Hey world, it’s been a while. Like most people I know, I’ve had a rough year and in particular a rough few months. I finally found the words to say what led me to the present moment, and I’m finally ready to move forward with my life. So I’ll get right into it.
For so many recent years, I thought I knew myself. I thought I was wide awake, and I thought there was no more to know. How could I have been so blind?
I am finally realizing, in spite of a childhood diagnosis that should have made it obvious, that I have ADHD and that it is holding me back from a happy and full life.
For the entirety of my adult life, I was living in survival mode. I was feeding my addictions, trying desperately to get the dopamine my brain is unable to produce on its own. My addictions were not to substances, but to behaviors and people, namely, the pursuit of emotional conflict and extreme stress. It was the only thing that made me feel alive. Binge drinking and overspending were problems too.
Through years of therapy I unearthed memories of my childhood; realized how dysfunctional my family was. The things my parents did, things I presume many troubled parents do, I won’t mention here because that information is very sensitive. Suffice it to say that we were at times a violent family.
I can say that I also have happy memories of both my parents, when times were better. I remember my dad picking me up to touch the ceiling which little me thought was the most amazing thing. I remember being in a “sandwich” between my parents when they’d hug each other in the kitchen. Dad never failed to frequently tell me he loved me. Mom came home from a party once, and from the party she brought dozens of pink balloons which covered my bedroom ceiling when I woke up in the morning – it was like magic. She always came into my room to kiss me in my bed when the babysitter left. When I woke up crying in the middle of the night from bad dreams, it was always mom who got up and came all the way across the house to comfort me. I remember her bouncing me on her knee in the swimming pool, playing “footsie” when we sat at the table having breakfast in the morning, my 4th birthday cake covered in pink roses.
My brothers were sweet little boys. Alex loved making imaginary shapes of all kinds out of legos and drew elaborate pictures of stories and battle scenes. Eric would cry when he was sad and wipe his eyes on the hem of your shirt, and he loved playing with me and my Barbie dolls in the grass in the backyard.
I’m friends with both my parents now, and I love them very much. I see them for who they are and who they were when we were kids: emotionally stunted people with deep wounds from unresolved childhood trauma, both of them. My promise is that I’ll resolve my trauma now, and I’ll never do to my own children what they did to me. My kids might grow up in a little apartment in the city instead of a lush half acre full of trees with a creek behind and a river nearby (my childhood play setting was a bucolic dream) – but they will have emotional safety and unconditional love. And if they are in fact ADHD like me, we will spot it early and get them the help they need to thrive.
There are other memories that are cropping up lately too. The time in 5th grade when the mean girls convinced my best friend since kindergarten to shun me and join their clique. I was devastated, isolated and depressed on the class trip we took that week to the marin headlands for an overnight nature camp. My 3rd grade teacher who berated me and shamed me for anything, any chance she could get. My teachers when I was both in 3rd and 4th grade who for some reason thought it would be a good idea to sit me in a group of boys who were being held back a grade (and who were also extremely violent), one of whom sexually harassed me in 4th grade when I was only 8 or 9 years old. I felt so much shame that I told no one and didn’t get help from my parents or teachers. I wasn’t protected.
The time in 7th grade when a girl who was once my friend slipped a mutilated photo of me into my gym locker that said “DIE” and “from 20 people who hate you”. The time that a teammate shamed me in front of the entire Washington rowing team for my disastrously messy locker. The time my crew teammates and coach shamed me in high school for eating a whole jar of peanut butter in 2 days at the San Diego crew classic (food fixations and stimulation seeking I guess, ADHD kids do weird things with food). The horrible time I had working for a captain who didn’t understand me, being belittled and criticized just for being who I am.
And all the people I have hurt with my impulsive and thoughtless behavior.
So much misunderstanding and pain has come from my ADHD tendencies. And there is so much lingering trauma from my childhood.
I am so tired of trying to fight my mood swings and anxiety. I feel like my brain is in a straitjacket, like it’s crushed under a weight and I can’t focus on anything or push through the wall that stands between me and tackling my goals and aspirations. I’m held back by paralyzing fear. It also seems that I really haven’t been the same since August 2020 when I was stalked and harassed via email and social media after calling out a hideously vindictive person who swooped into the social media scene under the guise of helping sexual assault and harassment victims in the maritime industry, but turned out to be an opportunistic abuser himself. The terror and trauma from that experience is still buried inside me and I still haven’t fully recovered.
In February of this year, I had an early miscarriage at 5 weeks, which I understand is common (it happens to 40% of all women, apparently). That weekend, Jake and I got married, then we promptly moved house into the condo we just bought, and in the same week, the dry cleaner wrecked the wedding dress that I had made myself. I thought it might be salvageable, but it is not – the fabric is not only crushed, abraded, and burned, but the whole dress has shrunk to a size that is unwearable for me. Maybe it shouldn’t have been as heartbreaking as it was; after all, I got to wear it on the one day that mattered, and it was my mistake leaving it with some shitty dry cleaner in the first place. But I was devastated, I still am, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. I think the proprietor’s cold and callous response to my complaint (she said it was “a problem with the fabric” – there was no problem with the fabric, it was a rapturous Japanese silk duchesse I had purchased from our hometown fabric store on sale when it went out of business, the kind of fabric I could never afford to purchase again) was even more painful than the ruined dress. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I cried for days.
And on top of everything, I can see now that one year of pandemic has destroyed me. I have fallen apart under the long and low stress of covid times: the politicization of the virus, the hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths in my country from the virus, the politicization of the movement in support of Black lives in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the politicization of these amazing, groundbreaking vaccines. The disgraceful maga insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. The past year has been a nightmare in many ways, and positive in very few ways that I can think of.
In late March when I went home, I experienced a week of profound depression like I have never experienced before, punctuated one day by intrusive thoughts of self-harm that were alarmingly specific in nature. While I wrote them off as the usual annoying, uncontrollable thoughts of my spinning mind, for the first time in my life I was actually scared. That was the moment I knew I needed real help. During this hitch at work I reached out to my therapist and a psychologist in my neighborhood and I will see a new primary care doctor next week to talk about my mental health treatment options.
I plan to try an antidepressant soon – I want to know what it’s like to feel at least ok every day, to have a stable mood and a smooth baseline. I recently learned that antidepressants can also treat ADHD, as an alternative to stimulant medications like Ritalin, so I will probably start there. I still have yet to get an actual ADHD diagnosis so that will have to wait. I’m told that the symptoms of ADHD can be improved by an antidepressant because it allows your brain to produce and use more of the neurotransmitters it is lacking (the ones associated with ADHD are dopamine and norepinephrine, and a little extra seratonin wouldn’t hurt, either) and thus you can actually get more done and think more clearly when you aren’t weighted down by depression, anxiety, and especially for me, emotional dysregulation.
I know the stories above are A LOT and extremely personal to the point of bordering on cringey. A few things: this is not meant to garner pity or sympathy; I’m fine, doing better all the time and I will be very much ok. I reached out for help when I needed it and everyone can and should speak their truth and reach out for help when they are struggling without feeling shame or stigma. My intention in sharing this is to make it clear that what someone looks like externally is not necessarily an indicator of how they are feeling, and that we are all struggling in some way. It is normal and totally ok to struggle. Just keep this in mind when you are dealing with others. Someone can look totally normal on the outside or craft a picture of a perfect life on social media while they’re actually crumbling inside.
By writing this, I hope to lift the weight and get back to just living my life, which I have missed a lot in the last year.