While most people’s association with TikTok are videos of dancing teenagers, I have that dumb app to thank for teaching me that I have ADHD.
TikTok has a powerful algorithm that learns what you like and who you are at a rapid pace, catering to your specific tastes. ADHD-related content starting showing up in between cat videos and fashion hauls, before I even knew I had it.
Before then, the thought of having ADHD hadn’t ever crossed my mind. I knew I had some sort of mental health issue, but since the people I knew with ADHD all fell into the typical association of hyperactive men who talk fast and get distracted all the time, bouncing from one thing to the next, I had rejected the notion.
After binging ADHD TikTok after ADHD TikTok, I made an appointment with my doctor to not only discuss my anxiety issues, but to reassess my previous diagnosis and check if it was ADHD.
Spoiler: it was ADHD. And it turns out, the anxiety part was also because of ADHD.
Here’s the good, the bad, and the truth, of accepting my ADHD diagnosis.
ANSWERS! ADVICE THAT WORKS! MEDICATION THAT WORKS! MY BRAIN IS NO LONGER (as much of) A BIG QUESTION MARK! WHEN I TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE LIKE ME, THEY UNDERSTAND ME WITHOUT EFFORT!
Pardon my yelling, but there’s no end to the level of peace that I’ve felt since getting the right diagnosis. For what feels like forever, I’ve been trying to put together a five thousand piece jigsaw puzzle without any reference as to what it could be. And somebody finally showed me what it’s supposed to look like. Yeah, I still have to put it together, but at least I’m no longer guessing where each piece goes.
The right treatment has gotten me in a mental place that I thought unachievable a year ago. I’d resigned myself to the idea that just coping was the best I could hope for. The people around me were balancing work, socializing, personal development, education, and hobbies, while being happy and goal-oriented. What felt impossible then, is forming into a reality now. For the first time in my life, I have a semblance of control over the raging tornado of energy whirling inside me.
I’ve also come to understand that my brain is different. It’s not a negative, just neutral. Sure, I’m scatterbrained and impulsive and incapable of sticking to a schedule. But I’m also creative and quick and ready to take action when no one else will.
Life looks more manageable now.
As with any psychological diagnosis, the slow realization that the parts that you thought made you unique, turn out to be symptoms, is always disappointing.
Accepting my ADHD has also meant accepting comorbidities. In my case, anxiety has been a big one. There are few things I am sure about in life, but one of them is that I don’t think I have ever chilled one single day in my life.
My mom always said I was a “nervous” child. What was referred to as “nerves” turned out to be anxiety. My anxiety expresses itself as racing thoughts and overthinking, working together to make me the fastest, most overwhelmed person in all the land.
Apart from providing peak cringe material, looking through old journals makes it obvious that there was an internal wasps nest raging inside. When writing while emotionally agitated, these journals read like a Virginia Woolf-style stream of consciousness on speed. It’s just one thought after another and another and another and another and another and who needs punctuation or a moment to breathe? Everything always felt like it was too much.
This “nervousness” – which I now recognize as restlessness – also means that I never feel relaxed. Even when I’m supposed to be resting, I’ll be filled with the sudden urge to jump from task to task or start thinking about all the other things I want to do. When I’m watching YouTube I want to be writing and when I’m writing I want to be drawing and when I’m drawing I’m thinking about all the dishes I still need to clean.
Accepting that these quirks were just symptoms all along, means accepting that what I’d considered an integral part of me can be fixed. Which explains why I’ve gone through three identity crises in the last nine months alone.
Being diagnosed and getting the right treatment are just the beginning. I’m still working through accepting that I was misdiagnosed, that regardless of treatment I’ll still have ADHD symptoms, that “catching up” for lost time is impossible, and that I now see much of my life through the lense of having ADHD.
Having lost faith in the field of psychology for myself and then having to go back to get it checked, was a challenge. I grappled with conflicting thoughts of mistrusting professionals while knowing I had to be receptive to the advice given in order to improve. The only way to confirm the suspicion that I’d been misdiagnosed was to go back and get tested. If I wanted to get better, I had to return. And I was right. And they gave me the help I needed. But I’m still angry that they got it wrong the first time around, even if I know the anger won’t solve anything.
Receiving the right treatment of therapy and medication has been a godsend. But, it hasn’t fixed everything. Just because I can identify what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I should stop it, doesn’t mean I’m in control of it. My ADHD is still there, there’s just less of it. I won’t be able to eradicate the symptoms and managing it will be a life-long effort. But, I do feel better and more equipped than before.
Because I feel like I’m finally close to being on a level playing field with others, I feel like I’m catching up to do better and do more. The laundry list of areas I want to improve on is infinite. I want to write more, and draw daily, and read more, and get a promotion, and be more social, and, and, and, and, and… Every day is planned like there are 26 hours in the day. While I’m ecstatic that my urge to create and learn is matched by actually creating and learning, when I fail to meet the ridiculous expectations I’ve set for myself, I spiral.
An added perk to getting diagnosed in the midst of a pandemic, is that you don’t remember how it affected you in social situations, until the world starts opening up.
I’m re-learning that I can become overstimulated and overwhelmed in large crowds. Plus, all my social interactions are now viewed through the lense of my ADHD. Had I always been such a terrible listener? Did I talk this much before? Did I overthink my interactions to this degree afterwards? Trying to find out if it’s my rusty social skills from being isolated for almost two years or if it’s been my ADHD all along, is a fun game I’ve taken up.
I have ADHD.
What I decide to do with that piece of information is up to me, but the fact remains.
I have a tendency to share this tidbit with almost everyone I get even slightly comfortable with. It’s not to get a reaction from them or to throw myself a pity party. Partially, it’s because I’m too impulsive to ever leave any shroud of mystery about me.
But mainly it’s because I value being open about what makes us different, instead of treating it as a taboo. By being open about it, I’ve had others share that they’re in the same boat. Or that they know someone who is, who they want to help but don’t know how. Or that they’re doubting if they have it, so what’s it been like to find out if it is.
Labeling the issue doesn’t solve the problem. What it does, is validate what I’ve been aware of: there is an explanation as to why I march to the beat of my own drum and there are ways to make it easier.
For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate. 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, and taking pop culture way too seriously.