My Grief on ADHD: An Unmasking.

My Grief on ADHD: An Unmasking.
Photo by Kier in Sight Archives / Unsplash

The walls pressed in on me. They felt so close but not closer than the papers, boxes, and decorations that cluttered the office. The heat was unbearable. I had no other layers I could take off. At that moment, I would rather have stood outside in the snow. I pushed my hand into my leg, desperate to stop its motion and prevent any further pain from my knee, repeatedly hitting the desk underneath. 

She started in again with the questions. I filled my lungs. Closed my eyes and, as best as I could, let the air slowly leak from my nose without her noticing what I was doing. She left me in the waiting room for an hour, behind on the appointment, and now, another almost two hours sitting here answering all of her questions; I couldn’t do it anymore.

I wanted to tap out.

All I needed was for her to sign off on my forms. My doctor wouldn’t do it. My therapist couldn’t do it. She was the signature that I needed. And I was exhausted after spending months tracking down someone to give me what I needed. So, I had to focus, get through this, and have her sign that little slip of paper that would finally give me the space I needed to process my grief. 

I had spent two years pushing myself beyond any conceivable limits I had. Not sleeping. Crying between meetings, and sometimes during meetings, always quick to shut off my video camera. Struggling to keep my kids fed, clothed, and cared for. Two years barely surviving. My mind and body had enough, and I was finally ready to ask for what I needed - some time off to be with my grief. 

So, the questions continued. “When you were younger…,” her voice trailed off in my head. When I was younger? Why is she asking about me as a child? I was confused and disoriented. What did my childhood have to do with the grief and burnout I was experiencing at that moment?

I needed time away from work. Not a peak into my childhood.

My leg began its relentless assault on the desk again. I began to chew my lower lip. I felt anger burn through me. If one more fucking person is going to deny me what I need…this is exactly why I never fucking tell anyone…sign the fucking paper and let me out of here. 

I couldn’t take one more person telling me what I did or didn’t need. Or how I needed to live my life or deal with my grief. If she didn’t sign the paper, I was out of options, and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to recover from my burnout.

Finally, the questions stopped. She went silent and stared at her notes. 

“I will sign your paperwork and suggest time off of work. In the meantime, I need to see you for follow-ups, and I need you to go on medication for your anxiety, and let’s track to see how it manages your ADHD symptoms.” 

I felt my fists loosen, and the anger subside. 

I was not ready to go on medication. I wasn’t opposed to it, but I felt I had other foundational things that needed to be improved and other options before I was ready to explore medication. I even had a diagram I was prepared to show her, but then I registered something she said. “ADHD”. 

It was the first time any medical professional, or anyone, ever mentioned it to me. I thought I heard her say the words during the questioning, but I didn’t fully listen to her. I wasn’t focused on what she was saying. I could only focus on getting her signature.

I shook my head. Let it go. Got my permission slipped sign and left the office. 

Over the next two years, her words burrowed into the back of my head. Every once in a while, they would nag and force me to give them attention, but ultimately, I would brush them off. It wasn’t until recently that I found myself confronted with the possibility that she wasn’t lying and encouraged to reconsider a diagnosis.

So, I went and got evaluated.

And, well, I, in fact, do have ADHD. 

Yes, I have ADHD. 

Wait, I…have…ADHD?

Yeah, no, I definitely have ADHD. I think. Yea. I do.

And so this conversation had gone on repeat in my head. I could not accept or trust the results. I had to dismiss them, convinced I had tricked the evaluators. It was hard to understand my resistance, but I knew it was there. 

Slowly, over a few weeks, my resistance wore down and was replaced with uncertainty, anger, and grief. It was counter to what I thought was going to happen: a wave of relief and validation for finally having an explanation for so many of my struggles and behaviors. 

So, I began to explore my grief around the diagnosis. 

The first thing that came up was anger for all the imagined things I heard you saying. 

“It’s nothing.”

“So what? You’re forgetful sometimes. It’s not a big deal.”

“Pftt, ADHD, and this whole neurodiversity is a fad. It’s overblown or over-diagnosed.”

"You're a fraud."

I was so mad at you and upset about everything you never said to me. I felt all this panic flood back from my early days after losing Ariana. The way people would tell me how I needed to live my life or deny me my grief experience. I learned quickly that my grief and loss were my own. And it is precisely what I felt was happening with my ADHD.

This was mine. Fuck you. You don’t understand. You don’t care. Go away. 

I started to feel resentment that you think it’s just me being “forgetful” sometimes, the same way people think depression is just experiencing sadness. Or how anxiety disorders are just feeling nervous on occasion. 

I felt judged, isolated, and afraid without ever even leaving my mind. 

Through support and encouragement, those feelings lessened and were overshadowed by the pain of acceptance. 

If I accepted the diagnosis, it meant there were reasons why I struggled so much in my life. There was language and understanding of why I have felt inferior to so many of my peers. Or why it takes me ten times longer to learn or do anything. Or why I get so overwhelmed to the point of paralysis on a regular basis and burn out so quickly.

If I accepted my ADHD, it meant I could no longer keep telling myself that I am a broken piece of shit who needs to "get-the-fuck-up-and-do-more-and-be-better.”

I needed to be willing to rid myself of this narrative that has plagued me for my entire life because now, there is a reason and no excuses. 

It has not been easy to let that narrative go, but when I speak the words out loud, for the first time, they no longer resonate in my heart. This has been a significant shift in my life, and now, a process has begun to wash the old away, leaving room for something new.

So, I exist in a void. Floating around with no guardrails. There is no narrative to tell me who or what I am.

I am beginning to explore my grief after losing Ariana through the lens of ADHD. I am seeing my behaviors in new ways and understanding why I have struggled so much with my grief. I expect to have much to say about this in the future.

So much of my life is being colored in. 

I have had many big transformative moments over the past three years. This feels like one of the biggest ones yet. I am close to being able to shed the old narratives, exist in this void, and find a new way to communicate with myself.

I am scared, but I know I am not alone.