I have always, always been an advocate for seeking mental health care, help, or services when it’s needed or warranted.
But like many things in life, what I advocate for others and what I do for myself do not always align.
Perhaps it’s the ultrarunner in me who thrives on proving she is capable of really difficult things. Perhaps it’s the stubborn genetics I was born, and literally run with (thank you, Dad). Whatever the reason, I have spent the last 39 years convincing myself that I’m stronger than the things that constantly plague me.
I had believed that past traumas I’ve endured were behind me, despite not doing much work to heal myself from them. I have overcome them, simply because I TOLD myself that I was over it.
I had tried to convince myself, over and over, that the things that are potentially no ones fault at all – perhaps simply a brain wired differently than most – could be overcome by grit and sheer will alone.
I didn’t need help. I have become used to fighting my battles alone. Hell, I’ve come to expect it. And not because there wasn’t anyone there to help, but rather, because I was too headstrong to accept or ask for help.
And as a result of this willful attitude, I have been my own worst enemy for decades.
Here are some things that those close to me may have been aware of, but most have no idea:
I have struggled to focus and complete tasks, for as long as I can remember, but more so over the last five years. Focus on work, focus on books focus on following through with anything, focus on people speaking directly to me, focusing on tasks, you name it.
I have struggled to create, to get the tangled mess of thoughts, ideas, and feelings out of my head and into coherent, workable form. It’s one of the main reasons this very blog has been so silent this past year. I have spent endless hours staring at a blank screen, willing, hell practically begging the thoughts to come out of my brain and into my finger tips, but instead finding myself reaching for whatever distraction I could find.
I have paid bills late, completely forgotten appointments, or never got around to scheduling them in the first place, because doing these things felt impossibly difficult, though I could never understand why.
I have missed endless deadlines, dropped the ball with deliverables, left emails completely unanswered, and burned bridges in my professional life time and time again, because I could not get out of my own way.
I have continuing education certifications paid for, barely started, and collecting dust, unfinished, because the thought of diving into the task of working through them overwhelms me to the point of paralysis.
More often than I care to admit, I have often done the bare minimum in my career -and in life – because it was all I could manage to cough up without feeling like I wanted to rip my skin off.
And I’m incessantly plagued with feelings of utter guilt about all of it.
That, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg of places where I would drop the ball or fall short of my potential. For so long, I believed it was because I was lazy. Too easily distracted. Not dedicated enough. Prone to procrastination as a character flaw.
So I would make myself promises, and even ultimatums. I would try to organize my days and my life in ways that I thought would make me more productive, and hopefully, eventually, successful.
Sometimes it would work – temporarily. But more often than not I’d find myself right back to feeling absolutely overwhelmed by everything I had in front of me, to the point that I would shut down and get nothing done.
And frankly, all of it left me feeling like shit, more often than not. Worthless. An imposter. Depressed. Anxious. Endlessly anxious. Which only contributed to the never-ending cycle of not being able to get stuff done.
Was I anxious because I didn’t get these tasks done? Or was I unable to get these tasks done because I was anxious?
What was so freaking wrong with me that I couldn’t do the things that others in my field made look so simple? I know I’m smart. I know I’m capable. I know I have been given so many incredible, once in a lifetime opportunities. So why do I keep messing them up? Why would these seemingly simple, and sometimes even amazing tasks feel absolutely impossible?
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have threatened to quit both of my jobs, as a writer and a coach – jobs I absolutely love – because my lack of ability to actually, properly DO these jobs caused me endless dread.
And I won’t even get started on how I regularly – and likely too often – reach for the numbing effects of alcohol as a coping mechanism for all of this. Because the only two times in my life that I feel a release of the grip of this anxiety and feeling that I’m always behind, always failing, is when I’m running or when I’m drinking.
