Emotions & Shame

All the Joys I Never Knew I Was Missing

“Suddenly, there were no appointments to miss. No groceries to forget. My keys remained in my purse, along with my sunglasses, and random scraps of paper reminding me of to-do items put on hold. For the first time in my life, I felt genuinely free. How could this be? The world was in turmoil. Amid all the illness, sadness, unemployment, and loss of life, how could I feel tranquil?”

Young woman sitting on floor and working on laptop computer
Young woman sitting on floor and working on laptop computer

Two months ago, my doctor told me I had a respiratory infection (which my anxiety told me was definitely COVID-19), and I haven’t left my house since. I spent the first three weeks lazily in bed. Then my state locked down, and the panic followed shortly thereafter. Though I had nowhere to be, just the thought of being trapped with no choices, no options freaked me out. My instincts told me to get the hell out of there, but alas ‘flight’ was not an option.

Then something magical happened. A calm came over me. Something deep inside me settled. Everything felt right.

I could feel the lifting of a weight — the burden of my daily struggles with ADHD.

I had no flights to catch, no social engagements booked, no deadlines (to attempt) to meet. There were no appointments to miss. No groceries to forget. My keys remained in my purse, along with my sunglasses, and random scraps of paper reminding me of to-do items put on hold. My phone still gets lost in my house, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t feel the same urgency to answer it immediately.

What a relief! For the first time in my life, I felt genuinely free.

How could this be? The world was in turmoil. Amid all the illness, sadness, unemployment, and loss of life, how could I feel tranquil?

People are sick and dying in every country. Workers on the front line are sleeping in their cars to protect their loved ones from this dreadful virus. And I have the chutzpah (audacity) to feel joy? How could I?

[Take This Self-Test for Women with ADHD]

Truth be told, I was shocked myself. I hadn’t realized how stressed out I was until I found peace in the silence. It was there that I discovered these joys:

1. The Joy of Not Rushing

With ADHD, frantic is my middle name. In the time before, I rushed to work, to meetings, to friends’ houses, to doctors’ appointments. I never did anything casually.

Even when I thought I had ample time to get ready, it was never enough. By the time I started up my car, my heart was beating rapidly — and I was usually late. Video meetings are manageable. I don’t have to rush to get to them. I just grab a coffee, open my laptop, hope the wi-fi will cooperate, and settle in for an hour. This is not a small convenience; this is a new way of being.

2. The Joy of No Choices

Choices are challenging when you have ADHD. The simplest decisions can become black holes that suck you into wasted time. In isolation, there is nowhere to go and no choices to make. The only options weighing on my mind are what to cook (based on what’s available) or which TV shows to watch. Even when I shop for groceries, my choices are incredibly restricted.

[Read This: How Could This Pandemic Change Me for Good?]

The freedom to choose has been taken away, and with it has gone the analysis paralysis, the buyer’s regret, and the wasted hours of worrying about scenarios that never come to fruition. I don’t miss all of my daily choices nearly as much as I imagined I would when they were first taken away.

3. The Joy of Dressing for Comfort

Leggings and tee shirts are my daily uniform. I no longer pile my bed with outfits tried on and disregarded for tomorrow’s big meeting. I no longer begin my day criticizing myself in front of the mirror. There are no shoes scattered across the floor, just the same slippers and sneakers I wear every day. I don’t waste time on make-up or hairstyles, and I can take some solace in knowing I’m not alone or lazy or strange.

Celebrities are live-streaming themselves singing, acting, and dancing in their homes without makeup, hairstyles, or designer fashions. We are all remembering that au natural is beautiful. My ADHD brain doesn’t like superficial people, relationships, or expectations. For me, this is perfect.

4. The Joy of No Purchasing Pressure

In the time before, the latest fashions drove me to spend unnecessarily. I didn’t truly recognize the problem at the time. Walking through aisles of shiny new objects and garments fed my dopamine craving, and caused me to buy things I didn’t need. I’m embarrassed to see most of these things still hanging in my closet with tags in place — evidence of my impulsivity.

Now, my purchases are necessities only: toilet paper, flour, fruit, and tissues. The necessities are so clear, and so too are the frivolous mistakes I hope not to make again.

5. The Joy of Not Planning

My calendar remains frozen in time. I haven’t turned the page for two months. I am free.

I didn’t realize how my schedule of responsibilities and errands enslaved me. I’m free from an ongoing to-do list — of tasks, I should mention, that were rarely completed and, thus, hung around my neck like a lead weight — which resulted in a cycle of disappointment and self-doubt. I am free from responsibilities — or at least the small, nagging, daily ones that seemed to drag me down.

With this invisible burden lifted, the really critical daily tasks stand out in stark contrast. They are clear and unwavering, and I know I can get them done. I am more confident in myself and my abilities.

6. The Joy of Me

It pains and amazes me to say this: Never before have I had the opportunity to discover my true self — who I am without the pressure of society telling me who I’m supposed to be. One by one, the layers have been peeled off in quarantine. As I get closer to the core, I’m seeing more clearly who I am, what I want, and what’s important to me. Without the daily struggles of ADHD and all of those external expectations, I’m genuinely me — no excuses or apologies.

7. The Joy of Not Worrying (About the Usual Stuff)

I’m an over-anxious over-thinker. I worry about where my family is and what they’re doing. I like my texts answered immediately. There’s a warm, fuzzy comfort in knowing everyone is home and safe.

In the time before, I’d worry if I said the right thing. I’d worry that I hurt someone’s feelings with my sarcastic sense of humor. I’d worry that I just couldn’t get it all done. Somehow, in the face of a global pandemic that’s far worse than even my worst worry, those daily nits just don’t register in my consciousness. It’s clear they don’t matter and they really never did.

