Since hitting puberty, I’ve been compared to Zooey Deschanel’s manic-pixie-dream-girl characters a lot. The blue-eyes, dark brown hair with bangs, and fondness for polka-dots played a large part in it, but even more than that, is that I’ve always been called some semblance of weird, odd, and mainly: quirky.
It’s cliche at this point, but I always knew I was different. My brain didn’t seem to match most other people’s frequency. Being in a family with 3 other, very different siblings meant that these differences were highlighted in a matter-of-fact way, without any value judgement. Quirks like my obsessive reading and spaciness were just part of who I was – never something to be fixed.
It wasn’t until puberty hit, and with it a whole slew of realizations, that the once cute and quirky habits I had, were no longer so cute and quirky. My mental health had taken a nose dive.
In an effort to get better, over eight years ago I went to a psychologist and received a diagnosis for a personality disorder. This diagnosis turned out to be useless and a large source of frustration because it was wrong (more on that in the upcoming weeks).
January this year I received a new diagnosis that finally felt right: it was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, aka ADHD, all along.
If you’ve been diagnosed with any sort of neurodiversity/mental illness, you might have encountered the same issue I’ve grappled with: it turns out, a lot of the things that I thought were just little quirks, were symptoms of untreated ADHD.
Here are the (not-so-)little quirks I now know had more to them.
In a world of my own
I was a spacey child. As a kid, if you weren’t looking me straight in the eye, there was no chance I was paying attention to you. My parents had even nicknamed my own little world, asking me if I was in La La Luna. Another common phrase I heard growing up was “colgada como los jamones”. Directly translated from Spanish it means “hanged like a ham”, but really it’s more like “totally zoned out”.
I loved daydreaming. My mental world took precedence over the physical world, which became an issue when it came to socializing. For years, I never understood why I didn’t connect with classmates. Looking back at old home videos, it’s clear I was mentally checked out, dipping in and out of the conversation wherever it interested me. It’s not that I had issues with understanding social cues in the first place. I understood what was expected, but I would get distracted and miss out on key parts of social situations.
My forgetfulness only made my awkwardness more apparent. Besides the run-of-the-mill signs of forgetting homework or appointments, there were multiple times where I’d go to school with two different shoes on my feet. In my defense, they were the same color.
Nowadays, I’ve gotten better at masking, but if I’m on autopilot, I’ll still space out and forget things. Only this time, the only victim is my partner who has to hear my Velma-like cry of “Where are my glasses? Have you seen my glasses?” at least three times a day.
Up until being diagnosed, my understanding of ADHD was relegated to it being about having a lack of focus. Turns out, ADHD is a deceptive name. Instead of an attention deficit, it’s more akin to an attention deregulation. Including sometimes focusing too much attention on a certain task. A common way this shows up for some in childhood is with an obsession with reading.
Whenever I talk about reading a lot when I was younger, I find it difficult to paint the picture as to how obsessive this hobby was. I’d read at dinner, with my book wedged between my legs and the table. I’d read in the car, to the point of making myself nauseous. I’d even read while walking down the street like Belle in the opening of The Beauty and The Beast.
Something I don’t often bring up, is the level of anger I would have if you distracted me, which everyone around me chalked up to me being grumpy. In reality, I was worried that if I lost focus, I wouldn’t guarantee I could get it back. This was particularly annoying if I was hell-bent on doing the one thing for hours and hours.
Niche interest sprints, not marathons
Hyperfixations are the obsessive interests that come with hyperfocus. While neither are considered official symptoms, they can be good indicators for ADHD. A hyperfixation is an intense focus on something, to the point where you’re blocking out the rest of the world. Important to note: hyperfixations are mostly associated with people with autism, but these tend to last longer – many months or years. ADHD hyperfixations are significantly shorter and more akin to impulsive shifts in interests.
In preparation of writing, I tried to list all the hyperfixations I’ve had. Things I spent hours on, researching until too early in the morning, for, at most, a few weeks on end, that I dropped once something more interesting came along. Because this list ended up being 4 pages, front and back, including only the ones I remembered, I won’t go through them all. But, to get a good idea of the topics I know way too much about, but don’t care about anymore, below is a taste.
Baking muffins, nail art, running, learning Japanese, learning the guitar, become a manga artist, marine biology, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Final Fantasy XII, YouTube beauty guru gossip, making Anime Music Videos, Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, all of Gordon Ramsey’s reality TV shows, Anthony Bourdain, Audrey Hepburn, Jim Morrison, barre, soft grunge Tumblr, the TV show Skins, historically accurate vintage wardrobes, fashion design, 30 Rock, commentary YouTube, Kingdom Hearts, One Piece (the manga and anime), bad movie reviews, Art Deco furniture, New York visual artists of the 80-2000s, Newgrounds Flash games, Stardew Valley, and Neopets.
To be clear: this is not just a list of interests. It’s a list of things I had made the main focus in my life for a short period of time, before moving on to the next one. I still regularly disorient new friends who start off sharing one of my hyperfixations, but realize a week later I’m disinterested because it’s no longer the flavor of the week.
At least it’s given me a wide range of skills and – useless – knowledge, which can be pretty handy sometimes.
No patience, just vibes
I hate waiting. I hate following instructions. I hate sticking to strict schedules. I love planning, but hate sticking to the actual plan. The thread through this hatred is simple: I’m impatient and have little to no impulse control.
Until my partner pointed it out, I never thought twice about the fact that the first thing I do when buying new electronics or furniture, is throw out the instruction manual because I know I won’t use it. Even as a kid, if my brother and I had a new LEGO set, while my brother would follow the instructions to build whatever was on the box, I’d be using the blocks to make off-kilter characters.
In school, I winged it during presentations. Classmates would comment on how impressed they were with my lack of note cards when presenting. In reality, I overcompensated with my delivery because I had no patience for the prep-work needed to stick to a script and would get too distracted if I had to read and present at the same time.
Even now, if you see me waiting for public transport, all you’ll see is someone pacing up and down the platform like a caged lion.
Just like it seems you can only be underwhelmed or overwhelmed and not whelmed, I’m pretty sure there’s only overstimulation or understimulation.
I wouldn’t consider myself hyper in the traditional connotation of a six-year-old boy high on sugar. But I do score high in hyperactivity if we’re looking at chatting and fidgeting.
Fidgeting tends to be caused by being understimulated. Favorite forms of fidgeting apart from the obvious leg-bouncing? Doodling in class/during meetings, never being able to stay sitting in one position for too long, getting up to get tea six times a day as an excuse to walk around, and fidgeting with my hair to the point where I end up giving myself three different hairstyles in the span of an hour.
On the other hand, I also get overstimulated – mostly due to too much going on around me to focus on one thing. While it doesn’t happen as often as understimulation, it brings about its own quirks. Apart from randomly getting overwhelmed and snippy in packed public spaces, I’ve developed a party-only smoking habit that helps me take a socially-accepted pause when things get a bit too much.
Quirky or just undiagnosed ADHD? I don’t see any reason why it can’t be a bit of both. As long as no one compares me to a manic pixie dream girl ever again, I don’t care. Plus, recently I find out that Zooey Deschanel also has ADHD.
Sometimes life just comes full circle.
For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my personal journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate because to an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.
Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, general life musings, and taking pop culture way too seriously.