Wherein I’m talking about my brain, actually – not a horse’s.
The brain is so fascinating. It runs pretty much 24/7 without fail. Now double that, or triple and quadruple that, and you have ADHD.
I have realized that I want to post a few of my drafts, but I feel for you guys to really understand them, I need to write some background, because the backgrounds are long posts in and of themselves. Plus, I have really felt a desire, a drive to post something about my own mental journey. I’ve loved reading all the posts with you bloggers being so honest about your mental state, and I have been wanting to write a post about my ADHD for a few months now. For those months it sat, half-written and half-formed. It just never quite felt right to post it until recently though.
I am what people consider high-functioning ADHD. To look at me, many times talk to me, you’d never guess that I do have ADHD. I’m smart, sociable, seem extroverted, am pretty stoic, and a think-through-a-crisis type of person. I’m a private person and what people term an “extroverted introvert,” and am reserved when in situations with people that I don’t know well. I seem like a completely different person from what is going on in my head. The truth is though that every day I’m frazzled, struggling, wondering where time went because I literally lost time and have no idea how that happened. I’m either everywhere, ridiculously distracted by random things, can’t be bothered to get out of my chair, or I’m hyperfocused for like 6 hours.
Getting diagnosed with ADHD has been a recent thing – about the past two years, so I’ve had 20+ years of coping with it and thinking it was normal. ADHD can be likened to riding a roller-coaster. Except you do that every day. At least 10 times per day. Your decisions, as well as your emotions, change every few hours. Sometimes hourly. Sometimes every half hour. You walk somewhere, completely forget what you’re doing because something else was merely shiny, and then you’re wandering around trying to grasp that fleeting thought because you know it was there, and you know you need to do something. You just literally can’t remember what.
For ADHD-ers, spiraling is a real part of life. It is so easy to be overwhelmed when you have ADHD. You’ll be happy, doing great, and one thing – one small, tiny thing – puts a divot in that, and it festers and grows until you feel like you’re a failure at life because look at all these people that raise kids and find time to ride and go out with their hubby, and here you are single with a horse and unable to cook for yourself, do your laundry, clean ANYTHING, or socialize, and you look at everything you CAN’T do and are failing at, so then now you’re at the dregs of depression. And then because you feel like shit your sleep is messed up, so to top it off now you’re really exhausted.
Sometimes that’s an every day cycle. It’s why ADHD can be mistaken for depression a lot of the time (though please know that actual, diagnosed depression is different than ADHD-induced depression). Because you’re tired. You’re tired of needing medicine to just fucking focus. You want to be a normal person that can just sit down and do things, yet you literally cannot do that because of your executive dysfunction. You just want to be normal, so you get upset at yourself because you can’t do things, so then you stop taking your meds because why can’t you do what others can do, and then you spiral even harder because you can’t focus, and work or life or everything just suffers. But can you pull yourself out of it? Sometimes. Sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes months. This is all internal, at least for me. It doesn’t tend to show on the outside. Except, well, when it got so bad this past July that it did show on the outside.
RSD, or rejection sensitive dysphoria, is there in nearly every person that has ADHD, and doesn’t help this whole spiral whatsoever. I discovered this probably two or so weeks ago, and wow. So much of how I think, how I’ve done and experienced things, is tied into RSD. It basically is defined as “an extreme (dysphoria means “difficult to bear”) emotional reaction to the perception of rejection, failure, or criticism – regardless of the circumstantial reality.” (Btw, if you are interested in reading more, this article that I stumbled upon where it explains RSD put everything I didn’t realize I was feeling/doing in my every day life into words) This put so much into perspective – why I don’t try, why I always feel like anything I do isn’t enough, why any time I felt like someone would be disappointed in me I experienced this crippling panic, how I do practically anything to avoid failure (this includes not showing because what if I’m not good enough and I fail?! to the point that the anxiety is vomit-inducing). We get so afraid to say anything, to be that failure or disappoint, that it often shows up as indifference, lack of communication, or even disruptive behavior, when we’re really just petrified of that perceived failure, because we’re sure we already are one.
The only time my brain is blissfully quiet, that everything slides together to work like a well-oiled machine of focus and multi-tasking, is when I ride horses. That doesn’t mean my self-depreciating voice isn’t there telling me all the things I can’t do. It’s just that when I ride, my brain is able to focus, to multitask, to consciously remember things I’m supposed to be doing and actually work like a normal brain. It’s why I don’t like taking my meds if I’m going to ride, because the moments around horses are the only moments when my mind is normal, when I can be normal.
