I remember as a kid, my dad would get so frustrated with me, because he didn’t understand why it was so easy for me to forget things and lose things. I remember him screaming at me, and it would usually begin with the phrase “Why can’t you get it through your thick head” followed by the applicable situation. You know, situations like locking myself out of the house because I forgot to grab the house key before I left the house (this would also apply to my car later in life). Situations like forgetting to put food away or forgetting to put something back in the fridge causing it to spoil. Situations like taking longer to complete chores than I was supposed to or doing a “half-ass” job because I always broke them up into micro chunk tasks, but would often get overwhelmed at how many tasks that became. I wouldn’t be sure where to start or get stuck on one of steps. I could also get interrupted and forget what step I was on or what needed to be done next, so the chore itself would be incomplete.
Trying to keep my room, or the house for that matter, immaculately clean the way dad and mom wanted it was a never ending battle that would continue for as long as I lived under their roof. My dad would rage, because I just couldn’t put things away and would always leave a trail of things wherever I went. I was constantly losing things, which lead to accusations of me being selfish and condescending lessons of what does and does not grow on trees. I don’t think I realized why it was so difficult for me then, but remember constantly feeling inadequate, because I was constantly being berated for not doing something that didn’t come naturally to me. No matter how hard I worked to change or alleviate it, it never entirely went away.
Nothing has really changed. I keep my office and a space in my house (OK, there’s more than one if I’m being honest) cluttered with piles of notes and things just like my bedroom was when I was a child and teen. Only now, I know exactly why I do it; so, I don’t forget. If I put it away in a drawer or a container, it doesn’t exist. At least until the next time I happen to go digging for something else, and I happen to come across it. So, this isn’t new, but I had always assumed this was normal. I was just forgetful and everyone is about different things. OK sure, it seems like I struggle with processing information sometimes, but everyone learns differently and struggles with processing things in their own way. I was still able to do well in school, and actually excelled when it came to school and academics (until grad school; spoiler alert: I didn’t finish). Like my father said, I just had to “man-up” and figure it out. I just had to figure out how to live with it and make it work.
Looking back, I suspect I’ve probably always had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but my family didn’t really believe in regular visits to the doctor unless it was absolutely necessary and a true emergency; like lots of blood or appendages cut off or dangling type of emergencies. So, mental health was not even really a concept for me or my family. To this day, I have no idea if mental health is something significant my immediate family has dealt with or struggled with. While I suspect there is probably a history of mental health issues, I do not have any confirmation or know any specific details, because it’s just something my family does not talk about. They tend to take that approach on a lot of things actually. We’re a don’t ask, don’t tell kind of family. More than likely, most if not all, mental health in my family has gone undiagnosed and untreated.
The lack of acknowledgement and discussion surrounding mental health conditioned me not to take it seriously. Even when I knew I was struggling and questioned whether or not something was seriously off or wrong with me, I immediately brushed it off. Avoidance was and is my family’s go-to coping mechanism. Not me waiting until my 40s to get a diagnosis and treatment for my own mental health issues…even though the signs and indications have always been there. They never really caused me significant struggle until my late 20s though, and even then they were somewhat feasible. I’ve learned different coping mechanisms or hacks to get through life and accomplish the things I needed to. There were definitely times I wasn’t able to get the job done, but in those situations, I just had a tendency to move on and vow to do better.
Those moments of failure would linger though and build up over time. A constant nagging feeling and thought that I just wasn’t good enough. Initially, it is fleeting and doesn’t seem out-of-place. Over time, it builds up, but you grow complacent with it. You don’t really notice the rising temperature or the water beginning to boil around you.
