Undiagnosed.

Ever since I discovered the phrase “Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria” – which is commonly associated with ADHD – earlier this year, I’ve been on a research kick and I thought I’d post some of my self-evaluations here.

Namely: I am definitely someone who has undiagnosed ADHD. But until my insurance kicks in, I can’t really do anything about that. But more importantly, I’d like to outline why I think I have been able to mask a lot of it my whole life.

A lot of it comes back to: Fear of my Dad.

I’ve mentioned before, for all of my Dad’s amazing qualities and the monumental task he took on of raising two kids alone in the 80s and 90s with no real support system, he still had an anger streak. He never hit me, but he was still terrifying and said truly terrible things when he was angry. So…I spent a lot of my childhood figuring out how to avoid his anger. And I think, somehow, all of those tricks I learned actually ended up masking some obvious signs of ADHD.

I also think that treating my anxiety has built a skillset that has also helped mask some of my ADHD tendencies. I’m going to use this space to kinda outline all of these things because – don’t laugh – my thoughts about my undiagnosed ADHD are keeping me from being able to focus on anything else.

Welcome to the ADHD word-dump.

Losing Things

I lost things all the time in high school. I had a spot in the lost and found at my high school that the secretary jokingly labeled “Kim’s Purse” because I left it behind in classrooms so often. The problem was, this obviously would make my Dad angry so I would either lie to him, or I would save up money to replace the item myself. So he never realized quite how bad my habits were. Basically, for every birthday/Christmas I would ask for one “valuable” thing like Ray Bans, or a Coin Ring, or a Gold Chain etc and I lost ALL of those things at least once. I would hoard babysitting money or allowance or gas money until I could replace them. He never knew how chronic my problem was.

It didn’t improve much in college, it just transformed. I lost my purse/wallet so many times (and often with a lot of cash for bills in it). I was always so fortunate to have it returned, but it’s scary how many times it happened. I also locked my keys in my car all of the time. The main reason I got a credit card was to pay for locksmiths. I learned how to break into the house where E was born with a credit card because I so often locked myself out of the house. Once I locked my keys in my car with it running.

With Eliah still in his carseat.

ON THE SIDE OF A BUSY HIGHWAY.

(Don’t ask.)

Eventually I learned how important routines were. Like, do things in THIS order all of the time. Put your keys THERE, put your purse THERE, always check for the purse on your shoulder before you leave, always keep your keys on a clip on the outside of your purse that you can see.

(Also, newer cars with provisions that kept you from locking your keys in them helped.)

I think my coping skills kept my habits of losing things from standing out too much, as did my deception with keeping a lot of it secret from anyone who might have been alarmed. And also? And this one sucks: I played the Ditzy Dumb Blonde role very well. I mean, it wasn’t intentional, but once you lock your keys in your car 3 times in one month it kinda becomes your schtick so losing things was never something that made me think: I should talk to someone about this. I just usually thought: I’m such an airhead.

Struggling with Massive Unguided Projects

I was motivated to do great in school because I was terrified to get anything less than an A. Unfortunately, as I got older and got bigger projects assigned, I started getting very overwhelmed very easily. I would never know where to start and I would get easily distracted. BUT, I also was terrified of getting yelled at for bad grades. Like…my first real thoughts of suicide involved research papers in 7th grade.

So, to avoid getting in trouble, I would figure out solutions. At first, I became really good at procrastinating and finding ways to put things off until the very last minute. This actually got me through college. I remember doing an entire semester project for an independent study in about 72 hours. I got a C, but still. It was done.

Or, I would get good at hiding or lying about bad grades (this was easier in college obviously).

I always excelled at manageable academic tasks, but big vague projects where we had to guide ourselves was where I faltered. Luckily, I was able to get two degrees without that hindering me too much. But I think I developed various coping skills to help me since I feared my Dad so much.

Not Good At Self-Directing

Kinda related to the discussion of my academics previously, but what showed more professionally, is that I am much better in a task-oriented job. Give me a task and I’ll do it. Tell me a goal and ask me to direct myself to it? I can’t. I get very distracted and overwhelmed. I didn’t realize this was a trend until I started researching ADHD, but I’ve been disciplined at jobs before for this very thing. Some people I’ve worked for said it was a sign that I lacked “passion” – whereas others just needed me to be able to think big and then execute, but I would fail miserably. My favorite job was the one where I worked for a woman who would say: Build this website for this person, and I did. And then she would give me another website to build. I’ve failed in many other jobs because of my inability to self-direct, or to stay focused when trying.

