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ADHD, Anxiety and Me

I was twenty-nine when I was identified as having ADHD, something I write about in this blog post: https://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/blog/adhd-me-and-my-neurodivergent-mcs-226

I wanted to take this opportunity to expand a little on that, and more importantly, on how it tied in with my mental health.

I was diagnosed at thirteen years old with reactive anxiety and depression. The diagnosis stemmed from struggling with self harm and ultimately an overdose. The trouble with treating something labelled as reactive is that there was no way to plan for when it would hit. Never mind the abysmal lack of support in our children’s mental health service, something that unfortunately hasn’t improved since my experience almost two decades ago.

The professionals took one look at me, the seemingly chatty, attentive and open young girl and came to the conclusion that I obviously just wanted attention. Because I couldn’t have anything actually wrong when on the outside, I looked fine, right? ADHD wasn’t even a thought in my head at that point and obviously, it wasn’t in theirs either. I wasn’t a hyperactive little boy which was the main criteria.

So I would go years battling not only with my mental health, but the services supposed to support me with it. The services that were and continue to be understaffed, underfunded and lacking knowledge to support me in any meaningful way.

There was no way to know what the reaction part of reactive anxiety or depression stemmed from without ultimately understanding how my brain actually worked. Something which became much clearer when I learned more about ADHD and how my brain was reacting to the fact that I, or the world around me, didn’t understand its needs.

Anxiety was an inevitability when I was constantly forcing myself to be aware of everything I said and did to ensure it was the right thing. A manual for which my peers seemed to have learned off by heart and I had never received. The depression soon followed when despite my efforts, I could never live up to the idea of my potential. The constant messaging that I could do anything I wanted, if only I tried hard enough. I knew I was trying, but I also knew I could hypothetically do these things, so it had to be my fault that I didn’t, right?

I was on constant high alert, with no idea that this wasn’t how everyone lived. That for some, not every boring task required a huge mental load. As is such for so many ADHDer’s who go through childhood undiagnosed, anxiety was the mask that covered the truth for so long. Something that became obvious from the generic questions they ask during the assessment.

Are you always late? No is the short answer. 

But the long answer gives far more information than the question itself unveils; My anxiety ensured I was always early because I couldn’t trust myself to be on time without significant pressure.

Are you very impulsive? Again, no. 

But dig into the why and you’ll see I’m no longer impulsive because anxiety ensures I overthink every single thing I do and say out of shame, fear and embarrassment of not appearing typical. It did however heighten my inattentive traits considering I spent more time in my head managing my impulsivity. But nobody else was inside my head, and I had no words to explain what it was like and no knowledge that actually, this wasn’t the same for everyone.

Do you always interrupt people? No guesses needed to answer this one: No. 

The little kid who had been outspoken and chatty used to interrupt, but I was reminded of that fact often enough to build that wall of anxiety around myself to ensure I kept my mouth shut so as to not be too much.

I was stuck between the idea of being both too much and not enough so often that I forgot what it was to just be. 

I had become a chameleon, with an amazing ability to mould myself into whatever my companion needed, with no idea of who I actually was.

Anxiety was my closest companion and depression was the devil on my shoulder reminding me that no matter how hard I tried, I would fail. So eventually, I stopped trying. 

And through it all, ADHD was the puppet master sitting in the shadows pulling the strings as I struggled to piece together why no amount of therapy or anxiety medication fixed me. My wandering brain would fail at even the basic advice given. Meditate, journal, just feel your feelings. 

I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and ask someone to explain what all of that even meant, but alas, I nodded and pretended it made sense. Feel your feelings, that’s something everyone said so much it had to be something I inherently knew what to do, right? But I didn’t. And nobody provided a guide to how to do these things, they only impressed the importance of doing them to unlock the magical key to my bright future.

A future that constantly seemed just out of reach despite my best efforts. Because no amount of effort made up for lack of knowledge and understanding. The key never lay in basic self help or trying harder. The key lay in knowing I had ADHD and that actually, my brain worked on a different operating manual that nobody had given me access to.

My diagnosis didn’t magically erase my anxiety and depression. It didn’t immediately make the world understand what I needed to survive in it. It did however give me a very powerful tool to help my own understanding and build self compassion. No amount of treatment for anxiety and depression is going to make my brain not have ADHD, nor should it. I am and always have been enough. 

Allowing my brain to work in a way that’s far more natural rather than forcing it to work how I was told it should had an unsurprising effect of reducing my daily anxiety. Being appropriately medicated for ADHD and along with a huge dose of self compassion and acceptance was the main key to working through depression.

Obviously, for the sake of a blog post, the above paragraph doesn’t capture the nuance and work that went into getting to this point but regardless, without knowing I have ADHD, I wouldn't have gotten here at all.

In much the same way I closed my last blog, I’ll repeat here. Knowledge is power. Positive representation is empowering. That’s why in continuing to write neurodivergent MC’s, my hope is that other people learn a little more about themselves and start their journey toward accepting their beautiful, frustrating, messy, brilliant brains exactly as they are too. 

You are, and always have been, enough.

Find Jess at https://linktr.ee/jjhale

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