It makes sense that – when I was riding horses (Amber, specifically) – I had an epiphany about that self-depreciating voice in my head. I remember Amber tried so hard, and was making progress so I was praising her a lot. And all while I told her what an amazing pony she was, my brain was chanting why couldn’t you do that your hand was atrocious don’t you have any control of your legs and god she was able to do it why not you you’re just no good at this. And suddenly it hit me. I rewarded Amber every time she tried even the slightest bit, made sure that every time she didn’t understand something, I would determine to be extra patient and slow down the gait, re-explain it to her, and try again. Why couldn’t I do the same for myself?
So I turned up the volume of the voice for horses in my head, and turned it on myself. Good job! it’d say. You tried really hard, and your abs were engaged and you kept track of your legs this time – look at you! Our left hand is a WIP, but you had good moments with it. It takes time, and we’ll build it every day, okay? And I forced myself to change the narrative, to have that patience for myself, because right after that was when I was diagnosed, and it suddenly all made sense. Now, because I knew how and why my brain worked the way it did, it allowed me to actually feel and accept the words my horse-voice was trying to tell me. It allowed me to believe them, and I’ve come leaps and bounds with that way of thinking, just like my rewards and extra-patience have benefited Amber immensely as well.
It’s why in a lot of rides I blogged about before Amber’s injuries, and ones I blog about now, there are hardly any negatives because I’ve had to change that narrative for not only Amber but for myself as well. When I don’t understand something, and have to ask for an explanation or for someone to repeat themselves a lot, I get extremely anxious and afraid that people will say “god, can’t you just understand this?! Why do we even bother with you?” or reprimand me for being/sounding stupid. When Amber doesn’t understand something, she gets anxious and afraid that I will reprimand her. Huh. Okay, then. So, now instead of getting upset and frustrated, I bring it back, discuss it another way, and try again. Because I changed this for her, and by extension myself, there are so fewer places for things to go wrong, for us to have a struggled ride. Because she’s trying, I’m trying, and Amber and I are partners in this struggle-bus, so any progress is good progress. Sometimes we still have the off ride (and notice I said “off” not “bad”). She had lost her work ethic when I first started easing her back into riding, but at the same time, I was convinced she also expected things to hurt. So it took extra praises, extra pets, but she realized this is light stuff and her work ethic bounced back. The other night I’m not sure what was wrong but she wasn’t focused, wasn’t listening, and practically the whole ride was off (I’ll expand on the ride in another post). But I do insist on calling them “off” rides because they’re off of our norm. They’re deviations rather than consistent behavior. Speaking about it this way also eases my anxiety, which helps me to learn from the ride rather than let it negatively impact my mood/headspace.
And man, I have worked really, really, really hard to change that narrative in my head. So that my anxiety about not being a good enough rider for my horse, for a show, for anything wouldn’t be so crippling. So that when I tell myself we’re showing for the horse’s experience, and let’s just give it a try, and have fun! I can actually believe the words I’m saying. The anxiety is still there, because I want to be a good leader for my horse that day, and reward all their tries, but it isn’t so bad anymore. It’s been 2 years of slogging through that, of finding pages that have others just like me. I’m still finding things connected to ADHD – like my recent discovery of RSD – that now give me more tools to work with, to understand my neurodivergent brain. It’s a never-ending struggle, a never-ending discovery of information, so a never-ending work in progress.
As much as I’ve worked on my anxiety, you can bet your ass I am pretty petrified to post this. Writing this was therapeutic. Publishing it… Let’s just say my anxiety is a ball in my throat, and my hands are shaking lol. Even though it’s just about ADHD, it’s still personal, still that perceived criticism, despite knowing this blog community isn’t like that. So the anxiety sticks haha. But if this can help someone else, if it can help neurotypicals understand neurodivergents a little better, then I think putting myself out there is worth it.
I know this week is Thanksgiving, and this is a heavy post for the holidays, but I think I can also count this as a bit of a “thankful” post. I’m thankful there’s more research on this. I’m thankful that I’m understanding more about myself. I’m thankful that this blog community is so wonderful. I’m thankful I can ride Amber again and that we can actually have “off” rides again. I may post more this week – I’m not sure. My executive dysfunction has been kicking my ass recently in things non-work related (which, if my brain decides to function during work I’ll take that lol), but I’m hoping I can finally get some more of my posts out.
In case I don’t, happy Thanksgiving all, and thanks everyone for reading along 🙂