How To Enjoy A 50K—Step 20: Find Out You Have an ADHD Brain
While this was unexpected, it explains so much.
Throughout all the physical scans, I’ve also undergone a tremendous amount of cognitive function, memory, health history, and personality tests—games, interviews, dozens upon dozens of pages of questionnaires, each page with up to 50 answers required, many of them in depth and extremely personal.
All along, I thought the point was to compare pre-concussion me to post-concussion me. I thought the two were so different, as if I had become a different person in recent years. In some aspects that is exactly what has happened. In others, not so much.
About 3 months ago, after I declined pharmaceutical mental health treatment (Because why in the world would I need drugs like that if it was just a bunch of physical trauma I needed to sort through?), Dr. Grin (psychiatrist) casually suggested I look into Inattentive ADHD in women. He didn’t say I had it. He only said to look into it.
Well, shit. And bullseye. And are you fucking kidding me because that’s like the entire experience of my life in a nutshell. And whoa.
When Dr. Grin confirmed what he already knew—I have (and have always had) an ADHD brain—I immediately felt excited. The exceptionally twisted trajectory of my life snapped into focus and, for the first time ever, it made perfect sense. What I was, how I was, why my brain never turned off and I was always acutely aware that there was something different (not in the good fun way) going on in there.
After two weeks of this being the best news ever, I abruptly entered the spectrum of grief, hovering over anger and remorse. How could no one have ever noticed? Why was I never offered help or compassion?
When I was a young girl the joke was that everyone could see the gears in my head turning and expected smoke to come out of my ears. It was fine then because I was little and cute and performing exceptionally well at school.
But at the tender age of 12, that changed. The turning gears started to be viewed as complicated, “a mind of her own.” Now I was moody. Now I was a bitch, which was regularly said to my face by the person who was supposed to love me the most.
Very few people ever questioned it. The labels just kept piling up. I was exhausting. Flaky. A space cadet. All over the place and so difficult to manage. Could I just get out of everyone’s hair already? (Enter my fascination with traipsing off alone into the woods.)
By age 15, I was cutting myself (internalize much?) and again very few people questioned it. My forearms covered in scars and my personality drenched in more labels: self-centered, distracted, constantly searching for approval. “Too much” was a big one. Apparently, I was also unworthy of medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment—as all young girls in the 80s and 90s were. She doesn’t need help from a doctor; she just needs to stop being such a bitch.
My twenties were filled with misunderstood social cues, strained friendships, abruptly moving to new apartments, new cities, new jobs. Never quite fitting in. Consuming way too much alcohol along the way. Then in my thirties I struck out on my own. Desperate to get away from the weird looks and audible sighs, I did everything I could to become quieter, easier to be around, less intense, less me. I feared romance, stopped dating, and holed up alone in my apartment(s). And I started to get really lonely.
As a writer I’ve figured out how to highlight the upsides to ADHD (primarily impulsiveness) without realizing I had it. I found people (you) who are excited to read about my adventures, my trials and tribulations. People who can relate and find camaraderie (instead of offense) in my straightforward honesty. New friends who’ve never been told to judge me as awful and can therefore see me with fresh eyes.
Churning my way through grief, I’m also experiencing an unexpected mourning for the life I could have had if I’d been offered help at any point prior to right now. Of course I know there’s no guarantee that such help would have been beneficial, that my life would be different in a better way. But I need to grieve the possibility nonetheless, so I let myself wonder and rage and cry.
Running (now walking) is helping me deposit the disappointment into the woods. I can leave it there. The earth will consume it, alchemize it into energy to grow a tree, feed a squirrel. I have always appreciated the woods for its ability to absorb the emotions I find impossible to dissolve on my own. (Within ADHD guidelines this is called emotional dysregulation.)
Medication is helping shift focus to a brighter future, which is something I almost never consider or prepare for, a classic symptom of ADHD.
Leaning into my puppy for emotional support makes even more sense now too. Dogs have always helped me regulate emotions. Banjo, Banj-tastic, Pup-Pupparoo Extraordinaire, because he was steady as a rock and, in general, I felt less anxious about everything when I was around him.
Tobi, my bubbie, my sweet baboo, my shadow, because he was far from perfect and always anxious, which I could relate to; and with him I had the opportunity (every day) to help calm his nerves by working on calming my own.
Asha, Peanut Pie, Sweet Baby Girl ‘O’ Mine, because she is the cutest, friendliest, nicest dog I’ve ever known yet she also has a scrappy hooligan side. No judgment from her, just constant effervescent energy and joy for being alive. That’s how I want to be for the rest of my life and I can finally see the faintest definition of a path to get there.
One more thing that’s helping is the phrase “I have an ADHD brain” as opposed to “I have ADHD.” Some will say it’s nothing more than semantics, but I find it to be an important distinction between the me who is me and a malfunction of my body.
My brain has a neurodevelopmental disorder which negatively affects its neurotransmitters. It functions differently than a neuro-typical brain because it doesn’t create a normal amount of dopamine and norepinephrine on its own. Much like a Type 1 diabetic pancreas that doesn’t produce enough insulin to properly function, that’s as complicated as it needs to get. Anyone who doesn’t believe or understand has simply always had enough.
The kicker, of course, is the mental health stigma. (Can you even imagine blaming a Type 1 diabetic for the malfunctioning pancreas they were born with or their choice to take medication to manage it?) But I’m strong enough to ignore that and keep walking.
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So, the lot I referred to the other day really is a lot to process. I’m making my way through it, relying heavily on movement and exercise as I go. And, as always, writing to you, whoever and wherever you are. Thank you for reading. And please reach out, connect, share if you or anyone you know and love also has an ADHD brain.
More to come but for now I’ll send love 💛 and light 💡 along with a surprising amount of gratitude for the concussions that eventually got me to the doctor who is helping me change the course of my life for the better. Thank you Dr. Grin.