Self-diagnosis Breakdown

Last week a friend posted an article on Facebook entitled The lost girls: ‘Chaotic and curious, women with ADHD all have missed red flags that haunt us. The byline drew me in: “After multiple burnouts in my early 30s I finally knew why life sometimes felt harder for me.”

That one sentence really hit home. I know all too well what multiple burnouts feels like and, although I wouldn’t admit this out loud, it does feel like things are harder for me sometimes. I clicked on the article and, upon seeing its length, saved it to my Pocket. Pocket is my virtual graveyard for content, where articles I intend to read go to die. What I love most about it is the organizational element – I poured hours into creating a tight-knit system of tags and folders and now, whenever I come across something related to my areas of interest, I tag it and send it to purgatory in well-organized fashion.

Reading an article with this many paragraphs requires a lot of focus for me. Something I don’t force myself to do for article reading too often. A couple days later, the same post appeared in my feed, asking to be seen. I indulged its request, did the usual F-scan, determined that I could definitely relate to all the bits I read about, shared it with 3 people and reached out to the friend who shared it to say something like ‘OMG I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to consider that I might have ADHD?!’ 

I knew the contents of the article were meant for me, based on what I had picked up on through my lazy look-through, and yet I still didn’t read it. Instead, I decided to share it via yet another platform, armed with the intention of helping others who might also relate. Right before I hit the ‘Tweet’ button, I remembered a rule I had made for myself: ‘don’t share anything on Twitter unless you actually know what says’.

I’m pretty sure I made this rule because someone called me out at some point, triggering my crippling desire to be liked by everyone and leaving me feeling vulnerable to attack, as if the whole world saw this public post and now knew I was an inauthentic, hypocrite tweeter (which is the exact opposite of what I want people to think of me). In reality, no one noticed (I’m pretty sure my following consists of about 1000 bots), but being called out on things (or fear thereof) almost always incites action on my behalf. 

So, I read the article. And, even though I was captivated by it, I didn’t read it all in one fell swoop. I changed tabs about 10 times, answered a few Facebook messages I felt guilty about leaving for too long, and by the time I finished reading it, I felt 2 strong emotions:

  1. excited, knowing I had picked up on a clue that would shed light on solutions to this life-long struggle
  2. overwhelmed, knowing I had picked up on a clue that would lead to never-ending obsessing to find a solution to this life-long struggle

I’ve found myself in this situation a lot lately, now that I’m on this ‘healing journey’. Ever since I got sober 2.5 years ago, I seem to have cracked open Pandora’s Box of previously repressed and blissfully ignored personal problems. Everything was so much easier before – push everything away and when irritation from the thorn in my side starts to sting, Neosporin that shit by smoking a joint and/or having a drink. Problem solved! Nowadays, I don’t have those easy-button solutions. It sucks.

The internet is a dangerous playground. I log on to skip around, in an attempt to distract myself from the now, and inevitably trip over triggers. There are so many mental health stories out there that I can personally relate to. My reader-response goes something like this: I think about all the things I’ve been through that convince me I am aligned with the problem, the thoughts bring up feelings, I become emotional and then obsessive. I feel seen! Eureka! I’ve uncovered what ails me and now I can follow the breadcrumbs to uncover the answers to all my problems! And that is how I regularly fall down rabbit holes of neurotic self-diagnosis.

I’ve had these ‘ah-ha!’ moments so many times over the last couple years – with anxiety, depression, addiction, C-PTSD, avoidant-attachment theory, dissociation, narcissistic-neglect and now: ADHD. Each time I overdo this, I eventually realize that while, yes – I can relate, that doesn’t mean I should give myself these labels and live my life as a symptom-laden victim. 

I guess that’s the good news here – I tend to put myself through a given time period of obsessive searching for solutions that might ‘fix me’, but I eventually realize these self-prescribed characterizations don’t serve me well. I learn a lot about mental health and well-being from my research into diagnostic labels, but I’ve come to learn I cannot fit myself into their distinctive boxes and expect a one-size-fits-all solution.

Now, every time I fall into this trap, I remind myself: I am an individual being who is wired in a very specific way and my life path has led me through a unique mishmash of experiences that have influenced who I am in a number of eccentric ways.

