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ADHD and Everything Else Under the Sun

To understand this story, you must know that, among other identities, I identify as queer, genderqueer, trans, AFAB, White, anti-racist, neurodiverse, disabled, and awesome. In the fall of 2013, following the death of my spouse’s father, my spouse and I, individually and together, began unraveling ourselves from ancient traumas, unquestioned identities, and adherence to cultural rules that never fit us. It was then that I first allowed myself to wonder about my brain, how it worked and why I could lose my wallet and keys 758,000 times a day. Still, I could tell you exactly where in my office, in what pile, was the piece of paper where I wrote brainstormed names for the University of Washington Q Center from my first week of work in 2004. I think my spouse might have nudged me in the direction of ADHD, querying, “you know, have you ever thought about….” I had not because, after all, I had been a straight-A student from kindergarten through high school. I did not have trouble paying attention; in fact, I could REALLY pay attention to something, so much so that when I was writing or working, I could not hear my daughter or spouse attempt to ask me a question. Yeah, I know, I know, well, I know now. Things I am listing here are indicators that a person might have ADHD or be in that spectrum of neurodiversity. And so, it seemed, was I.

I immediately and quickly did nothing about it. Though I sometimes felt troubled by losing things and disorganization, I was used to my fidgeting, and I did not know enough about neurodiversity to understand the gifts of my brain or the challenges. Fast forward to that double-dumpster fire of a year, 2020, when sometime during the dual pandemics, unclear when because I no longer understand time as I once did, I became worried. At times, I experienced extreme difficulty concentrating and finishing projects, not something that had been a problem before. I forgot not just where I put things, but if I had even had the item I wanted on the day in question, and I could not remember entire conversations. I often would have an idea and lose it immediately or be unable to recall a name or a story that I had known for more than 20 years. All of this had me wondering, is this more than ADHD, am I looking at some sort of degenerative diagnosis?

It is essential to know that during the pandemics, my sleep has been atrocious, I have experienced increased anxiety, and I have had some periods of depression, all of which is relatively normal for a therapist who is an adult living with some unresolved complex PTSD. I say this with levity, and it also bears out that many healers are, as Carl Jung noted “wounded.” Experiencing all of this and being in my late 40s or something like that, I wondered if perhaps menopause could be playing a role.

I never wanted meno or pause, so thinking about it was not something I was super excited about. However, when I read the description of the interaction of menopause and ADHD, I felt deeply relieved. It described me, basically saying that many “women” think they might have dementia when it is just the interaction of ADHD and hormonal changes during menopause.

Why, Jen, why are you telling us this? Because I have felt so alone in my brain most of my life, alone in my meta-thinking, alone in my bizarre memory of minutiae from years ago but the inability to track my jacket, alone in the way in which I arrive late, leave early, want to sit on the edges of the rows of chairs at events, alone in how fast my brain moves, alone in thinking 47 thoughts at once, alone in connecting things that other people do not think are connected, alone in not understanding why others aren’t following what I am saying at the rate I am saying it, alone in having a perspective that is always different than those around me, alone in my piled-up office, and more. I have realized that I decided long ago to do most things alone to protect myself from scrutiny from anyone else. I knew that I could get excellent grades, get my homework done, get to practices on time, finish my dissertation, but I did not want to bring anyone into my orbit for help. They would be put out by me, troubled by my disorganization, and I would not be able to do things their ways. And all these years, I protected myself from knowing this about me.

So, here, on October 11th, during ADHD Awareness Month, a few days after Mental Health Awareness Day, on National Coming Out Day, I thought it purposeful to share the confluence of these factors in my brain and life because I cannot imagine that even though I have felt alone, that I am in fact alone.

written by Jen Self

This story was originally published on Medium.

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