Two ends of the see-saw: getting to see my ADHD brain in action

I haven’t written very much lately as I’ve been unusually busy. The fact I am writing this today tells you things have paused, at least for a moment. What Ive learned about the wiring of my ADHD brain across this period of time, given my uncharacteristic busyness (compared to recent years of chronic illness and having relatively little to “handle” in the day-to-day) is just starting to come home to roost on this quieter day.

The reason for so much going on is the project of selling our house and relocating; time consuming, thought consuming, in the extreme. I recently took the decision to handle all the viewing tours of my house myself (instead of leaving it to the agents) and this has proved to be a really positive step, both for the viewings and for myself. I’ve never been a great delegator as other people never seem to quite get things done the way I want them done and since taking over these tours (against the advice of the person handling our sale!), they’ve gone much better, last longer, go much deeper into he process of people actually considering our house and I’m now feeling quietly positive, no longer fretting that opportunities are being missed.

Of course, no one knows my house like I do but it’s much more than that, this positive thing. I’ve watched myself come alive, turn into this highly animated, hugely personable, conversational, even funny person capable of presenting information and making people feel at ease. Its thrown into disarray all my recent thoughts about my neurodivergent shortcomings when it comes to being around other people or being sociable. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed these meetings and got a thrill out of them, especially when they have gone well. Yes, I have to prepare more for meetings than, probably, most people (though I’ve not allowed myself to script anything I’ve talked about in advance), I then tend to over-analyse more than average after the event and it all does take supreme effort but I can really rise the occasion and am not so bad at it as I have tended to tell myself (a belief that tried to over-rule all the years I have had to do it for various jobs, as if I had imagined my ability to present or hold meetings and be persuasive). It’s been a great boost of morale for me to see that I’m not so hopeless at “people-ing” after all, even if it does take a lot out of me!

Today, after a run of three days of endless visitors, I know I can take a short pause before things take off again tomorrow. Its as though my body (and especially my brain) knew this before I had even woken up fully. Today, I feel as though someone has thrown me against a concrete wall; physically I feel weak, achy, all my stamina washed away. I’m hyper-sensitive, my nerves are all dialled up to pick up on every environmental thing, I’m so glad I have nothing on as I feel I would swoon into a dead faint and abject brain fog if anyone rang my doorbell. Outside of writing this post, I feel terribly vague, my thought gears slipping and sliding against each other (not for the first time, I notice how writing seems to use a different kind of brain power to verbal or executive). Interestingly my stomach, which has been really settled and calm, has resorted to IBS today. The difference between today and the last three-days of highly animated state, along with all the recent dashing around preparing, making and receiving phone calls etc (for years, I’ve avoided the phone), is staggering as though I am not the same person.

Yet I hear about this phenomenon a lot in neurodivergent circles, especially amongst women and especially older women. We have these bursts of animation and then they run out suddenly and we crash, we go the other way, like becoming this whole other person, running out of fuel. In a sense, I crashed so spectacularly 17 years ago that I became this whole other person for the best part of two decades and called it chronic illness, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, the lot. It begs the question, how closely is this related to ADHD. All the more fascinating given there are still days (weeks, months..) where I doubt I am ADHD…but then I listen to other women’s accounts, read some personal anecdotes, and I see myself all over it!

I was just listening to a podcast about ADHD sensitivities, an interview with a woman who coaches ADHD women and writes articles on the topic for several well-known outlets. She has ADHD sensitivities herself and has come across them in the majority of her ADHD female clients. Not only does she talk about topics well-covered in my own blog, such as sensory processing disorder, sensory processing sensitivity, sensory defensiveness and being an HSP, but she talks about these heightened senses causing actual physical pain. In other words, its not just that we can be more sensitive to lights and noise, smells, textures of foods, being around too many people, overstimulating places such as shops and malls, the feel of certain fabrics on our skin, any subtle changes in the weather or other unseen environmental factors and even to other people’s emotions or our own perceived reception when those other people seem to criticise, reject or dislike us but that all of these sensations often translate into actual physical pain when there is ADHD present.

In my own case, I realise I hardly noticed sensory factors this hyper-busy week. At most, I would have the odd stomach gripe or unexplained headache in the evening when I finally relaxed. During the busy days, I was fine…normal feeling, just like anyone else handling a busy life. It made me wonder how much my two decades of pain have been a snake eating its own tail, in other words the less busy I was because I felt unwell, the more I picked up on sensitivities that translate as very real, highly visceral pain in my body which then made me feel even more unwell and so I was unable to do very much…and repeat, ad infinitum.

Right now, there is very little choice but for me to be super-busy as I am the only one who has the time to handle a project on this scale. When I’m not handling viewings or speaking to agents I’m sorting through endless boxes of stuff dragged out of the attic and arranging for things to get cleared or fixed around the home. Its a non-stop rolling schedule of events until we finally unpack the final box in our new home and I know it. The part of me that is ADHD hyperactive is LOVING it…I see that now. Its like it has woken from slumber and is finally getting the fix of all fixes to feed its ADHD hunger for stimulation after years of languishing. The bit I don’t like so much is when my brain won’t switch off on demand, for instance in the evening or when I want to sleep at night. I’m waking from my first exhausted sleep each night at around 4am with my mind ready to launch from 0 to 80mph in zero seconds and that bit isn’t fun. As soon as there is nothing to be done or when its the wrong time of day to be doing things, I’m like the sports car that can’t find its breaks heading down a cliff-edge road!

