I read this quote on Instagram from @one.paramita.community that resonated with me deeply. I wrote it down in my journal so I could remember to share it with you:
“When we don’t heal our subconscious or shadow sides, we either project our fear of them onto the external world or we become the receiver of other peoples’ shadows and are unable to rid ourselves of their projections, causing depression, anxiety and a handful of other mental concerns.”
In recent months, I was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD has led to depressive episodes, anxiety and frightening bouts of OCD in my life.
There’s a misconception that ADHD is reserved for the hyperactive kid that can’t sit still in class. But ADHD is much more complex than that.
Personally and like many, I experience ADHD as an emotional dysregulation among many other “frontal lobe” issues like self-monitoring, self-control (impulsivity), time management, working memory etc. (executive functions)
Most of my adult life, I have been utterly ashamed of living in complete chaos. I could rarely show up on time because I could never find my keys, let alone a clean pair of pants to wear. It felt like even though I knew what needed to be done to not feel so overwhelmed, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. (This “chaos” worsened with stress.)
Romantic relationships didn’t last because I lacked in coping skills to regulate stress during disagreements and otherwise. I needed more space and time alone to self-regulate — something most partners couldn’t comprehend – and neither could I. This was the toughest pill swallow. As I saw my friends progress through life, I was lagging so far behind in training wheels, trying to catch up.
Heartbreak after heartbreak, I felt like a monster nobody wanted. I thought, “How could someone ever love and understand someone like me when I can barely understand myself?”.
I struggled with boundaries. Anybody and everybody was my “friend” – from the drug dealer next door to the homeless man outside the bar. I was totally oblivious to the types of people I was letting into my life. This lack of boundaries led to an abundant amount of trauma that I’m still healing from to this day.
At university, I sat in horror at a documentary final project viewing class when I heard my teacher say, “Claire won’t be presenting her project this term”. I had worked hard on gathering footage but had been unable to put the project together. I’ve never felt so ashamed in my life.
I’ve had a thousand good ideas come through that never saw the light of day.
I thrived in the messy, the chaos and in the “last-minute”.
I bathed in the drama, the shouting and the crying. I didn’t want to but this was my life and I didn’t know any better. I felt misunderstood and unloved all the time.
Throughout all this, I still managed to graduate high school with top grades and score two university entrance scholarships. I was a good student. I was (am) smart. I was (am) a hard worker. I knew deep down I learned differently but I never thought this was potentially due to ADHD.
After graduating from university (with top grades too) – I began to massively doubt myself. Surprisingly, I held jobs down. I would get bored easily but I managed.
I found working in TV to be perfect for me. The excitement of the fast-pace in live broadcasting was especially satisfying. I felt alive.
One of the many benefits of ADHD is that we usually thrive in fast-paced environments. We are calm in crisis and able to handle the pressure. We are quick on our feet and in our minds. We’re creative and critical thinkers and quick problem solvers. (When our nervous systems are shot with unprocessed trauma, it’s a different scenario).
We’re also extremely passionate people. When we love something or someone, we love hard. We put our hearts and souls in our work and wear our hearts on our sleeves and to our detriment at times because we push ourselves too hard. We put all we’ve got into the relationship or work and we forget to slow down and enjoy life.
In 2016, I started pushing myself with TV-related projects.
I created a show from scratch, and produced it. I could tell I loved editing and producing because I was hyperfocused (another ADHD trait) to the point where everything else in my life didn’t matter; unbeknownst to me, my health and my relationship became last on my ADHD priority list. All I wanted was to be in the studio.
When I was let-go in the big lay-offs in 2018, it was devastating to many. Co-workers and I all lost an important part of ourselves in the re-structualization of our company . For me, the devastation was likely more unbearable than I had realized at the time; that year, trauma after trauma had unfolded; losing my job had been the last straw for me. In total denial and unable to process all the crazy shit that had happened that year, I packed my bags and left for Greece with my severance money.
Fast forward to February 2021. I’m not ADHD-free but my symptoms have lowered significantly.
