I have spent much of my life trying to figure out how to work with the intricacies of my brain. The first twenty years were spent trying to figure out what was wrong with it, while the next twenty were tasked with trying to fix it.
Turns out, what is ‘wrong’ with it is ADHD and anxiety and trying to manage and medicate these two conditions over the past couple of decades has been hard. It has consisted of creating (and failing) daily practices, implementing structure and routine, managing stressors, and trying a variety of medications.
I have taken escitalopram, fluoxetine, venlafaxine, methylphenidate, and lisdexamfetamine to name a few. I have tried mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, EMDR, and cognitive behavioral therapy. I have played around with micro-dosing, seen naturopaths, energy workers, and more. I have taken CBD, THC, GABA, L-theanine, and a host of other supplements.
Some of these things have worked quite well or offered a bit of relief, while others made no difference or actually made things worse. (I’m looking at you THC)
I have self-medicated, self-harmed, and self-deprecated. I have hated my anxiety and ADHD and I have had moments of being grateful for them. My anxiety has made me difficult to be around and tormented me with intrusive thoughts but it is also the reason my doctor found very early stage skin cancer. My ADHD made school difficult and has caused hurdles in terms of jobs but it also makes me creative, spontaneous, and fun to be around.
I have moments of wondering (with doctors and therapists) if my anxiety was just causing lack of focus. Or, if my ADHD was causing me to feel anxious (a common symptom). I have grappled with ADHD meds increasing my anxiety while also improving my focus and having to choose the lesser of the two evils.
Fun fact – ADHD can cause impulsivity and spontaneity while anxiety requires routine. So while my brain wants to run in a million different directions at any given time, it also needs predictability and structure in order to cope.
I have tried embracing these conditions, and I have tried denying them.
And here I am, at 40 years old, still trying to figure it all out. And while I still do not have things dialed in, and while I still struggle daily with these issues, I have learned a few things …
1 – This will likely be a lifelong journey and although that sucks, it is also okay. The reality is I may never be anxiety-free. I may need to be on meds for the rest of my life. I spent decades waiting for it to pass, or hoping I would be ‘cured’. Accepting that there is no finish line has helped reduce the pressure I have felt to be ‘normal’.
2 -Although I have always prescribed to an ‘it could always be worse’ and ‘have an attitude of gratitude’ outlook, it is okay to be really fucking frustrated sometimes.
3 -Talk to your kids. For many years, I was not open with my children about my struggles, particularly in regards to my anxiety. I didn’t want them to struggle like me and for some reason I thought that if I didn’t talk to them about it, they wouldn’t ‘catch it’ from me. (Weird line of thought, I know.) Talking about it openly with them not only would have given them a better (age appropriate) understanding of what I was experiencing, but it would have also shown them that when you are struggling, you don’t need to do it alone. And it is not some sort of shameful secret. Further to that, just like anything – the attitudes, understanding, and conversations we have around mental health issues start in the home.
4 – I am not alone. And neither are you. As discussions around mental health have become more prevalent, I have realized that I am sitting in these trenches alongside many other brilliant individuals. In fact, I am actually in pretty good company.
5 – You can have a mental health diagnosis and still be wildly successful and have an amazing life. Seriously. You can still find success in your careers, your relationships, your finances, your hobbies, your passions, and more.
6 – Be cautious of self-medicating. Rebound anxiety is real. I am an anxious mofo. (I’m sure you’ve gathered that if you’ve made it this far LOL). But after two glasses of wine, I am as cool as a cucumber. Life is rosy and I am feeling good … Until the next day when my anxiety is 10 times worse. Alcohol, pot, and many other substances appear to help in the moment but tend to make things way worse long term. Self-medicating can also lead to addiction issues. Now if you know me, you know that I enjoy wine. I am not saying you need to commit to sobriety but it is important to be aware of how it affects you and take note of any negative patterns that may occur.
7 – Lastly, there is hope. My darkest days have always passed and although this ride can be a bit of a rollercoaster, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I think that society’s shifting attitude towards mental health disorders (albeit slow) is evidence of that.
I write this today as I start on yet another medication. Writing has always been cathartic for me and I suppose I needed to work out my feelings around this all. It has been a rough few months and I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t exhausted. But I also feel hopeful. And most importantly, I feel supported. I have people on my team who are there to help me, and if they can’t help me, they are there to listen.
And that, is something to be grateful for.