flat out picking her up off the floor or talking her down off of a ledge. It's flashbulb memories of Kitty trying to pick which candy bar to get in the Superette in Booger County, finally deciding with a hand snapping out impulsively to grab a 3 Musketeers and snatch it off the shelf as if the entire display were about to disappear. (She paid for it, mind you, it was just odd to watch her make decisions, hovering, looking, hand floating above the bars, or food at a buffet, or anything involving a choice.) It's witnessing a shrieking fit when Dad states that we're going to Aunt G____'s for Fourth of July, and Kitty "will be damned" if she's going (she's about 14). At family gatherings, she hides off in a room and reads magazines or finds someplace to take a nap. She tries to make conversation with Dad's siblings and their spouses, but it always seems a little forced to me.

"What's wrong with Kitty? Why won't she mind?" I'm ten years old, sitting at the dining room table at my grandmother's with my dad. My grandmother has just asked me--a ten-year-old--what's "wrong" with my older sister. The proper response of course is "How the hell should I know?! You two are the parental figures, YOU figure it out!" but I'm so terrified of the backlash that Kitty's resistance to authority has received that I begin to come up with reasons, explanations, excuses. My ten-year-old brain is a master at making sense of the unexplainable. Kitty's teacher Mr. J____gives them mounds of homework, it's so exhausting, so she sleeps a lot. Kitty's just a night person, I'm a morning person. I know Kitty's room looks a mess, but she knows where every single thing is in that room. (And this is the truth--I could walk into her FEMA Disaster Area of a room and ask "Where's the Victoria's Secret catalog with the black poet's blouse that's on sale?" and she could immediately plunge her hand into a pile of stuff and fish it out in 2.3 seconds and say "it's a little more than halfway through, right past the Second Skin Satin bras." She might have been messy, but that photographic memory had loads of film.) I learned to keep my room immaculate, to make tons of conversation and be cute and witty and entertaining to Dad's family. Just don't yell at me, don't talk bad about me behind my back, I'll be good, I'll be good, I'll be so good that I'll never ask for anything in life ever again.

I take the same classes Kitty takes with the same teachers. (That's what happens in a small school; siblings and cousins cycle through with the same teachers.) The classes Kitty struggled with and barely squeaked by in--or took summer school to make up--barely registered on my radar. My report card was full of 99s, only because they couldn't give 100 as a grade. (We didn't have letter grades at my school in the 1990s.) "What's wrong with Kitty?" yet another relative would ask when Kitty was hiding out somewhere else, reading magazines and flipping through pictures of her teen idols (which happened to be the 1986 Celtics team, who were way better role models than the freakin' New Kids on the Block--spare me). Dad would ask, "Should we take her pictures and magazines away? Would she get better grades in Algebra then, Pixie?" My response is, "If you clamp down on her, she'll just act even worse. Just get her a tutor." Did I mention I was 14? I'm 14, and I'm having to defend my sister from the entire family's scrutiny and tongue-clucking.

Kitty slept long, hard nights, sometimes up to twelve hours during the summer. Her room was a wreck. She liked to experiment with clothes and makeup and was interested in boys. I didn't realize it until I was almost out of grad school, but in many respects my sister was actually the normal one. I was the abnormal teenager, keeping my room spotless and getting my homework done as soon as I got home from school, in bed by nine and up at six. Part of that was a defense mechanism, and part of it was just necessary because every morning, I got two people ready for school. My alarm went off at six am, and I got out of bed and immediately went to my sister's room to wake he up for the first time. Then I took a shower and got dressed. Then I went back to Kitty's room and woke her up a second time (yes, she had an alarm, but you know how easy it is to slap the snooze button). Then I went back to the bathroom and did my hair and makeup and ate breakfast. Then I went back to Kitty's room to finally get her out of bed. While she showered, she would call out directions from the bathroom: "Get some undies and socks out of my lingerie drawer, and get that bra with the five hooks up the front that's beige! My Michigan sweatshirt and the Levi's jeans! I think my Algebra folder is still in the living room!" As she showered, I gathered up clothes for her to wear that day, gathered up her folders and books from various rooms in the house and put them by the front door, and I made her sandwich for the day to go in her lunch bag with the chips and snack. On the drive to school, I brought along a granola bar for her breakfast, which I would break into pieces and hand to her to eat while she drove us to school. After we both could drive, I would occasionally just get fed up and leave without her. But for the most part, morning after morning, I would do this routine, getting two people out the door.

