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Just recently, I started taking medication for ADHD. Officially, I haven’t quite dialed in my diagnosis, but a lot changed after having Ellis. I blinked, and I suddenly have a two-year-old of boundless energy and joy. The problems that I was constantly accounting for in creative ways (staying up late to finish the latest blog post and video, sleeping during the mornings to accommodate my unusual sleeping patterns, etc.) — nothing worked anymore.
For so long, I’ve had a knack for pushing through the short term. I was an EXPERT at telling myself “by this time tomorrow, xyz will be done, so you can endure this temporary hard work.” And, magically, I would be right 99% of the time. It’s how I got through having a job and school and starting a side business all at once. It’s how I did well with my DIY experiments, even when working with sponsors on a deadline (deadlines work so well for me!). My methods might too messy for the Konmari seal of approval, but I had a system that looked haphazard on the outside yet kept it all together.
Then, I had a kid.
Wait, that trivializes some important aspects of it: I had difficult pregnancy during a pandemic, then delivered 6 weeks premature, and things started to slide in a way I couldn’t recover from. We’ve had multiple surgeries and sicknesses and general life changes. These days, I am tied to a schedule that is not my own, and that required — rather, requires — a lot more on-the-fly adjustment that hasn’t really been working for my sleep, for work, or for basic human function. I found myself still working on projects, but turning inwardly instead of sharing.
Was it burnout? Exhaustion? Or something else?
I started exploring my why’s — was it the dreaded burnout that people are keen to talk about these days? Not exactly. I still absolutely love DIYing and writing about it and passing on the little nuggets of funny reality that it brings to my life. I wasn’t tired of any of that, and I love being Ellis’s mom (I know I don’t share much of him on the blog, but it’s to keep his life preserved and separate and let him be offline, because I don’t know if he’ll want to be an online presence until he’s older).
But I was completely emptied. Parenthood hit me in a way that everyone warned about, yet nothing seemed to quite “fit” what I perceived as the problem. I wasn’t just tired or exhausted. My OB-GYN tried postpartum treatments but the antidepressants/anti-anxiety medication didn’t change anything (which was so WEIRD to me, since I’d never experienced medications that had a 0.0% change whatsoever? Even Tylenol and ibuprofen affect me in some way). I couldn’t get my brain to rest. To sleep. To focus. I tried a therapist, who quickly wanted to center my difficulties around adjusting to parenthood. I felt uncomfortable with that, because it ignored that my problems were always problems I worked around before a baby… I just couldn’t work around them anymore now that I had this new being (with his own needs and demands and sleep schedule) in my life.
What wasn’t working
The question I kept wondering was: where had I gone? I felt like someone had taken my brain and dropped it into a dusty corner to collect cobwebs and toddler crumbs (thankfully, Stella is happy to help with that last part). Pale. Zombified. Parts of a whole. Sure, some might dismiss that as “mom brain,” and at least one doctor did. But gone were the days of my superpower multi-tasking and magic ability to churn out 2,000 words at 2AM. Everything I was doing was still the usual level of unfinished work I was used to; I couldn’t get it to fold around the everyday like I could before. There was no satisfaction in the work because there was nothing left to pour out of myself and onto the page or platform.
I needed and wanted change. In some ways, 2022 had plenty of that, considering we went on a family vacation and then came home to sell the house, make plans to move across multiple states, and moved in with family (temporarily) as we search for the right fit.
My lightbulb moment
I started talking to some friends about it, and one ignited the spark that led me to where I am now: she and her boyfriend were regularly fighting about a lot of little things. Things that she and I actually had in common. One by one, we started firing them back off to one another (have you ever had a conversation where you’re talking about 3 completely different subjects at once but not skipping a beat between sentences or getting confused? That.). And parenthood wasn’t a factor:
- The piles of “stuff” she kept out in the open to make sure she didn’t forget things (if I don’t see it, it quickly doesn’t exist). Yes! Me too!
- The way she and I both constantly lost items we always carry around (and have 2 of everything just in case); I’ve always been “Spacey Sarah” and can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost my keys and phone. I don’t even use a wallet anymore because of it.
- The way I can be working on a task and not even hear the person speaking next to me or completely forget the things I said two conversations ago (my recall in the middle of an argument sucks and can open the door to feeling gaslit over things I’m not sure I said, which has been weaponized in some of my past relationships). A hyper-focus/inattentiveness catch-22.
- Or I completely underestimate/overestimate the time required to do something (chronic lateness, or obsession about being late because of my track record).
- An extremely delayed sleep pattern that I can never seem to adapt to normal waking hours. Even as a baby/child. I am a night owl. Always have been, and it made entering the workforce difficult, but success with creating the blog was my saving grace for getting enough sleep. I lost that when I had Ellis (he wakes up just as I reach deep sleep).
And so on. The more she and I talked, the brighter my lightbulb moment became. She revealed that she had ADHD, and while the path to diagnosis was not easy (the irony of procrastinating a doctor’s appointment about procrastination!), she found treatment and things started to improve. This sent me into a spiral of research (as I tend to do when I hyper-focus): online quizzes, medical articles, and more. It was a lot of sorting through well-researched articles vs misinformation vs first-hand accounts and my own biases.
As a kid, I only knew the stereotype of “hyperactive” kids and associated it with peers who couldn’t sit still. I didn’t relate to that (my restlessness is more internal, leaning toward anxiety) and did well in school (deadlines were my secret weapon. Two AM paper-writing champion, right here!). So I didn’t ever expect it could be applied to me. But as I read more, I learned how it was possible for my symptoms to look different than someone else’s. Some of my inexplicable habits, suddenly explained (even sleep and nutrition!). I didn’t have to check all the boxes to get a doctor to listen. And that for many parents — especially women — having children can be the tipping point to no longer being able to keep up. I could make it work for a long time, but entering a new phase of life created an impossible cycle that was wearing me down hard.
It took a few months of more procrastinating and doctor referrals and finally medication (which is still new, so I don’t know if ultimately I will need to try something else)*. BUT, I’m starting to feel better than I have in months. Clarity. Renewed focus. The more I’m learning, the better I feel. It’s not so much that there’s a fix with a capital F, but I better understand where to seek answers and that alone is a huge relief. Which makes me hopeful about this year.
(*Of course, all of this is not meant to be medical advice, just a retelling of my own story. If you recognized any of yourself in this, I do hope that you consider consulting a medical professional too.)
A Look Ahead at 2023 Projects
As for 2023, I’ve got high hopes for what’s to come. The old house (if you missed it, we sold the house last fall! And we’re moving north and closer to the coast!) was the main source for a lot of my projects. Yet I still have an incredibly long to-do list. Funny how that happens, huh? I covered it all in a long post about our 2023 goals. And next, we’ll talk about the basement apartment makeover!
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