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.
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.
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.
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.
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.