“She speaks,” my mind remarks, with some surprise, as my fingers play across my keyboard, tapping with both practiced ease and tiresome hesitation. Over the past two months at least, my mind has been saying to me, “I am ready to break my silence. It is time,” only to go back on its word the next minute, and stuff itself with noise and distraction and hide behind fear and insecurity.
But I guess I’m ready today- just as the year comes to an end. Whatever that means.
For what does it mean- this date on a calendar that is supposed to signify something or whatever- and haven’t we all just lived a year, where knowing what day, date and time it was, mattered very little?
I’ll always remember 2020 as the year I became a stranger to myself. A year in which I lost and then found my voice.
For months after I returned from my trip to Greenland in March, I couldn’t write because I did not have anything to say, mostly to myself, and therefore also to others. The written word, whether furiously scribbled in a notebook or tapped on a screen, is how I’ve processed life, and the world, since I was eight. Not being able to access that this year made me feel like all that was left of me was a hollow shell and that was terrifying.
Luckily, things took a turn for the better towards the end of 2020 and I managed to write quite a few pieces for one of my clients, as well as this heartfelt essay for HI Hostels Canada about solo travel as an introvert.
Like most of us, I took refuge in domesticity, a state I didn’t even realize, in years of traveling far and fast and often, offered any kind of refuge. I cooked, baked, decorated the new apartment we moved into, and for the first time in my life, grew houseplants.
I realized something that should have been obvious to me given how much I chase forests, trails and national parks around the world: bringing nature into your home can be as easy as growing a few houseplants and putting fresh flowers in a vase or two. Tending to these beautiful things everyday now feels like a sacred ritual that is essential to my sanity.
But through the baking and eating and all of that, I grieved for so many things- the smiling faces that Covid took from my world, the business I built over the last six years, the painful distance from my most loved ones, the uncertainty of when again I’ll feel the joy of a green, forested trail somewhere or the unmatched wonder of an Arctic landscape. And then, I grieved for my mind.
I’m sorry if you were grieving too. I hope you can get through it, because there really is no other choice, is there?
A Revelatory Year and a Peek Into My Mind
2020 was the year I realized how I messed up words and sentences, often not being able to name simple, everyday objects like placemats and washing machine, replacing them with ‘plastic for the table’ and ‘big bin the laundry room’.
2020 was the year I felt even more disconnected during conversations, ‘zoning out’ without my usual ability to drift back in after a few seconds. I stayed adrift, completely blank about what was being said in the conversation, just seconds ago.
2020 was the year I realized that it wasn’t normal how I could not remember where the keys or my phone were- almost always, that I couldn’t recall certain faces or the names of people I’d known for a considerable amount of time, or whether or not I’d done or said something just minutes ago. That I couldn’t multitask if my life depended on it, or that I couldn’t stand background conversations or loud noises when I was trying to do something else. That that quickly became contempt for the source of those sounds.
2020 was the year when, for a while, my emotions felt more intense than I could imagine, or handle- anger became rage, disappointment became despair, and sorrow crept up in the empty spaces, leaving no room for other things like creativity or gratitude or contentment.
2020 was the year I blamed myself excessively for not being able to solve the problems of other people, even though I did not bring about those problems. I felt their pain as deeply as if it were mine but I carried the weight of these unnecessary burdens all day and all night, could not sleep, and felt physically and mentally drained. And then I learnt the meaning of the word empath.
2020 was the year I felt guilty about everything so much that it added up, quickly, to feeling guilty about being alive. Of taking up space in the world and in the lives of those around me, who I was convinced, would be better off without me.
2020, then, was the year I learnt something I wish I’d known a long time ago- that I had Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD.
Let’s Talk About The Stuff We Don’t Talk About
All too often, my social media feeds tell me that people are doing really well, and so much better than me at this life thing, even in a year that’s as shitty as 2020. Some are fitter than they’ve ever been, some have successfully changed jobs/careers or pivoted their businesses (and blogs), some have found spirituality and what not.
Me? I’ve failed at a whole bunch of things and I’m exhausted by my constant state of overwhelm. That does not mean that I’m not grateful, because I am- for the health of my loved ones, for not having to wait out this storm alone, for the comforts and luxuries that I’m blessed with, for being alive. I am, truly.
But I am also overwhelmed by the uncertainty of what lies ahead, and knowing now that I have ADHD, I am learning to forgive myself for being more overwhelmed, more “scatterbrained” than other normal, or let’s say- neurotypical people.
So why is it important for me to talk about my ADHD? Does it matter?
There are so many reasons why I want to talk about learning that I have ADHD as a 33-year old woman. But all of them, can be summed up simply as: Why the hell not?
Why don’t we talk about the states of our mind, as openly as we do our bodies? Why don’t we share their journeys toward fitness or transformation? Why the stigma and shame?
As if those of us with conditions like ADHD chose it for ourselves. Like it was something we did wrong.
We didn’t. I didn’t. It wasn’t something I chose, it was something I always had but only recently began to understand, and so I don’t want to hide it. What I want to do is to normalize it.
I also want to talk about it openly because I want anyone reading this right now to know this: other people don’t always have it together all the time. Their lives are not perfect and you’re not doing anything wrong if you can’t keep up. You’d be surprised by how much you don’t know about what goes on behind those seemingly perfect lives you see on social media.
