Managing ADHD and Anxiety-Driven Overwhelm
My baseline status is overwhelmed. Not by just “work,” per se, but by life. I’m overwhelmed by all the things that come into my brain that swirl around like a category five hurricane, leaving me feeling like what I imagine a palm tree must feel like during the midst of the heart of a storm. The difference is, the hurricane is never over – and my brain continues to swirl, minute by minute, day after day, until I am rendered exhausted.
The “input” is never-ending. Work challenges, family, the latest violent crime story to hit the newsfeed, political rhetoric, international unrest, the state of the economy – with predictions of “when the recession is going to hit,” – it’s simply never-ending. For someone like me, whose ability to receive and process information is impacted by my co-existing diagnoses of ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder – all this results in – you guessed it – overwhelm.
The other thing that often drives overwhelm in those of us with neurodivergent brains are feelings and emotions. We have lots of them, and they are strong, and sometimes dysregulated. Our reactions to other people, or circumstances can be, at times, perceived as inconsistent with the situation at hand, whether those emotions and feelings are positive or negative. Add being female to this equation, which often results in being perceived in general as being “too emotional,” and it can wreak havoc on your psyche. Am I reacting in proportion with the situation at hand? Am I being perceived as irrational or emotional versus fact-based? Am I being dismissed because I’m a woman? Has this person actually “heard” me and am I speaking in a way that’s understandable? Did I mention that the constant second-guessing that occurs also because of these co-existing diagnoses also leads to – you guessed it – overwhelm?
When I crawl into bed at the end of a long day, it’s not because I’m physically tired (unless racing thoughts or my ADHD medication kept me up all night), it’s because my brain is EXHAUSTED. I often describe it as “my brain is melting out of my ears.” So, how do you manage it, you may ask, if you can relate to any of these scenarios. My response is that simply acknowledging my brain does not work like everyone else’s and that’s okay, is a good start.
Often those of us who suffer from these little-known side effects of well-known conditions feel like we are the problem, and we are inherently flawed. I’ve learned to acknowledge the parts of me that are associated with my diagnoses are part of what makes me, “me,” and many of these same things that feel challenging on a daily basis are also part of what makes me successful. Those big emotions and feelings are the same ones that make me push hard when I think something is the right thing to do. It makes me creative, strategic, innovative – all the things that go along with being successful in my role. And while the “input” is overwhelming and exhausting, I’ve learned how to take a breath, pop those Airpods in, prioritize my list, and get stuff done.
I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was in my forties, despite having a father who is clearly impacted, and two children who have been diagnosed. My kids were like, “Um, hey Mom, we’ve noticed you’re kind of like us. Have you ever thought about getting that checked out?” Ha! Well, I’d been so focused on making sure everyone else’s needs were addressed all these years, I never even noticed what a struggle everything was for me, and had always chalked it up to “anxiety,” yet it was so much more. After seeking out help in the form of medication, I one day was struck by the very sad and very telling thought of, “Wow, I feel smart.” That was quite the moment of realization.
So, I share this to say, if you’re overwhelmed by work, by life in general, or all the above, I see you and I know what it’s like to manage this daily. Find what works for you in terms of a support system whether it’s a therapist (my personal choice), reading material, or a strong network of family and friends who understand. It can be a lonely place to live sometimes, and there are people who can help support you and make you not feel so alone. Most of all, know that whatever diagnoses we might suffer from, they are inherently part of who we are, and while they bring challenges, they also make us pretty darn awesome.