I found ways to cope enough that I didn’t spot the trend by using a lot of the same “AVOID MAKING DAD ANGRY” techniques from high school. Like trying my best to break down big things into To Do lists. This was really what got me through my academic life and it disguised my failures enough professionally that I didn’t notice the trend or the connection between both areas until recently.

Forced Bureaucratic Survival = Organization

A lot of people with ADHD struggle being organized but I think I learned very early that I needed to be organized to survive. There were a lot of things that stressed my Dad out around everything from medical appointments to school registration. I learned that to avoid stressing him out, if I could handle some of that myself, things would go smoother. Also, he was a single Dad and I had a younger brother so once we were in two different schools, my Dad often couldn’t be two places at once so I would be standing in the “registration” line at school sorting through schedules and sports signups and things like that. He would give me a few signed checks and send me on my way and so I figured out how to keep things organized to accomplish those kind of tasks without stressing him out.

I remember my freshman year in high school I really wanted to be in the honors classes that were offered, but my elementary school was small and didn’t have an “honors” programs and so there was weirdness in how that got scheduled so I had to talk to the guidance counselor and basically “prove” my merit the first few weeks of school before they would move me. I remember my Dad being so impressed that I was able to get all of that done. Just like when I fought to get in-state tuition my second year of college. I learned that if I could take care of things without involving him, my life would be easier, so I learned how to use planners/calendars etc to try to manage things like that which I think masked a lot of my natural struggles.

Scattered Brain

I stopped describing myself as “airheaded” a long time ago and instead use the word “scattered” when I try to explain my thought patterns. This scattered behavior would often anger my Dad. It sometimes manifested in weird things like, I would be jumpy trying to do too many things at once and spill something on the floor. This would upset Dad because it drove him crazy to see me so jumpy (he even had a way he would mock me which would be VERY hurtful) so I tried to figure out how to sort things out to avoid that anger. I started to recognize the signs of when I was getting scattered or jumpy and try to reset.

Sometimes this scattered brain did not manifest physically, but mentally. I always needed a secondary tasks when listening, in order to calm the scattered mental chaos enough to focus on what was happening in front of me. I would do things like doodle in my notebooks in college while I was taking notes. Or doodle on a pad of paper by the phone when I was having conversations. I often would take my smoke breaks outside when I had to take phone calls, like smoking a cigarette helped me focus on the phone call.

There’s also a long list of things I tried to do to keep my brain focused or to filter out the chaos…but I could never stick with them. I replaced my calendars/planners every few months. I couldn’t diary for more than a week.

BUT. After several decades I did find things that worked. Blogging helped give me a place to dump the words from my brain to clear out room for daily tasks. Bullet journaling did the same thing, and helped force me to write things down so as not to forget them. I also text myself a lot or send myself screengrabs. I have come up with so many coping skills over the last 4 decades that I think, along with all of the coping skills I came up with as a kid, I just constantly masked my ADHD.

All Of The Words

I think the thing that really got me thinking about my brain in a different light was when I read an article about how some people don’t think in words, but in scenes and pictures and video etc. I started really thinking about how my thoughts form in my head and I had to face the fact that my brain has TOO MANY WORDS. I realized this is why I have so many different/active social media accounts. I’ll have a thought or an idea and I need to scoop it out to clear space in my brain for other words, but also so I can make sure it gets documented somewhere so I don’t forget it.

Taking a picture of my morning in my swing and putting it on my instastory is a way to scoop that moment out of my head and save it. Because my memory for events is SHIT. Like, Donnie remembers much more about the kid’s babyhood than I do. I’ve been rereading stuff on this blog and I DO NOT EVEN REMEMBER A LOT OF IT. Even after documenting it. So I feel like there’s a part of my brain that wants to capture things in instagram because I know it won’t last long.

