I’d Never Known What Calm Felt Like

By Sarah KendallOctober 25, 2021

I was diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD last month. That diagnosis has changed my life in the best of ways.

I cried the first day I took the prescribed medications because my whole life (30 years), I’d never known what ‘calm’ felt like. Now I do.

This wasn’t my first mental health diagnosis though. One of depression came at 14. Anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in my 20s. Since 2006, I’ve tried 11 different meds and have seen several therapists. Through the medication and therapy, things got marginally better, but never “fixed.” Something still felt off.

I tried diets, exercise, mindfulness, mediation, prayer, and new sleep habits. Nothing touched the underlying feeling that something else was going on. Hopelessness crept in as I ran through the list of options.

Discovering the Possibility of ADHD

One day, while scrolling through TikTok, I saw a ‘put a finger down’ challenge and every single thing fit me to a T. I’d never heard my struggles expressed so accurately; I had convinced myself that I was just broken. The video, surprisingly, was about ADHD. What followed was a multi-month research kick through TikTok, Mayo Clinic, ADHD associations, CDC info, and vetted medical and psychology websites. It all fit.

From there, I decided to pursue it with professionals—despite some saying that I was self-diagnosing—I wanted to “rule it out” at least.

There’s no doubt I’ve had childhood traumas that resulted in severe PTSD. The similarities between trauma affecting your executive function and ADHD affecting your executive function are real. The professionals I talked to said it would be hard to know what caused what, but agreed that I fit the ADHD bill and trying meds was one way to tell. If it wasn’t ADHD, the meds would overstimulate me. So, I tried.

For the first time in my life, I experienced calm. 

Now that my ADHD is being treated, there aren’t two songs playing in my head simultaneously from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. I can actually listen when in conversation. I don’t interrupt as much. I can perform tasks without getting trapped in a guilt-ridden paralysis of overwhelm. Noises and lights don’t wreck my attention nearly as easily. I’m engaging less in harmful habits. I can hear my thoughts and choose which ones to focus on. I’m kinder to myself. I remember more. I don’t feel as hot all the time, or as excessively hungry or thirsty. I now understand where some of my idiosyncrasies come from and what to do about them to improve my daily life. The depression and anxiety are both easier to manage, and there’s finally hope again. (And I know I lucked out experiencing all of this on the first ADHD med I tried.)

Nobody ever knew. Nobody would have guessed. I graduated online college magna cum laude, teaching myself for the most part while working two jobs and caring for my disabled mom. I’ve been promoted within multiple companies. I’m a clear communicator. By every measure, I’m an intelligent high-achiever. But internally, I was struggling every single day.

(My) Signs of ADHD

In retrospect, the signs were there. Even as a kid, teachers said I got great grades but struggled to listen. I just wanted to be left alone to do the work. Listening also showed as an issue on standardized tests, but it didn’t matter because of my grades and obedient nature. I had my hearing tested in my late teens because background noises were overwhelming. Those were signs of Inattentive ADHD. 

I had some harmful physical habits like pulling on my eyebrows and lip or scratching my legs—which were chalked up to stress or trauma. I had to have music on to focus while driving, I had to multitask at all times, I had a severe caffeine addiction from childhood on that got worse every few years. (Those were examples of the necessary stimulants my body was demanding in order to function).

I always had to chew gum, tap my foot, fidget with my hands, or clench my fists (that’s a form of hyperactivity).

I couldn’t sit in certain areas of classrooms with bright lights or by windows (that’s sensitivity to certain external stimulants).

I always struggled to feel truly happy or to be calm—my dopamine was out of whack from ADHD. I had to be compulsively organized and take thorough notes, otherwise, I’d forget or misplace everything (those are signs of ADHD).

I’ve always run into walls or doorframes (that’s Inattentive ADHD).

I talked too little, I talked too much, I talked too quietly, I talked too loudly, I never liked parties or crowds or concerts (I’m an introvert, yes, but those are also signs of ADHD).

The list goes on. And while I could indeed go on, I’ll leave you with the moral of the story:

It’s important to talk about mental health. 

I only received this life-changing, hope-giving breakthrough because others shared their stories. If you feel like something is missing, it might be. It’s worth trusting yourself and making the effort (if you have the ability and means to) to find out. Don’t assume you’re just “broken” and can’t be “fixed.” You’re worth the effort.

If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected]

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Comments (2)

  1. Claire Stansbury

    Thank you SO much for sharing! Everything in this article is spot on for me. I’ll be discussing this with my doctor during our next appointment.

    Reply  |  
  2. Mia Doe

    I have a lump in my throat. Never since reading an article on OCD did I expect to feel that moment enlightenment again. I’m not just saying this. I will bring it to my doc’s attention. Wow. I’m not really 100% a bad person. TY so very much. 🌷

    Reply  |  
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