July 17, 2023

Removing the Mask & Accessing Authenticity with ADHD.

As a psychologist sitting down to meet another psychologist—not as a colleague but as someone assessing me—I unexpectedly felt on edge.

I had always known that something was different about me, but I laughed it off with talk of being from another planet or being a witch (theories that I still maintain!). However, my thinking was different, my energy was heightened, and my boredom threshold was subzero. My diagnostic report referred to me as “guarded,” something I have never been called or thought of myself as. So what was I trying to hide, even out of my own awareness?

Well, it turns out I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—combined hyperactive and inattentive type. At some level, no surprise to me, a condition hiding in plain sight. A skill any spy relies on. I have diagnosed this in many others as a clinician and have long seen similarities. Yet, me, the person who lone travels up mountains in Africa and Peru, dismissed further exploration of what this meant for me.

For as long as I can remember, I struggled with staying focused, getting organised, and managing my time, unless of course I was super interested in something and then I could sit and focus for 24 hours straight, barely eating or stopping for the loo. I always assumed it was just part of my personality. I would think I was disorganised and scatterbrained and simply had bursts of energy, needing little sleep. My high energy meant I was always spinning many plates and I justified lost items, missed appointments, scattered notes, and missed bill payments by thinking it was due to being overcommitted—anyone doing all the things I did would make mistakes, I told myself.

The times at school I had gone swimming leaving my knickers on under my costume, the daydreams, the constant fidgeting, the need to doodle, the vocal tic of a cough (described as a nervous cough by my teacher along with a nervous sniff!). The D grade in maths O level and the straight A’s in masters and doctoral level statistics when applied to something that I was passionate about—psychology. The inconsequential A-level results but the Mensa High IQ society membership.

I was bored one day and decided to do a test when pregnant. I still wonder if my 154 IQ was due to having another brain on board, as frankly I couldn’t be bothered to do such a thing now. I also hate puzzles that require sustained mental focus as I need an instant dopamine (reward neurotransmitter) hit. My results were based on pattern recognition tests, a strength for those with ADHD and something I can instantly see and make sense of. This is handy in my psychological formulations. Ultimately, my intelligence had little link to my academic performance and could only be applied where there was passion. 

Behind my professional life is the crazy, messy handbag full off old bits of banana and a car full of empty Pepsi Max bottles thrown manically in the back, should anyone want an unplanned lift. Then there’s the house that’s either obsessively “operating theatre clean” or the image of a war zone as I search last minute for something I’ve lost. The missed turnings when driving as I’m absorbed in what’s around me or what I’m listening to. I never ask directions as I glaze over and leave the building whenever I’m given a list of factual information to listen to. Visually I can photographically recall, if I choose to focus, but speak to me about something I can’t connect to and I’ve probably checked out but may appear to remain.

Then there’s impatience. The time I was stuck in a traffic jam in a car park with two of my young children. About an hour of stuckness in with little sign of escape, I then saw a window of opportunity to pass on the inside. The cost—scraping my car against the wall. Clearly I did that. The inability to wait when there was an out was too much! The car was pretty old and I felt I’d aged about 10 years waiting the first hour.

For me, and many, there is the accompanying hypermobility of joints leading to hyper extensions and potential injury but also clumsiness from flying limbs and tripping like I’m constantly on LSD. I can scramble a complex mountain with the cost of falling being death (hyperfocus wins the day) yet reach the bottom and slip on a leaf.  I recall a wedding I went to where I came flying at high speed down some stairs to be greeted by my friend’s brother saying, “Oh, you must be Tracy.” When reputation precedes you, appreciate the niche you’ve carved.

Then there’s the forgotten money and the lost bank cards. Currently I have about 10 in my bag all cancelled and no idea where my working ones reside. I own about 30 handbags but always use the same one, as I can’t be bothered to switch things over. The unpaid parking tickets causing me untold issues. The shame of contacting my daughters’ school at a frequency that may warrant an injunction, asking for a password reset, as I never save it but tell myself each time I must do that.

The absolute inability to do anything I really don’t want to do means I often do things alone as I absolutely must do the things I do want to do. How I’ve managed to travel as much as I have without losing my passport seems improbable. Living with me means me never conceding to watch a programme on TV that there’s a small chance I may not like, but you can guarantee that my choices won’t be traditionally boring for most. However, I will still be doing something else as we watch and will probably make involuntary sounds and chat. 

