I am so excited to be enjoying the weird period between Christmas and the new year. I haven’t had to work this week and it’s let me live out my ‘grass is greener’ SAHM life fantasy I have had all year, while juggling work with being a school mum and mental load carrier for my household (I was a SAHM for a long time but started working again in 2022).
I’ve enjoyed having the mental space, energy and time to just do the laundry or clean things around the house and to feel a sense of calm in the chaos. To have that be my primary job for these precious few days. To have slow starts each morning and be a domestic goddess (well my version and not a perfect home organisation Instagram account standard haha). I know I wouldn’t appreciate this time as much if it wasn’t for my work so I guess it’s always bittersweet!
Something I’ve missed very much has been the capacity to let my brain do its creative thing. That’s why it has been a struggle to find my way back to writing. But this week I have enjoyed thinking of things that I’d like to share. Being able to journal again and reflect on the year that’s been. The highs, the lows and the things I’d love to do next year.
Something that has been a BIG DEAL for me in 2023 has been my relationship with my ADHD. I think it’s so much more than going to a psychiatrist, getting a diagnosis (or in my case a re-confirmation of a diagnosis that I got when I was 16 or so) and walking out with a prescription for medication. This has changed my life. And in more ways than people realise. It’s not just about being able to concentrate more or complete tasks without losing momentum (although those things are amazing). It’s about how I feel about myself. My relationship with myself has deepened. It’s been a big journey of self discovery.
It has been the biggest gift I could have given myself.
Here are some of the good things about acknowledging and treating my ADHD this year:
Less daily overwhelm
I used to expend so much damn energy just completing a task or two each day that it became really difficult to fulfil all of the responsibilities I carry as a mother, home owner, school parent, worker etc (which is hard enough for every person). I would always get the non negotiable survival stuff done, but I’d be so drained, anxious and on top of that I was always trying so hard to mask my ADHD symptoms because they are seen in this neurotypical world as being undesirable (not being as ‘productive’ or forgetting things and then feeling like a big inconvenience or bad parent/adult). I was working so hard all the time for little measurable reward.
Now I can stick at things so much better. I don’t have to do as much mental gymnastic work to stay on task or to see things through. I am far less exhausted by doing a couple of things and now I can do like 5 things. It is so freeing. Things that took days because of my exhaustion and need to procrastinate can now be done more efficiently, giving me more time to rest on my days ‘off’ and enjoy other things (where logistically possible of course – life has its crazy phases).
Medication is only a tool. I have to want to be organised and productive for it to work. It only works if I do. I still use lots of great organisational ideas and ‘hacks’ I’ve picked up over my adult life. It’s just not as hard now and that is priceless.
My relationship with ADHD shame
This has been an interesting one. When I finally started the journey of properly addressing my ADHD again as an adult and as a parent, the thing I really really hoped for was to heal the shame I felt. The feeling of not measuring up or being ‘good enough’. The shame I’d accumulated along the way about my ‘laziness’, my inability to complete tasks that didn’t interest me and weren’t urgent enough, my rejection sensitivity making me feel like I was a bad friend or not a good enough one, which made me anxious and wanting to isolate myself at times. If I had 6 tasks (big or small) to complete in a day and I forgot 2 of them I would beat myself up so badly because that meant my symptoms were not under control despite my best efforts. Especially if I had unintentionally inconvenienced somebody with my error. I would spend so much energy trying to mask. Can’t have anyone seeing I’m not ‘good enough’ to be considered a decent, responsible, respectable adult or parent! Can’t let anyone down!
I hoped that if I had a successful experience with medication (I also see a psychologist), I might alleviate the pressure and anxiety I put on myself. If I had good outcomes then I would have nothing to be ashamed about. But then those things did happen and I still felt confused about my relationship with my shame.
Because what if medication was just me being able to pretend to be neurotypical? What if I still hated who I was when unmedicated/the ‘real’ me? That didn’t seem like true healing. I didn’t want to buy into the idea that ADHD people aren’t good enough in their natural state and I hope one day that the way our brains are wired will be accommodated and embraced so much more. I had a lot of judgements I’d learned to make or put on myself from as early as primary school and I had to confront those. I think conversations are changing a lot more and the stigma is slowly being broken down, but there’s a way to go. Medication and acknowledgement of my ADHD helps me to navigate this world in my own way. Understanding how my brain works differently allows me to work around challenges creatively, while medication helps it to not be so awfully hard.
I wanted to be the best role model for my kids too. If I stayed in denial about my ADHD, tried to hide because of the stigma and still exhibited shame and frustration with my symptoms then how would they learn to think and feel about themselves if they had symptoms too (it has been proven to run in families)? I had to do the work.
