Mourning My Brain

I’m in the process of coming to terms with something that is proving very difficult for me. After spending my whole life believing (and rightly so) that my brain is my biggest advantage, I now have to accept that it is not what I always thought it was.

This is okay, as nothing has changed. The only difference between me now and me before is that I now have a reason for the things that I do that are different from others. I just have a title to put over my struggles now. Nothing more. But, despite this, I still feel a sense of loss. As if ignoring the issues and refusing to label them would somehow make them go away.

I would be the first person to tell someone, anyone, else to embrace the diagnosis because it comes with the possibility of a solution. I would be the first person to encourage someone else about the benefits of their brain chemistry, even if it doesn’t match the norm. I would be the first person to be pumped for someone else who was courageous enough to find out what separated them from the rest of society and work with it, reaping the possible benefits of their condition rather than suffering through it without help. So why am I struggling so hard with all this myself? I really don’t know.

Since the wounds that never heal are the ones that are mourned alone, I want to share my lamentation with you. Perhaps you will find some encouragement or comradery in this, perhaps you’ll get nothing from it other than frustration at my complaining or bitterness. I hope it’s the former because this is something I feel is necessary to share.

As someone who firmly believes that each and every one of us are entitled to feel however we feel, I am going to allow myself to feel sad about this for a little while. Then I will do my best to pick myself back up and keep moving forward.

So grab yourself a nice big cuppa and join me for the Mourning of My Brain.

Disclaimer: Each symptom I mention in this post comes directly from my psychologist’s report in which I was given an official diagnosis of ADHD and General Anxiety Disorder.

What I Imagined

I guess, like most people, I always imagined myself as some kind of superhero in my mind. I’ve always wanted to be the hero, be accomplished at something, be able to help others. A little like Superman, maybe. Or Sherlock Holmes.

Intelligence

Think Sherlock Holmes here. I always wanted to be so smart and logical that I could look at someone and determine things about them that would often get missed.

Or maybe imagine Hermione Granger. I admire her studiousness and motivated to be great despite her disadvantage of being muggle-born in a magical world. She always seems to have the answers and can be counted on to think on her feet. She’s the real MVP.

Wisdom

I wanted to be sage-like. Imagine the Dalai Lama or something. Meditating on life and being completely at peace. Always having the answers, unswayed and unaffected by the distractions of the world. I wanted to be the one with the “higher perspective”. The rock upon which people could lean.

People can still lean on me, I guess, but they’d better make sure I’m leaning against a wall or something so we both don’t go falling down.

Responsibility

I always wanted to be the responsible, reliable one. The one people could run to with literally anything and I would be able to drop everything to help them. I wanted to be the “Team Mom”. The one who takes care of everyone, makes sure everyone is okay, acts as the mediator, mentor, comfort, etc. Essentially, I wanted to be everything to everyone. Heck, I still wish I could be everything to everyone.

Motivation and Energy

I imagined that I would be one of those people who could stay up late doing something they love, something amazing that would help the world. Something meaningful. I imagined that I would find my calling and be so enthralled with it that nothing could stop me. I would meet tons of people and inspire them and make their lives better.

Right.

I’m fortunate now if I can fake a smile at a stranger that’s remotely passable as friendly instead of a terrified grimace.

(Despite probably terrifying the masses with this, I do try to smile at strangers. Hopefully, they don’t all think I think they’re gross or something. I’m really just trying to be friendly. It’s just kinda hard sometimes.)

Professionalism

I used to be incredibly professional all the time. It was something I was very proud of and one of my favorite things about myself. That has since dissipated into saying things at the wrong time, getting awkwardly caught up in unimportant details, being really distracted ALL. THE. TIME. I get so uptight about social interaction that I speak out of turn or say ridiculous things without thinking. Totally not professional.

Accomplishment

Looking at my resume sometimes makes me self-conscious. Compared to a lot of people my age I don’t have much in the way of accomplishments. I don’t have a high GPA, I don’t have hours upon hours of volunteer experience, I haven’t won any incredible awards, I haven’t started a business or traveled outside North America. I’m not good at sports and I don’t like competition. To be honest, I haven’t accomplished much. I spend a lot of my time trying to take care of myself mentally, emotionally, and physically. While I really do believe that those things are very important, it really sucks to look at what my life has amounted to so far compared to others and find that rather than accomplishing things, I just maintain myself.

