Growing up, I was described as a lot of things — scatterbrained, a space cadet, quiet, bitchy, aloof, awkward, standoffish…
It added up, and I was ashamed of what I felt was my flawed personality, constantly thinking there was something “wrong” with me but I couldn’t control it. Eventually, I became afraid of social interactions. I avoided going out with friends, making eye contact with cashiers, raising my hand in class, making phone calls, the list goes on. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I was diagnosed with ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and OCD. Everything made sense!… To me. But many others, especially those who aren’t aware that one’s brain can be neurologically wired differently than theirs, are the ones I have trouble with.
Socializing is something many people need. With me, it gives me instant anxiety even thinking about it because my brain won’t be quiet long enough to let me to focus on one thing at a time. It’s an exhausting cycle I’ve been dealing with for as long as I can remember. My ADHD brain —> anxiety —> self judgment —> clam up and get real awkward —> get scared for the next time I have to talk to someone.
Here’s how things typically go for me:
I confidently start to engage in a conversation. I think about if I’m doing a good job. I have a song I haven’t heard in years playing in my head. I can’t remember if I unplugged the curling iron. What do I do with my face? Do I look bored? Where should I put my hands? Is my laugh gonna sound fake? I probably look so uninterested. Crap, they stopped talking. How do I respond? What did they even say? That song is still playing in my head. I need to make a grocery list when I get home…
Then I usually ask them to either a) repeat themselves or b) nod my head and say something insincere like “that’s awesome!”
I have such a hard time retaining things from a normal everyday conversation. I am judging myself so harshly because I don’t want to be labeled by my illness or stereotypes. Of course this will cause more anxiety! Of course it will then spiral out of control! And then I beat myself up over “messing up again.” I’m working on figuring out how to accept these parts of me, but what I think is absolutely imperative to the entire population is education in mental health so we can reduce the stigma of it. Yes, we are all human. But just because we’re all human doesn’t mean we’re all the same. That would be so boring, wouldn’t it? You can’t define “normal.” People have quirks and traits that make them “them,” and that isn’t “weird,” it’s beautiful. People are so quick to jump to the conclusion that someone is “weird” or “awkward” or “aloof” just because they don’t fit into the stereotypical “normal” category.
I think if mental illness wasn’t such a taboo topic for some, we could all be a little more empathetic toward one another. And maybe, just maybe, even though you might think I sometimes come off as aloof or bored or stoic… you know I’m not. You know I am kind. I am empathetic. That I have an enormous heart. And I, like many other people, do my very best every single day.
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