But sometimes I want to vent about politics to clear out those words and so I do that on Twitter. On Facebook I document current events like my Mom’s changing health needs or my kid’s school COVID situation so that I can clear out those words. And then there’s this blog where I put all of the BIG sets of words.

My brain is just always filled with words and it’s like I’ve learned to function by sorting those words out onto different platforms. Partly because I don’t want to lose them, but partly to make room for more words because THEY JUST KEEP COMING.

I saw an ADHD TikToker compare it to watching busy traffic on a highway. Someone with ADHD sees every single car and has 20 thoughts about each car as it passes: Some cars trigger thoughts about past boyfriends, some make you think about your favorite color, some make you remember to get gas, others remind you of your childhood punch buggy game, and then some cars make you think about your financial situation and others make you think about your job.

Whereas someone else just looks at the traffic on the highway and says: There’s traffic on that highway.

To me, that really defined things.

Anxiety Coping Skills

I got a call yesterday that Wes might have had a Covid exposure at school and that I had to come pick him up and then he could not return until 12/4. Later when Nikki and I were driving to walk my Mom’s dog I was really quiet and she said, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I just, the sudden news of the quarantine was like a big dump of new words in my head and I just need to sort through them all.”

My brain was in overdrive thinking about all of the ramifications of this new information and who needs to know and what needs to change doing risk/benefit analysis of certain situations and worrying about what we do if any of us get COVID during a time when we don’t have insurance and…and…

You get the point. My brain was bubbling over and I was using all of my coping skills from years of therapy with Anxiety to help keep myself from having a panic attack. So, in a way, treating my Anxiety has giving me tools that also help some of the frenzied thought patterns that come with ADHD. Some of the tools are the same and so by responding to my brain’s anxiety responses, I’m also helping my brain’s ADHD responses.

In Conclusion

I mean. There is no conclusion. I have undiagnosed ADHD and hopefully I can get a diagnosis as soon as I have insurance. And then when I spend hours reading about tools that an ADHD person should have in their toolshed, I will being doing it with an actual diagnosis in hand so I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time.

7 thoughts on “Undiagnosed.”

  1. Undiagnosed?? I diagnosed you about a year ago. My credentials??- I was diagnosed about 7 years ago, my daughter when she was 19. I started seeing the patterns in your wr blog that just stood out to me. Ijhave asked you a couple times about the possibility. I believe I asked you a couple times if you had considered talking to you psychiatrist about testing. In all probabability the ADHD would not have been found when you were a child or young adult. The reason, females manifest the signs differently than do males and it was the symptoms in males that were easily identifiable. They are physically busy and dont sit still. They are disruptive. The impulsivity is strong and they will blurt out anything. They tend to eporess anger in a physical manner and are familiar with every nook and cranny and dead bug in the principals office. Most girls, on the other hand are more likely to be inattentive. They appear to not be paying attention. They are daydreamers. They take forever to complete tasks and homework. They are always the last one out of the room when there is a test, especially if there are essay question (finally a place for all the words in our heads to go!) I missedf my daughters ADHD, primarily because of her excellent grades, until she got to college and discovered the internet. She had to provide all the structure. She drove roommates crazy and changed every semester until she moved into efficiency apartments as the only occupant. The light came on for me when I was in a workshop session about Adhd The instructor said . We have been missing tyhe symptoms in girls. Girls fall through the cracks. My first thought was – And I know one that has fallen through and lended with a big splat. B3etween her 2nd and 3rd years of college, she was diagnosed with botha significant hearing loss in one ear and ADHD. She was put on medication and when she changed schools, she had a 504 and IEP and was served by the office for students with disabilities. She also told me that ADHD is heredity and I got it from you. She used every device she could think of to cope and had been doing that for use. I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist, but was asked to talk to him by my counselor. During a session , I completely lost my thoughts in the middle sentence (again). I said, That is my ADHD self kicking in. She asked if I had ever been tested, I said no, but I have lived 59 years like this, so I can do this for the rest of my lif. She said why would you want to and asked me to talk to the Dr. the next time I went. How did she spot it She is a trained professional with at least 1 hyperactive child, and they got it from her. I did . He handed me the diagnostic survey whish I thought would say ADHD inattentive type. It came both types. Inattentive type and hyperaccti8ve type. I now take Adderall. Please be open to taking meds. There is a journey to find the right one and the proper dosage. You have done an excellent job of managing your ADHD, but its a lot of F______ work. It will get easier. I like you , can track back until probably kindergarten and see the how ADHD played many many rolls in my life You may actually have more knowledge on the subject than I do, however you can call or text anytime and we can talk. The best resource I have found is ADDitude magazine. Its only published 4 times a year, but you can sign up for almost daily emails and online seminars.