The term « diagnosis » can have a negative connotation. But for me, it was an « Ah-HA » moment; a feeling of freedom, really. Now I know more of what I can do to better myself and be a more productive member of society. I have a better understanding of why I do and say things a certain way or why I react how I react.
Some tools that have helped me:
-cognitive behavioural therapy
-shadow work (accepting your own darkness unconditionally)
-limiting sugar and junk food (this can cause hyperstimulation and lack of focus)
-breath work (Qi Qong)
I’ve also stopped drinking and have been sober since June 2020.
I say “no” more, I stay in when I feel emotional stress coming on, I don’t reply to emails and messages right away; I give myself space to understand what emotion I am actually feeling (sometimes I don’t even know hence why journaling helps).
For the first time, I feel like I can grow up. Not because I didn’t want to before but because now, I know HOW to. I can take care of myself and clean up after myself. It’s like a dream come true.
The more I regulate my nervous system, the more the symptoms go away. The more I purge the past, the more I feel like the person I was always meant to be.
That said, I think I will always be at higher risk of falling off the wagon if stress goes unmanaged for too long. With ADHD, you know you have tremendous potential but you also know how much it takes out of you to reach that potential. It’s constant self-doubt, blood, sweat and tears. You feel on top of the world one minute, and the next, like the biggest loser. As a result, we burn out quickly. That’s why I need to stay on top of my « self-love » game and really forget about the expectations of this society. I have to choose me radically over and over again.
I may or may not use medication in the future. I know some people who can’t function at all without medication. I know long before I experienced severe traumas, I was already disorganized – yes – but I could enjoy life and thrive in multi-tasking. After serial traumas, I could not. I could barely get up in the mornings or make myself breakfast.
All this makes me believe that there is a serious correlation with trauma and ADHD but also other mental illnesses like depression, anxiety etc. Which came first?: the mental illness or the trauma?
Right now, I am interested in seeing how a lifestyle change and trauma processing can transform my mood, my thoughts, my stress. So far, it’s been significantly better.
I pace myself, I take less on, I do a little bit every day. I go to bed at a decent time. There are days where I fall but I don’t beat myself up for it as much as I used to.
So – what do my struggles with ADHD have anything to do with the quote I shared?
Simply put, my ADHD mixed with my chronic traumas are MY “shadow” side; it was THE unconscious elephant in the room that gnawed at me alive.
It feels surprisingly good to come out in the open with this. It’s a burden I carried for a long time because I didn’t know what the heck was wrong with me.
I was unable to forgive myself for a very long time. In fact, today I am struggling as I write this. It’s extremely personal and yet I think extremely necessary for me to share; it’s a load off my chest that could help someone out in return – you never know.
As I read the One Paramita quote to myself the other day, I realized that I can still be triggered by other people’s “shadows”, whatever these may be.
Will I regress in my healing by hearing other people’s darkness? Will I turn into this person’s therapist or their “filler” person because there’s a trauma or a fear that they’re not processing? Will I “over-help” this person with their fears while forgetting to tend to mine ? These were patterns I held in the past, patterns I don’t want to re-create in my present.
I trust that this won’t be forever and that slowly, I’ll be able to communicate more openly without this fear of being triggered by other people. For now, I face this fear with people I feel safe with.
Healing is a process. It’s not a three week-long course – it’s a lifetime of unlearning behaviours you have accustomed yourself to – your own and others’.
When I was writing this, I was thinking only in ADHD terms.
I want to add that there’s power in knowledge. The more you know about yourself, the more you process emotions that have been stuffed deep inside of you, the more you free yourself. Give yourself permission to question everything – even your own diagnosis. I’m grateful that I have SOME clarity with ADHD. I do see that there is a lot of overlap with how I’ve been feeling in my late-teens until my early 30’s. But I’m also cautious with not attributing character flaws to ADHD. I try to think on a holistic level and take in consideration the serial traumas in my life, what my childhood was like, generational trauma etc. ADHD is a piece of the puzzle; there’s more…
Please note: this is my personal journey with ADHD. Please consult your health professional for your own diagnosis or other health concerns as everyone is different! Remember to be kind if you choose to leave a comment .
Check out https://www.additudemag.com/ for great info on ADHD!