What I Learned in 2022: I Have ADHD

Dreamy, spacy, quirky. A Pisces, an airhead, an empath. Scattered, out-of-it, easily overwhelmed. Overemotional, hypersensitive, reactive. Naïve, spontaneous, immature. Not living up to potential. Anxious. Prone to depression. Quick to anger. A catastrophizer. Hypervigilant, paranoid, just off, different, floaty, makes mistakes, thinks outside the box, not serious, right-brained, fickle, head in the clouds, forgetful, intuitive, lives in a fantasy world.

Cold, aloof, keeps everyone at arm’s length. Bitchy, thinks she’s better than everyone. Drinks too much. Does too many drugs. Listens to music too much. Just weird.

What is up with the not hugging thing? If she would just try harder. Gifted but lazy. You know how creatives are. No one could feel that much all the time.

I internalized all of the above words and phrases and turned them into one little word: shame. But there was something I didn’t know that explained all of it.

About six weeks ago I was diagnosed with Inattentive Type ADHD, the end of a twenty-year quest to figure out what, exactly, the fuck was going on with my brain. At first, I was shocked. I was, like a lot of people, completely ignorant about the disorder. I pictured a hyper boy not able to sit still in class. I can sit still. I don’t fidget much. I’m not hyper. I just didn’t think I could possibly have this thing. Then I learned about Inattentive Type, and it was like every time I’ve ever been overwhelmed and not known why, every time I cried out of frustration, every time I just couldn’t do something no matter how hard I tried, well, it all suddenly made sense. After over a decade in therapy, hundreds of self-help books, antidepressants, neurofeedback, anxiety drugs, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, being hypnotized, etc. I finally had an answer. My brain is just different. And it affects everything.

Apparently, people with ADHD have low levels of dopamine in their brains. It’s an actual chemical thing not a behavioral disorder. And you’re born with it. The more I read, the more my lifelong struggles were explained. (The low dopamine levels can cause panic attacks, anxiety, and depression what what??) I told people close to me and they all were blown away by how much the diagnosis described me. At one point I told my sister I was sure the diagnosis was correct, but I kept having moments of doubt. She blurted out, “WELL, I DO NOT!” then we laughed for like five minutes straight. Because it’s sad but it’s also hilarious. Especially to someone who’s been watching me do weird shit my entire life.

I got tested to verify the diagnosis and the test was so extensive that by the time it was over I was positive I had it. I also contacted the neurologist who did neurofeedback on me, and she looked over my brain map and confirmed I had the marker.

I was relieved. Then sad. Then angry. I know people who were diagnosed as children. I envied their decades of understanding how their brains worked, the years of help they received, the shame they didn’t internalize. I was angry that no one ever saw this in me. No one thought, oh wow, she’s an anxious hypervigilant catastrophizer who spaces out and has never been able to work a regular job, maybe she should get tested for ADHD. But my anger is misplaced. There is absolutely no way anyone could have known I was suffering from the other symptoms, the obvious ones like losing focus and forgetting things, because I’d never told anyone. I pretended. I guess the correct term in the community is masking so I’ll use that. I masked, I hid who I really was because I knew it was unacceptable. From my parents, friends, teachers, even my therapist. They literally couldn’t have known what was really going on because I never said, “Hey, I can’t focus! I zone out if I’m not super obsessed with the topic! I have a very hard time with noises and lights and smells, and I’ve gotta be high or drunk to go to a crowded party or a concert! Help me!”

I’ve been reading up on ADHD and apparently the first D is a misnomer. It’s not attention DEFICET, it’s attention ABUNDANCE. People with ADHD see, hear, feel literally everything that’s going on in a room but unlike neurotypicals, we can’t force the other stuff out of our consciousness and focus on what the nice lady at the company holiday party is saying to us. And if we manage to, it takes an insane amount of effort. I now know why I have panic attacks in crowded department stores, and I cry when I need to get ready for an event but the tv is too loud in the other room and I’m not sure what to wear and my new deodorant smells weird.

So here I am well into my forties dealing with a diagnosis a lot of people get at age ten. And, you know what? I’m past the sadness and the anger. I’m just grateful. I am so happy to know there’s a reason I hate being hugged (hypersensitivity) and never let anyone get too close to me emotionally. (The mask might slip!) I’m relieved there’s a reason that when I was a kid, I wouldn’t play in the sandbox my dad made me or mess around with fingerpaints. (Sensory issues.) I love knowing that the reason I am absolutely bone tired after socializing is that I get easily overwhelmed. Too many sounds and smells coming at me at once plus having to keep my mask on so I don’t zone out or do or say something weird equals exhaustion. And that’s okay.

I’m so new to this. There’s so much I don’t know. But I’m learning. And I’m doing things to help myself and my dopamine levels. I’m exercising more. I’m using an organization app, alerts on my phone, and a timer for writing sprints. I’m working with a psychiatrist on finding the right, if any, medication. I’m trying to work with my brain and give it what it needs instead of being ashamed of it. (If you have any advice for me, I’d be so grateful to hear it.)

A couple of weeks ago I became super ashamed that I had ADHD. There was a voice in my head telling me to keep it a secret, that my brain was broken, that people would look down on me because of it. But that’s ridiculous. I never judge anyone else when I find out they have any type of disorder or health thing so why am I judging myself? Why would I think the worst of the people in my life? I think it’s coming from a lifetime of constantly berating myself over every little thing as a defense mechanism. (If I find what’s wrong with me before they do, I can fix it or hide it.) It’s hard to turn off that voice. I know you don’t unlearn that overnight but I’m on a quest to be kinder to myself and to accept and love my brain for what it is. I want to own this part of myself so I’m going to put it in my social media bios, out there for the world to see, at least until I’m comfortable with the diagnosis. I don’t want to be ashamed; I want to embrace ADHD. Because, yes, this disorder can be debilitating and frustrating but I suspect it’s also the source of my creativity and my empathy for others.

And I wouldn’t change those parts of me for all the Ewoks on Endor.

2 thoughts on “What I Learned in 2022: I Have ADHD

  1. I love this so much! Shame is an eater of worlds. The hardest/easiest thing to do is not to give in to it. ❤️

  2. Love this so much too and thank you for bravely sharing. We wouldn’t wanna change you either. And you give this fellow Pisces scatterbrained creative much to think about.

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