The ADHD of It All
So this is fun: In December I got officially diagnosed with pretty severe ADHD! Woohoo! Yay me. It's not severe enough to keep me from functioning and doing my job, but it was pronounced enough that I basically tripped every wire in the diagnosis process and set off every alarm (so, like, the exact opposite of Catherine Zeta-Jones in that movie where she slinkily slides under lasers in black spandex. The Thomas Crown Affair? I can't remember, I'm tired.)
The diagnosis was both a surprise and strangely, completely unsurprising. Kind of like when your team can't think of an answer in Trivial Pursuit and you give up so then the person holding the card goes "Swaziland" and you "Ohhhhh" because Swaziland makes total (almost too much!) sense and then you secretly wonder why you're playing the 1989 version of this stupid game.
Anyway, I've always known something about me was "off." I've been aware to some extent that I process things differently than the average person and work through tasks differently and experience social situations very differently, and that I am extraordinarily (almost debilitatingly) sensitive to rejection and criticism. But, until now, I never had something concrete to point to to explain it. Now I do. My brain is literally wired to be this way! It's not an elaborate moral failing on my part after all! Realizing this, I feel a mix of relief, empowerment, and utter hopelessness. I also don't know how I feel most of the time, which--surprise surprise--can be marker of ADHD!
The big thing I've learned is that ADHD is not about inattention, perse. It's about dopamine. Basically, my brain doesn't produce dopamine at the necessary levels and so I'm wired to scan and search for things that will. This is why I have to drink a flavored beverage at almost all times of the day, constantly crave sugary things, and why I own 400+ video games. They're dopamine dispensers.
I have what's called an "interest-based nervous system," meaning I quite literally can't focus on what doesn't interest me. I can lose myself for hours in a video game or work task I find exciting. Or, I can push off a mundane task for hours/days/weeks until the threat of missing a deadline makes the idea of completing the task produce enough dopamine to finally interest me.
It's hell. I'm not going to lie. I'm in the process of trying to get medicated to see how that will improve things, but every day is kind of a low-grade nightmare that in some ways I feel like I'm just waking up to. I'm uncomfortable. Constantly. I'm anxious and sad. Constantly. I'm worried I'm fucking up or forgetting something or that everyone hates me from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep at night. And often times, I am forgetting something, because somewhere along the way it fell outside of my immediate purview and I forgot about it ("out of sight, out of mind [derogatory]").
This has been going on for almost my entire life. Every single day, for forever. As a kid I think I attributed a lot of the discomfort to the anxieties of being in the closet, but now I see I was undiagnosed ADHD and just scrambling to cope the best I could.
The good news is, now that I know what I'm dealing with, I've started to make some subtle adjustments. Stupid, simple things that I know sound ridiculous, but have been game-changing for my exhausted brain. Like, for example, I write down lists of three each day of random things I might forget to do (make a dentist appointment, send an invoice, etc.) because I've realized crossing out things on a to-do list gives me a big hit of dopamine. I've lined up all the bathroom implements I need to use before bed (floss, pills, moisturizer, etc.) on the same shelf in my medicine cabinet. Before the diagnosis, I remembered my mouth guard maybe 20% of the time. Since December, I've only forgotten it once. I just go down the shelf and one by one, knock things off on my hygiene list and collect my dopamine.
The other good news (or bad news, or news I really don't know how to process yet) is my ADHD diagnosis has led me to research common comorbidities of ADHD. For example, I now know my chronic anxiety and depression are likely side effects of having an ADHD brain and being in a constant dopamine deficiency. This destroys my previous, ironclad Germanic Midwestern-inspired theory as to why I was anxious and depressed, which was that I was a weak stupid piece of shit. This upheaval in my understanding has allowed some self-compassion to trickle in. Just a smidge.
And, okay, hold onto your butts and hear me out on this next one.
Another occasional comorbidity with ADHD is autism/autism spectrum disorder (ASD). And folks, I know there's a big stigma around diagnosing yourself from online research, but let's just say I've taken seven different reputable ASD tests (RAADS-R, AQ, EQ, the CAT-Q, etc.) and all except one said I am solidly a high-functioning autist. The one I scored very neurotypical on actually came with a disclaimer that high-masking autists can often score very neurotypical on that test. (Masking is what austists to do seem "normal" to neurotypical people). So, I took a masking test and guess what? I scored almost off the charts. Surprise surprise!
So I don't know how accurate, collectively, all those self-assessments are, so I'm not going to call myself autistic just yet. Nor am I particularly motivated to pay $5000 for an official assessment. So let's just say a lot of it makes a lot of sense, and there was a sort of twisted relief in the results, like when you finally remember that slippery word you couldn't think of for the longest time, even though the conversation ended hours ago.
True or not, learning about it has helped explain things like my inability to express certain emotions, to understand how I actually feel a lot of the time, my bouquet of social anxieties, my discomfort with some types of physical touch, my pathological demand avoidance symptoms, the list goes on.
So, why am I writing about this on my acting web site? I don't know, really. Maybe it's because I can't get into a psychiatry appointment with Kaiser until the end of May (god bless American health care) and I need to do some processing. Maybe, if you've ever interacted with me, it's because I want to offer an explanation of my fidgety-ness or wafting attention during conversations.
I think I'm posting this mostly because I'm in this weird grief-limbo. Like, I'm so happy to have this knowledge and understand myself better so I can take steps to making my day-to-day life easier, but also I'm kind of devastated I didn't know any of this sooner. That I had no way of putting the puzzle pieces together or even knowing that the things I was experiencing were puzzle pieces that could be assembled.
It's hard. It's been hard, but now it's a different kind of hard. The burden of knowing, I guess. The grief of what could've been if had been armed with this information five, ten, thirty years ago. Like, I could've made an AMAZING one man show out of it at the Playground Theater in 2014 and 1000000% gotten to understudy TourCo.
Jk jk sob sob sob sob life is pain, etc. Okay I need to go take my ashwaganda supplement and pretend it's helping. Thanks for reading. And thanks for not judging.
3/16/2023 07:27:05 am
Thank you for sharing your story. We have a lot of neurodivergence in our household and, like a lot of folks who have navigated life alternating between bouts of mad brilliance and burn-it-all-down frustration wondered what the hell was wrong with us and/or why other people didn't see our mental superpowers. We have a couple of official diagnoses under our belts for autism and ADHD with a lot of suspicions of more brain weirdness. We have some great podcasts and resources, which, knowing you know how to Internet, you probably also have. Most importantly, I'm going to crib a line from an as yet-unpublished brilliant novel:
3/16/2023 07:33:43 am
Hi, so much of what you say makes sense. Recently diagnosed at63, previously with depression/anxiety/bpd2. Now just spinning, trying to figure it all out. Realized probably adhd is,why people never liked me and friends don't last. Unfortunately knowing another reason I'm a hopeless human being doesn't help
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