The other aspect about myself I had always felt was different was my empathic nature. I am highly attuned to the emotions of others, which can come with ADHD. ADHD is, in fact, not a disorder lacking attention but it’s processing too much at once and not knowing what to focus on. Unless of course the hero of hyperfocus is present, as the focal point provides an immediate dose of a dopamine (reward chemical) hit. ADHD comes with lower levels of dopamine, which can challenge motivation. Activities need to have such a high level of passion to stimulate a sense of reward for someone with ADHD—hence the subzero boredom threshold.

In my work as a psychologist, my hyperfocus is my clients; I attune in without issue, albeit with much crossing and uncrossing of legs in my chair or pen fiddling and accidental throwing. But in crowds the intensity of everyone’s emotions can be overwhelming—not anxiety provoking (for me, although may be for many) but overstimulating. I will often need a day or so downtime if I’ve had to socialise a lot or been to busy places. My solace in life is nature and ensuring a balance of quiet. I used to feel guilty declining social invitations, thinking I must be extrovert to please others, as in fact I can be if focused on that. Now I’m just honest and express what I need, and I’ve attracted friends who either accept that or have similar needs.

It’s these inner conflicts of functionality and dysfunction that have created confusion. It’s the lack of consistency that can contribute to a sense of shame when so much can be achieved in certain areas of life yet the seemingly simple things are physiologically impossible to initiate and cause such inner discomfort and restlessness. I used to refer to these times as “pockets of panic,” but they are not anxiety at all; they are almost like a night terror that creates paralysis, but you are still there locked in without even a wall to scrape up against to exit. The phrase “analysis paralysis” is apt. There are so many neurons firing like engine pistons ready to go, but the driver has no idea which direction to take, so the motor just idles or aimlessly circles till the fuel has run out.

Clearly I’ve lived this way for many years now, so why seek clarification at this stage of the game? Being late to the party itself is perhaps courtesy of ADHD. Although, many adult women are diagnosed with ADHD later in life, simply because it often presents differently in girls than in boys. In addition, the symptoms will worsen with changes in the hormone estrogen, which occur in monthly cycles, pregnancies, and perimenopause.

Many women get comorbid mental health concerns from masking their ADHD, but for me, I’ve filtered my sense of myself into spiritual understandings that has been a protective factor to self-esteem, I’ve used hyperfocus to my advantage naturally, I’ve lived in the countryside, I’ve always been active, and I’ve engaged in lots of personal development giving me good self-care awareness and a good sense of self-compassion—all interventions I recommend for my clients. The key is to hack the dopamine pathway. Find the tiniest thing within the tasks that you avoid that may spark a flame, or intersperse the things you don’t like with frequent bursts of reward.

Learn to hyperfocus on the strengths that your difference provides. ADHD can be a superpower when it comes to heightened spiritual awareness. People with ADHD are hyper-sensitive to the environment. I’m constantly noticing little details, processing information quickly, and feeling my way through situations. All of that makes me really attuned to the energy around me, including the energy of people and places. So when it comes to spirituality, that heightened awareness can actually be a really big asset.

Another interesting thing is that people with ADHD tend to be really open-minded and creative. That’s because our brains are always making different connections and coming up with new ideas. And the more open-minded and creative we are, the more we’re able to tap into different spiritual practices and explore different ways of connecting with the higher aspects of ourselves and dimensions beyond the self (should we choose to believe this). So ADHD can be a doorway into new and exciting spiritual and earthly experiences.

When it comes to raising our energetic vibrations, ADHD can actually play a role there too. That’s because people with ADHD tend to have a lot of energy and passion; we get invested in projects and can work on them for hours without getting tired. When we’re doing something that we’re passionate about, we’re in a high-vibration state. We’re happy, we’re focused, and we’re living in the present moment. And that can be incredibly powerful when it comes to attracting positive energy and manifesting the things we want in life.

Of course, all of this is just my own experience with ADHD and spirituality. Everyone’s relationship to their ADHD is different, and everyone’s spiritual journey is going to vary. I find it exciting to explore the connections between different aspects of ourselves—especially when we might not initially think that they’re related.

If you’re struggling with masking your ADHD, know that you’re not alone. With the words “deficit and disorder” in the name it’s no wonder it can evoke fear of judgment from others. There are now so many of us out there who know what it’s like to put on a front for the others and share this unique way of understanding the world around us and how we interact with it. The more we can talk about our experiences, the more we can support each other and help each other live more authentically. Authentic days are happier days (my mantra for ADHD!). 


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