Calm

Yoga instructors really impress me. They always seem to have an aura of calm about them. They always seem to be connected to themselves in such a way that allows them to be relaxed and at peace with whatever they’re doing in the moment. Since my first yoga class in high school, I wanted that to be me. I wanted to know what it felt like to go about life calmly and peacefully.

Reflection

I would love to be one of those people who can take time every day to reflect on things and come to peace with the events of the day or whatever people do when they reflect. I used to make time for this but I don’t actually remember the last time I felt I had any clarity. I’m fortunate enough if I remember to make the time for reflection, let alone have my brain quiet down enough for me to have a clear thought.

Reality

My reality? ADHD, depression, and anxiety. Rather than being like Superman or Sherlock Holmes, I’ve started to see myself a little more like The Joker.

ADHD looks like:

Un-Motivation

My ADHD makes me unable to be a lot of the things I always wanted to be (at least unmedicated). I’m not motivated to accomplish tons of things and be super successful and accomplished. I definitely want to be those things but my brain is only able to focus on things for short periods of time. That is unless I’m hyperfocusing. More on that later.

Inattention

ADHD makes me inattentive. I tend to zone out after a short period of focus or tune out during a conversation. This tendency doesn’t lend itself very well to excelling academically or occupationally. It also doesn’t lend itself very well to being a good listener in interpersonal relationships. Whoops.

Distraction

I get distracted easily.

Really easily.

Anything I see, hear, smell, feel, etc. is going to grab my attention. It may only be for a split second before I can return to whatever I was doing initially but it could be never that I get back to it. I may end up going off on a complete tangent.

Fun fact: my thoughts can do this to me as well. Yep. Even if I remove myself from as many potential distractions as possible, the whirlwind of thoughts tearing constantly through my brain may steal my attention as well. There’s no real winning here.

Frustration and Irritability

Because I have such high expectations for myself, I get easily frustrated when I under-perform. I’m supposed to be some crazy intelligent, totally professional, accomplished, wisdom machine that never wastes time and never misses a beat.

I’m supposed to be able to do whatever I put my mind to. Right?

Wrong.

My brain chemistry doesn’t allow that kind of utopian existence for me. It kinda sucks, but maybe that’s reality for a lot of people. Maybe it’s not just me. Who knows?

Anyway, I’m still working on the frustration. I’m trying to be easier on myself when things aren’t going exactly as I expect they should. I’m also working on not allowing my frustration, which is directed at myself, seep out into irritability in my interactions with other people.

When I’m angry at me, it’s very easy to become angry with everyone else too. I’m sure a lot of people can relate. It’s a work in progress and that’s the best I can do for now.

Impulsivity

I’m super impulsive.

Ooooooohhh yeah, I am. And it makes it very difficult to be responsible with time, money, or anything really.

I’m really good at saying things without thinking and spending money on the fly.

I’m very good at getting myself into financial trouble and not being able to remember what I spent my money on. Often because I didn’t spend any time thinking about the purchase, I just decided to do it and worry about the rest later.

Take my advice: don’t do that.

I always thought this was just an unfortunate part of my personality so I’m pretty happy that it may go away with ADHD treatment.

*Phew*

Hyperactivity

You know those people that you just love because they bounce their leg up and down constantly and shake everything in the whole world while they’re doing it? Yeah, I’m one of those.

I fidget constantly. If I’m not biting my nails, I’m fiddling with my hair, turning my earrings, rubbing my fingers together, scratching my face, or any other thing to keep moving. I wasn’t really aware of this until recently when my coworkers were playing a prank on another coworker. They had a video camera going to capture our interaction and when I played it back, it was about 15 minutes of me fidgeting. NON-STOP. Even as I’m writing this I’m fidgeting. Rubbing my fingers together between sentences, scratching my face whenever I pause. Yep. This is my life. It’s probably exhausting to watch me. (Not that anyone is watching me. I hope.)

Issues with Self-Concept

This is an interesting one because I don’t really even know what it means. According to my psychologist, it manifests as low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and problems with relationships.

