World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day, and I suppose that makes today an opportunity for me to talk about my personal struggles, with the hopes that it might help somebody out there. I always make the joke of “You’ve heard of Four Weddings and a Funeral, well get ready for Four Disorders and a Syndrome.” And then listing my various mental issues: ADHD, MDD, OCD, PTSD, and TS.

It’s a bit disingenuous though, because it’s not entirely true. The DSM5 (the book that is used as the basis for all mental health diagnoses) has a few guidelines for what counts as a disorder, and a few of those don’t quite count for me anymore. I’ve never had severe enough symptoms for OCD for it to actually impede my life in any significant way. I think they’d say I have “Obsessive Compulsive Tendencies” but that’s less cool to say out loud. And besides that, I haven’t had my PTSD triggered in almost a year now, so I think we can cross both of those off the list. I also haven’t gone and talked to a professional regarding the TS, so like… the only confirmed ones are ADHD and MDD, but only because I haven’t had the time to get “officially diagnosed.” I do still want to talk about what they all mean for me, and how I’ve learned to cope with them.

Now that’s a lot of random letters there, so let’s break down each one. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a disorder I was diagnosed with at a very young age, and it’s affected a lot of areas of my life, from school to my love life, to my personal life at home, and it’s been a lifetime of learning how to cope. Despite it’s name, it doesn’t always manifest as hyperactivity, and most people with it tend to be pretty calm on the surface. It’s also kind of a spectrum, and no two people with ADHD are the same. For me, I tend to have difficulty sitting in one position for more than a minute at a time, always shifting around, or spinning my chair, or sitting in the weirdest positions, almost always with only one foot on the ground.

Lots of people with ADHD have to be doing something with their hands, or else they won’t be able to focus on what somebody is saying. That’s what those fidget spinners were for, but you may also see someone with ADHD constantly clicking a pen or pencil, taking their pens apart and putting them back together all the time, twisting cables around their fingers, biting the drawstrings or zippers on sweaters and jackets, or just in general, the kinds of things you’d think of as “meaningless distractions.” For us, those things actually HELP us focus, as crazy as it sounds, and if a teacher took away a pen I was playing with mindlessly, I would wind up way MORE distracted, and actually just completely miss what they were saying for the rest of the day.

One other popular thing you’ll hear about ADHD is that people with it tend to get distracted easily, and yes that is true, but there’s also the flip side of that, which is where sometimes someone with ADHD will enter what is known as “hyperfocus.” Basically it’s like that’s the only thing that they can do or think about for hours. This tends to happen to me when I’m doing a puzzle, or playing a game, or like… actually right now while I’m writing this lol! It’s like a cool superpower, but at the same time, if my attention gets taken away from the task while I’m hyperfocused, I can end up really irritable and angry, and sometimes I end up forgetting to eat or drink water for like 7 hours in a row.

For my ADHD, the best things I’ve found to help out with it are first of all, finding a way to fidget without distracting OTHER people, so they don’t make me stop. As well, I have a really big problem with remembering things that need to happen outside of a usual schedule, so I always set alarms and reminders constantly, and always ask people to remind me of things as well, so I don’t miss an engagement, or appointment. Finally, it’s a small thing, but I always put things like my keys in the exact same place every day, and if it’s something unusual that I need to remember to take with me, I’ll put it somewhere super obvious and in the way, so that I won’t miss it. Stuff like putting papers on top of my shoes, so I take them with me when I leave the house, or bank stuff on my keyboard, so I’ll do it when I first get on my computer. It’s a daily struggle, but I do what I can to make it work!

Then we’ve got MDD aka Major Depressive Disorder, or just Depression. It’s… a lot less “fun” than ADHD. Lately, I’ve had a lot of good days, but there’s times where it’s nearly impossible for me to even get out of bed. I have trouble motivating myself to eat, as most of the time I don’t even feel hungry at all, and when I do eat, I never finish what I’ve got because I barely taste anything, and I feel full after just a few bites. It’s extremely hard for me to remember to take care of myself (like showering and stuff like that) because well… Why take care of someone when you absolutely hate them? It also doesn’t help that I often lose track of time to the point where I can’t remember if it’s been a day or a week or a month since my last shower. I promised I’d call my sister “next Sunday,” all the way back in February, and haven’t spoken with her since.

One big issue that people with Depression have to deal with is people thinking that their executive dysfunction is just them “being lazy,” and using it as an excuse, and let me tell you, there are some things that I’m definitely lazy about. The way I like to explain it is that laziness is “not doing the thing, and not caring,” whereas executive dysfunction is “not doing the thing, but agonizing like… every second about the fact that you’re not doing it.” I will lay in bed for 2 hours solid, and all I’m doing is saying to myself that I need to get out of bed, and I need to take care of stuff, and I wind up feeling more and more guilty every moment that I’m not doing it.

It’s really hard, but the biggest thing that’s helped me out is telling people about it, and asking for help when I need it. I went to therapy a few years ago, and plan to start going again very soon, which will also be great. For the executive dysfunction, it’s really helped for me to just remind myself that I will eventually do it, and that I don’t need to stress about it. Also just doing what little I can WHEN I can helps too. I don’t need to do ALL my dishes, I just need to do as many as I can right now. I don’t need to put away ALL my clothes, I just need to put away the ones in the way. I’d like the whole task done, but I know I’ll do it eventually, and usually once I’m able to get myself to start something, I usually wind up getting the energy to complete it anyways!

I don’t really have much advice for the others, as I’m still learning how to live with them, and I do need to talk to a professional before I can even be confident in saying that I even have them, but in the case of PTSD, I’m living evidence that it does eventually get better. In fact, in the case of any mental illness, remember that you’re not alone, You’re loved, you WILL get through it, and it does get better (as cliche as that sounds) no matter how much your brain might try to tell you otherwise. Don’t be afraid to talk to your family or friends about it, and there’s plenty of resources in the region if you need to talk to a professional.