Throughout my life, friends and those close to me have always been frustrated with me at one point or another because of my tendencies. This might be easier to just list them out:
- Getting distracted during conversations
- Interrupting because something said was a reminder of something forgotten, and there’s an urgency to get it out before it’s forgotten again
- Being “obnoxious” or “overreacting” to something due to my heightened sense of justice and fairness
- Frequent inability to be on time
- Inconsistency of upholding perceived obligations to social invitations
- Not attending social gatherings, because my dopamine and energy have been depleted, and there’s not enough to deal
- Assuming there’s an indifference to the friendship or relationship because my focus is frequently on something else
- Inability to focus on multiple things at a time
- Inability to recognize social cues or read them correctly
- Inability to recognize emotional meaning behind words or sarcasm
I constantly had passive aggressive comments thrown my way or pointedly said in my presence. Phrases like “we can’t all operate on Zeke-Time” or “it’s hard for all of us to keep track of things, but some of us just put in more effort” were coined in an attempt to make sense of my divergence of what they deemed to be qualities of “friendship”. Qualities, I began to realize, I would never be able to live up to. All of it seemed to come to a breaking point after a series of losses and traumas intensified my undiagnosed and untreated ADHD. I stopped working to diminish my habits and tendencies that I knew frustrated people close to me, so they became more prevalent than ever. I was exhausted, and my priorities shifted. It began to feel like those around me didn’t really understand me or there was this insane amount of pressure to always be ON for their needs. It felt like I had to be someone I wasn’t to validate their insecurities and to appease their sense of harmony. The problem was, I didn’t have it in me anymore. I was surrounded by people, yet had never felt more alone in my life.
I struggled more and more with my ability to process and navigate the world, my friendships and relationships became more strained and toxic. Many of those friendships didn’t survive and are no longer. Some their choice, some mine. Some that survived are still strained and will certainly never be the same again.
Then, the pandemic hit. It gave me the excuse to isolate myself and cut off ties with people without judgment and without the guilt trips. In a way, it was one of the best things that could have happened for me. I would finally get a break and relief from all the pressures that were building up. So, I retreated. I went into hermit-mode. It got to the point where it was just easier to isolate myself. I didn’t have to navigate the social landmines that I would inevitably trigger into destructive explosions every single time. I was able to find temporary peace from factors, influences, and people that were causing me so much debilitating inner turmoil; whether they intended to or not. It was better this way.
Initially, I used the reprieve that the pandemic brought me to bury my head in the sand and avoid the things I didn’t want to deal with like I’ve always done. As days bled into months, what should have made for easy routines with no outside distractions remained just as fragmented if not more discombobulated. Why wasn’t my mind quiet? Why were my thoughts still racing incessantly and chaotically bouncing around my head creating a fog that I had thought I had grown accustomed to? Things seemed to be getting worse with each passing day. I began to realize I needed to face what I had been avoiding for years; I needed help.
After a solid year of isolation, vaccines paved way for a return to “normal”, but this only magnified my stress and anxiety knowing I wasn’t ready to operate in a world that I was struggling to stay afloat in. I was disturbed and distressed with the way my brain was processing things and my ability to stay on task. My life and the way I did things were becoming more and more fragmented. I was constantly fighting to find confidence in myself, doubting my intelligence and my competence. It became harder and harder for me to sort my thoughts and perceptions making me question EVERYTHING.
Yet, I was so reluctant to seek help. I just kept telling myself that things would eventually work themselves out. I was just really stressed. O.K. maybe I was developing some anxiety, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I had to handle it though, because if I didn’t, it would make me weak. It would mean I had to admit defeat; that I had to accept I was damaged and broken. These are the flawed thoughts and perceptions that prevented me from making one simple phone call.
It took me almost a decade to accept that maybe the things I struggled with didn’t need to be as hard as they have always been; that the things I was struggling with were encompassing far more than your typical struggles. This was something else.
It took me a year after that realization to begin to reach out and seek information to help me understand. It took me a year to recognize and accept that I needed to make an appointment.
It took me 6 months to actually make the call and schedule the appointment, but I finally did.
So, here we are, I’ve been in therapy for a couple of months now. I’ve been diagnosed with inattentive and distractible ADHD. More than likely, I’ve always had it, but it didn’t start causing me major problems until later in adulthood. Even when it started causing me problems, I had grown so used to living with it (factor in my complicated childhood) that it took me more time than it should have to acknowledge I needed to get help. The thing is, I have also been diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) from experiencing multiple traumas over time that has caused my ADHD symptoms to exasperate and magnify. Like woah, our brains are weird.
I’ve been going through treatment. It’s been trial and error to find the right treatment, but think I am at the point now where I can see and feel PROGRESS. Things aren’t perfect, but for the first time
in a long time in a very very long time in decades, my mind is calm and quiet. I had assumed that the constant barrage and bouncing around of thoughts was the same for everyone. I had no idea that the fog could be completely lifted and that I could experience calm and peace like this. I’ve still got work to do to figure all this out, but man, the relief that comes with knowing life doesn’t have to be the way it has been for way too long. It’s priceless.