I spin, twirl, shake, leap. You're still there as I watch others. You're in my mind as I create. You're telling me I'm bad - I'm going to fall. I try to ignore you. I try, I try, I try but, I can't multitask! As I forget what's going on, you come back stronger. "You're going to fall, you're going to fall," you say. I continue to try and ignore you. You're going to fall, you're going to - BAAM. There, Perfectionism, you got your way. I've fallen and broken my arm, again. Just like before. And now, I can't play.
Female, 14 years young
AD/HD, OCD, Panic Disorder... Perfectionistic-Thinking
I never got to thank the person who introduced us. It's someone on twitter, and I´ve been too shy to tell them. Also because it happened years ago, and if I tell them now it´ll look like I´ve had this gratitude for them kept hidden for so long - it's almost stalkerish and... WAIT.
This is not central to what I wanted to tell you. I think.
Because I am not sure what I wanted to tell you. I saw this post on Facebook about writing a letter to ADHD and I thought it sounded great, since, I mean, I’m a writer and I have ADHD and I also happen to study creative writing as a learning and therapeutic tool so that´s, like, right in my corner!
Also it´s 3:45 pm and I've basically only had breakfast and sent out 4 emails today, and I can't seem to be able to start on any meaningful task so maybe doing this can save the day?
Anyway that is to say I haven't really taken the time to think about what it was I would tell you about in a letter.
It's funny we´ve been formally introduced so late in life. You knew my brother first, over 20 years ago, when he was 7 and I was 9. We came really close to meeting back then – at least physically – I was just out there in the waiting room at his psychiatrist’s office. What if we'd been introduced then?
It wasn’t easy for my brother. Not since, like, school began. He's doing great now – so great! Not in a classical way, don´t get me wrong. He's not rich, nor does he have a fancy job. But he's grown into a resilient, reflective, creative, curious and – frankly – extremely hard-working human. If more people were like him, or more accurately, if more white cisgender, straight dudes of the western world were like him, this world would be a lot better.
It hasn't been easy for me either, mind you. I was good at school, yes. I would say I was a little too good at school. Kind of like it was the one thing I had going for me. Which it was. Because I was an awkward and anxious kid with existential questions and no one to help me out with that.
I mean I knew I was an awkward, anxious kid with existential dissatisfaction back then. But I didn't realize that there might be someone to help me out with that – I also didn’t know it was an option. I also didn't know a couple of other important things – I didn't know I was queer, nor did I know that I was neurodivergent. I didn't know you personally, yet : ADHD.
So, when things kept getting harder for me, I blamed the one thing all of these things had in common. I blamed me, and I tried to fix the problem : Me. I tried very, very hard to fix : Me. And how does a teenage AFAB person fix her*self , you think? Well, yes of course : Dieting. Dieting harshly. Dieting to counteract my use of food as a source of dopamine (something I know now but didn't know then). Dieting to look more like the girl I was sure I wasn't good at being. Dieting to prove to myself I could have control over my life. See : Dieting was the obvious answer to just about all of my problems.
Now, ADHD, you and I both know how things lead to other things. You and I also both know how to take things a liiiittle bit to the extreme. So, it shouldn’t surprise you too much when I tell you it took only about 3 weeks for the dieting to go full-blown Anorexia.
Cue my first very-own psychiatrist. And then another, and then another, and then another. That is not when we met, though. Not in a psychiatrist’s office albeit the very place one might go to find you.
We met like one meets in the 21st century : WE MET ONLINE. Through the tweet of an internet´s intimate stranger. We met long after my eating disorder had resolved, leaving almost no trace. We met after I lost jobs, dropped out of colleges, after I had almost given up on long-term partnerships. We met after I came out. We met when I had nearly exhausted all possible ‘fixes’ to the problem that was : Me.
We met after I had NOT grown-out of : constant overwhelm, late payment fees, library fees; forgotten this, forgotten that; super dramatic love interests(do-pa-mi-ne!); missed deadline, missed deadline, missed deadline; shame, shame, shame; and loneliness.
We met when I was about to turn 30. Like, literally – I started the day of my 30th birthday with yet another psychiatrist appointment. And then – do you have time for another plot twist??
Okay. And then, I dropped out of appointments with her, because I was deep in administrative procrastination and couldn't deal with my health insurance card renewal! Of course I was ashamed to tell my psychiatrist´s assistant, so I lied about what was wrong with my card, and at some point became too ashamed to go back there… Yes, I was paying for that health insurance but no benefits at that point in the game.