  2. I am saving this. You put into words things I could not. I’ve been thinking I could have ADHD for a while now, and I think I could have inattentive-type ADHD that was masked by my hearing loss and love of reading. I am a fast reader, so my experience with school isn’t like Beth’s above (I was usually first one done with tests, even essays), but I really identify with that whole fear of failure thing. I didn’t take classes I didn’t feel confident of doing well in. I am also not good at self-directing. I appreciate you mentioning this and giving examples. This is one of the things that makes keeping a clean house difficult (being a bit depressed doesn’t help, either). I am so glad you have such self-awareness. I know things are going to improve for you once you are able to get some treatment for this.

  3. My son was diagnosed with ADHD Inattentive Type a couple of years ago, which was a huge surprise to me. But based on what we learned to help him, my husband and I realized that my husband also has Inattentive ADHD.

    So, my husband went to a psychiatrist to get evaluated and was put on medicine. I have to say that the medicine is a game changer! Over the years I had started to feel like he didn’t like talking to me, because he woulde never pay attention when I talked anymore. I guess I didn’t realize how much it hurt my feelings. Once he started the medicine it was like when we were dating. He was an excellent listener again and we had long conversations again. It’s like we got to date and fall in love all over again.

    I’ll also never forget that first week on the medicine for him. He actually cried, because he realized that his whole life there really had been a problem. It wasn’t that he was lazy like the teachers in school said he was. He cried when he realized that he is actually smart. (I was floored that he didn’t already know how smart he was!) The medicine was truly life changing for him.

    (I’ll also add that his story is a common one. Some people are able to control their ADHD well. And then when a life change happens, in his case, having kids, it becomes harder to manage it.)

    As others have said, it can take time to find the right medicine and dose, but it’s worth it. My son started on Vyvanse, but because Vyvanse is only used for two things, ADHD and suppressing binge eating, it wasn’t a good fit for him. (He has feeding issues and is underweight.) So, we moved him to short acting Adderall and it’s a perfect solution for us, because it doesn’t lead to any skipped meals.

  4. So. One of the things about ADHD is that is is very connected to anxiety. It is also very frequently misdiagnosed as anxiety in women when it should be co-diagnosed. And, fun fact, it CREATES anxiety. All that bopping around juggling thoughts and screwing things up because you weren’t paying attention creates this perfect space to develop severe anxiety. So i know, from reading your blog that you continue to struggle with anxiety and I think that once you’re able to get treatment for the ADHD that the intractable pieces of anxiety you really struggle with might get easier.
    Also, I struggle with that rejection sensitivity dysphoria, undiagnosed because I just don’t have time to deal with that right now. From what you’ve written, yeah I bet you have it for sure, and I hope that when you are able to get services again that you can try the medication and it works for you. I think it would such a huge difference for you, for me it’s pretty mild and I’m working on cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with it since I’m already doing that for adhd. And omg the right ADHD med makes such a difference, but the cognitive behavioral therapy really helps too.

  5. I was raised in an atmosphere of lies, anger, and by a parent who never hesitated to lash out, sometimes physically, so I understand all of this very well including the fear. The Catholicism and the guilt just added the final layers of dysfunction that I am only now able to shake off. It sounds like your dad tried though. After I set some boundaries with my parents three years ago, they haven’t spoken to me or anyone in my family since. It is really hard to undo all of it, but every morning I wake up and I literally make a daily choice to move on. I’m glad that you’ve been able to find some answers for yourself in order to bring about some peace, or at least the promise of peace.

  6. Brains are such complex and tricky places. I’m glad that you’re finding ways to cope with all of the information your brain dumps at you. The different social media places for different things makes a ton of sense to me.

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