May is National Mental Health Month, at least in the US (not to be confused with National Mental Illness Awareness Week in October, which I just learned was a thing while writing this article). Apparently May has been National Mental Health Month since 1949, which seems a long time to have a National Month for something in a country that does nothing about it. But maybe I’m just being cynical. That said, it seems like a good month to discuss being neurodivergent (or as it’s fairly regularly referred to in my friends group – neurospicy).
I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, which badly needs a new name, it’s painfully inaccurate. I believe the official diagnosis was a moderate – severe case of combined presentation (there are a few variations of ADHD based on the predominant types of symptoms, which is as much as I’ll get into here), many many years ago. It’s highly likely I have a couple of comorbidities to go along with it (ADHD has a few other illnesses/disorders that tend to tag along for the ride for those afflicted, though they are not guarantees). It’s actually been diagnosed twice, once when I was a kid, and once when I decided I might want to use store-bought brain chemicals to help me manage it so I had to go get an official adult diagnosis (unless you keep up with a therapist as a kid and after becoming an adult, they can’t take childhood diagnosis as enough for prescribing meds as an adult, as some kids do actually grow out of ADHD).
Like many illnesses and disorders, ADHD presents differently for some people than others. For me, it’s a blessing and a curse all in the same package, and often for the same reasons. I am nearly incapable of maintaining a single train of thought without the assistance of medication. This means that if a single task needs to get done, I’m going to have an issue, at least until the deadline for that task is in an hour. It also means that when something needs to be looked at from multiple angles, I’ve probably got 6 of them covered. And when you have that many trains of thought at once, you’re all but guaranteed to have a few running outside the box, which can be incredibly useful (as long as you can manage those trains of thought separately and keep them from wrecking entirely).
One of the major problems associated with ADHD (and quite possibly my absolute least favorite one and the major reason I’m writing this article) is something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria RSD). RSD is, quite frankly, a bitch. It means that criticism of any variety (including self) tends to be taken far worse than it might otherwise be. For me, RSD means that criticism or rejections (especially on particularly bad brain days) can drive me into a spiral of self-doubt. From certain people, it can feel like a literal punch in the gut that takes everything out of them for a bit. It has a side effect of also meaning I need to be good at everything I do immediately, or I’m not likely to be able to get past the self-worth issues to continue something new.
I bring this up for some perspective. The majority of creators I know (artists, musicians, authors, take your pick) seem to have come with ADHD, or something else that RSD likes to tag along with. And yet they continue. Imagine doing something that you put that much of yourself into and putting it out for public consumption. Now imagine that often when you get criticized, you have to fight back a wave of quite possibly crippling self-doubt. Now imagine doing that over and over again. I can’t.
RSD (the part of it that responds to my own criticisms) is quite literally why I don’t draw. If that first line on the paper or tablet isn’t perfect, I can’t get past it to keep going. But these creatives push past that and just keep going. Because they love their art, because as much as it may hurt, they feel the world needs what they’re putting out there, because they just can’t imagine NOT doing what they’re doing.
Mental illnesses tend to come with a stigma (which the world does seem to be rallying against, finally). That people with them are weak. They’re broken. They’re somehow less than.
But that’s not true. Yes, we get through life with a set of challenges none of us asked for, and more than a few of us would love to be done with that (the challenges). But that right there is the point – we still get through life. We take every challenge thrown our way by our own brain and still do our best to keep putting one foot down in front of the other.
Creatives don’t just do that. They take those challenges and put them in front of the world. You can’t make good art without leaving something of yourself in it (in my opinion, there are others who differ in that opinion). That takes a strength I can’t really begin to fathom.
To be honest, I’m not really sure how to finish this article (I never have been great at conclusions when writing). But for those who may be reading this with their own fights with neurodivergency, remember those struggles don’t make you weak. Continuing to fight them means you have a strength you likely haven’t acknowledged. And always, always keep fighting them. And there’s nothing wrong with calling for help. Find the people who will support you and help you fight those battles. You’ll find no better friends in the world than those.