After a little bit of thinking and some words from my psychiatrist, I have learned that medication doesn’t erase who you are. You don’t just take on a new personality. Some of my best traits come from having ADHD and they don’t just disappear because I get a little pharmaceutical help with my executive functioning. My sense of humour, my creativity, my resilience, my compulsive need to be honest which can make me relatable and put others at ease in weird or anxious situations where nobody wants to say the thing like “I have no idea what I’m doing – do you?” – you know those kinds of things? I have a strong sense of justice – I don’t like seeing people treated badly. I am very compassionate and empathetic. Some of my favourite people exhibit these same traits and I would want them to be so proud of themselves – not ashamed. I deserve the same compassion I would give to them.
I just don’t have to deal with the less helpful symptoms exhausting me as much.
Dopamine is a magical thing
I honestly did not know a whole lot about the relationship between dopamine and ADHD before I started investigating it for myself. I didn’t really know how it affected me, personally.
Now I understand there is a dopamine deficit in ADHD people. I am not a doctor and not at all an expert but I guess I kind of understand it in layman’s terms. It was just my normal to have so many ups and downs in moods, motivation, energy etc. I got used to waiting for a ‘good’ day when everything would fall into place and I would be stoked on life and nail everything and that magic would be the best feeling ever and I knew it wouldn’t last so I’d have a big rush of activity, productivity, creativity, social wonderfulness while I could before the dopamine decreased again and I’d feel blah and not be able to get myself going or remember shit easily.
My psychiatrist explained to me that the binge eating I was struggling with was me trying to get a temporary dopamine fix. I was always trying to feel that hit of calm, happiness and pleasure. Food had become my go to. I mean, some people do extreme sports for a rush of dopamine, but food was easy and accessible and comforting for me!
Yes, medications can suppress your appetite but I haven’t stopped eating or lost weight in an unhealthy fashion. I’ve simply stopped over-eating or eating for the wrong reasons. The ability to have a more consistent dopamine supply has meant that food doesn’t take up so much of my time and focus in a day (it’s a bit embarrassing but I honestly did spend so much time on it). It’s amazing and I’ll always be a foodie, but I am not misusing it and it’s not disrupting my ability to be healthier or to do other things I like (or even need to do).
Something I noticed about medication pretty quickly was that my baseline for my mood when it kicked in was so much higher than I had become used to! Before it kicks in, I can feel flat or ‘blah’, but once it has taken effect I can sometimes feel a drastic change in my energy and mood (a lot of the time – it’s not a miracle – we all have ups and downs and other stressors etc)! Life feels brighter. I feel more optimistic.
I know I’ve mentioned medication a lot. I am only speaking for my personal experience. I am not trying to say it’s the only way to manage ADHD (and for me it’s in conjunction with so many other things I try to practice in my daily life). It’s just the best way for me to manage as an individual at this time. Only you and your medical professional can determine what is best for you (or your child). Everyone is different.
What I’m saying is, getting help took time, courage, energy and a willingness to prioritise myself when life is busy and hectic enough. I’m so proud of myself for taking that step and I feel so fortunate that I can afford my appointments and medication. The mental health system is really rough here. There are not enough specialists, there are currently medication shortages and it’s not easy. It can feel impossible for so many.
So if anyone was to ask me what my biggest personal achievement of 2023 has been, I would say this is it. I have learned to stop trying to separate my ADHD from who I am and to accept that it’s woven into my personality and not all of it is ‘bad’ (and neither am I). I have worked hard to make positive changes in my life and I’ve grieved for the me who just thought I sucked at ‘adulting’ and missed out on so many things due to overwhelm or anxiety about whether I’d fuck something up or not be able to follow through because of my symptoms (and for the child I was at a time when there was less understanding about neurodivergence in girls and stigma for all). I’ve continued to work on my self compassion.
I’ve learned that I was finding everything so much harder than it needed to be. I actually feel impressed with what I achieved without help! I really was working hard. I really was determined. My love of my kids was so strong it propelled me forwards time and time again. It’s just that nobody saw my little ducky legs kicking twice as hard underneath the water (or maybe they did despite me trying to mask so hard haha).
I am not magically amazing now and I am far from perfect, but I feel like at least when I’m paddling up shit creek (aren’t we all), I now have a couple of oars to help me!
I know I will be a better parent because I’ll be happier, healthier and better able to regulate my nervous system (and therefore role model that for my kids) and not so overwhelmed and exhausted (compared to before of course).
I finally feel like I have a little professional entourage of my own. A psychiatrist, a psychologist and a GP that I have been able to see more than once and can build a relationship with (rare for a lot of people these days). It took a lot of convincing (ie me having to talk myself into it) for me to believe that I am worth the expense and the carving out of time to achieve this.
I know a lot of mums/women can relate to that.
What has been your biggest achievement this year?