Updated: Nov 18, 2018
I remember how I felt when I first learned of my diagnosis of ADD (now technically referred to as ADHD- Predominantly Inattentive Type). August 2015....at 25 years old. Driving home from the psychiatrist's office, I smiled and cried all at once. It felt like a ton of bricks was just lifted from my shoulders. I finally had answers. Peace. My mind raced thinking of the past, as it made connections. Everything made so much more sense now. I just figured all of the symptoms I had been experiencing for so long were little quirks, flaws, or apart of my personality.
Growing up, I always felt a little different; perhaps not seemingly apparent to others, but just secretly. And exhaustingly, I tried to fit in and keep up with the facade that I'm "normal"--to appear more confident and outgoing than I really am. Nonetheless, I have been a successful, high-functioning person, and have learned to overcompensate and mask my daily struggles. Moreover, I was a quiet, smart, and obedient student and child....and so no one could have known what was going on inside my complex and cluttered brain. When one thinks of ADHD, the stereotypical hyperactive boy disrupting class may come to mind. This is partly why girls are often not diagnosed with ADHD until they're adults. It can be difficult to recognize, the level of severity can vary, and girls/women manifest ADHD differently.
Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria
Because of societal standards and expectations, I feel that women are especially prone to develop low self-esteems. Add undiagnosed ADHD to this natural tendency, and it's even worse. So many years of internalizing and shame--always wondering "what's wrong with me?" And now I know that my brain is literally wired differently; my executive functioning is a little impared. But even after coming to understand myself a little better, I still continue to constantly beat myself up and ruminate in negative thoughts about myself after everything I say, do, or don't do. Because I care too much about what others think. I'm afraid of being judged. I want to be liked and accepted. I want to please others and I hate making mistakes. Failure, disappointing others, and feeling rejected are some of the worst feelings in the world, to me. It's like my heart physically hurts and it's hard to bare.
I recently learned that this is actually a thing. It's called Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, or RSD (which most people with ADHD have). According to ADDitude Magazine, it is "an extreme emotional sensitivity and emotional pain triggered by the perception—not necessarily the reality—that a person has been rejected, teased, or criticized by important people in their life. RSD may also be triggered by a sense of failure, or falling short—failing to meet either their own high standards or others’ expectations." This has all led me to develop Social and Generalized Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, and Avoidant Personality Disorder.
Dealing with rejection and criticism every now and then is apart of life. We are always judging and forming opinions about others and everything around us, sometimes even subconsciously. And as a performer and artist, these things are very prominent. It's show business. I have auditioned for many plays, music events, and competitions. I have nervously stood before many judges, hoping they like me and my performance. I have had my art work critiqued in front of my whole class in college. I have dealt with "failure" and rejection many times. And although these feelings hit me hard, and the anxiety is difficult to deal with...
I love the arts too much to stop. Even with my avoidant personality, I get back up and try again. My passion wins.
This has puzzled and amazed some of my family and friends. A lot of people view me as a shy, quiet, and anxious person--and are surprised when they learn that I auditioned for American Idol, or that I will perform in front of hundreds of people. I'm in introvert that sometimes does extroverted things. Often times, performing and having a script is easier for me than day-to-day interaction with others. Because performing is prepared, planned, and kind of one-sided; whereas, with one-on-one conversation (or talking in front of a large group), I feel more vulnerable. My social anxiety and ADHD get in the way, and I just don't know what to say. I'm afraid of being judged (someone disagreeing with me, me saying something that sounds stupid), etc...so I avoid that by remaining quiet. Learning to love myself and developing self-confidence is something I've always had to work at. Being involved in stage theatre has really helped me to get out of my shell. The arts as a whole have had a healing power in my life, and have been an outlet to express myself and find refuge.
Highly Sensitive Person
Similar to RSD, many people with ADHD, including myself, also have hypersensitivity--also known as being a "highly sensitive person" (HSP). This can be both emotionally and physically. Basically, it takes less stimulation for me to feel more, making stimulating environments and conversations feel overwhelming at times. You young mothers, even without ADHD can relate to this I'm sure....your kids are all up in your grill, one is crying and throwing a fit, another is trying to talk to you at the same time, asking for something--and all you want is to be able to pee alone. I become a hot pot ready to boil over. If there is too much going on and lots of noise--I want to escape. So being a HSP, I stress easily. I don't like big crowds. If I see someone cry, even just in a movie, I will often cry too. Sometimes it's hard to watch the news or certain kinds of movies, because of how they affect me. Even if it's acting, it can seem real to me. I feel all the feels--the hurt and sorrow. And I empathize. So those with ADHD usually feel everything, good or bad, more intensely than neuro-typical people.
And while I may get overstimulated easily, I can also get a little bored and impatient, and so I seek something more stimulating and interesting. I need variety. Finding the motivation to do mundane, repetitive household chores, and fighting the urge to give in to my distractions, the things I'd rather do--is a daily struggle. Managing time wisely, having priorities in order, and not procrastinating are all difficult for people with ADHD as well.
Hyper-focus--A Blessing and a Curse
There are some positive aspects of being a HSP--creativity, empathy, passion, and depth of perception. And with ADHD, we have this super power (which is both a blessing and a curse), in which we can become consumed in a state of "hyper-focus." So although we can get distracted easily, our minds can wander--and we can have difficulty processing, comprehending, remembering, and regurgitating information and instructions....with our interest-based nervous systems, we can also focus intensely on things we are very interested in (and any distraction or interruption is a major annoyance, although sometimes we're not attuned to what is going on around us, because of the intense focus). So with my creativity and passion for the arts, I can hyper-focus on projects--particularly ones involving my computer (which is stimulating and addicting for me). I can sit for hours on end in my own little world and accomplish a lot; however, the problem with hyper-focus is that it is difficult to stop what I am doing. I can become so consumed and obsessive that I lose track of time, neglect more important things, and skimp on sleep. It can put a strain on relationships and self-discipline can be a challenge.
Inside my mind it is messy. Like a tornado-destroyed house, cluttered with debris. Like tangled strings or wires. Like fast cars going in every direction in a big city. But it's a beautiful mess. If you have ADHD like me, try to focus on the positive things about having it. Your big heart and outside-of-the-box perspective can be very valuable to others. We got this.