Sure, I could introduce myself to the world as: JGB – an addict with genetic ADHD who has forever struggled with depressive anxiety and who is afraid to love due to abandonment issues and neglectful narcissistic parenting. I could describe myself as suffering from C-PTSD because of sexual abuse throughout my formative years that caused dissociative blackout coping mechanisms to take over and repress all my negative memories and emotions. In hearing this, you might wonder why I seem so ‘normal’ and I might respond by explaining that I am high-functioning and well-accustomed to wearing masks that conceal any emotion that might lead to judgment or criticism. But, despite the relevance of these historical and psychological facts, that’s not the narrative identity I want to portray.

Over the last couple years of therapy and self-discovery, I have attempted to wear all those identity-shaping hats at once, but it didn’t suit me well and was all too much to balance at once. Not to mention, they weighed me down and left me feeling sorry for myself. Woe is me, I’m broken because of factors outside of my control.

But as I continue to work through all this, I’ve slowly come to realize that I am simply JGB – a human being with a unique set of attributes who has lived through challenging experiences that shaped me into the person I am today. And by that definition, I am exactly the same as everyone else! I feel comfortable with that narrative identity and I try as best I can to confront my day-to-day armed with that perspective. 

Anyway. That’s not what this short story is about. It’s a theme that will reveal itself a lot through my writing (if I ever gain the discipline it takes to write an entire article and put it out in the world), but today I’m here to tell you about the 48 hours that unraveled after I self-diagnosed myself with ADHD. It went a little something like this. 

First, I read the article in full and experienced the following ‘eureka moment’ reactions.

“Girls with ADHD are often dismissed as ‘daydreamers’ and ‘overly sensitive.”

Uh-huh, been there, sistah-friend!

“The frequence of zone-outs, disassociations and meltdowns caused by our hidden internal restlessness and our brain’s inability to regulate information and emotion goes unnoticed.”

OMG, yes!

“As a child who was prone to inattentiveness and impulsivity, I was repeatedly told to ‘stop daydreaming’, ‘slow down’, ‘hurry up’ and ‘act like a lady’.”

– Whoa! I was told exactly all those things!

“Overwhelmed by the world, it wouldn’t take much for my cup to runneth over or for me to completely disassociate.”

– Ugh, totally. When I overdo it, I can’t cope and hide away until I can recharge enough to face the world again.

“Chaotic and curious, sometimes we feel like superheroes; other times, super-failures.”

– Super-fuckin’ eh, story of my life! High-highs and breakthroughs, low-lows and breakdowns. It’s exhausting.

“It’s not always a lack of interest that makes it hard for us to process information, but our brain’s desire to absorb so much of it. We are jacks of many trades, purveyors of information, collectors of hobbies, beginners of tasks and finishers of few.”

– Le sigh… the sad, ugly truth. Not to mention, not finishing things leads to guilt, shame and self-blame for not being able to ‘just get your shit together’.

“Neurodivergent women often slip through the cracks of diagnosis because they can appear smart or gifted. This is because we’re more likely to be perfectionists or suffer from low self-esteem, so we work extra hard to prove ourselves. Combined with hyperfocus – the flipside of the attention coin where one zones in on a single interest for hours – this results in flashes of brilliance.”

– Fooled ya! Really though, for 36 years? How has this diagnosis never come up?

“We’re also experts at masking symptoms. We form habits by mirroring the social behaviours of those around us, […] burnout is what happens when the mask slips. Your entire world comes crashing down, and you don’t have the executive function to figure out which way is up.”

– I’m so tired of wearing all these damned masks! Most especially because I know there’s nothing wrong with what’s underneath them.

“I mourn the things she forgot, the skills she could have learned and the relationships her impulsivity, perceived detachment and unhealthy coping mechanisms sabotaged. But most of all, I mourn time lost.”

– Ugh. Now I’m ugly crying. Mourning. 

Well, shit. Now it’s crystal-clear, I definitely have ADHD! Evidence floods my mind, legitimizing the diagnosis. It must be true. 

