by Katrina, submitted 23 November 2021,
What is wrong with me?
Katrina doesn’t apply herself; Katrina doesn’t stop chatting, Katrina is so able, but doesn’t focus, Katrina gets easily distracted. Why don’t you work hard? If you worked as hard as you did at sports and music, you’d really succeed. You don’t apply yourself. Katrina has so much potential, Katrina isn’t reaching her full potential. Why don’t you understand? Why can’t you focus. How is it that you excel at somethings and simply can’t do others? Why are you so forgetful? You only do things that you want to do? Why are you so noisy and hyper? What’s the matter?
I don’t know, I don’t know, I DON’T KNOW!!
What do you mean you don’t know?!
Now I do know.
My name is Kit and I have ADHD. I’m also in active addiction recovery.
These are the messages and the narrative that I grew up with. I was comfortable in my skin running wild in the woods, climbing trees, riding my bike, swimming, getting muddy, being part of every single extracurricular activity that was available at school, outside of school clubs, training before school, training after school, weekend matches and concerts. So much structure. Whenever in fear or wanting to hide from the world, I had my Cat who was my best friend. Her love was consistent and non-judgemental. I’d cry into her fur and feel better. Peace.
At university there was very little structure. Studying music meant it was my responsibility to schedule my rehearsal time around my lectures, seminars, and tutorials. No parental guidance. I was over 18 after all. There was alcohol, drugs, and sex; what I considered to be freedom. Freedom from rules. Freedom from emotional pain. An opportunity to play and live how I wanted to play.
I dropped out of university and started flying the world, working for a global airline. This was to be my false reality for the next 12 ½ years. I was in control of being out of control. I developed such an amazing mask of living and thriving that I soon began to believe it myself. I was exuberant, enthusiastic, chasing highs (illegal and natural), my glass was always half full (unless I was drinking quicker than it could be refilled) and there was always a silver lining. I was so good at convincing others that I was FINE. The night I spent in a cell after drink driving, my cat disappeared, I never saw her again. She had been my safety blanket for 14 years and she was gone. Not until 15 years later did I allow myself to fully grieve for her. I can feel sadness and gratitude today.
My plan was to save money for my commercial pilot’s licence. As the fear of failure gripped me, I convinced myself it wasn’t what I really wanted anyway. I had applied for scholarships, cadetships, been knocked back and didn’t feel myself getting back up again. I completed all the training and coursework as a personal trainer. I failed one exam. NEXT! Oh I want to be a nurse. NEXT. I’ll take 3 months unpaid leave and train to be a plumber. Then I can drive around in a van all day with my dog. That will make everything ok. Ill join a triathlon club and start training 15 hours a week as it makes me feel good and I don’t have to be part of a team, no one needs to rely on me for anything. Maybe I’ll take up music again. Maybe I’ll join the forces. Why don’t I fly short haul or get a job on the ground? I’ll put my name on the list for a promotion. I just want something to take away this crippling pain of fear of life and that I was the biggest piece of shit on earth and the biggest faker. Why did everyone new I met think I was fab? Why couldn’t I just do life? Why wouldn’t my partner propose to me? I mean things got difficult at times and I’d run off and move out but that’s freedom, right?! I didn’t know how to do intimate, and I didn’t know how to have an intimate relationship. I didn’t know how to balance my feelings or communicate what I needed. My stone brick wall would come up, my heart would turn to stone, and I ran.
On the outside I was resilient, on the inside I was getting blacker, darker, sadder, my inner critic crueller. Why couldn’t I ever finish something I started. Commit. Do what everyone else does, live on the treadmill of life, just conform.
My sickness record with work increased. I was always late. I couldn’t “do” life. I was diagnosed with depression in 2012. As the years went by, my drinking increased. My unmanageability increased. My long-term relationship came to an end. I started acting out in ways that made me question my sanity, my purpose in life as well as my morals and my soul. I repulsed myself. I was sacked in 2017. My life as I had known it, was over. There was nowhere to hide. I couldn’t just get on a jet and hide in San Francisco, Cape town, Argentina or Hong Kong. I was accountable. I had to look after myself, fend for myself. Take responsibility. Jobless and having been thrown out of my flat, I moved to the beach, surfed, worked in a pub 16 hours a day and smoked weed. This is better and calmer I thought. How great that I didn’t have to numb my life with alcohol anymore. No time changes, no uncertainty. My life, my plan.
I worked hard with my therapist on adjusting to “normal life”. Allowing myself to feel a tiny bit. Living in one time zone, being in my own bed each night and started training doggies! By this stage I was pretty much always stoned. My head felt calmer, but my confidence was shot.” I can’t even”…. (a familiar narrative)…… stand in front of 6 old ladies and their dogs and ask them to do a simple “sit” command. I was disappearing into nothingness of self.