Genesis 4:9: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain was being a smartass to God when he asked that, but we all knew the truth. We are all our brother's--and sister's--keepers, and we are all accountable for how we treat one another. I was Kitty's de facto keeper as we grew up, and I knew it. It was my job to keep her going, keep her organized, keep her spirits up, because for whatever reason it seemed that everyone else had abdicated the responsibility or desire to keep her. So I kept her. I kept her as well as I could. But we all grow up, leave home, start new lives. Kitty's messy room became a messy apartment, except that the kitchen and bathroom were failry clean and safe. After grad school, even those rooms went. The rooms of her house were traversed only by narrow paths. I would visit her house and find nine-month-old milk in the fridge, unopened mail postmarked to last year, litter boxes that hadn't been scooped in weeks, and shopping bags simply sitting where she had dropped them last week. My entire life, I had given her suggestions on things she could do to make things easier: sort your mail over the garbage can; put it in a box and write the year on it, and if you haven't opened it in a year, throw it out; touch every piece of paper only once; sort through your closet once a year, say around your birthday. None of it ever seemed to stick, seemed to sink in. I offered to come visit and help her clean, but the thought even made me weary and even resentful. Great idea, Pixie, you go clean her house. Go take care of her...again.

What's her payoff for not doing these things, I always wondered. Why wouldn't she do things that would so obviously help her? When Dad's relatives would sniff about her lack of organization or her distraction over boys or a lack of interest in hanging out with the rest of the family at a gathering, Kitty's comeback was that everyone was trying to control her. While I think Dad's relatives probably had some of that in mind, it blew my mind that Kitty woiuld toss aside basic, commonsense suggestions for living well. There must be some reason she's not doing it, some payoff for not doing it. What's going on?! I had no idea until she blogged about it that she truly couldn't get enough peace in her head to remember to open her mail over the trash can; the couple thousand radio stations playing in her head at the same time made it nigh on impossible to focus.

I would IM Kitty while at work and talk her through yet another crisis. I'm gonna go lay down, back in a bit, she'd IM, but three hours later when I was logging off to go home, she would still be asleep. Daily three-hour naps, constantly surrounded by the chaos of her did she get anything done? It was getting done--she stil had a teaching job and even won two awards--but how? This can't be a good way for her to live, and she can't be happy living like this. What gives?

Part II on Wednesday.


OHN said...

It is so interesting to see Kitty's "problem" from your viewpoint. Sometimes people like Kitty and I forget that our issues effect others too.

I had wondered at times, while reading her posts, if she was having depression issues, and have wanted to suggest that possibility in comments, but did not want to stick my nose in where it would most certainly not be welcome as a stranger.

I am looking forward to her blossoming into her new life :)

Craig said...


I think this is your best post yet. As I follow both your and Kitty's blogs it is a great counterpoint to her story. As a parent of a child with ADD, the other side of the story is often lost.

Good luck to you both as this new discovery unfolds.

Miss Kitty said...

Best. WAD post. ever.

Now that I can see things more clearly, I feel terrible about the hell I was putting you through--and didn't even know I was doing so. :-(

Charlotte said...

I agree, best WAD ever. You are an awesome sister.

Sandy said...

I think you're both pretty wonderful!

Leeann Ward said...

I've been reading your sister's blog for over a year now and have been lurking on yours for that long as well.

It's wonderful that you can be so honest about these struggles and talk honestly about them with your sister. It's just as awesome that she appreciates your insight and encouraged/supports you in sharing it on a public forum for the benefit of others who can relate or could benefit from some understanding.

It's readily apparent that you two are impressive people who have overcome some seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Thanks for allowing us to follow along.

Anonymous said...

awww dang, this made me cry because you and your sister love each other so very much, that stands out in this story so vividly. I've been reading Miss Kitty's blog for awhile and yours for a bit (catching up with the older stuff too). Both of you are very Artsy girls - with tons of brains and creativity. Why look at the choice of careers for both sisters AND your own mother? Artists! She's a Jill of all Trades - handy with a wrench, Princess of Plumbing Design, and plus she makes those knockout dresses.
Hang in there girls, you're going in the right direction.

ms. kitty said...

I'm so glad to know more about the Dynamic Dua. I've read you both now for a couple of years and have seen your individual character and sense of ethics emerge in your writings and have been delighted with what I have known. Now I feel privileged to know you even more deeply and I am grateful for your sharing the journey with us.

xtine said...

I love the insight into sisterhood you've provided.

Especially with the mental illness factor.

Wilderness Gina said...

I've always had trouble concentrating. Can't meditate. BUT I've learned to do things and focus when it was really necessary. Early on I found that physical activity dispells depression which I come by honestly from my mother's father.. and my mother. Ooo! a Popsickle!