Friday, August 28, 2009

Something to ADD to the discussion, Part III

If the past two blogs sound like I'm angry, it's because I have been for a long time. I'm angry that my sister's mental and even physical health were left to languish for so long, that therapist after therapist after doctor didn't see this. I'm not angry at my sister, per se, or even my mom. Mom was barely allowed to see us every other weekend, and she had to fight like hell to get that--might she have noticed, with enough exposure to Kitty? Maybe, maybe not. Kitty's condition made her act the way she did, and my brain and consciousness made me act the way I did (being super-productive, super-compliant, and super-capable) as a reaction to that. I'm not writing these posts to air my sister's dirty laundry or my mom's perceived shortcomings, I just don't know how else to describe to you what it's like to live with someone who is constantly surrounded by drama and can't function because they can barely focus with all the noise in their head unless I actually tell you some of the things that happened. We are what we are--all of us--because of where we've been and what we've been through; there's no point in feeling guilty about any of it because it doesn't help.

Also, bear in mind that Kitty wasn't some helpless walking shambles, which our family would have led you to believe. She completed her thesis and got a Master's degree, she got a good job teaching college English, won two teaching awards...but even before that, she would eventually figure out a way to make things work. She would eventually decide, like she did after Dad died and she and I had a tearful conversation or two, that she needed to go back to therapy and get some support. She daintzed for a couple of years to get the money she needed to pay off some debts and get back on solid footing again. She's able to solve her problems, eventually; it just seemed like it was so hard for her to get there each time.

It was finally a couple of week ago when Kitty realized that she was quite possibly about to flunk her linguistics class that I had had it. I've had it before, mind you--and when that happens, I usually just don't call or talk to Kitty for a few days (bear in mind that we talk nearly every day in some form) and let her chaos settle. In the past year or so, I've finally begun to back off now and then when Kitty seems to have a new intractable problem, as the lesson of not really being able to help Kitty was finally sinking in. On that morning, we conversed briefly by IM as I was getting ready to go to a meeting at TCMC. Kitty's IMs to me bemoaned her flunking grade, there was nothing she could do, she'll never go to grad school, why did she even think she could do this job, and so on. Nothing I could IM back appeared to cut through the misery and self-loathing: go to the teacher and ask about extra credit, will they offer the class again, but you emailed the teacher once and she acknowledged how hard this material is so maybe she'll go easy on you or help you catch your grade up, and so on. Nothing got through, nothing helped, nothing I could say could or would make anything better...

...and I was done. I IM'd that I wished I could help more but we had to leave for the meeting in a few minutes and signed off. From there, I went to the ladies' room at DA, sat down on the can, and leaned over my knees and fumed. Jesus God, Kitty, I thought. I'm supposed to go to a meeting in less than half an hour and look happy and professional and explain to these people why they need to spend another half-million bucks on their surgery suite than they'd planned to, and you're tapping a big keg of drama over a class that you frankly didn't seem to be focusing that hard on. You actually skipped a class to grade papers for a class you were teaching. You're 35, Kitty; fix it.

Am I my sister's keeper? The thought weighed heavily on me. I can't turn away from her; she's done nothing wrong. She's kind to stray animals and confused students, and she just has problems keeping up with grading, who's to say we all wouldn't do the same if we had six freshman comp classes? But at the same time, at what point does my sister keep herself? Right after Kitty's linguistics meltdown, Mom came to visit for a week and shared her insights on Kitty's condition as well, noting that she seemed to sleep a lot the weekend that she was supposed to be studying for the linguistics midterm. Mom and I both wondered what the hell would make her sleep so much on such an important weekend. I know that I sometimes feel sleepy when I have a major detail to figure out or an annoying phone call to make at work, but I just go ahead and do it and tell myself that I can rest a little afterwards. And of course, i never rest, but that's a different story.

