CJ Bernstein

CJ Bernstein

Thoughts on ADHD: One Year After Diagnosis

I’ve delayed writing this for months for a lot of reasons (bwahhaaaaaaa, that’s the perfect first line for a post about ADHD. That should be it. The whole post, “I’ve delayed writing this for months for a lot of reasons. Be sure to follow for more neurodivergent tips and tricks.”)

Reasons including:

  • I didn’t think I had anything to say that others hadn’t already said and said better.
  • I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.
  • I have a lot of other writing on my plate right now, and I feel most people would rather me write books than personal blog posts if given a choice between the two.

But the biggest reason for the delay was that, while I thought that post-diagnosis, I was starting on the road to understanding, treating, and maybe even managing ADHD, it turns out, one year later, I’m instead still figuring out which parts of “me” are ADHD, which parts are the trauma that comes with growing up neurodivergent, and which parts are the mental and emotional scaffolding I’ve built over the years to help me function in this neurotypically designed world, under neurotypical demands.

Basically, who the hell am I, and how do I figure that out with the brain I was born with?

But I do have some random, rambling thoughts (shocking, I know) I’ve had over the past year and figured I’d cobble them together for those interested in hearing them and for those I might help.

The Ocean

I’ve learned this year how uncomfortable it can make other people when they find out how much someone they love is struggling. Not just struggling, but struggling to be “normal.” That discomfort can even lead them to say well-meaning statements like, “It’s okay. Everybody is struggling in one way or another.” 

On the one hand, I don’t purport to be the most special snowflake that is hurting more than anyone else, but also, it’s clear many neurotypical people have no idea what this is like. 

For me, and I can only speak for myself, having ADHD is kind of like this:

The world is an ocean. 

And the different kinds of creatures living in the ocean are having all sorts of different experiences, but they are all born in the ocean, and living there is second nature to them. 

Fish, plankton, sharks, whales. 
The ones who can only survive at the bottom.
The ones who have to surface every now and then to breathe. 

They are all having their unique aquatic experience, maybe thriving, maybe just getting by, hell, maybe their lives are threatened, and their habitats are being destroyed for profit or sport or for no other reason than the way they taste or the way they look.

And where do I fit within this biosphere as a neurodivergent person? 

I don’t. I’m not a sea creature.

I’m a SCUBA diver.

I don’t breathe like everyone else or see like everyone else. I certainly don’t swim like everyone else. And while most of the ocean’s population is going on with lives designed to function in the environment they were born in, I am always aware that I’m not really built for the world the way it currently exists. 

It just wasn’t made to accommodate me.

A fish might lament their life. They might struggle or suffer (I’m loath to say flounder), but at the end of the day, they were still born to breathe ocean. 

That’s how I feel being neurodivergent. To do anything beyond just existing in the ocean means I have to train, and figure out the right equipment and proper chemical mixtures to breathe, and wear the right fins and swimsuit to protect me from the cold, and above all, I need a well-fitting mask that I can’t take off.

Unfortunately, this metaphor isn’t perfect because actual SCUBA divers get to take off their masks and go home.

Schools of fish. 
Pods of whales.
These are groups meant to protect their members.

And many neurodivergent people simply don’t have the wiring necessary to traditionally assimilate into these kinds of groups or thrive within them, at least not as these groups currently exist. And this particular ocean we live in can be a very quiet, lonely place for those who struggle to fit in.

To a fish who never saw a SCUBA diver, I might look like just another fish, but the truth is I’m working insanely hard and carrying a ton on my back just to swim in the same ocean. 

Superpowers

When I was first diagnosed last year, I wrote that “maybe someday I’ll be able to accept that ADHD is my superpower, and I just discovered it later in life.” 

I now know how naive and even frustrating for some people that statement is because while ADHD is often considered a manageable and even positive “quirk,” it can also be a devastating and painful disability.

I don’t feel like explaining why it’s painful or what I’m currently struggling with (maybe soon), but I do know that if ADHD were a superpower, I’d be a mutant in the X-Men, not a member of the Justice League. It’s like, yes, I can teleport across great distances with nothing but a thought, but I only have six fingers, a prehensile tail, and I’m also covered in blue fur. 

And of course, we all love Nightcrawler, but that’s kind of the point. Theoretically, we think he’s the best. He’s cool, he’s unique, he’s burdened with adorable greatness. Realistically though, being Nightcrawler is a very mixed bag. 

The thing that makes him “special” is also the source of grief, pain, loneliness, and trauma.

And most of us have rejected someone in our lives for stuff that’s a lot less weird than blue fur and a tail.

Initially, that’s where I ended this post. Uplifting stuff, huh? 🙂 

A year later, I’m fine, but I’m not okay. I’m good, but I’m not great. I have days of contentment, productivity, joy, and weeks of loneliness, confusion, fear, and pain. Some of it is pre-existing, some of it specifically because I now know what I know.

The truth is that I’m grieving. I wish I knew what I know now when I was 9-years-old, but I can’t go back and save that little boy. I can’t protect him from the pain of being called lazy for decades or being told he needed to try harder when he was trying enough for a dozen people, and it still wasn’t measuring up to “normal.” I wish I could protect him from the mental and physical abuse that the grown-ups in his life somehow thought would “fix” him.

I wish I could take all that pain away from that kid, less as a self-serving adult with ADHD and more as a parent. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. And no one saw.

I knew I was queer from as far back as I can remember, and I hid that as best as I could, for as long as I could, to keep myself safe. But I didn’t know about this, about ADHD. I just knew I wasn’t normal, and whatever I was had to be hidden.

It wasn’t until this year that I realized just how many masks I was wearing back then, how much I was hiding, how no one really knew who I was. Not my family, not my friends, not even me.

I’m grieving who I was, before my diagnosis, while also clinging to the touchstone the truth has been for me.

I’m getting to know who I am under the masks I’ve worn my whole life while knowing that some people in my life won’t recognize the person underneath, and maybe I won’t either.

And believing it has to be worth the work.