There’s so much proof: The fact that I’ve been talking about my life-purpose-turned-passion-project ‘Make Yourself’ for over 15 years without anything to show for it because I can’t seem to focus on executing my brilliant-breakthrough-ideas for more than 10 minutes at a time. Not long ago, I scanned all my journals, about 30 tomes of scribbles conveying the same concepts over and over. I distinctly remember standing there realizing I’ve been regurgitating repetitive writing for years on end. I had a Beautiful Mind moment and genuinely questioned whether I might be delusional.

I have this vision I’ve been trying to make sense of for as long as I can remember. I don’t understand it, but the ideas come to me every day of my life, sometimes even in my sleep. I can’t seem to sew together all the pieces that come forward, there’s too much to process. There’s a part of me that is convinced I’m onto something. There is value here. But I can’t seem to see the big picture. I drown in all the details, then wallow in overwhelm and eventually dissociate until I feel inspired to try and make sense of it by writing everything out all over again.

Liz Gilbert, whom I idolize and adore, wrote a book called Big Magic that I became consumed with because every moment I read it felt like one long, ongoing sigh of relief. In it, she suggests that ideas choose you. As a creative, it is up to you to show up and channel the idea so you can breathe life into it by giving it the time and attention it requires to come out.

That is exactly how I would describe my relationship with these ideas! They have chosen me and nag at me constantly, begging to be written out. I indulge them. Over and over again. But I can’t seem to make sense of them. ‘You’ve chosen the wrong host,’ I often think to myself. “I wish you would give up on me already!”

Looking through all these notes always leaves me feeling like a failure. “When will I learn to get my shit together and take action when I’m presented with great opportunities?!” I’ve heard that a lot in my life. And now I repeat it to myself. It’s a story I tell myself. I have great ideas but I’m not smart enough to make sense of them. I start things but I don’t take action to finish them.

I have more evidence that proves this self-told story to be true. Over the past year, my boss-slash-coach has tried encouraging me to take action and ‘get started’ on launching my personal brand. We set quarterly goals for my podcast and he invited me to take part in a weekly content creation mastermind. He invested in my interest, showed support and checked-in regularly to keep me accountable.

I swear I made efforts and took it seriously! After drawing things out for months on end, I ended up putting out 2 blog posts and 5 podcast episodes. Not long ago, he must have realized I didn’t have what it takes. He gave up and turned his efforts towards our new strategist. So far, she’s put out something like 20 podcast episodes in less than 3 months. Together, in this short period of time, they also managed to build her personal brand website and a lead referral strategy that is building her network and making her extra cash on the side. She’s killing it. And honestly, I’m happy for her. But I have to admit I struggle with the shame and guilt of not being able to show up and take advantage of these great opportunities life has afforded me.

I beat myself up a lot. What the fuck is wrong with you? Why can’t you just step up and get your shit together? What will it take for you to get out of your own way so you can take advantage of all the help being gifted to you?” I used to think I wasn’t performing because of a lack of support. “I can’t do this alone,” I thought. And now, here I am being handed tools for success on a silver platter, and I still can’t seem to deliver. I get really down about it. It’s enough to make me want to throw in the towel and give up on my dreams.

But I haven’t given up… yet. Recently, I’ve tapped into a more spiritual outlook that seems to be saving me from all the doom and gloom. I’ve come to realize I am riding my own wave and can not compare myself to others. I have my own path and I am exactly where I’m meant to be. This path is already laid out before me and every twist and turn holds a pre-destined challenge I must work through to unlock clues that will give way to important knowledge and empowering life lessons leading me closer and closer to what’s meant to be for me. I need not worry or rush anything. I must surrender and let go of all expectations. I will get to where I know I am intended to go. It will take whatever time it takes. One thing is for damned well sure – I am going to get to wherever it is I’m intended to go. I genuinely know this to be true. Every fibre of my being believes this. I am slowly-but-surely making my way, one day at a time.

And so, this meandering, tangent-ridden story is a part of my journey as I attempt to apply myself towards figuring out how to work through the distracting itches and twitches I’ve now coined as ADHD. 

