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The Difficulty of Socializing Post-Lockdown With C-PTSD and a New ADHD Diagnosis

In hindsight, I always knew I was different.

As a child, I remember skipping through the hallways because walking just seemed so boring, getting so immersed in books that I’d lose all awareness of my surroundings, and never understanding why everyone else said they needed quiet to focus when I worked so much better with music playing or while carrying on a conversation. It wasn’t until this past February, at 21 years old, when I finally realized that each of these traits and more were actually due to my recently diagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

As a psychology major and aspiring therapist, I threw myself into psychoeducation the moment I received the diagnosis. I felt so validated as I made one connection after another, finally understanding, “this is why I’m like this.” At the same time, though, I also realized even more of the ways that my brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s. I learned that neurotypical people often find it self-centered when someone responds to their experience by sharing about a similar experience of their own, while I had always done that with the intention of trying to relate to them better and express empathy and understanding. I began to recognize the tangents my brain takes that just aren’t the way other people think. I began to understand that my never-ending list of unfinished projects makes other people view me as unreliable. And I also learned about rejection-sensitive dysphoria, a symptom that I undoubtedly experience.

This increased awareness has been both a blessing and a curse. In some ways, it’s been so validating to finally have the pieces that make it all make sense. In other ways, though, my rejection-sensitive dysphoria has combined with the hypervigilance of my complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) in a way that has felt nearly torturous. Add in being largely isolated from the rest of society for months and no longer being accustomed to masking, and suddenly every social interaction post-lockdown has turned into an internal interrogation of the ways I “should” be acting differently to seem “normal.” I’ve become hyperaware of my need for masking, while also having to consciously train myself how to mask again, something that previously was second nature even prior to my ADHD diagnosis. Every response and behavior gets analyzed and overanalyzed before I dare let myself express it, out of fear that others will perceive me as “too much” or even reject me outright. This constant analysis and filtering drain so much of my energy, and I find myself feeling entirely depleted after many social interactions.

What I’m trying to teach myself through all of this, though, is that it’s OK to not mask all the time. Of course, we do live in this ableist and neurotypical society, and you’ll never catch me not masking in a job interview or an important meeting — but if I’m with the people closest to me, like my boyfriend or my best friend (who happen to both have ADHD as well) — it’s OK to take the mask off for a bit, knowing they’ll be OK with accepting me for exactly who I am, neurodivergence and all.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash