Faulty Filing Systems

When religious trauma, ADHD and relationships collide.

For me, and I’m sure others with ADHD, it feels like the amount of space inside my brain to hold, remember, recall things is finite. Meaning; when I need to learn something new or shift my focus from one thing to another, it feels like I have to clear out space by setting something aside, or filing it away somewhere else. Imagine your brain is an empty, square room. On one wall are bookshelves, with items you can see because they are out in the open. These are like the current things going on, that if you drop the ball on there’s probably immediate consequences for. And on the opposite wall is a row of filing cabinets. This is where you store all the information you have ever learned or known, and where your brain sometimes decides all on its own that things should go to, without even checking with you first. (rude!) 

When stress or anxiety come into play, I feel like that’s when my brain hits the panic button. And it starts filing away things you could maybe actually keep doing or thinking about, but your brain decides you cannot. No, you must only focus on the anxiety and the stress. Healthy distractions, be damned! This might be one of the most frustrating things about ADHD when you’re an adult with adulting responsibilities.

It’s this same phenomena that causes me to look back on former accomplishments and ask, how did I do that? Because the now-brain looks back at the then-brain and wonders where all that knowledge and motivation came from and why is it so far away now? Why couldn’t it have stayed out on the bookshelf? Maybe not eye level but the bottom shelf, maybe? Instead it’s been filed away somewhere between that one PoliSci course you took freshman year of college and the embarrassing memory from sleep-away camp in the 6th grade that still replays in your mind when you’re lying awake at three o’clock in the morning. 

If I could just shut down this auto-panic-button feature, I really think my life would be so much easier. Largely in part because sometimes hitting that panic button also files away people. Yes, actual living breathing people. That panic button sends some kind of signal saying “no one else could possibly understand your brain so don’t waste your energy on remembering other people exist.” You stop opening apps that help you feel connected. You don’t even see the names in the list of text threads. And if they’re the kinds of friends who just check in once in a while, and it’s during the “while” when this happens, then you might completely forget that person cares about you and wants to hear from you. And if they don’t know this little game your brain plays then they might just think you’ve gotten busy and don’t have time to reach out. So they don’t reach out. And the cycle continues until someone breaks the silence, or it stays silent forever because it feels like too much time has passed.

Maintaining adult friendships is hard enough. We certainly don’t need our brains making it even harder. Talk about a recipe for loneliness and depression. And then enters that little voice from the years you spent inside evangelicalism, telling you that if you don’t have a close knit friend group in real life you are fundamentally broken and nothing can fix you. The voice that tells you that it’s your own fault for ending up in this situation, if you just went to church you wouldn’t be in this predicament. Why can’t you just get over yourself and accept the fact that you need the church to have a social life? This cycle, that my brain tortures me with every time life throws me a curve ball I never saw coming, is exhausting. Why is it so brutal, learning to ask for the validation and affirmation we know we need in order form healthy attachments and true connection? 

I’m starting to realize that somewhere along the line, I was taught there were two different types of people in this world. The ones who seek attention on purpose- which makes them bad people because humility is next to godliness. And the ones who naturally attract it because they’re doing/saying/being all the right things, and that kind of attention is ok because they didn’t ask for it. Obviously this is absurd which is why I’ve spent so much of my precious energy trying to parse it out so it can be eradicated from my thought process. Imagine being ashamed of wanting just enough attention to at least feel known? How confusing it is, to know that in order to be fully known you have to let people see who you really are– and in order to do that they in fact have to pay attention to you. This is what I would definitely put in the category known as “mindfuck.” 

Of all the signals it feels like my brain gets wrong, this one might be the most destructive, the most devastating, to my mental health. It’s inside this perfect storm of religious indoctrination and imposter syndrome and rejection sensitivity that I stay isolated from the outside world, not daring to poke my head out for fear of every lie they’ve ever told me being true. Growing up evangelical and not knowing you’re neurodiverse does feel especially cruel at times. It’s not that I want to make this part of me “my whole personality,” it’s just a reality that I can’t ever escape from. 

I’m painfully aware I have so much more work to do, that the spaces in my brain aren’t going to get any larger and the panic button is probably never going to disappear entirely. I just hope that in the meantime I can manage to hold on to the few fellow travelers who have had enough patience and understanding to hold space for my whole self.

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