Back to the story, let’s set the scene: it’s a Friday night in paradise (I just moved to Bali – yeah, this life path is really insufferable) and I’m lying in bed Googling solutions to ADHD thinking there must be something that can help me focus. All I want is to be able to calmly sit and write for a couple of uninterrupted hours. When I was in university, I remember getting my hands on ‘study drugs’ and binging on textbooks for 6 hours straight, right before an exam. I recall how incredibly absorbed I was, despite the material being of little-to-no-interest. “That is what I need!”, I thought to myself.

I was determined to figure out how to get a prescription for something to help me concentrate. Every search revealed it was virtually impossible to get any controlled substances of the like in Indonesia. Apparently, people with life-long prescriptions from abroad can’t even get their meds filled here. Who knew? Argh.

But then, just as I was giving up, I came across a thread in a forum on ‘natural alternatives to ADHD meds’ which suggested using an herb called Kratom instead of Dexedrine. ‘Unfortunately’, the writer proclaimed, ‘it can only be found in’… ASIA!! Boom! A long way away for many, but easy access for me! Within seconds I had figured out what kind of strain to get my hands on and where to buy it in my area of Canggu. Within an hour I had booked myself an Airbnb in Uluwatu where I planned to get away for a weekend of Kratom-focused writing

Last weekend, I was hanging out with the hippies in Ubud, as you do, and found myself inspired to learn all about human design, astrological life paths and numerological life path numbers. That’s right, not only am I now surrendering to a new spiritual outlook, I am also dabbling in allowing planetary alignment to dictate what’s right for me.

According to my readings, I am meant to dedicate this month to finishing projects I started but never finished. Ha! That really doesn’t narrow the options down too much, but I take this as a sign that I’m well aligned to get shit done this weekend. I set a goal to finish writing articles I keep putting off for my client (who is also my therapist). 

Saturday morning, I meditate, attend healing yoga and procure the drugs, then ride 45 minutes to Uluwatu. Almost as soon as I arrive, an acquaintance mentions he’s in the same area and invites me to Sunset Point to meet his friends. I write out and delete my WhatsApp response about 6 times – variations of “no thanks, I’m here to write this weekend, I need to focus’, and “yes thanks, I haven’t met anyone out here yet, I am eager to connect, I appreciate the invite!” I lecture myself about being an isolated workaholic who stares at a screen too much and decide on “I’ll come for sunset but I need to get back to do some writing after – thanks for the invite!”. Sunset Point is incredible, I feel good about getting out and being social, I stay out for dinner with my new friends. 

Sunset Point, Uluwatu, Bali

Sunday morning – it’s focus time, baby! The Kratom powder package label advises 1 teaspoon but I opt for 1 tablespoon and figure I will drink it slowly and determine how I feel as I go. It’s disgusting. Super bitter, very pasty and the taste lingers so I end up chugging it much faster than initially intended.

OK. Close all distractions. No tabs open, no phone at my side, no Messenger, no news apps, no succumbing to Googling random things my mind suddenly gets curious about. ‘I wonder what time sunrise is tomorrow, maybe I’ll get up early?’ NO! No more questions. Time to concentrate.

Focus Town

I open my Doc – ‘The Ultimate Guide to Addiction, Healing Trauma and Getting Unstuck’. The irony is not lost on me – ‘stuck’ is the best way to describe how I feel about writing a guide on how to get unstuck. I’ve already compiled all the different sections because I love to organize information. That’s my jam – handling the administrative aspects of all the work I have to do. But then, when I have to actually sit and think and focus on writing, forget it… my brain taps out and finds a million-and-one ways to distract itself with other tasks deemed worthy of the ‘productivity’ label.

This is my life, I spend hours upon hours in front of a screen not actually focusing on any one thing, but instead being ‘very productive,’ organizing my life and work into to-do lists and tasks that I micro-manage for hours on end. For some reason, I am able to work through and deliver on all my job-related deadlines, but my own projects never ever get done. Ever. It’s infuriating. 

But not today! Very soon, I will be in focus-town which, I imagine, will be like having tunnel vision. All I will see is the screen and the work before me. I’ll fall into some sort of spell that stops me from being able to look away from the suddenly-enthralling work before me. Any minute now I’ll be fixated… right this second though, I am so itchy. Every second a new spot demands to be scratched. Face, leg, arm, shoulder, leg, face, face… OMG WHAT’S HAPPENING? I can’t control these impulsive twitches! It’s more distracting than my brain usually is.

