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Confession: I struggle a lot with ADHD and Executive Function. It’s a part of neurodivergency that really negatively affects my mental health.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am proudly neurodivergent and wouldn’t change it for the world. But there are some parts of it that present a serious challenge. Especially in this hectic, work obsessed world that isn’t built for people like me.
Lately, it’s the lack of executive function that tears at my soul. Which is why I’ve written and shared the poem above with you. Today I was feeling pretty hopeless, trapped in my body while I doomscrolled through Facebook. All the while my mind was *screaming* at me to get something, anything done. After hours of this back and forth, I finally rolled my now stiff and creaky body out of bed. I was mentally exhausted already and I hadn’t even started my day.
Once again I’d allowed my ADHD to highjack my executive function.
I just felt like such an incredible failure.
Masking my ADHD and Executive Function
To understand why I’m so down on myself, I think there needs to be a little backstory here. I’ve always considered myself a self motivated and highly productive person. I had Executive Functioning in the bag.
It was a main part of my mask identity before I realized I wasn’t neurotypical. I hid what I considered my imperfect self behind my ability to juggle many flaming chainsaws. I thought “If I do amazing things constantly, no one can see how flawed I am.” Because I really did believe being different (more sensitive, less able to “hang” in tough situations) was a flaw. At this point, I actually had the idea that I could hammer my sharp spots down.
If I just tried harder.
So I pushed and pushed myself to be tougher, better, more than others. I was known for being capable and busy. Even extraordinary.
And for a while it worked. I felt on top of the world. Like Spongebob in the episode “Not Normal” where he smoothes himself to gain Squidward’s approval as “normal,” I was finally acceptable to others.
Until, like Spongebob in that same episode, I couldn’t push down my nature any longer. Except where Spongbob hilariously transforms back to his real self, I utterly burned out in the most unfunny of ways (check out my story here).
What is Executive Function and how is it Connected to ADHD, Depression, and Anxiety?
I’ll continue on with my story in a minute. That’s because I want to explain how ADHD and Executive Function (and mental health) relate.
So what is Executive Function? It’s a set of simultaneously occurring mental processes that control our ability to organize, our time management, and our emotional regulation (among many other things). ExD also helps you solve problems, plan, remember things and make decisions both big and small.
Basically it’s something we use every moment of every day without really realizing it.
To dive deeper, ExD is a higher brain function associated with our brain’s Frontal Lobe and the neurotransmitter Dopamine. Dopamine and the Frontal Lobe are inhibitors, keeping us safe from impulsive decisions. That’s where processing differences such as ADHD come into play. People with ADHD have a deficit in Dopamine and/or changes to their Frontal Lobe functioning. This makes Executive Function really hard for them.
Which means it can be extra hard for us to plan, organize, think ahead, and regulate our emotions. Motivation also takes a hit when you’re low on Dopamine (also known as the “reward chemical”) because reward centers aren’t as active as they are in other brains.
This can all be a really big problem for those with ADHD and Executive Function issues. That’s because we have to work about ten times harder to do something that’s automatic for others. Which is exhausting to say the least. It’s easy for us to get burned out, depressed, and develop anxiety because we’re trying so hard and sometimes not even getting anywhere.
Couple all that with the fact that society doesn’t yet understand ADHD beyond “squirrel!” and you’ve got a world that’s set up to produce mental health issues for those with cognitive processing differences.
How Quarantine Changed my Outlook on ADHD and Executive Function
So now we know how easy it is for someone with ADHD and Executive Function issues to burn out.
But we haven’t really discussed what happens after the burnout. For me, it was a cycle of perfection and burnout even after I started getting into recovery and embracing my neurodivergence. I still had a lot of ideas about what I “should” be able to do based on what I could do in the midst of all my masking.
That was until Quarantine happened. Everything I had left to hide behind went away.
I couldn’t overwork myself at a job or be a super friend anymore. I had literally nothing to get out of bed for.
I just had to be….me.
For more than a year, I’ve been left with all this time. Time I couldn’t fill running from myself. And while my journey to finding my true self has been amazing, it’s also been insanely hard. Because it turns out who I am isn’t the hyper productive, extremely able, hard working person I thought I was.
And that’s still such a hard pill to swallow.
There’s a lot of days I don’t get out of bed until 11, which makes me sick inside sometimes. Since I’m self employed I only have myself to hold me accountable and direct the flow of the day. Which is a little like having a ten year old plan your day. For a while I just did whatever that ten year old wanted to do which was play video games, eat snacks, and sleep. Don’t get me wrong, that was fun and all but it wasn’t sustainable.
These days I do my best to balance the needs of my impulsive self and my adult brain, which works pretty well…most days. I have some tough days. And that’s okay because I’m happy to not be chasing some vague idea of perfection and wasting time masking.
But some days it’s harder than others to deal with the stark difference between who I was and who I’m becoming.
On those tough days, I think it’s really important to remember this: the journey to self fulfillment looks NOTHING like we’ve been told.
It’s not all these shining moments of enlightenment. It’s not all incredible breakthroughs.
A lot of times it’s being stuck in bed with no will to move and learning to be alright with the feelings that brings.
Self acceptance is a long, arduous process that’s at work in the most mundane moments of our lives.
So, as frustrated as I am I’m reminding myself that this isn’t just part of the process, this struggle *is* the process. And, as a proud neurodivergent stepping into her power, I trust it.
I trust that I can be different and safe. And that I can have difficult moments that aren’t the end of the world, rather part of creating a new one for myself. Most of all, I can trust that I’m enough as I am, even if that’s flawed by society’s standards. And you are too.
Pssst: want to find a great community that will support you as a neurodivergent searching for mental health answers?? Check out our Neurodivergent Learning and Life Skills group on Facebook! We’re always here for you with information, support, understanding, and of course, humor to get you through tough times. See you there!
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