“HOW DO YOU DO SO MUCH?” Is a question I get daily.
I always answer with “ADHD” because the truth of the matter is, that is just how I get so much stuff done. And I love it. But it’s not exactly the kind of life I’d want for other people, because it’s exhausting and totally overwhelming most of the time.
After School Activities
Growing up I had no idea that I had ADHD. I dabbled in everything I could, I suppose because I was curious. There really weren’t many days where I didn’t have some sort of an activity, whether it be soccer, The Northview Boys and Girls Club, Brownies, sewing lessons, skating lessons, drama classes, singing lessons, piano lessons, dance lessons – and those were just the extra curriculars outside of school. In school I was in plays and musicals, bands (plural), choirs, art clubs, knitting clubs, volunteer committees, I even started a film festival.
Later in high school I made a 46 minute adaptation of MacBeth over the summer between grades 11 and 12 and upon finishing the project immediately sunk into a deep depression which I had never in my life experienced before, but would experience over and over again as projects ended.
I remember telling a friend that I was excited to be a film director when I grew up because it would mean having so many different projects going with clear start and end dates, and she looked at me like I was nuts and said something to the effect of “why would you want to do that? You’ll never be settled, it’s better to have one job and keep it and stick with it.”
Obviously this affected me because I’m writing about it now. That combined with the lovely post-film depression really made me wonder what the fuck was wrong with me if I wasn’t able to do what I loved without being depressed, and also, did I really want a fly by the seat of my pants kind of lifestyle that didn’t promise any sort of stability?
CLEARLY I did because here we are. Still have the depression though.
Since I spent so much of my childhood and teen years doing projects and creating content and performing and filming and whatever the hell was fun to do that week, I really got into the mindset that I could do as much as I wanted to, as long as I wanted to do it. That did not extend to math aaaand I’m lucky I graduated.
After being rejected by at least five film schools in Ontario, I conceded and solemnly went to UofT with a major in Cinema Studies because it was downtown Toronto, and somewhat related to what I wanted to do. I immediately (I mean actually immediately) discovered alcohol and being away from home for the first time, started acting like a total dumb dumb, following the fun wherever it took me. And it took me to some super fun places. It also got me kicked out of school, twice.
I had no clue then that aside from the fact that I was totally distracted from studying things I absolutely hated (I had one cinema class, one narrative English class and 3 super boring psych/sociology/some other shit I can’t remember classes), my brain was also in no position to actually carry out the work I needed it to. Later, when I learned that ADHD in adult women was an actual thing and I listened to books on ADHD, I discovered that a lot of people find out they have ADHD when they get to college or university, because they realize they can’t fucking study even if it kills them because they read the same line over and over and over and over and over – that or they take Adderall to stay up late and study, and their brains suddenly clear of the “fog”. It’s very difficult to get a diagnosis at this stage of life though because most healthcare professionals assume you’re just trying to fake it to get the prescription to sell it to people on campus or get high.
Cue depression and it’s totally awesome pal anxiety.
Terrible Misery Time
TMT (Terrible Misery Time) took place for approximately 5000000 years. From the first time I got kicked out of university to the time when I started my business, I was basically in TMT all the time. It’s not that everything in my life was awful, it was just that I had no way of keeping up with anything at all, so I spent a LOT of time doing absolutely nothing, which for an ADHD person is as simple as breathing. And we don’t even realize how much time it’s been since we’ve done a thing – BECAUSE TIME BLINDNESS IS AN ACTUAL THING WHICH IS SO CRAZY. I should write about that later.
So here I am, trying really hard to hold down a stupid boring job at Indigo, or Starbucks, or Melanie Lyne, or The Gap (can you picture that? HA!) or on a tour bus, or literally anywhere, and I am absolutely sucking at every single job I have. But you know, I’m young so it’s probably everyone else’s faults. I start (or continue) developing this super intense internalized shame that I am not good enough and I am bad because I am absolutely incapable of doing anything that all my friends are doing.
They’re graduating, I’m trying and failing at University for a second time.
They’re getting cool jobs, I’m switching to Baking and Pastry Arts Management at George Brown because I saw Stranger Than Fiction and thought it would be cool to be a baker.
THOSE friends are getting awesome jobs and I’m trying to start a cake business, and no one wants to pay the $10,000s of dollars the food network has promised me in a salary, so I see Forgetting Sarah Marshall and think “Oh, Mila Kunis’ job at the front desk of this hotel looks cool, I’ll do that.” OK whatever two years of studying to be a pastry chef! Didn’t need you anyway!
Obviously by now I’ve completely internalized that I’m totally hopeless and shitty so I dump my jerk boyfriend, see a psychic and decide I should probably move out to B.C. in the middle of January.