Ok, one quick Google distraction is allowed, because I’m suffering here… what is causing all this itching?!? OH. Apparently, Kratom is akin to taking opiates and opiate-induced itching is a thing. Not to mention, a thing you can do nothing about. Fuck. OMG. I’m so uncomfortable! How am I supposed to concentrate while feeling this way? I’m determined though. I try super hard to focus on my writing. I read and re-read the first 6 paragraphs that are already written. They’re OK but they’re not quite right. They could definitely be better. I’ll just re-write this first one, and then… I gag. Out of nowhere, I feel like I have to throw up… 

But noooooooo. I can’t throw up. I just ingested the magic concentration elixir and soon it will take effect and save me from all these uncomfortable feelings and distractions. OMG, whyyyyyy. Why must I suffer just to get a few hours of focus? Surely it will kick in any minute. I have to keep it down though and if I don’t eat something, I’m definitely gonna barf… so I lay on the daybed uttering guttural grievances trying to find food that doesn’t turn my stomach as I read menu items aloud. What feels like hours later, I finally decide on an omelette with two sides of rice. That should do it.

I wait in the fetal position with the laptop at my side and type with one hand because I’m ridiculous and determined not to waste a second of this ‘focus time’. I literally can’t sit upright and yet I’m still forcing myself to concentrate on my writing. At the time of writing, a day later, I realize how insanely ridiculous this is. But in that moment, all I can do is hope and wish that, despite the itching and twitching and nausea, some sort of magic is also at play. If I just stick to the writing, I’ll get through all this and at the day’s end I will have finished this article and I’ll be SO PROUD OF MYSELF. It will all have been worth it! I’m stubborn as all hell and I’ve decided that’s what is going to happen, so I’m just gonna push through these awful terrible feelings until daybreak. 

At 4pm, something shifts within me. Not so much an “oh, my tummy feels better” shift, it seems more like I fell asleep for a second, and a full-body shudder stirs me awake to a new reality.

All of a sudden, I don’t give a shit about any of the things I’ve been so adamant about accomplishing. I don’t care if I finish the article and I stop feeling guilty about dragging myself through dope-sickness for the sake of a few hours of concentration. I look around and feel my face scrunch up into a look of self-disdain. “Why in the world are you curled up in a ball whimpering over this bullshit assignment? Enough of this shit, get up!”

I pull my clothes off, throw them on the ground, put on my bathing suit and jump in the pool. I stay underwater for what feels like a dangerously long time and come up for air only when my body forces me to. I feel pissed off at myself for imposing so many rules and restrictions – fuck the stupid article! WHO CARES?! Why do I make such a big deal out of things? It’ll get done. Most likely at the last minute, when it can’t possibly wait any longer. I’ll torment myself and stay up all night and lose sleep over it, but it’ll get done… later. Right now, I will do whatever the hell I feel like, dammit!! I grab a book and head out to read by the pool.

The Pool

I cannot put the book down. I am completely absorbed by everything happening and I feel a strange sense of freedom getting lost in the novel. I get up only because I have to pee and notice 2 hours have passed!! Holy shit, I’ve been FOCUSING!

I look around the room and get the impression someone else has been here. A wet towel on the floor, clothes strewn all over the place… so unlike me. I am not a sloppy throw-things-on-the-ground kinda gal. I am tidy and organized. I put things away, in their right place. But who cares?! I decide I need to get out of here and go for a drive. For half-a-second I wonder if it’s safe for whomever is in control right now to be driving?

Driving is fine – I seem to be hyper-focused on everything before me. I ride aimlessly into the sunset listening to my ‘comfort playlist’ – croony jazz ballads from the 50s. I stop to buy chips and soda. Ha! Another sign something is up – I would never, ever buy chips and soda. I don’t do additives or preservatives and I avoid drinking anything with unnatural sugar. But I don’t give a fuck! I’ll consume whatever damned chips and sugar I feel like eating right now, thank-you-very-much! You’re not the boss of me, Jess! All these rules can fuck off.