I don’t know how to be anything but honest, how to say anything but what I feel, and so here I am doing what I do best- pouring my heart out on the internet so that at least one person out there feels a little bit less alone or miserable.
What I do know now is that my ADHD brain is different from other brains in how it processes emotions and tasks and situations and the line between thoughts and feelings. That it sends me strong messages that distort reality, and affects the decisions I make based on those messages. That it affects how I function as an adult, and how effective and good I am at things that contribute to success, as it is perceived in a world where my type of brain is in the minority.
Having a neurodivergent brain in a world that says one type of brain is normal and the standard by which all other types of brains must be measured, has often, but not always, been a disadvantage.
What if we accepted the idea, that just as there are different types of bodies, there might be different types of brains? And that all of them were normal? That is the conversation I want to start.
The Good, The Bad, and The In-Between
The more I learnt about ADHD, and having it, I realized that it wasn’t all bad.
You know the stuff I’ve always loved about myself? The spontaneity to say Yes to everything, the courage to take risks without thinking too much about the consequences, the flow state when I’m doing something I truly love, being fiercely loyal to those I love- so much that I’d do anything for them, being honest and straightforward because that’s the only way I know how to be, saying exactly what I mean without sugar-coating it, always listening to my instincts, believing in endless possibilities, and the brilliant bursts of creativity? Turns out, at least some of these could be thanks to my ADHD.
At this point- by that I mean as an adult who just found out she has ADHD (versus being a child when it is most often diagnosed) it can be hard to say which parts of my personality are my own and which come from ADHD. Frankly, I don’t care for that dissection when it comes to the good parts- because if ADHD makes me creative and brave and maybe a bit delusional, I wouldn’t change that for the world.
But the bad stuff? Like the anxiety and inability to reign in the negative emotions- I am beginning to see that they are not who I am. That they are what my ADHD brain feeds me, and knowing that gives me some power over them. All of it gets better with practice- and I have begun.
While there is no cure for ADHD- and frankly, I don’t want one if it rids me of my best traits, there are ways to manage it. My journey is only just getting started.
From Losing My Voice to Self-Acceptance
For me 2020 is ending with a happy, healthy dose of kindness towards myself. It feels like the missing pieces of my puzzle have finally come together this year. I have at least one answer to some questions I’ve asked myself over and over through the years- “Why am I like this?” and “Why can’t I visualize the future like most people can?” and “Why am I so bored when everyone else here is having fun?” It finally makes sense- what I feel, how intensely I feel it, what I choose to do with it and why.
Putting a label on it has made me feel understood, seen, and accepted- by the only person who matters the most: me.
I finally forgive myself for all the stuff I wanted to, but could not, do better.
I forgive myself for starting so many projects and giving up halfway when I felt overwhelmed.
I forgive myself for not knowing or not being able to follow steps and instructions and declaring that I wasn’t interested anymore, only because my brain couldn’t handle and juggle things like other brains.
I forgive myself for throwing myself into a cycle of taking on too much, getting overwhelmed, and giving up.
I forgive myself for striving for perfection, and for failing.
I forgive myself for taking longer than most people to get there, wherever there is.
I forgive myself for not saying “No, thanks” nearly enough.
I forgive myself for thinking negative thoughts.
I forgive myself for being lazy- because in reality, I was comforting myself, protecting myself from something painful.
I forgive myself for forgetting so many moments.
I forgive myself for self-soothing with food or shopping or binge-ing on Netflix.
I understand now, that my ADHD brain craves stimulation and dopamine constantly- that it is never satisfied with the everyday, the routine, even when that is a blessing. It craves moments where it feels infinite possibility, hope, risk, and sometimes even a bit of danger, in a way that other brains do not. I understand that there is a scientific reason why my brain functions like this, and that by knowing this, I feel just a tiny, little bit more in control.
I won’t talk resolutions, because I don’t believe I’ve ever stuck to a single one in my life. I will talk intentions- carrying forward from what I’ve learnt and begun to practice over these last few months:
I will not judge myself by the same parameters as others, because my ADHD brain has some limitations versus neurotypical brains.
I will set boundaries and will not take on the burdens, emotional or mental, of others. Their problems are theirs, and I cannot always solve them. I will put myself first and say No when that is what I need.
I will remind myself that thoughts are different from feelings, and that not all of my emotions have to come out at once.
I will be kinder to myself and those around me. I will pick my battles. I will be more careful about choosing what I must engage with and what I can let go.
I will not give up, but I will adjust my dreams to allow myself a moment to breathe.
I will learn to work with, instead of against, my strange, beautiful, and I’m-not-sure-what-else ADHD brain.
I will exercise regularly because that is one way to put myself first and it only helps my ADHD brain get the dopamine it needs.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for hanging around while I digressed and rambled- I literally could not help it. But know that I appreciate you for being interested in my stories, and for reaching out with your positivity and good wishes. You give me the courage to put myself out there, and make me feel like there’s a place for me here in the world- like I too belong.
I can only imagine that 2020 brought lessons of its own for you, and I hope that something good came of them and that you can take them forward in 2021-while being a little bit kinder to yourself and those around you.
We will get through this- time sure has a way of making that happen.
Wishing you health, peace, and joy in 2021!