God only knows how, I managed to secure a job in the learning and development sector due to my “unique skill set” which if course I had no belief in. I had a split role in two different departments. I put my best performance pants on, masked up and delivered. I was travelling around the country delivering workshops to a plethora of companies, later being requested by companies. The airline I had been sacked from became one of my biggest clients. My strategy was to leave the house with no makeup. This allowed me to cry all the way to work. Get out all the self-loathing, fear of failure, doubt, confusion, shame and guilt of not reaching my impossible expectations of perfectionism. And then put my best performance on. I was facilitating growth and development in others, as a coach and a trainer, personally and professionally. Inside I was screaming. I was able to gain qualifications in this sector and slowly my self-belief started to return. My cannabis and alcohol usage had hugely decreased so at least I had that under control (denial!). I was getting a daily structure. Maximising my sleep. Exercising and eating well. Exercise and eating well thankfully had always been a constant for me. My professional performance continued to increase. I was feeling content, that I was achieving something. I was in my element on a Friday, shedding my work mode self, filling up a flask with Gin and tonic, rolling a joint and heading out into the woods with my doggy to watch the sun set. HEAVEN. I was working harder than I ever had before, sober-ish earning less and as happy as I could remember being.
I met someone in 2018 and within 5 months we had moved in together and were engaged. My beloved doggy suddenly had to be put down. He was my best friend and my confident. This was crippling (writing this now I feel a surge of emotion. Today I allow myself to feel my feelings) I had totally stopped drinking and was tee total. My professional life continued to grow and my performance was high. Personally, I was suffocating. I was back to self-medicating with cannabis. I couldn’t voice my needs or boundaries within my relationship. I had a breakdown. I could barely move for 3 weeks. My company needed to pull in 3 people to cover my work calendar. I just thought I was working hard. Not insanely. I went back on anti-depressants. I broke off the engagement, I went back to the engagement. This old, repeated behaviour of not knowing what I wanted or what I needed.
There began some murmurings and jokes of “mate, do you think you have ADHD”?
I was head hunted for a job, which I felt was way above my capabilities, in operational people management as well as learning and development management. Once again, I was the lady that had a unique skill set and I straddled these two different departments. I’d spend most lunch times in the toilet crying, then find the strength to put on the mask and deliver.
COVID meant I was furloughed and later in the year made redundant. During his period, I dove deeper and deeper into active addiction. I had started drinking secretly and cannabis was for breakfast lunch and supper. A family member with knowledge and experience of ADHD, offered me an opportunity to tutor her dyslexic English GCSE students. It was after a shadowing session with her that she urged me to get tested for ADHD and that maybe I could work with her in the future. I felt hopeless, fearful, useless, and desperate.
I couldn’t see, feel or use my way out of the suffocating, sludge of darkness that had consumed me. I was on my knees. In November 2020 I took an overdose. As my puppy watched I said “don’t look at mummy darling”. I didn’t want to live, I didn’t want to die. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.
For the first time in my life, I asked for help. With the support of my family, I checked myself in to rehab on 9th December 2020. I was to be reborn, given a new life and finally, to get to know myself.
I was diagnosed with ADHD on 24Th January 2021, having been referred by my rehab Psychiatrist, to her colleague who specialised in adult ADHD. I can remember the feelings the moment he confirmed I did indeed have ADHD. I logged off the call, sat in the therapy room and wept. Big heavy shoulder shaking weeps. I felt release. Here was clarity. Gratitude. Answers to so many questions. The start of a grieving process for my inner child and now the present adult. I had always found life so difficult and lived in a world so different from what I was told I was supposed to be, feel, see, hear and do. I allowed myself the space to grieve for the little girl within. Today I continue to forgive myself for all the acts of impulsivity that had caused me so much shame and pain; for pushing and shoving down all the uncomfortable feelings which stunted my self-awareness, self-belief and growth. For always having just missed the brief, never quite getting it, what ever getting it was supposed to mean. I understood why I struggled so much with conformity, why I was always so uncomfortable inside. Why I felt so different and was always pushing against what I perceived to be normal living. Diagnosis for me felt like an emotional, spiritual, mental and physical signpost. A signpost towards learning to live and thrive with the acknowledgement and acceptance of having a neurodevelopment disorder. It was now time to get in the solution. HOW?
How can I maintain and manage my ADHD, while prioritising my addiction recovery, keeping myself as safe as possible and being able to connect, learn and grow?
So which came first, ADHD or my active addiction. Today, it isn’t important. What is important is that I am accountable. I am responsible. I feel my feelings, I reach out for support. I read, learn, stay always teachable. I attended ADHD webinars, seminars and the knowing me knowing you workshop. I ask for help. I don’t blame. I accept who I am, how I feel and sit with myself.
