Published Date Written by Karen VachonBack-to-School is a very poignant time of year. You can't help but think back to your childhood. A range of emotions come to mind: excitement, anticipation, and anxiety.
No matter your age, we're adjusting in the back-to-school season. Summer businesses close; year-round businesses adjust their hours, transportation schedules change; we resume year-round activities that took a summer break. Conscious of it, or not, everyone is involved and impacted in the back-to-school season. It invites us to adjust,
learn new things, perhaps about people, or ourselves. We're always learning.
I remember the knots in my stomach each year I returned to school. Another grade higher; the anxiety: Would I like my teacher? Will I make new friends? Will this be a good learning experience? Will I be able to make the grade? Then, years later, as a parent, wondering if my kids felt the way I did; or were they more relaxed (I hope they were). Will they like their teacher, and their teacher like them? Will they make friends? You devise a back-up plan in case they need some extra help, perhaps seeking resources to increase their chances of success. We've come a long way in the professional arena; there seem to be more resources today to help make learning a good experience. But nothing speaks louder than someone who has been there, done that, and is willing to share.
I love her energy. When she walks into a room, she lights up the whole space. She's interesting; different; dynamic; fun. She's Kirsten Milliken, Ph.D; a licensed clinical psychologist and an ADHD coach. Her personality is intriguing, with a commanding presence, she's exuberant, confident, charming, and humble. Her personality not only begs to get to know her better, but also to stop and think: I may know someone whom she can help, or, even better yet — being around her, may help me!
Kirsten grew up in a "normal" family — two kids, a dog, and a cat, in typical suburban neighborhoods (her family moved every few years — and this seemed perfectly normal to her). She enjoyed school, and found it to be a positive experience. She ended up in a Montessori school, rewarded for her creativity she was identified as "gifted." In an open classroom, she recalls producing only one piece of work in two years: a one page drawing with written text about cumulus clouds. What she remembers most about this school experience was playing jacks, piano, swinging on the rope, and interacting with frequent class guests. While she was labeled "gifted", she was also identified as a student who was "not meeting [her] potential," she recalls the recommendation: "if only you'd try harder. ..."
Socially, she had few friends, and found it difficult to fit into any particular peer group. She sought solace reading books, drifting in a great story that would play out as a movie in her head. She'd read all night, unable to put the good book down. At home, her parents were frustrated; she didn't complete her chores, leaving a pan or two behind because she thought of something else she had to do. As she got older, school became a game; working in spurts to make up for little efforts, she managed to maintain above average grades. She created "games" to complete things that weren't really fun. A strategy she continues today.
As she got older, she found herself impatient and frustrated with people. Annoyed she'd request they "cut to the chase" to keep up with her. She quickly got bored in relationships; wearing her emotions on her sleeve, she felt hurt, and became sad and angry. When she was happy, she was ecstatic. She experienced social anxiety, and by the time she got to college, experienced her first bout of clinical depression. She committed her life's work to mental health, receiving her Ph.D, treated off and on, for depression, she never realized that what she was actually dealing with was ADHD.
As is typically true, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Two years ago, her son was diagnosed with ADHD. When he received his diagnosis, her first question was: "What side of the family did this come from?" (!) It would be her ex-husband that would enlighten her: "You, of course!" Milliken admits that coming to this realization, at first, was a bit embarrassing, but quickly realized her difficulties and strengths came into perspective — it all started to make sense. "While diagnostic labels are not my favorite part of psychology, I found that having a diagnosis gave me a foundation to start understanding my unique brand of ADHD and begin indentifying strategies to improve my relationships, work habits, and life," explains Millken, who considers herself to be a successful and well-respected psychologist, however, "I had always felt that something was holding me back from attaining a much higher level of success." For the past two years, she's sought counsel, and immersed herself in ADHD studies, revealing the complexities of this diagnosis, which has over 18,000 combinations of symptoms. "There's no typical ADHD presentation", she explains. It's a long process to understand how the brain works. Explains Milliken, "Thankfully, I have always loved the feeling of the dopamine release I get when I learn something new. It's motivation!"
She's coordinating a new ADHD Maine Meetup group to connect people with ADHD. She wants to bring together people who can relate, or as she says "who get you". She recalls trying this out in a group of suspected ADDers — she blurted out something that may have exposed her vulnerability; "not one person flinched — conversation went on as if it was perfectly normal. Imagine that! I was normal! Amazing!" Her group is small, but growing. The focus is to support one another, and educate the community about ADHD across the lifespan. "In the group I am not the ADHD expert — I am a tribe member." Milliken is committed to learn as much as she can from other members. Membership is free.
In October ADHD Maine is coordinating five presentations on the University of Southern Maine campus for ADHD Awareness Week, which will take place Oct. 15-19. Anyone interested in attending the Meetup or a presentation can find more information at: www.meetup.com/adhdmaine.
(Karen Vachon is a Scarborough resident. She is a licensed health and life insurance agent and active community volunteer. To follow her on Facebook, go to: http://www.facebook.com/karenvachonhealth.)