ADHD and Me - 2020 + Finding My Masks
Updated: Mar 8
I take what my college calls “Sync'” format classes, where all of the coursework is done remotely but I still have to attend class via video call. This is the first semester that I not only have ADHD medication but am actively trying to reframe how I approach school - especially by being aware of things that have previously caused me problems in the past.
Picture this - My home office, during an uncomfortably long virtual class in the summer of 2021. I am about to explode.
Today, I had a 2.5 hour virtual class; first class of the semester, introductory housekeeping-type stuff a.k.a the most boring part of the semester. It took about 35 minutes before I started to feel like I wanted to shed my skin or something because I was so uncomfortable with feeling like I had to be virtually present, while also being on my computer with a bunch of other things I’d rather do just a click away, and also being in my home office where I could just as easily tune all the way out and go do chores or veg out in front of the tv.
It’s also very very very f*cking difficult for me to keep side comments to myself in this virtual format because I can type so damn fast that I have to consciously tell myself things like, “DO NOT share a story about how you used to have to save your allowance for weeks to buy a 2gb memory card. It is unnecessary and annoying and do you really need to tell every 18 year old in this class that you’re 'old'?” In physical classes, I make jokes and talk to the people around me, but I usually end up getting nervous about being annoying and then shut myself up.
Turns out that my belief in the social constraint of “you must sit in your seat for the duration of this class, and at least pretend to pay attention and respect your classmates and instructor by not talking” was apparently a mask that only extended to the physical world, and that my symptoms are extremely obvious in the virtual instruction arena.
With this realization came a new understanding of why everything fell apart so badly for me last year - I didn’t have my ADHD diagnosis when my whole world went virtual in Spring of 2020. I didn’t even think I had ADHD at that point, just generalized anxiety disorder - anxiety that went nuclear by the fall because I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t succeed in the new work and school environments no matter how hard I tried, and I was beginning to lose hope and hate myself on a level never beforeseen.
ADHD, My Masks, and COVID-19
I have recently learned that when people with ADHD’s masks slip or fail where they had previously succeeded, they experience what can be understood as “burnout” or mental health deterioration.
The UK's ADHD Foundation shared a presentation back in 2018 that I would like to share with you, specifically Slide 40:
Now - lets take this helpful diagram and add in some details of my life in 2020, because it’s almost comical to me now to look back and think, how did I not realize something was seriously wrong here?
When I look at this situation now, with the new understanding of my ADHD and my masks, I see exactly how I was set up for failure from the time I took charge of my mental health treatment and never bothered to speak up and say, “I think there’s more going on here and I need more help“.
I also recognize that I probably wasn’t ever equipped to advocate for myself on that level until now. I’m older, wiser, and less afraid of being a “burden” if it means being healthier or happier. I also think it’s pretty difficult, if not impossible, for someone with ADHD to recognize their own masks without having been taught how to identify them or without the support of medication and therapy. I didn’t know that I had a mask about being in front of other people that probably helped me behave more acceptably; I didn’t even know that masking was a thing.
With new personal understanding comes the ability to be more kind to oneself.
I now know that when I encounter a new pressure point, and start to feel myself losing control, I need to give myself some space to cool off and figure out my next steps. I also have given myself permission to take this space - I am hypercritical of myself and in the past I’ve always felt guilty about not being able to process things that I believe “normal” people should do without a problem. First off, I have no idea what goes on in other people’s heads so I shouldn’t feel guilty about stuff I have literally imagined exists in there, and secondly, if I need to do different things to give myself the best opportunity for success then I am going to do those things and to hell with anyone who judges that.
I am weirdly grateful that I got laid off. I would never have removed myself from that situation which was causing me so much pain, and thus I would never have had the opportunity to see what I can really do if I am working in an environment I control. I am doing a lot better now, even though I technically work more than I ever did!
I am also working through many years of stacked beliefs that I am a failure of some description. I wouldn’t think someone was a failure if they lost a football game if they never even knew sports existed, so I am learning to extend the same patience to msyelf. Of course I didn’t win at the game of managing my ADHD because I never knew thats what I was working against in the first place! So, with that, I am trying to remind myself that I am rewriting who I am with all new knowledge and power.
Want to know more about burnout and ADHD?
This article is written about burnout from the perspective of those with Autism, but it is very close to the way that those with ADHD experience burnout based on what I have experienced myself, and what I have heard among my peers.
This personal story in the Irish Times describes one womans’ experience with ADHD burnout, and how sometimes it can be missed in women.
This Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology publication looks much closer at perceived gender and age differences in ADHD diagnoses and symptoms, and suggests that the DSM-IV-like ADHD prevalence ratio for males versus females to be 2.28:1, lower than the usually accepted estimate of 4:1 (that males may not be diagnosed with adhd more often than women, which is generally believed to be true).