Life with Anxiety: “I’m Trying to Be a Little Less Afraid”
Women with ADHD have spent their lives scrabbling around for social footing, constantly on edge. This life of fear brings on anxiety — I know, because I have it. Here’s what my day-to-day life looks like, and what I do to cope.
On days when I’m not late, I might wake up at 6 a.m. to get to homeschool by 10 a.m. I race and race until there is no more racing to be done. There is an hour before we have to leave. The boys and I spend the time staring at each other, our eyes saying, “What now?” We arrive at school 20 minutes early. I make the kids sit in the car and listen to Hamilton, because singing loud regulates my breathing and prevents a panic attack. I haven’t remembered until now that other people will be there.
People I don’t remember will remember me. People whose names I don’t remember will remember mine. People whom I will interrupt, people whose social cues I will fail to read, people to whom I will look stupid. I will make a joke about having ADHD and they will roll their eyes, thinking, “Yeah, you sure do.”
This is a morning in the life of a woman with ADHD and anxiety.
I Know People Are Judging Me
A 2015 study1 in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that of 134 participants, 31.4 percent had comorbid ADHD and anxiety. Science Daily reports that a study2 done by the University of Toronto in 2016 found that 36 percent of women with ADHD meet the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder. Basically, over one-third of us have an anxiety disorder. You can probably relate to my paranoia, to my terror of socializing. You’ve probably been there — and are there.
Part of this, it’s theorized, is that women are much less likely than men to have been diagnosed as children. Children with ADHD have trouble reading social cues. When you grow up this way, you think that everyone is angry at you, or judging you, or ridiculing you. You can’t tell good-natured teasing from mean-spirited taunting. We’re constantly scrabbling around for social footing, constantly on edge. This life of fear brings on social anxiety disorder. I know it. I have it.
I have few good friends. The truth pains me to write. I could probably have more if I tried hard, but I’m too scared. I know people are judging me. I’m convinced people will hurt me in the end. And when they show signs of hurting me, I drop them immediately and for good. The feeling that people are judging me leads to stupid things, like paralysis over my choice of clothing: Is this outfit good enough? What about this outfit? This one? It’s not that I have to feel beautiful. It’s just that I have to look good enough so that no one will notice me.
Obsessing Over Personal Interactions
Interactions with strangers are fraught. I try to be my best self, to be jovial, to be funny, a little sarcastic, and a little sweet. In other words, normal. After an interaction, I obsess and ask, “Did it go OK? Did I say the wrong thing? Did I offer too much personal detail when none was warranted?”
I am the same about Facebook posts. First, there are the typos. There are always typos, because I have ADHD and my mind moves faster than my fingers. I can’t see the mistakes I’ve made until it’s too late. They make me look stupid. Then there are the sentiments themselves: Too much? Too little? Did I hashtag correctly? There are so many rules I don’t understand. I don’t get it. When people respond, I don’t get how they’re responding, and that causes more stress.
Most people with ADHD are constantly late. I am if I don’t pay attention. Sometimes I am early — up to half an hour early, because if I am not that early, I will be late, and if I am late, they will think, “Here she is, late again.” I try to bring everything we need, but I inevitably forget something. I have to stop myself from crying in frustration.
So I go over lists. I comb through all my bags, checking and rechecking, making sure I have all the things I’m supposed to, all the piddly items one needs in the course of a day. I will forget something anyway. This is crazy-making and demoralizing. I am always anxious about what, exactly, I will forget this time. And who will end up picking up the slack.
It’s hard to function when you’ve got ADHD and an anxiety disorder. It can be paralyzing. Most of all, it is isolating and depressing. But we women are not alone. We can connect with other women who have ADHD and suffer from anxiety. Find online support groups. Find in-person support groups. Read books. Surround yourself with your sisters in stress. As you do, you might find yourself feeling a little less afraid.
1 Tsang, Tracey W., et al. “Anxiety in Young People With ADHD.” Journal of Attention Disorders, vol. 19, no. 1, 2015, pp. 18–26., doi:10.1177/1087054712446830.
2 Fuller-Thomson, E., et al. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Casts a Long Shadow: Findings from a Population-Based Study of Adult Women with Self-Reported ADHD.” Child: Care, Health and Development, vol. 42, no. 6, 20 July 2016, pp. 918–927., doi:10.1111/cch.12380.