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“I Felt Guilty for Knowing Better – But Never Being Able to Do Better”

“I was overwhelmed with relief to finally know that I’m not a terrible, lazy selfish, person full of excuses. All my troubles were components of my undiagnosed ADHD, anxiety, and mood disorder. But I was also overwhelmed with sadness and confusion because I could no longer decipher ‘me’ from my ‘disorders.’”

For my entire life, I felt different than my peers and severely misunderstood. I could never quite pinpoint the reason, but the feeling lingered always in the background.

I’d often get in trouble (and still do to this day) for saying inappropriate things, for unintentionally offending someone, or for blurting out whatever came to mind without thinking. I did not know how to filter my thoughts, and had an urge to express every one of them to whomever would listen.

I justified my outspoken, opinionated, and even socially awkward behaviors as facets of my unique, extreme personality. So I embraced these differences, and gravitated toward the very few people who “got me.” And the rest who accused me of being rude, fake, uncaring, antisocial, and a b****? I knew they didn’t understand my heart.

School was miserable for me. I always got good grades and enjoyed the reward of doing well on an exam. But I hated the politics of it all – trying to be popular and fitting in. I avoided the cafeteria because the large crowds made me feel uncomfortable. I often ate with a small circle of friends in the hallway. When I was able to drive, I started skipping classes all together.

I picked up bad habits along the way. I began to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol to relax, having no idea until years later that I had been self-medicating. These habits quickly turned problematic as I battled intense feelings and insomnia for many years, relying on the best “tools” I had at the time. The lack of sleep compounded with constant anxiety and social problems continued to worsen as I entered my career as a nurse. I could hyperfocus on my work just as I did in school, but my poor socializing skills created tension with many of my colleagues. They did not understand my distress around large groups of people.

[ADHD in Women: Symptom Checklist]

Moving into my own apartment, managing my finances, and just being an adult – to my surprise, these all became tremendous challenges. I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to stay organized in every sense of the word. My car was always a mess. I would forget to eat when I was in work mode. I’d forget when friends would make plans, and I struggled to remember birthdays. I tried my absolute best to do better, but I always seemed to fall short. I blamed the weed and alcohol, but as I omitted these vices, I still had the same problems. I carried a sense of guilt (and still do today) for knowing better, but never being able to do better.

My forgetfulness and absent-mindedness seemed to be a convenient excuse to the world around me. I was just “too smart” to make such stupid mistakes. Some blamed my drug usage and drinking, not realizing these things were covering up a much larger issue that even I did not know at the time.

It was not until I expressed to a friend, who happens to be a therapist, that I was having increasing trouble slowing my thoughts and sleeping at night when ADHD squarely came to the picture. Though he suggested I may have undiagnosed ADHD, I immediately rejected the idea. My mother had been claiming this for years, and I never believed her. In fact, I never believed in the disorder or in mental illnesses. But he explained to me that hyperactivity isn’t exclusive to behavior. It can manifest through the mind as well, as is common with women.

I decided to get evaluated, and learned that I had a severe case of ADHD, accompanied with an anxiety disorder. The more I learned about the disorder and how it has affected other women, the more I wept. For the first time in life, I was given clarity around this constant feeling that something was inherently different about the way my brain worked.

[Read: ADHD and Anxiety – Symptoms, Connections & Coping Mechanisms]

I immediately started reflecting on all the moments in my life affected by these diagnoses, searching for where I missed the signs. Or rather, how I missed the signs – the dread of social settings due to anxiety; my impulsive behavior; mood swings; excessive talking; childhood insomnia; restlessness; drug use, forgetfulness; piles of paperwork and mail; forgetting to eat; constant speeding tickets; always getting lost in familiar places; the persistent sense of failure; never-ending feelings of being misunderstood.

Everything clicked, and I was overwhelmed with relief to finally know that I’m not a terrible, lazy selfish, person full of excuses. My troubles were all components of my undiagnosed ADHD.

But I was also overwhelmed with sadness and confusion. I had tried to justify my entire life as part of my unique personality, and could no longer decipher “me” from my “disorders.”

So many components of my identity had merged with the symptoms of ADHD as a coping mechanism. I tried reaching out to old friends and family to educate them on my condition, and unfortunately was met with the same stigmas I once carried toward the condition and mental illness. Some friends had given up on me, and thought it was another one of my excuses. When it came to family, however, the ADHD diagnosis was almost irrelevant, as they had always accepted me as I am.

So for now, I continue to explore different parts of myself that are not strongly attached to my ADHD and anxiety disorder. I’m learning about myself from a different, clearer perspective, without self-medicating.

I may never make sense to anyone, but I am okay with that and happy to have discovered so many networks of other women experiencing the same detachment I felt for so long.

Untreated Mental Illness and ADHD: Next Steps

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