*RED FLAGS*

Apparently, I’m very critical of myself and I take any and all criticism from external sources, internalize it and never let it go. I hang onto it all, no matter how hard I try to let it go, and allow it to dictate how I feel I should behave in any social interactions. This exacerbates (or maybe causes?) my anxiety in social situations and, in recent months, has led me to reclusiveness.

Yep. I’m turning into a hermit.

Can’t Stick to It

I have major issues with finishing the things that I start. At any given moment, I probably have upwards of ten half-baked projects on the go. Why? I tend to get very excited about starting a project but once I get going and find out how much effort is going to have to go into it, I’ll slowly lose interest. Or, I’ll get super excited about another project before finishing the first one. Returning to a half-finished project is a frustrating thought. I guess I just enjoy the beginning of things. I don’t really understand it.

Messiness

I imagine a lot of people can relate to always having a messy room or workspace.

For me, that’s every space I enter for more than a few minutes at a time. If I have the chance to open up my backpack and take anything out, the space suddenly looks like a bomb went off. And, of course, taking things out is much easier than putting them away.

Having messy spaces is hard on the head. Not only does it promote visual distraction, it makes me believe that because my spaces are messy, I must be messy. My life must be a mess because my spaces are a mess. Apparently, that’s not the case, thankfully, but it’s still a process to start believing that.

Seriously, though, if you’re looking for a tidy roommate, I’m DEFINITELY not someone you’d want to live with.

Depression and Anxiety look like:

Exhaustion

I’m always tired. I can (and do!) sleep for nine or ten hours a night and still wake up exhausted. Once I finish classes or work, I usually need a nap. Even if I don’t nap, I have so little energy than doing anything productive is exhausting to think about. Accomplishing things is really really hard when you’re too tired to do anything. Believe me.

Sleeplessness

Coupled with exhaustion this one SUCKS. So I’m constantly tired but too anxious to sleep. Huh. Not much else to say here.

Mind Going Blank

This is like someone suddenly hitting the reboot button on my brain. One moment I’ve got a train of thought going and then, in an instant, I’m looking at an empty track. The train’s gone and I have no idea where it went, why, what was on it, or where it was going. I could be in the middle of a conversation, in the middle of a meeting at work, I could be mid-sentence and suddenly I have no idea what I was saying, what the conversation was about, or anything else. As you can imagine, this can be a pretty uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. A few second pause to recollect my thoughts doesn’t seem like much unless, of course, I was in the midst of an important conversation with my boss or a job interview.

In addition to being awkward, having my mind go blank at an inopportune moment is also somewhat panic-inducing. All of a sudden, not only am I worried about seeming like a normal, functional human being, I also have to make a recovery from the blankness, decide whether or not the person with whom I’m speaking would be understanding if I told the truth, and then try to get back on track without too much more awkwardness.

Try doing THAT without breaking a sweat.

Actually, maybe most people can. I don’t know. Maybe don’t take that as a challenge.

Panic Attacks

While we’re on the topic of panic, let’s talk about these little buggers.

Panic attacks are exactly what they sound like. One moment you’re doing fine and the next you’re panicking. Simple enough.

But, just like everything else, these can look different for everyone who experiences them. Some people hyperventilate, rock back and forth, shudder, sweat, etc. For me, it looks like me talking really fast, stuttering, jumping at any unexpected sound (no matter how quiet), sweating, breathing shallowly, and feeling like I’m in a bubble, disconnected from the world. (Fun fact: yesterday I started crying because my friend’s guinea pig squeaked unexpectedly and scared me. Okay, maybe not such a “fun” fact.)

I experienced a lot of panic attacks within the first few months of returning to engineering. Like, one every few days. I was very fortunate that my best friends were in some of my classes with me. They were able to identify my symptoms even before I did and remind me to use my essential oils or go for a walk if that’s what I needed.

Panic attacks still suck a lot but I’m getting much better at identifying them before they get out of control and then being able to be a little more proactive in dealing with them.

Irrational Fear and Worry

As with a lot of people who have anxiety, I totally recognize that the things I’m freaking out about don’t make any sense. Seriously, they make NO SENSE.

