National Alliance on Mental Illness
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My Story: Joanne Johnson

Joanne JohnsonMy familyís outlook on living with ADHD has been to focus on the strengths of the disorder rather than its weaknesses. My husband and son live with severe ADHD; they are high energy, always on the go, very creative and active. My son was having issues around age 4 and we went to a neurologist. During the interview process, we realized my husband also had ADHD. They didnít want to diagnose my son at such a young age, but around age 6 they confirmed the diagnosis and he began taking medication.

He is 20 years old now. My husband was always an over achiever, but would start projects and never finish them. We would go camping and friends would call our campsite the ďADHD campsiteĒ because it was so creative and organized. ADHD has really mostly been a positive thing in our lives. Youíre always hit with something from all angles, but itís more fun than a boring life!

I became involved with NAMI Mercer, N.J., after my son was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder around fifth grade. Bipolar disorder is more severe. It is similar to ADHD, but includes behaviors like raging and agitation. He went to a special school while I began teaching a NAMI Basics course and leading support groups to help other kids. NAMI became like my second family. I met my best friends through NAMI and I know that at a momentís notice, I could call a ton of people for help. It gave my life meaning and a new direction.

The steps we took to begin the journey of recovery for my husband and son were medication, therapy and education. I read up on it a lot and took courses. Once my husband began taking medicine, he was able to focus better both at work and home. The medication for my husband made a night and day difference. ADHD has ultimately brought our family closer together. Because typical vacations like taking a cruise didnít really work for an ADHD child, we experienced a lot of bonding from more interactive activities like camping. Itís been a fun way of life. My husbandís disorder could have led to a divorce, but instead it made our marriage stronger.

My advice for other families living with ADHD would be: donít pay attention to the stigma around medication. Taking medication for a mental illness is a good thing. Mental illness should be treated just like any other illness. If you had diabetes, you wouldnít question taking insulin, would you? I also really recommend therapy and being educated about the illness. And donít give up hope. Itís also important that you donít forget about giving attention to the other siblings in the family. It can be very difficult for a sibling because you have to spend a lot of your energy on the child who is dealing with mental illness, and remember to take care of yourself. ADHD can be managed: Get treatment and experience how fun your life can be.