NEVER EVER DO THAT IT’S STUIPD. GO IN JUNE.
So my mom and I drive out in the middle of about 800 snowstorms and we spin out on some ice and get stuck in a ditch. A woman driving a big rig gets out to help us. She says “SLOW! SLOW!” and I hear “SMILE!” so I flash her this giant smile. WTF. Five days of this foolishness and we make it to Seattle. It’s beautiful, it has the original Starbucks, so we go there obviously.
Finally we end up in Vancouver and I absolutely hate it. I hate it from the moment we cross from Richmond into Vancouver. I hate the energy, the smell, the feelings I’m having. But you know I just made my mom drive for a week across two countries to get here so I’m going to grin and bear it.
So now I’m depressed working at a fancy hotel as a phone operator doing the midnight shifts and I’m engaging in extremely dangerous activities. Well, extremely dangerous for me. Emotionally dangerous. Then I decide it’s probably better if I go back to school IN OTTAWA of all places. The year before I left I had applied to take Event Management at Algonquin, and by fluke they sent me an acceptance letter around the same time this year that I desperately needed to leave. So, after 11 months of miserable rain, I packed up and took off.
An ADHD Diagnosis
I’m in Ottawa and have magically met the love of my life Justin Decloux (which is a story for another day). He makes me believe that I’m capable of more than sitting in an office typing data into spreadsheets. He makes me believe that all the things I wanted to be when I was growing up are still possible. And he helps me try to do the things. And it works, for a while.
At this point I still don’t believe that I could ever have a career as a creative so I’m pushing the creative side of me further and further inside as Justin tries to coax it out more and more. I feel so ashamed of myself constantly that I either hyperfocus on a: things that are wrong with me and my mental health, b: whatever job I have at the time or c: chicken fingers. We still laugh about the month of chicken fingers. It was a dark time.
Finally I get a job where things don’t suck aaaasss much AND Justin and I decide to make a movie. So we’re going a million miles an hour, we’re making shit happen, I’m stressed at work, we’re both stressed at the movie, we start fighting, we don’t know what’s going on EXCEPT that this movie needs to end and we can’t stop this crazy train of internal drama and it’s SO hard to be creative when you feel like you’re a terrible person! It’s a lot! I’m depressed! I’m anxious! I can’t do anything right ever!
We’re getting close to the end of this film and I stumble on an article about a woman who was recently diagnosed with ADHD. She describes my entire life in her admittedly far more succinct article. So I start doing online tests and score a bajillion per cent on all of them. I ask my doctor for a referral and she sends me to an ADHD clinic. $1000 and many tests later, they confirm that I do in fact have ADHD and it’s like a huge weight is lifted. Not only am I not an awful person on purpose, I can change how my entire life operates BECAUSE I know that I have ADHD now!
So I get on medication immediately, my brain starts moving faster than it ever has but with such clarity that I actually have time to figure out what the hell is going on around me. THINGS. START. MAKING. SENSE.
Everything around me starts to organize itself and I develop better coping strategies for the overwhelm. It’s still shaky but it’s getting better every day. The movie gets done. Our apartment is clean. I get a promotion at work. I manage to balance work and some freelancing. I manage to start growing this freelancing into a business. I leave my full time job because I am finally organized and clear enough to get shit done by myself and hold myself accountable with my business. The business grows more. I allow myself to be more creative and I start taking classes at Second City. The shame starts wearing down further and further. I make two webseries and 12 actual brand new friends! My relationship with my partner is getting better and better! ALL THESE YEARS OF THERAPY ARE FINALLY CLICKING!
Except that now I’m on vacation and I am so bored I have no idea what the hell to do with myself.
My ADHD brain allows me to do so much in such a short timeframe that I have grown so accustomed to working on something at least 80 hours a week. I don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment at finishing one single really great task that I used to, because I finish like 20 really great tasks in a week and even those aren’t giving me the satisfaction the one use to give me. I know this is unhealthy. I just don’t really know what else to do. It’s not that I don’t read or watch great TV or movies or take in neat shows or a multitude of other things that aren’t work, but without something to work on I start feeling hopeless again, and that cycle of ON ON ON OFF DEPRESSION comes right back at me.
I don’t really know how to explain it but I suppose it could be some sort of an addiction, like the same synapses that are evident in substance addictions or food addictions are probably firing for me right now – which is how I managed to write a 2000 word blog in about 30 minutes. And at the same time I’m wondering “am I ok?” and “I should do my makeup” and “I want to write a musical” and “Justin and I should make another movie” and who the hell knows what else.
Okay I totally spaced for an undetermined amount of time there. Where was I?