8. The Joy of Home

I’ve always been a homebody. Getting ready to be somewhere at a specific time caused my active mind to kick into high gear in a way that was painfully stressful. Regardless, I’d venture out frantic and anxious. Guilt and embarrassment and pride and lots of other emotions kept me from staying home even when I knew it was the best place for me to be at that time.

During isolation, there’s no place to go. I can enjoy my time at home without guilt, and also begin to miss the best parts of being out in the world with other people.

9. The Joy of Letting Go

I am not in control. It’s a fact. Still, I previously thought that if I acted a certain way, I would achieve the outcome I desired.

In this time, I haven’t lost control. All I’ve lost is the illusion that I was in control. Quarantine has delivered an indisputable message: No one is really in control. We are being forced to let go of what we cannot control, probably the reason we’re all feeling so anxious. We can’t control outcomes, but we can control our own actions and decisions — and take an active role staying healthy right now.

10. The Joy of Simplicity

Excess is comforting to my ADHD brain, so I tend to overdo things. I own too many books, gadgets, necklaces, kitchen supplies, facial products, dresses, and photos (to name a few). The minimalist craze is appealing. In quarantine, I’ve Kondo’d my drawers. I’ve put my old books in a closet. But, I’ve found I can’t get rid of the things I love (and I love them all).

Still, the pandemic has taught me that downsizing can be liberating. I’m learning to love the process of rationing my online purchases, the food I eat, and how much I spend. I find more joy giving to others than giving to myself. I’m shocked to learn that less is actually more.

11. The Joy of ADHD

My ADHD creativity, quirkiness, and contrary thought processes have allowed me to see the good in a difficult situation. There is no longer a negative voice in my head, spewing judgment and criticism with every thought I think, every word I utter. Family time is more precious. In the quiet freedom, there is time to bake, garden, sit quietly in nature, write, exercise, and just be.

Despite what I thought about my ADHD brain’s need for constant stimulation, I’m finding that “being free” is bringing it — and me — surprising joys.

[Listen to “‘My Life with ADHD’ – Reassessing Goals and Priorities After a Pandemic” with Michele Novotni, Ph.D]


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Updated on May 18, 2020

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  1. This article sums up my almost weird appreciation for the pandemic. Just like you, it allowed me to take a step back and really look at what’s important. This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. You are an IMMENSELY talented writer, June!

  2. Wow. So, I don’t have kids but I am working from home and have pets. Although she’s pretty flexible as to the exact time, the dog has to be walked twice a day. Groceries have to be ordered. I’ve been running more outside, which is great, but now I have to plan around two to three Zoom meetings each workday to make sure I get out before or after it gets hot. My partner needs a lot of extra support right now. I’ve got to schedule times to check in with family and friends (who all want to Zoom/Facetime as well). An online class to keep working my way through. My Amazon purchases have gone up because now I’ve got more time to scroll and ponder about all of the things I could try/experiment with. Household projects and cleaning that still need to get done whether I’m home all day or not. Therapy appointments via Zoom. Research to figure out how the heck to color my hair myself because I haven’t been able to go to the salon in two months and likely won’t be able to go for one to two more. Occasional trips to the pharmacy or other small errands. Oh, and endless news cycles to try to stay on top of so that I’m at least somewhat informed on what’s happening outside of my home bubble.

    For a month I was dealing with unemployment and trying to stay on top of job searches while on furlough. I might still end up unemployed again if my company can’t afford to keep paying me once their loan runs out.

    I haven’t had to sit in city traffic for weeks – that’s been nice.

    Though I’d say my pandemic-specific anxiety levels are lower than that of my family members, I can’t relate to what the author is saying at all.

  3. You’ve summed up in this article exactly everything I’ve been feeling. While my heart aches for those who are suffering during this pandemic, I have to admit that I’m in my element with the stay-at-home-order. Although it’s been lifted in our state, I am not at all in any hurry for life to return to “normal”.

  4. My heart goes out to everyone during this pandemic. Thank you for this article. It summed up very much what I have been experiencing. Finding hope and comfort during this time is difficult. Yet, this pandemic has taught me to concentrate on the “present” (which is a “gift”). While do so, I have become a more compassionate, caring person because I am calmer. I am not thankful for this pandemic. However, I am thankful for this takeaway.

  5. I do wish I could help more people but the structure of having to stay in is kind of a relief. I can see how people that have to be out in the public are struggling and I wish they had more protection. But at the end of the day I can be thankful for what I do have.

  6. You are saying EVERYTHING I’m feeling. I’ve never experienced such calm and real joy before. I feel so guilty about it that I tend to avoid conversations with friends because I know how much everyone is struggling. My furlough ended and I started back to work (from home) this week and I immediately am launched back into my previous challenges. But just knowing how life CAN and SHOULD feel is such a gift and something to strive for.

  7. Yep, I am with you too, point for point. Im extremely grateful that I have been able to work remotely so my paycheck has not been affected, and my heart goes out to those who are suffering economically, physically and emotionally (we have tried to back that up with donations etc), but I dread in many ways having to return to the eternal state of feeling like a failure that “normal” brings with it. I do look forward to a real grocery store run again and traveling, but outside of that, there is nothing about my normally hectic life I long to return to. And not having to have the house “company ready” – or in my case not being company ready and feeling the shame – that has been awesome! Im actually getting some big projects done because the dusting can wait – nobody is going to see it. Having far fewer social interactions has also given the rejection sensitive dysphoria a much needed break, so on top of the other benefits the calm has provided, there is that too.

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