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  • Jing Han, LPC

Anxiety or Depression from Undiagnosed/Unacknowledged ADHD

One of the most common reasons that cause anxiety (especially performance anxiety) or depression is undiagnosed or unacknowledged AD/HD.

LIVE IN CHAOS

You're always in a hurry. Catching up deadlines, running late for appointments, trying to find your phone, glasses, credit cards, sometimes even your brain (what was I trying to find?).

Your apartment is always messy. Clothes everywhere. Putting back things to where they were is overwhelming.

Your brain hurts when you have to fill out applications or read textbooks that are full of words. If you don't find a subject interesting, either you struggle, procrastinate, or you do extra research to make it enjoyable.

Two dark cycles have been under your eyes since you were little. You have trouble falling into sleep because there are so many ideas coming into your brain in the evening, or you may think going to sleep is boring.

You have so many new thoughts and ideas, but the next day you won't remember any of them if you don't write them down. But writing them down is boring and takes too long. You have a hard time reading your writings. You also find writing things down is way slower than your thinking.

You enjoy being in crisis mode. Solving different problems sounds so exciting. Having difficulties in doing routine tasks.

You always try to be just on time because you don’t want to waste your time waiting, which makes you often late.

Sometimes feeling on edge to run or move, even you know it’s not appropriate to do so, especially when you haven’t been doing any kind of exercise for a while.

Sounds familiar? Thinking this also has been your lifelong struggling?

ANXIETY AND SHAME

It causes tons of anxiety and shame about who you are and how you behave.

You may remember how embarrassed you felt when you forgot what to say in a presentation while all the other students were staring at you. Even having an outline didn't help because you just simply zoned out.

You may remember how confused you felt when a teacher asked me to stop fidgeting and pay attention to the class as if you were not paying attention.

You may remember how difficult it is to say, "I don't remember." Even though you DO not remember, but you got into trouble a lot.

You may remember being yelled at; being told you are lazy because they want you to keep your room tidy.

You may remember how shocking you were when you found yourself had been staring at the same page for 10 mins but didn't remember anything, or need to go back to previous pages because you don't remember what it is.

You may remember the feeling of restlessness, and you're bored with everything, including the activities you enjoyed. Until the intensive feeling passes itself, you are not able to do anything. Especially it comes up unexpectedly, and you can't keep yourself, you feel incredibly frustrated.

You may ask yourself thousands of times, “what’s wrong with me? Why I can’t do things that seem so easy for other people?”

Growing up, you are desperate to be more patient, stay calm, and be consistent, which are highly valued in your culture (or your culture encourages different behaviors). However, you just couldn't behave in that way. Then, you shamed yourself and forced yourself to try harder. You failed again and again, and you are miserable.

WHAT IS AD/HD

Changing who you are DOES NOT work. Your brain functions differently from the brains that do not have AD/HD. It means, your brain is not capable of keeping you be patient, stay calm, and be consistent.

It doesn't mean your life is doomed to be a "failure." Those strategies we learned and tried to apply were not designed for people with AD/HD. Besides, we were taught to have unrealistic expectations and shame about ourselves. We are who we are. There are tons of skills that we can learn to achieve our goals (like solving puzzles!).

So, what is AD/HD?

AD/HD BRAIN works differently than non-AD/HD brain.

Research says AD/HD brains have low levels of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine (such a long name), which is linked arm-in-arm with dopamine. So, the reward and pleasure system is different from the non-AD/HD brain.

The AD/HD brain also has different activity in four functional regions of the brain, covering attention, executive function, organization, emotion, inter-brain communication & information functioning.

Forcing ourselves to behave in a way that we are not capable of never works out. It brings anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and self-blame. It doesn't mean we can't achieve what we want to make. We simply need to learn and try what works for us. There is no right answer, but what we think should be working was not working. Why not try tons of new ways of living and figure out which serve your goals better?

Creativity & Hyper-focus

People with AD/HD usually find themselves have so many ideas popping out all the time, especially when they try to sleep. They probably have difficulties writing their ideas down because their writing can't catch their thinking. Learning new staff always makes them exciting. They can get hyper-focus on the things that catch their attention.

Working Memory Deficit & Excitative Functioning Deficit

I prefer the word "difference" than "deficit." It is easy for people who have AD/HD to forget things. They probably what they ate for lunch right after they had it. They usually are distracted by other things and don't remember what they were doing a few seconds before.

Why don't they remember where they put their key on a moment ago? Because when they were putting it down, they didn’t pay attention to it. They may be thinking about what they’re going to eat, or they were talking to someone else.

AD/HD is GENETIC

We are not good at self-observation since our brains are usually so excited about every stimulus around us. So, when we don't have more attention to pay to ourselves, an excellent way to look at our behaviors is to watch your parents' behaviors. One or both of them may have it. If not, some of your extended family members have it. Watch their behaviors, see how many you can identify with.

But, keep in mind, parents may react to their children's AD/HD diagnosis because it reminds them the trouble they got into when they were little, or how annoyed they (without AD/HD) feel about their partner (with AD/HD) if they don't understand it. They may say you should try harder, pay more attention; don't be lazy; you have potentials, etc.

There are many things we do which seem a mystery to people who do not have any knowledge about AD/HD.

Check this video – Unofficial ADD Test

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iozAFIr3BEw

FALSE BELIEVES PEOPLE HAVE

When parents, caretakers, or teachers do not have enough knowledge about AD/HD. They tend to believe the child needs to have stronger willpower. A message of "if you try harder, you can do better" leaves the kids to wonder why they can't try harder and blame themselves for not being able to meet the expectations.

Here are some common false believes people have due to misunderstanding of AD/HD behaviors.

  1. Weak-willed

  2. Not trying hard enough

  3. Stupid

  4. Lazy

  5. Dirty

  6. Careless

  7. Not paying attention when fidgeting

  8. Trying to be a jerk (late, not on time)

  9. Do not care because not listening

  10. If being told all of these above, they will change.

When kids with AD/HD were shamed with all the false beliefs, they tend to grow up as adults believing and shaming themselves, which causes their long-term anxiety and depression. A lot of my clients who didn't know or had a sense of they may have AD/HD came in with performance anxiety, social anxiety, or/and depression. Once they knew it was because of their brain, and there are ways of managing the symptoms, they usually felt relieved and less depressed because they have more options.

For more information and skills, feel free to book a session with Jing through jhan@chicagopsychtherapy.com or (312)781-2850 ext.1010