ADHD and Other Letters: Listen to how you talk to yourself

(alternative title: “Mate, do not punch yourself in the face just to get in first, it’s not a good strategy.”)

(why yes, I did have some trouble with the title, why do you ask)

At this point, I’ve read a good deal about ADHD (naturally; I am who I am). I’ve been reading the descriptions and explanations and therapeutic recommendations. I’ve been reading the experiences of other people, particularly other adult women, since that’s a very particular subset of ADHD folks.

A very common message in these sorts of books is one of acceptance: accept that ADHD is neurobiological. It’s a part of you, and it’s not a moral problem, and it’s not shameful. It does come with strengths as well as the more obvious difficulties. There’s emotional dysregulation, but there’s also a tendency towards passionate interest and dedication. There’s forgetfulness and chaos, but there’s also a strong correlation with creative problem-solving. There’s a noisy, distracted brain that freaks out and can’t concentrate, but there’s also a vast sea of ideas.

Mainly, though, we tend to focus on the challenges and the difficulties. Forgetting things all the time. Losing your train of thought. Losing your keys. Endless lists and post-it notes, endless calendars and diaries you forget to check. The inability to perceive time passing, a world that exists only in now and not now. Difficulty deciding to do things. Difficulty deciding anything. Fatigue and brain fog. An inability to manage and organise life in ways that seem very, very simple to neurotypical people.

Then there’s the shame. Why is it so hard to stay tidy? Why is it so hard to be organised? Why lose things? Why don’t you just concentrate? Why don’t you just try harder? You’re so sensitive. You’re so defensive. You’re so exhausting.

Most ADHD people (if not all) hear this litany at some point throughout their lives. It’s cruel and it’s miserable; it comes from a very human and understandable place – if you don’t have any form of executive dysfunction, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it’s like and why can’t you just do it for god’s sake…

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ADHD and Other Letters: There Really Is A Wall

Today I want to tell you about the wall.

I began to suspect I was autistic a few years ago. This was before I stumbled over descriptions of the way that time is perceived in ADHD folks, and had my “holy… holy shit?!” moment. So, at this point, I was reading about the varied presentations of autism, including sensory processing issues, difficulty with certain (otherwise benign) stimuli, difficulty reading social situations, filtering input, and so on.

I worried about labels. I worried about accusations of “claiming it for attention.” I worried about making excuses. I read all the stories and explanations, feeling seen and heard and understood, my heart squeezing painfully in my chest, while also housing my own little imposter syndrome farm.

To say I was overthinking would put it mildly.

And then it became very simple.

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On Agency, Mob Behaviour, and being Messed Up

Strap in, this be a wild ride.

It starts with a few personal anecdotes.

Anecdote #1: I am out of control

In my late teens and early 20s, I was a hot goddamned mess. I didn’t know I had ADHD, I didn’t know about emotional dysregulation, I didn’t understand trauma. I knew I was depressed. I’d never heard the phrase rejection sensitive dysphoria.

All I knew was that sometimes I would get upset. It would start with this deep pang inside, this sinking feeling, as if the world was twisting and pulling at me. Everything hurt. My skin crawled. I felt myself falling into a deep pit full of jagged edges, and I started to panic. Often it would be set off by the smallest thing, the most innocuous statement or declaration.

I would, in a nutshell, lose my fucking shit.

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ADHD and other letters: on forgiveness

I think one of the hardest things about having ADHD – especially prior to diagnosis – is that you lose faith in yourself. This applies to any condition that includes “executive dysfunction” as a symptom, but throw in the ADHD brain’s inability to perceive or estimate time, and it’s a real doozy.

Because you know what you need to do to change.

You just don’t do it. Continue Reading

ADHD and other letters: “Hyperactive” or “Inattentive” or “Combined” or “oh god just stop”

When it comes to medical situations, we like labels. Clear labels can shortcut explanations, save time, validate challenges that we face, allow us to access the help that we need, provide information to professionals, comfort us, describe parts of us, and ultimately provide all the blessings of naming the beast. There are downsides to labels, for sure, particularly when they are misused, poorly understood, incorrectly applied, or stigmatised; but when you’re searching for answers, sometimes you get hungry for labels.

Sometimes you want more labels, because more detail is better, right? Except sometimes labels are erected for shitty reasons and in half-arsed ways, and they can lead you down the garden path.

The disclaimer on this post is that:

  • I am not a doctor
  • I am definitely not a psychiatrist
  • And whoa, howdy, I am not a psychiatrist specialising in ADHD.

My one appeal to authority is that I did run these ideas past my specialist, because I wanted to know if I was on the right track, or just doing that thing that I do, i.e. “Yes, Kate, you did read a lot but you know a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, right?” and I figured a professional and a specialist was the right person to bounce these ideas off.

She agreed with enthusiasm (frustrated enthusiasm, for reasons that will become clear).

Let’s tell a story about labels. It starts with gender. Continue Reading

ADHD and other letters: The Gift of the Gab

I have always thought of myself as shy.

People who know me online don’t quite believe this. Even people who know me in person don’t believe this.

So I describe myself as a shy person who just hides it well.

I’ve even described it as social anxiety.

Really, it’s none of these things. Looking back, I’m not shy. I’ve never been shy. I’ve always been outgoing, performative, and generally gregarious. As a small child, I did hide behind my mother when strange adults came around, but I’m beginning to suspect that had more to do with weird attachment issues based on my mother’s emotional instability. With kids my own age, I was fearless – often to my detriment, because I did get mocked and bullied at both my primary schools. At my second school, I often didn’t know whether I’d have friends that day, or whether the girls who had been my friends the day before would turn around and start picking on me.

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ADHD and other letters: Adjusting and Unlearning

The first response to an ADHD diagnosis is often relief, excitement, even delight. Having answers, feeling that you might not actually be “lazy, crazy or stupid”, finding out that medication might give you the ability to restructure your life – all that is wonderful. This is especially true for people like me, who are born problem-solvers. We like answers and explanations and solutions.

It’s less clear after that. I’ve read that some experts liken it to a grief process (although I’m not sure where bargaining comes in).

What I did find was that, after the initial excitement and euphoria wore off, I was intensely frustrated and disappointed. Continue Reading