“Huh, I do a lot of those things. I don’t have ADHD, though. I would have known by now.” After all, I had met ADHDers before, and I wasn’t like them. Everyone has countless hobbies they’ve started, learned about, and eventually gotten tired of. Everyone goes through life thinking other people hate them. Everyone has trouble focusing on conversations in loud rooms… right?
I kept scrolling. But unfortunately, they don’t call it the “For You” page for nothing. I kept seeing more videos from other ADHDers, and I kept relating to almost everything they said.
Eventually, this happened:
Finally, I googled “ADHD in women” and found a plethora of articles, blogs, and discussions that explained so many things about me and my life. I went to my doctor, took an assessment, and started medication in September. By November, I’d made as many adjustments to my life and routine that I could think of in order to work with my ADHD brain. I made as many chores and tasks as easy as I possibly could. I started using more reminders, and structuring my day in ways that made more sense for me. I managed to wrangle that part of my brain just enough to regain a handle on the schoolwork that had fallen behind while I rearranged my life.
And then I repeated that exact same pattern, but this time with autism. We are only just starting to understand the characteristics of and differences between these conditions (also known as “neurotypes”). Because of this, many psychologists and other mental health professionals believe that ADHD has a lot more in common with the autism spectrum than it does. It also means that many of us auDHDers have to wade through a pool of misinformation before we’re able to recognize that we are, in fact, both ADHD and autistic.
Once I’d accepted that I was autistic as well as ADHD, I started leaning even more into my “weirder” traits that I’d been holding back, many of which I didn’t even realize I had. I kept pushing through grad school, trying to balance virtual assignments and Zoom meetings with my new mission of self-discovery. I finished my first semester by the skin of my teeth by submitting a final paper worth 30% of my grade at precisely 11:59:57 pm, two seconds before the deadline.
“Yikes,” I told myself. “That was way too close. Let’s NOT do that again, okay? We’re gonna do better next semester.” After all, I was set to begin my field placement and start to do some “real” social work. If I didn’t get my shit together, I would never be able to handle both classwork and fieldwork.
During my two weeks of winter break, I rested. I took baths. I treated myself. I did everything you’re “supposed” to do while you’re recovering from burnout. When I started class again in January, I had a new outlook. I was motivated, I was prepared, I had a plan, and I was going to show the world what I could do.
It took me five more weeks to accept that there was no amount of shit that I could get together in order to be able to do the amount of work I was asking of myself. The placement I had thought was a wonderful opportunity to finally use my skills devolved into weeks of photocopies, note taking, and “shadowing” despite my university’s requirements for interns to work directly with clients. On top of that, I continued to fall behind on school work, and every deadline was met with minutes to spare and a body full of anxiety. I had lost every ounce of motivation I’d managed to scrape up over winter break.
I asked myself what I would say to a friend if I saw them doing to themselves what I was doing. I knew that I would tell anyone else to pull back the reins, take a break, and give themselves a chance to catch up. I decided I would give it until the end of the week to make my final decision.
A couple of days later, after yet another shadowing opportunity I’d been promised fell through, I decided enough was enough. I wrote a lengthy email to my advisor detailing my struggles with both my placement and my mental health. Hands shaking and heart pumping, I sent the email and steeled myself for a fight from the school. Ten minutes later, she replied with a brief but reassuring message that I would be able to stop field immediately, and included instructions on how to move forward with a leave of absence. No consequences, no berating, no nothing.
And just like that, I was free. I dropped off my badge I had at the agency I was no longer a part of, finished the last couple weeks of classes, and that was that.
Once school was settled, I finally had time to think about what I wanted out of life without assignments and intern responsibilities clogging my mind with anxiety. With this new sense of freedom I had given myself, I was able to see clearly what I wanted for the first time in my life.
I knew I still wanted to help people, and utilize the new skills that I had picked up in graduate school. I also wanted a career that would allow me to work for myself, and live life on my terms. Finally, I knew I wanted to spread the knowledge that I had gained over months of having neurodivergence as a new special interest, and help others who were struggling like I used to (and still sometimes do, let’s be real).
Part of me always wanted to be a life coach. I’ve been a lifetime fan of behind the scenes work, and I enjoy the idea of being someone’s cheerleader, teacher, friend, and accountability partner all in one. However, my anxiety and lack of self-awareness had impacted my confidence in ways I wasn’t able to see until recently. Now that I can see myself more clearly than I thought was possible, I know that I have the knowledge, compassion, and drive it takes to do anything I set my mind to.
My hope is to help as many other neurodivergent people as I can to feel as confident and empowered as I do. This world wasn’t built for us, but together, we can learn how to work with it, and hopefully someday change it.