I was in quarantine with all my flatmates in April 2020 of the corona-era when my (6th, I think?) psychiatrist called and woke me up to let me know : all tests confirmed the suspected diagnosis. I had – well you know already, and so did I. I had you - ADHD. .
It was the second day of quarantine and the world outside, out of reach, was slowly realizing what the heck it was in for. At that point in time, I was worried about my sick flatmates. I was scared of getting sick myself, even if I was just 33. So I didn't cry of relief that day, nor the day after, nor the day after, and so on, and so forth. I didn’t celebrate this reckoning then but, maybe, hopefully – I will, someday soon.
The meds are helping. My life is some kind of a mess still, but I am not. And I know now – with certainty : I am not.
I´m doing great. Not in a classical way, mind you. I am not rich nor do I have a fancy job (not anymore, at least, and probably never again). But I believe that, if more people were like me, or - to be accurate - if more AFAB white people of the western world were like me, the world might be a better place.
Nice to have finally met you, ADHD.
AD/HD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Eating Disorder : Anorexia Nervosa
That alone would be sufficient, but this letter is not for me or for you. This letter is for the others that read it to help them understand the war you wage and the extreme measures I must consider to keep you managed.
To be fair, doctors fail to have a consensus if the symptoms I experience are the PTSD, the saucier version CPTSD, MDD, or any of the others listed in my medical chart. You hide in the darkness of all those letters and let your symptoms do the work. You use the self-inflicted injuries to muddy the waters for my care and create distance between myself and everyone else. I have come to wonder regularly if the violence is not simply maladaptive coping, but an attack on this malicious darkness that infects my reality. I contend that the violence is actually a successful coping tool against you, but we will save that argument for another venue… Who are you – really – and would it make any real difference to know you by a single name?
You created an environment of toxic thought; focused almost exclusively on suicide. The lines between ideation and intention blurred to the point most doctors close to your darkness inside me agree that it is all intention at this point. In the beginning, a day or two here and there you attacked my mind with the “need” to die. Decades later we dance for 8-12 hours a day, waging a relentless trench war for every cell and protein string in my mind.
In less than a month, your attempt to end the war 10 years ago will have failed. Many at the time called it an act of god, part of a divine plan that you failed to end my life. The cocktail of drugs, so accurate I rarely share it outside of a conversation with professionals. My rage and the adrenaline it offers, more likely for my salvation. For more than 24 hours after that battle, your plan left me helpless, alone, battered and alive on the floor. Help moved me to a couch that next day and for the better part of a week I laid helplessly unaware of anything, as my body cleared out your attack.
Five years later you attacked on two fronts. The first attack that year, another overdose. The battle winning you 3 days for me in ICU that have your allies, the nurses, an opportunity to express this painful emotions that blamed me for your attack. The second, a less eloquent and far more successful attack with a tourniquet around my neck. Your second attack left me “black” and “cyanotic” on the psych hospital bathroom floor. An innocent found me and was able to bring me back. You had failed to win this battle, but the war was forever turned in your favor by publicly defeating me. Nurses even angrier, doctors scared, all joined your assault on me. Leaving me in isolation for a week, in that pink paper gown, in that empty room - I sat as a prisoner of war, held by your new allies; my so-called ‘saviors’.
5 years later we return to the present and the cycle of war is escalated to unimaginable heights. I have new allies, doctors with a better understanding of how you work. While you are defeating the new weapons (ketamine, marijuana, etcetera) that they have been using, you still struggle to bring this war to an end. My team agrees you have an edge as we enter our heightened season of battle. You had a secret ally in COVID that decimated most of my support structures. While I survived last season, you successfully utilized COVID to maintain a foothold that successfully prevented my season of recovery.
As we approach the anniversary that your sadistic, rapist began his season of torture to break me down, remember not the torture he inflicted, the repeated violations of my body, the deep wounds that still bleed from those battles long ago... Remember the rage that defeated him in the spring. That same rage beat you 10 years ago as you tried to end your war on me. That rage that has drawn a line so deep that for 5 long years has held the line against you.
Could this current push I have been experiencing be your last gasp? A desperate attempt to end a war you may have already lost? Most of me wants you to win, most of me betrays me to assist you in completing suicide. Yet, that rage of an 8 year old little boy who stood up to your accomplice stands in your way again as it always has since awakened by your ally. That rage that draws a line so deep in my flesh that the scarred walls keep you helplessly out of control of ending the war.
I acknowledge you have kicked my ass three times since this current war started on January 21, 2008. I also realize that 99.9352051835853% of the time your battles FAIL to convince me in taking serious action to ending my life. Most important you have failed 100% of the time in being able to do it – I’m still alive, aren’t I?? (Insert middle finger emoji and big smiley face here!)