Example: one day last week I was waiting at the bus stop. I saw an older man smoking a cigarette about 200 feet away from me. I looked away to see if the bus was coming, looked back and the man was gone. Obviously, he walked away. Duh. But my brain was like, “HOLY FRIG WHERE DID THAT GUY GO DID I IMAGINE HIM HOW CAN I NOT SEE HIM ANYMORE DID HE RUN AWAY IS SOMETHING WRONG DID SOMETHING BAD HAPPEN AM I GOING TO DIE NOW?!”

Yep. I’m getting all sweaty and short of breath just thinking about it.

That same day I also got really REALLY upset that the automatic faucet in the bathroom at work wouldn’t turn on so I could wash the very last bit of soap off my hands. Big deal? Not in the slightest. I could have just taken some paper towel and wiped the friggin soap off. But I was really upset about it. It almost put me in tears. Then there was the old man… It was a bad day.

But the point is that these fears were completely irrational. They make NO SENSE. None. Nada. Zip. But they were very real to me at the time (and even a little bit now).

How do you fix that? For someone who’s afraid of dogs, you can introduce them to calm, friendly dogs until they become comfortable. How do you fix someone freaking out about the automatic faucet and a teeny little bit of soap on their hands? Or an old man walking away with his cigarette?

Yeah, I don’t know either.

Social Anxiety

If I’m out in public, I’m probably working super hard to act the way I think everyone else is acting. I don’t remember always having this problem but it’s something I’ve become very aware of in the last few months.

I’m very nervous around people. Sometimes, even around people I know well. I feel like I have to work very hard to react appropriately to the things they’re saying and feeling. While I often know how they feel, I find it hard to know how they want me to feel. Because of this, I don’t always (or maybe even often) react appropriately to social situations.

Or maybe I react normally, I don’t know.

I smile awkwardly when I have bad news, I get VERY excited about somewhat exciting things, and I get very loud when I’m frustrated with myself or feel uncomfortable. All these things sometimes lead to me being misunderstood and criticized for odd behavior, which then leads to me feeling more uncomfortable and unable to socialize appropriately.

I honestly do think I’m pretty annoying in social contexts. But, I also know that because almost all social interactions are uncomfortable for me, really uncomfortable situations (for most people) are only moderately more uncomfortable for me. This allows me to talk about just about anything without batting an eye. Unnerving for some people, perhaps, but a “talent” that has definitely come in handy when having very frank conversations about mental health and other such topics.

I might be pretty annoying most of the time, but if you’ve got something to say that’s hard to say, I’m your gal.

The Silver Lining

While this whole post (and my situation really) may seem pretty bleak, there is a silver lining if I’m willing to look for it.

Creativity

My psychologist did make sure to include the positive things about my situation in our conversations. One of those things was creativity.

I’ve always been a pretty creative person. I like writing and painting and other such things. Apparently, my creativity may be a byproduct of my ADHD.

People with ADHD can be more creative than others and are often the first people to come up with an innovative solution to a problem.

Good to know.

Hyperfocus

This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. Hyperfocus is the ability to focus on something intensely for extended periods of time. This is a really great way to spend a lot of time on something without realizing you’re spending a lot of time on something. It can also prevent you from doing anything else with your time (like eating, or sleeping) because you become so motivated to work on whatever it is that you’re working on that you can’t stop.

Hyper focus is really handy if you need to get something done but it’s tricky. I only ever hyper focus on something I enjoy so not usually something that I really have to do. It can also be a major pain if you have to, you know, sleep at some point in time.

If that energy could be harnessed, anything would be possible. Not sure if medication can do that for me or not but I’ll hopefully find out soon.

Maybe I will be Superman after all…

Empathy

My psychologist also told me that people with ADHD often can read people better than others. I’m not sure if this is something I can relate to or not (I never really thought about it before) but it’s interesting to think about. It can be as simple as being able to tell how people are feeling more intuitively than others or knowing something about someone but not knowing why or how you know it.

Maybe this is my superpower. Hmmmm.

In Conclusion

So it turns out that my brain is not what I had always thought it was or would be and that’s both good and bad. We’ll see what comes of all this once I start taking some medication. I have heard very good things from Christine at Tornadoes Anonymous. So I definitely have hope for this.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for listening!

Have any of you ever felt like mourning your brain? Or found that something you had always thought about yourself was not true? Let me know in the comments!

All my love,

Em

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