By the grace of …God? Age (as in the older I get the less stubborn I become)? Pure coincidence due to a connection that was able to get me a much coveted appointment with a psychiatrist? Whatever the final reason, I was able to confirm what I had suspected for years – but procrastinated (surprise, surprise) seeking a solution for:
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. According to ADD.org, ADHD is a brain-based syndrome that has to do with the regulation of a particular set of brain functions and related behaviors. These brain operations are collectively referred to as “executive functioning skills” and include important functions such as attention, concentration, memory, motivation and effort, learning from mistakes, impulsivity, hyperactivity, organization, and social skills. There are various contributing factors that play a role in these challenges including chemical and structural differences in the brain as well as genetics.
Truthfully, I had brought up the thought that this might be the reason why I struggle the way I do to people in my life more than once, but was always brushed off. As a society, we tend to think of ADHD as the super hyper little kids in school who can’t sit still. Besides, how would I have been able to build a successful business if I was really struggling?
(Answer, my husband pulls most of the weight in the coaching world, but I digress).
In reality, ADHD comes in three presentations: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, or a combination of the two.
Men and boys tend to have hyperactive/impulsive ADHD, which may cause them to be fidgety, hyper, disruptive, restless, talkative, impulsive, etc.
But women have a tendency to exhibit inattentive ADHD, which makes it hard to focus, pay attention to details, stay organized, listen, and remember things. Further, Because of this, women are often undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed with either depression or anxiety. (source)
But back to my brain: I spent a lot of time and endless tears talking with a medical professional who did not hesitate to not only acknowledge my struggles, but to assure me that this can – and will – get better. And to start me on a treatment plan that hopefully will help make life a little easier to live.
Friends, I recognize that this is only the start of likely, a life- long journey. I recognize that there will continue to be highs and lows. But this afternoon, I’m writing for a place of vindication and absolute, utter, relief.
I don’t even know how to describe it but relief.
The meds I was given almost immediately helped me focus, which made my anxiety all but non-existent, which meant I GOT SHIT DONE. A lot of it. In fact, in the last 48 hours I’ve done more work, answered more emails, and checked more things off of my “to-do” list than I have in the entire month of August alone. I won’t lie, I very much feared living life in a medicated state. I worried feeling “out of it” or artificially stimulated. Instead, I’m pleasantly surprised to report that as of now, the only “side effect” is that I finally feel like I can function.
I feel NORMAL.
And I cannot tell you the last time I lived without that incessant, anxious feeling that I’ve forgotten to do something, that I’ve dropped the ball, that I’m not living up to my potential…that I’m failing.
It’s the kind of relief that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in my life before.
It’s hope that, like my doctor said, things truly WILL get better.
Over-sharing is nothing new for me in this space, so I’m certain most of you aren’t surprised that I’d share a 1,600 + word blog post on something that many might consider very personal (on a running blog, no less). And I fully respect that for many this is a very personal, private topic.
But I always have, and will continue to, share these types of posts, struggles, and realties of human LIFE so that others struggling know they aren’t alone. So, to finish this off, I have two important things to say:
First, please do not be ashamed to get help if you are struggling. Please don’t doubt yourself or feel you need to be “tougher” than what ails you. Brains are weird, and sometimes they just don’t work the way they are “supposed” to. It’s no one’s fault. If you have any inkling at all that someone else, a professional, may be able to help you live a better quality of life, for the love of all things, GO. I fully recognize what a privilege mental health care is, and I’m endlessly grateful that I was/am in a position to seek out and pay for a professional to help me on the path to living a better life. But there are resources. You might have to fight for them, and I’m telling you, it’s worth it. You don’t have to suffer.
Second, to everyone who has stuck by my side over the years:
- the clients I’ve forgotten to return emails to or who maybe wondered why sometimes I seemed distant or uncaring
- the friends I never called or texted back, or stood up for your birthday/dinner/a run/etc.
- the family who has put up with my incessant messes and disorganization
- the partners who didn’t understand why I couldn’t remember to do important things
- the blog readers who still show up even when I don’t publish anything for months on end
and pretty much everyone else who hasn’t disappeared due to my seemingly selfish chaos…
I know I haven’t always been easy to live with/work with/love. I’m grateful you’re all still here. Cheers to better days.