For the first time, it felt like someone had finally heard me.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that trauma has an interesting way of mapping itself out on your body. For me, the trauma I endured ultimately showed up as “inattentiveness” — bearing a striking resemblance to ADHD.
When I was young, what I now know as hypervigilance and dissociation were largely mistaken for “acting out” and willfulness. Because my parents divorced when I was 3 years old, my teachers told my mother that my inattentiveness was a form of defiant, attention-seeking behavior.
Growing up, I struggled to stay focused on projects. I had difficulty finishing my homework, and I would become frustrated when I couldn’t understand specific subjects or lessons at school.
I figured what was happening to me was normal; I didn’t know any better and didn’t see that anything was wrong. I saw my struggles in learning to be a personal failing on my part, chipping away at my self-esteem.
It wasn’t until I grew older that I started to closely examine my struggles with concentration, emotional regulation, impulsivity, and more. I wondered whether something more might have been happening for me.
Like a ball of yarn beginning to unravel, each week I tried to work through the different memories and feelings associated with the trauma of years past.
It felt like I was slowly but surely untangling a mess. While examining my trauma history helped me understand some of my struggles, it still didn’t completely explain some of my issues with attention, memory, and other executive functioning.
With more research and self-reflection, I realized my symptoms were similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And, to be honest, although I didn’t know much about the neurodevelopmental disorder at the time, something about it clicked.
I decided to bring it up at my very next therapy appointment.
Walking into my next appointment, I was nervous. But I felt ready to confront these issues head-on and knew my therapist would be someone safe to talk to about how I was feeling.
Sitting in the room, with her across from me, I started to describe specific situations, like the difficulty I would have focusing when I tried to write, or how I needed to keep several lists and calendars to stay organized.
She listened and validated my concerns, and told me that what I was experiencing was normal.
Not only was it normal, but it was also something that had been studied.
It has been reported that children who have been exposed to traumatic childhood experiences can display behavior that’s similar in nature to those who have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Of particular significance: Children who experience trauma earlier on in life are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
While one doesn’t cause the other, studies showcase there is some link between the two conditions. While it’s uncertain of what that connection is, it’s there.
For the first time, it felt like someone had finally heard me and made me feel like there was no shame for what I was experiencing.
In 2015, after many years of struggling with my own mental health, I was finally diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). It was after that diagnosis when I started to listen to my body, and try to heal myself from the inside out.
It was only then that I started to begin to recognize the symptoms of ADHD, too.
This isn’t surprising when you look at the research: Even in adults, there’s
With so many young people being diagnosed with ADHD, this raises a lot of interesting questions about the role that childhood trauma might play.
Although ADHD is one of the
This led to Brown investigating what that link could be. Through her research, Brown and her team discovered that repeated exposure to trauma at a young age (either physical or emotional) would increase a child’s risk for toxic levels of stress, which in turn might impair their own neurodevelopment.
It was reported in 2010 that nearly 1 million children may be misdiagnosed with ADHD each year, which is why Brown believes it is so valuable that trauma-informed care take place from a younger age.
In many ways, this opens up the possibility for more comprehensive and helpful treatments, and perhaps even earlier identification of PTSD in young people.
As an adult, I can’t say it has been easy. Until that day in my therapist’s office, trying to navigate this has felt, at times, impossible — especially when I didn’t know what was wrong.
For my entire life, when something stressful would happen, it was easier to dissociate from the situation. When that didn’t happen, I would often find myself in a state of hypervigilance, with sweaty palms and the inability to focus, afraid my safety was about to be violated.
Until I started seeing my therapist, who suggested I enroll into a trauma therapy program at a local hospital, my brain would quickly become overloaded and shut down.
There were a lot of times when people would comment and tell me that I seemed disinterested, or distracted. It often took a toll on some relationships that I had. But the reality was my brain and body were fighting so hard to self-regulate.
I didn’t know any other way to protect myself.
While there’s still a lot more research to be done, I’ve still been able to incorporate coping strategies that I’ve learned in treatment, which has helped my mental health overall.
I started to look into time management and organizational resources to help me focus on upcoming projects. I began implementing movement and grounding techniques into my day-to-day life.
While all of this calmed some of the noise in my brain ever so slightly, I knew I needed something more. I made an appointment with my doctor so we could discuss my options, and I’m waiting to see them any day now.
When I finally began to recognize the struggle I was having with daily tasks, I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment. Although I knew that many people struggled with these things, I felt like I’d somehow brought this on myself.
But the more I unravel the tangled bits of yarn in my mind, and work through the trauma I’ve endured, I realize I didn’t bring this on myself. Rather, I was my very best self by showing up for myself and attempting to treat myself with kindness.
While it’s true that no amount of medication can take away or fully heal the traumas I experienced, being able to vocalize what I need — and to know that there’s a name to what’s going on inside me — has been helpful beyond words.
Amanda (Ama) Scriver is a freelance journalist best known for being fat, loud, and shouty on the internet. Her writing has appeared in Buzzfeed, The Washington Post, FLARE, National Post, Allure, and Leafly. She lives in Toronto. You can follow her on Instagram.