“Well, you’ve definitely got it.” These were the words my psychiatrist told me within half an hour of meeting me. Could it be? Do I finally have a name for the thing that’s been draining me for just shy of thirty years? Do I have an answer for my duck-duck-goosey brain that jumps too much and attacks me when I’m idle? Do I actually have a root cause for the anxiety, depression and other mental health goobies? Hi, I’m Stephanie and I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
ADHD, as it turns out, is not just the loud boy who insists on interrupting the rest of the class. ADHD is the inability to regulate one’s self. All the times I felt overwhelmed by random stimuli, exhausted for no reason or hypersensitive to a catatonic point - well it turns out I’m not crazy or lazy, just suffering a neurodevelopmental condition, yay!
“Quirky” was a word I heard a lot growing up, “random” too. Why did I insist on starting sentences in the middle and why did it take so much longer to explain where the thought came from? Communicating with those around me has always been an awkward ordeal. Even now the struggle is still very much real. It's not like I’m on a different page - it’s like I’m in the wrong library, flicking through a magazine and stopping for a strawberry smoothie, wondering why you have no idea what I’m talking about.
Rejection sensitivity, rumination, and the extreme discomfort of trying to be or sit still are just some key elements that make up the ‘neurodiverse’ experience. And before you say “But Steph, everyone has a bit of that”, let me clear something up.
The undiagnosed ADHD experience isn’t just forgetting where you put your keys or being late to appointments. For me at least, it has been 30 ruthless years of self-deprecating and spiralling existence of self. ADHDers are commonly branded as self-centred or unorganised, I mean c’mon! It’s not that hard to wash dishes or get out of bed right? Believe me when I say laziness would have been a luxury. I completely agree, it is incredibly easy to do a simple chore or move from my bed. I know all the steps, and I can picture doing it very clearly in my head. My body is in perfect working order, so why can’t I just do it already?
We called it hormones, depression, anxiety, growing pains, or a typical teenager with divorced parents stuff. Nobody, especially myself, could figure out why I was doing this to myself. ADHD was the guilt in the pit of my stomach for not doing enough and making Mum sad because I should have been so much happier than I was. ADHD was the fear that all of my friends actually hated me. I genuinely believed I was rotten on the inside. Continuously sprouting mould within my being and no amount of productivity, help or ‘you can do it’ would cure me.
Upon diagnosis, many things occur. Relief comes first. Realising that the craziness, the relentless silent disturbance you endure is a legitimate neurological disorder. Finally, validation! Reassurance is like a pop-up ad in my mental tabs of information. There are words for my symptoms, resources, explanations, doctors and medication.
And also fury.
30 years of believing my own brain was a chronic condition - which it is - but interventions could have been applied had I not masked my illness. Every teacher, counsellor, therapist, psychologist, friend, family member, boss, coworker and stranger on the street accepted that I was ‘just like that.’ Not showing up, not handing in assignments, not participating... If I made it to class it wasn’t uncommon for me to doodle in my planner or write numbers up to five hundred and thirty-six because my brain was holding me hostage.
I see the world so beautifully, I swear. Every sunset is new and magical. Every flower is a colour I’ve never seen before. Every butterfly, I greet like an old friend. But here I am on the bedroom floor, jaw clenched, wanting to punish myself for not being or doing more. My imagination is so overactive, trains of thought constantly crash into each other and I am a mere bystander with no control over the carnage.
Creativity soars through me like a nourishing source of energy. That’s ADHD too. Who knew there was actually a payoff when harnessed correctly? Hyperfixation and a limitless curiosity really do allow me and my humongous imagination to reach heights inconceivable to the average Joe.
Approaching the end of my very late 20s and telling others of my diagnosis, I am met with either ‘congratulations!’ or ‘same!’ My friends who feel like family provide me with endless support and encouragement. My coworkers and bosses ask what they can do to help me and check in to make sure I'm okay. It feels like maybe the next 30 years will be very different. That I won’t feel like an understudy dragging myself around just trying to get by, but thriving instead. Despite traumatising myself into being afraid of everything, maybe I’ll actually be able to set my mind to something and achieve the greatness I always suspected was somewhere in me.
Unless it involves the big light. I HATE the big light...(overhead lighting #IYKYK)