Content Warnings: Anxiety, Depression, Overthinking, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder
Bear with me; I get to the point eventually.
I’ve been trying to write this letter for a couple of hours now. Truthfully, I have three or four mostly finished or half-finished versions of this letter. I keep thinking of stories or things I’ve learned about my mental health that I want to share. Wanting to write about one, I knew I had to provide the background information (of course) so that you understand how it began. Understanding my experience, I would expand on another part of the story. However, I realize I was jumping all over the place and hadn’t written more than a few words about what I initially wanted to write about. And, of course, even though I knew that a first draft would be the rough version, and I knew that this wasn’t a formal piece of writing to be reviewed and critiqued by professors or peers, I still stared at a blank screen for an aggravating amount of time. But hey, I’m writing now, so that’s progress!
As you can see (or read, I guess), I experience anxiety (with a nice side of ADHD), especially when it comes to writing about myself or telling stories. I enjoy writing when it’s for a college course, and I get to talk about books, but when it comes to cover letters, elevator pitches, professional summaries, and (you guessed it) letters about myself and my mental health–I freeze–at least for a while, but I’m working on it. Although I found it out the hard way, I learned that treating the anxiety instead of the ADHD was key. And the jumping all around thing I mentioned earlier–that would be ADHD.
Learning about my diagnosis (which I have realized is such a privilege to have, a professional diagnosis) has not only helped me understand myself better (once I got over all the other stages of relief, grief, confusion, etc.), but it has also helped me understand my friends and family better. My mom has ADHD, and I didn’t know it until my senior year of college. She started making a lot more sense to me after learning that–not that she didn’t before, but I recognized the reason behind certain behaviors.
Most relevant at the time (and now), however, was how much more I understood how to interact and communicate with my friends. One particular group of friends has a lovely mix of anxiety with different flavors of ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorders. I learned a lot from them about their experiences, too, and I valued the ability to adapt my interactions with them because I had more knowledge about how their (and mine) brains work.
But (and I think this is what I wanted to write about) 0 friend out of the 6 of us is neurotypical. Previously, I struggled to understand why it was so easy for her to sit down, start, and finish a task that she didn’t enjoy doing. Or even why she would say, “just stop overthinking it,” like it was easy. At one point, my other friend (also a chronic overthinker) and I were talking (read: overthinking out loud). Our neurotypical friend suggested we “just stop overthinking it,” or something to that effect, and entirely out of kindness—she wanted to help. We did stop talking, but neither of us stopped overthinking. A few weeks later, I was with this neurotypical friend, and I was struggling to stop spiraling about something. I was saying I could stop it, and she told me: “I know you can stop overthinking, you did it before” (referring to the previous interaction). I told her, yes, we stopped talking, but we definitely did not stop overthinking. We couldn’t stop it. And I think that was hard for our neurotypical friend to understand. Realizing that was so beneficial to our friendship because then I knew what I needed to explain to help her understand how my brain, and our other friends’ brains, worked so that we could stop the repeated argument and confusion (not that it was a true argument or anything, just a lack of knowledge and understanding on both our parts). And I hold nothing against her at all. She is one of my closest friends and someone I often go to talk things out.
Sometimes, I need someone whose brain works more like mine, but I also need someone with whom I can take a reality check, if that makes sense.
So I guess my point in all of this is that if you have friends who experience mental health conditions like those mentioned above (or others), please, please try to learn what you can about their experience–whether you are neurotypical or you have different mental health experiences. Not only will it help you understand them, but it will also show them that you care. Knowing that my friends know a bit about how my brain works makes me more comfortable and confident in being myself with them, especially friends who do not experience the same things.