During the week Mom was here and the week after, Kitty kept asking both Mom and me about her behavior: did she used to do this, act like that, always seem like so? I responded as best I could, wondering what sort of introspection she was undertaking and what might be up her sleeve. Kitty eventually emailed us that she really thought she may have ADD and emailed us the results from an online test she took. A subsequent phone call had her saying the same thing, only a little more convinced. She gave me some of the symptoms, talked about some of the books she read, and I responded that her idea certainly had merit and that she should discuss it with her therapist at their next session. After I hung up, I told Guy that Kitty believed that she had adult ADD. "Do you think she does?" asked Guy. I sighed wearily. "I don't care if she's bipolar with a side order of Tourette's and thinks she's supposed to be a man. I just want her to fix it--enough's enough."

Enough was indeed enough. But the more I thought about the symptoms she described, the more I realized that it really did seem a lot like her. Despite the fact that I know so much about my sister, I never knew that her mind sounded like a bunch of radio stations all playing at once. The constant sleeping would make sense--how else would a tired, distracted brain filter out so much input? Difficulty organizing? Hell to the yes, that was Kitty. Occasional hyperfocus? Actually, yeah. Every now and then, Kitty would find something so engrossing that she could read it or do it until 3am, but it had to really really interest her. The pieces began to fall into place. What else could explain how she wasn't getting anything done?

In the past year or so, Kitty had begun expressing to me how exhausting it was to live the way she did, but she didn't know how to change. Getting more productive, at least to a functional point, will still involve a lot of cognitive and behavioral work, but at least now she has a chance of being able to do it. The medication may finally make it possible for my incredibly talented and generous sister to do basic mental and physical tasks that we rarely give a second thought to. After a week on her meds, Kitty told me over IM that she cleaned her office that day, and it only took her 45 minutes. What did it used to take? I IM'd. Her response: Five hours. Five hours. Five hours that you could be doing anything else. I can set up, note, and dimension two to three pages of interior elevations in Revit in five hours. What if it took me that long to clean up my office cubicle, which is almost the same size as Kitty's office? I'd go apeshit, that's what. No wonder she was so frustrated and worn out--it took everything she had to concentrate and make the world make sense through her lack of filters.

I breathe deeply with a sigh of thankfullness and relief when I think of Kitty these days. Relief that she has found a real solution--no matter how much more work it will take her--to settle her chaos, and thankful that she has never given and gone under into the depression it can bring.

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.


ms. kitty said...

I think you are a remarkable sister, Pixie, to stick with Miss K, loving her, not giving up, wanting to be helpful in the right ways. I admire you so much.

Miss Kitty said...

I admire you, too. :-) [hugz]

Sandy said...

Again, I think you're both wonderful. What a special bond you two have. Some sisters never have that. I am so glad that things have turned around. I always include you both in my prayers.

Katharine said...

Family systems are fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Pixie. You and Kitty have opened my eyes to amazing "whys" and I am very grateful. Wow. There are always reasons why folks do what they do, but sometimes it's hard to figure out what those reasons might possibly be. Again, thanks.

OHN said...

I have loved seeing your point of view/frustration regarding being the relative of an ADD person.

My 19 year old is so much like your sister that it blows my mind. Kindness squared, but all the other "problems" are too overwhelming for him to rise above.

He has been on and off ADD meds since middle school. As a college sophomore that called last night telling me he was reducing his hours to 13 (1 hour above the full-time cutoff)I decided that today we need to have another honest talk and revisit the idea of a daily med.

Like you, I have gone around and around with his symptoms.

I guess in a way we all need to support our friends and relatives till they can realize they can feel better with organization in their lives. Well, at least until it becomes OUR full time job, then it becomes too exhausting.

Craig said...


I think you are justified in your feelings for sure. Props to you for realizing how you feel and how its affected you over the years.

Also props for sticking together and I hope now you'll be able to enjoy your relationship with Kitty on a whole new level.

Best to you both, along with Mom and Guy!.

Wilderness Gina said...

Now if I can just get her to clean a litter box once in awhile....