Looking back, I identify clearly that this is how I lived for most of my 20s and 30s…always “on”, always going from one thing to the next or overlapping so many stressors at once that I was constantly juggling work, house, social life, drama. Becoming a parent only exacerbated this and the hungry for action part of me thrived on working freelance as well as being the full-time parent with no spousal help, all at the same time, even when I bemoaned the challenges. I loved it all…until (after going back to full time office work and burning the midnight oil freelancing on top of tremendous financial stress) I didn’t and then I crashed all at once. It was as though I went from hyperactive ADHD to distracted ADHD overnight, though I never really feel the word “distracted” covers what its like when, suddenly you are off in your own little world, your brain slipping and sliding, introverted and exhausted, aware of every minutest sensory thing inside and out of your body and you can’t get anything done. For me it was more like brain fog and wipe out exhaustion plus incredible pain that seemed to affect every limb and organ of my body. If I was being inattentive to the outside world, that was because my attention was being held hostage by the amount of attention that had switched on to all the suddenly malfunctioning parts of my body. All that pain may possibly, in hindsight, have come from the great tidal wave of sensory sensitivities that suddenly came flooding into my awareness, like a tsunami, after decades of keeping them at bay…through my constant hyperactivity!

That wave drowned me, for a very long time, and recognising a main root of it as this inbuilt hypersensitivity trait means I have to admit I am always going to be at risk of reaching a tipping point when I am so tired I have to stop and then, suddenly, all my senses deliver too much information all at once, meaning I don’t just take a rest but have to catch up on all the sensory processing that has built up, unaddressed, for days, weeks or months. Today, I am catching up on just a few days of overstimulation from meeting so many people, having them probe into the corners of my personal domain and keeping myself upright and cheerful as I fielded questions and kept their interest spinning. Yet at least seeing where the “crash” has come from means that I can see that my recovery is not all about stopping to rest, but providing the right kind of gentle continuum of stimulation, today, that will keep me buoyant. Writing this blog is one attempt and I have a day of reading and podcasts planned ahead, all whilst allowing my body a day off from being so upright or mobile.

These are big life-hacks to learn and are all part of how mid to later life women coming to terms with previously unrealised ADHD seem to cope with their neurodivergent life, in far better ways, going forwards.

Its been a massive morale boost, as I keep saying, to realise that I’m not that bad at being around people and that I can get a real kick out of a project that allows me to put on a show for a while, becoming animated and highly informative, playing the host…I admit, I always enjoyed those things and should factor them into my future life (and not continue in the mindset that I’m better off away from other people, avoiding social engagement as though I am not suited to it). To dismiss my strengths in these areas is to dismiss all the decades of building up skillsets that allowed me to compensate for divergence by meeting people half way.

I can now make fun of myself, kindly, when my foibles show up and, though I might not openly admit I am ADHD to every person I meet, I can get around any stumbling blocks or awkwardness by making light of things if I have to, now that I know where my intensity or sudden brain freeze or awkwardness when put on the spot or comical word confusion or whatever comes from. Humour (I realise) has got me out of a lot of social holes in the past and can continue to do so and people usually appreciate a person who doesn’t take themselves too seriously or who works as hard as I do to be genuine and above board. To myself at least, I can own that I’ve been neurodivergent all my life and that, because I didn’t know about it and had to survive somehow, I’ve taught myself life-hacks and compensations that are as valid for me to use today as when I didn’t know this and those include having studied other people so closely that I generally know how to put them at their ease.

I can appreciate that when I’m really passionate about a subject, no one gets more animated than me and I have a gift at presenting information fuelled from such a source. This also means I can’t “sell” anything I don’t believe in as I find it impossible to pretend (which was the problem in my last job!) but, when I believe in something, there is no one more enthusiastic or passionate or compelling than me!

To be honest, I suspect this is often the case for us ADHD folk because we can be some of the most passionate people around. If only this passion can be channelled into the right tasks and objectives, it can be such a dynamic force for achieving great momentum for positive change and can serve other people around us as much as it, ultimately, feeds our own desire to be stimulated. These have been some of the gifts unearthed by this uncharacteristically busy and demanding few weeks and its taught me that I owe it to myself to keep myself stimulated with projects that inspire and challenge for as long as I am alive, or risk languishing in a chronic state of under-stimulation and pain.

At the same time, knowing that I need to factor in pauses…such as today…allows me to (hopefully) avoid the longer lasting crashes of the kind that pulled the rug from under my health all those years ago. Knowing that even a “pause” day should not be a “stop” day, in other words, factoring in some mental stimulation such as writing, reading, research etc., even if my body is taking it easy, allows me to avert the sudden sensory overwhelm from doing too little that can be, in its way, just as bad as doing too much. Yes, its a see-saw but at least I can recognise which end I am sitting on, now.

One thought on “Two ends of the see-saw: getting to see my ADHD brain in action

  1. So challenging! I recognize the experience of a lot of my ADHD students and friends in your descriptions. It seems like we need to know more effective hacks and tools, so individuals aren’t abandoned to discover their own.

    Liked by 1 person

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