When I get home, I throw myself on the day bed and something shifts again. Tears take over, but I’m not sure why. At first, in small whimpers, then all my muscles contract and I lose control. I shake and gasp for air, drool spills out of the side of my mouth. The loathing kicks in. I hate myself. WTF is wrong with me? Where did this erratic behaviour come from? How did I manage to waste this entire day of productivity? I fucked up again. The shame and guilt cycles kick in and all that’s left is doom and gloom. Darkness. Depression. I know this feeling all too well. This used to be my way of life. When I was suffering through alcoholism, this is what every hangover felt like. I had a lot of hangovers.

In this moment, everything feels too heavy and impossible to work through. Like I did something wrong that I’ll never be able to take back or fix. I’m a fuckup and I deserve to feel this way. I did this to myself. What exactly, I don’t know. I’m angry at myself for chasing after a drug even though I know I’m an addict. I put a drug in my system, it made me physically sick and mentally unstable, and now I’ve gone and ruined all the amazing progress I had made. I’ve reverted back to a state of suffering. I was in such a good place, I worked so hard to stay sober and made daily efforts to set boundaries and elevate my life force energy… but now I’ve ruined everything. Like I always do. I deserve to be punished. I did this to myself. I fucked everything up, and now I’m paying the price. 

I cry myself to sleep and have vivid dreams of drowning. Not the kind where my life is in peril and I need to be saved, the kind where I’m actually trying to suffocate and suppress some part of me. Not all of me. But some part of me is trying to come up to breathe and live, but I won’t let it.

I wake up gasping for air in the middle of the night. I take stock, determine that I feel more like myself again and wonder if something about the Kratom triggered old, dormant feelings. I wonder whether there’s more to it than that – could there be an entire personality within me that has the capacity to come out suddenly like this? I shudder at the thought. As a kid, I was fascinated with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and read Sybil at far too young an age. At the time, I was a lonely kid who thought it would be cool to have ‘friends’ living within me. Now, the thought scares the shit out of me.

I feel better now though. It’s been so long since I’ve lived through those all-consuming feelings of depression. I had forgotten how impossible everything feels under that weight. There was nothing I could say or do to make myself feel better. It’s sad to remember that I used to feel that way all the time, but also really empowering and inspiring to realize how far I’ve come. I am no longer that person.

I go back to bed and resolve to do some writing in the morning so I can think my way through this experience and hopefully take something from it all. 

And so that’s what I did. I woke up, opened my laptop and started writing. For the very first time, I was able to sit and write for hours on end without distraction. What you are reading right now is the result.

The Istana

I have been sitting here in this spot for over 6 hours. Every few minutes I feel the urge of distraction but now I’m able to laugh and push through knowing this impulse is far easier to manage compared to the itching and gagging fits I felt the day before.

As the sun sets on this day, I feel accomplished and at peace with myself. It’s almost as if everything that happened this weekend was meant to be. I made the wrong choices, I reaped the consequences of my actions, the devil within me came forward and reared its ugly head so that I could be reminded of how far I’ve come and how capable I am. 

I don’t need drugs to focus. I struggle to concentrate because a lot of the projects I take on are hard work for me. I’ve worked hard my whole life, but I realize now that hard work isn’t defined by how many hours I pour into something, it comes down to making the effort to do what doesn’t come naturally. Or maybe I’m meant to figure out what does come naturally and stick to that?

My ADHD makes it hard for me to sit still and work through things, but maybe, if I show up consistently, expect the overwhelm and patiently wade through the discomfort, I can achieve in the same way I did today, with this short story?

I don’t know. I have hope.

I’ve always known that writing is my gift. It serves me in so many ways. The way I was able to weave this true story together a day after living it in-real-life feels good. It came pretty naturally, which feels like a sign. Maybe this is what’s meant for me, on my path? Perhaps I should continue to tell the story of this spiritual journey as it plays out?

Author’s note: The events that have played out since writing this inaugural piece make it obvious there’s a story begging to be told here. Right after I wrote what you’ve read here, I went back to my Airbnb and, no word of a lie, I had a ‘ghost experience’. I was so thoroughly creeped out that I packed my things at 3:45 in the morning and rode back to Canggu. More on that in the next short story.

Thanks for reading. If anything in this story resonated with you, please feel free to reach out. I write to connect and create impact.


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