Reaching out and accepting support has been paramount to my recovery. After sacking and then reinstating my psychiatrist (what does he know? Oh wait, he is the expert on adult ADHD) and shouting at my addiction therapist in the fight against the prospect of medication, I accepted and surrendered to the process and started the medication in February. This involved collaboration with my GP, my rehab, my psychiatrist, trust, responsibility, and organisation. Being prescribed a controlled medication so early into sobriety it had to be locked away. I changed my morning routine (which involved a near melt down) so that I had time to locate a member of staff, have the meds unlocked, do my yoga, meditation, have breakfast and shower before group therapy. I recall one morning, which happened to be my 36th birthday, not being able to locate a member of staff in time, cue full meltdown. Any element of losing control, I lost control of my emotions. Like a child, screaming, crying, needing reassurance, punching and kicking the air, anger, blaming, fear, regret, shame, lashing out. Feeling my feelings. 2 months after leaving rehab in March, I found myself homeless. Today I am living in a sober house in London.
Over the past 11 months and 14 days I have learnt to sit with my feelings. Sit with discomfort. Sit with frustration. Practise compassion, nurture, kindness, tolerance and patience, to myself, my inner child and to others. Any point I feel any discomfort within, I look within. I ask myself; what does Kit need. Sometimes I have no idea. Sometimes I may be hungry, lonely, angry or tired. Sometimes I may be on the brink of a shame spiral. Gone are the days where screaming at myself “you spasticated c**t” enters my mind. My inner critic has become so quite that in times of discomfort, I acknowledge that in the past, I would have been very unkind to myself. PROGRESS. There’s no such thing as perfection (apart from puppies and kittens!) Today I listen and feel my feelings. Every feeling I feel is valid. The difference today is that I don’t bury them. I don’t act out on them. I don’t ignore them by doing a punishing work out, drinking, using drugs, smashing up my room, throwing furniture, punching a wall or (as my therapist says) “f**king” them away. I am working on inner child and trauma with my amazing therapist. A relationship that I can be vulnerable in, allow myself to be held in, laugh, cry, throw a paddy. TRUST.
I have a morning discipline. I surrender to a power greater than myself. I let go of the insanity of needing to be in control. Yes, I can control my actions but today I have no control over the outcome. I can just do the next right thing and trust and have faith in the greater design. I read my daily readings. I acknowledge what I am grateful for. I give thanks for my day. I journal. I meditate. I connect with my 12 step fellowship sponsor. Here is a woman who has trodden my path, with years and years of sobriety behind her. Always keeping it in the day. Another relationship where I let myself be vulnerable, be held. It is non-judgemental, compassionate and a consistent, unconditional loving, honest, openminded relationship. She has however specified that I’m not allowed to call her mum! Oh how we laugh….and cry!
I practise yoga. I take my medication as prescribed by my Psychiatrist and we check in every 10-12 weeks. The shared care agreement with my GP had its challenges but I overcame them. Accepting the process. I connect with people who understand. I attend 12 step fellowship meetings. I have service positions. I don’t make excuses. I show up, for myself and for others. I am learning how to put in boundaries and connect to balance. Two “B” words which I had no idea about until I came into recovery. I always return to my breath if in times of fear or worry, grounding me in the moment.
My relationships with my family have transformed. Trust and compassion are building. Last year I said to my sister my greatest fear is that you won’t let me see the girls. She said it was heading that way. 2 weeks ago, I collected my nieces from preschool and nursery school, gave them supper, bathed them, and read them a bedtime story. I have also accepted the invitation of looking after them over night by myself. My sister-in-law has only ever known me in active addiction. Today we have a new narrative. My mum invites me over for lunch and supper and to stay the night. We have a new way of being with each other. My brother says and believes he no longer needs to worry about me. My Dad has told me how proud he is of me. My granny sometimes forgets that I am in recovery. Each time I see her I remind her I am sober, that I have a neurodevelopmental disorder which means I have a beautiful brain. That I am really living and really taking care of myself. I have detached with love from those who were toxic in my life. This has been extremely challenging. Today I choose who I spend my time with, who I trust and who I really connect with on an honest, vulnerable, no mask wearing level.
Just for today and one day at a time I am getting to know me. Acceptance and gratitude. Sometimes I can only manage one minute at a time. But that is ok. I am ok. Today I am living.
Will you be interested in sharing your story with us?
We have been raising awareness since 30 May 2020 for un/diagnosed ADHD in Women.
By doing this, we are not only empowering women, but also supporting women by sharing our lived experiences.
Many women suspect that they have ADHD, or know that they show symptoms or have been diagnosed.
Our website is a platform to share our stories and with your help, by providing your story, will offer encouragement, hope and a better understanding about how living with ADHD actually feels.
We respect your privacy and will either upload your story anonymously or use your name with your permission.
How to share your story with us? Click here