You and your allies have relentlessly attacked me for more than 3 decades. Your armies vastly outnumber my allies. You even manipulate me into helping you on a regular basis. I have the mental and physical scars that show the damage you have done in decades of war. On a day that started where I thought you might finally be on the verge of winning this war - in what has felt like our final battle - I stand victorious in holding off this epic battle. A battle that only occurred in my mind…
I may not win this war. Hell, I believe I want you to win this war at times. Most of my doctors will concede when pushed that you will win this war, but for tonight I stand up to you bloody and bruised from battle to say one thing. FUCK YOU!
Male, 43 Years Old
CPTSD, MDD, Agoraphobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Just some rogue cells
Drinking from the Fountain of Youth,
Trying to survive
In a hostile world,
Lashing out at all around
In anger and confusion.
You're not like the others;
Following the rules.
You live in the margins,
Inflicting damage because
That's all you know
How to do.
Like all errant,
We will fight you
And we will win.
Bobi Leutschaft Poitras
Daughter & Sibling
NOTE (from the Author): I wrote & published this on my Instagram account because I lost my brother & step-mom to cancer - my sister successfully battled it.
NOTE (from the Project Director): As Michael Schreiner points out in his own blog, "Perfectionism is difficult to treat... while most people are poignantly aware that the attitude causes them undue suffering & distress, they’re also secretly proud of their life orientation & deeply afraid that if they were to let go of the compulsion to do everything perfectly, their performance would suffer & their lives would fall apart... This makes narrative therapy an excellent treatment option, since by separating the person from the problem it’s possible to view the situation more objectively." By way of the letter that follows, the Dear Diagnosis project takes on a new leaf. Conversations hosted with any sort of externalized problem, are now welcomed here.
Let me just start by saying postpartum is rough, let alone when you creep in. Hormones and lack of sleep aside, my body is fighting and still healing from an infection. I want to say it doesn’t matter how my baby entered the world, but I would be lying. Although, you know that. You’re the one that told me it does matter, and it has to be a certain way! Look, I pass no judgment on how anybody else's baby entered the world... but I find myself ashamed and frustrated by how my baby entered the world. Thanks a lot, Perfectionism. Everyone told me to prepare for my birth plan to go out the window, but you convinced me our plan was perfect. The plan really only consisted of ‘get baby out of my vagina’ and, instead, what I got was a C-section.
OK, rewind, I should give you a little gratitude here. Thanks to you, I was really good at being pregnant. Sure I missed the soft cheeses, turkey sandwiches and wine, but I genuinely enjoyed my growing bump and the feeling of having this ever-present sidekick. You were in control of our schedule and we knew all of the Do’s and Don’ts—that gave me confidence in being pregnant. I was terrified of giving birth but felt this weird sense of pride that I would get to experience labor & delivery. I was surprised when I went into labor a few days shy of my due date but, because I had you at my side and my birth plan in place, I was ready for our plan to take flight. Thing is, I was only prepared for our plan. The contractions started around 5 AM and got progressively stronger throughout the morning. I got things ready around the house, checked and re-checked my hospital bag and pulled out all of my postpartum care, which we had carefully prepped. You were proud that morning, Perfection, really proud of all the work I’d done on your behalf. Upon arrival in triage, the nurse told us “baby is breach and we'll have to perform an emergency C-section.”
Fuck you, Perfectionism.
The C-section video was optional at the end of our labor & delivery class. Optional! As in, if you’re planning on a vaginal birth - you don’t have to stay to watch it. We stayed, but I still don’t know what the hell happened when they opened me up and yanked out my baby! Perfectionism, why did you have me focusing on just vaginal birth? Why didn’t you ask the questions and allow me do the research? I’d have known that a woman is more likely to deliver your baby C-section if your mother did. You make me feel jealousy every time I read someone else’s “amazing birth story.” You make me feel robbed of an experience to be otherwise proud of.
Cue the arrival of baby boy. You’ve continued to tell me our story was wrong. You’ve made me second-guess everything I do as a new mother. You even made me ask my husband if I would love him more if our birth plan had gone as expected. How did I let you influence me like that? You may forever be a part of me and this birth story of mine, but I won’t let you question my love for my son ever again. Do you know how amazing he is? Do you see how my body is finally healing? Do you get that I nourish him, bathe him, clothe him and cuddle him? I bet if we asked him how I was doing, he would say something along the lines of, “Fucking awesome, Mom!”
Female, Age 31
5 Months Postpartum