Chicken and egg or conjugal bedmates?
If you’ve engaged with any of my recent content, you likely noticed that mental health and wellness has been a common thread. In spite of my insecurities of sharing my writing — let alone my experience with depression— with a wider audience, I’ve been met with nothing but support. Hell, some friends that I haven’t spoken to in years have even reached out to share stories of their own struggles.
And it’s in that spirit of openness and solidarity that I’d like to continue sharing my journey of self-discovery and healing.
Focusing is hard, okay?
For a long time, I’ve known that I had issues with attention and concentration—or lack thereof. In university, for example, I remember meeting up for coffee with friends and having difficulty staying focused on the conversation. My attention would often be pulled away by a passing car, or my mind would wander to some trivial matter, like why so many orangutans have large folds of skin on the side of their face.
As soon as I finished my coffee, I would begin tearing at the rim of my paper cup. And by the end of the conversation, the cup would be shredded into hundreds of tiny pieces. I had to give my hands something to do, or I would risk coming across as disinterested or antsy.
It wasn’t that the conversations weren’t interesting or that I didn’t want to be there. But it was only by fidgeting or giving myself something to do that I could truly feel present in the conversation.
This inability to focus manifested itself in other ways as well, some of which have only appeared over the last few years:
- Taking up new hobbies, only to lose interest in them after a few days
- Finding it difficult to retain information I read or heard—auditory information is especially difficult
- Leaving things to the last minute and using the pressure of a deadline to motivate me
- Being unable to focus on a TV show or movie without subtitles
- Interrupting other people during conversations because I know what they want to say
- Not listening to what other people are saying because I’m waiting for a chance to speak
- Switching a conversation topic to something completely unrelated
- Reading multiple books or playing multiple video games at once (often without finishing any of them)
- Stuttering while talking because my mind is working faster than my mouth or lungs can
- Making impulsive purchases (I guess I didn’t really need those crampons)
- Forgetting about events I’ve committed to and/or double-booking myself
- Taking forever to text people back (sorry, friends)
- Having trouble sitting in one position for too long
Reflecting on these behaviours, it’s impossible not to see the overlap with ADHD symptoms; the challenge was determining the relationship between these behaviours and my depression.
Getting some answers
Last Fall I was referred to a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD, and three weeks ago, I finally had an appointment with him.
After a lengthy intake questionnaire and interview, he confirmed that I did have ADHD—but he wasn’t able to confirm whether or not it arose independently of my depression. He did, however, explain the interplay between the two conditions:
- Depression routes mental energy to the emotional centre (i.e. limbic system) of the brain and is associated with a decrease in serotonin levels—the neurotransmitter most commonly associated with happiness
- With more mental energy dedicated to the limbic system, less mental energy is available for the prefrontal cortex—the brain region responsible for higher-level executive function like planning and attention, and the region largely affected by ADHD
- While ADHD is most commonly associated with a decrease in dopamine levels—the neurotransmitter associated with a feeling of reward and motivation—it is also associated with decreases in serotonin levels
- A decrease in serotonin levels affects the limbic system, which continues to take energy away from the prefrontal cortex
On and on the dance continues.
Same, same, but different
For others also grappling with a similar comorbidity, I can’t say whether or not there’s a right way to treat or cope with the issue. The social, environmental, and biological contexts of your depression are likely much different from mine. Similarly, the way your ADHD manifests might also be different—maybe you have a tendency towards the more hyperactive symptoms as opposed to the inattentive ones, for example.
The take-home here is that both depression and ADHD can coexist, with each having an affect on the other. I’m still in the early stages of my journey for addressing this recently-diagnosed condition, but I expect I’ll have more revelations and insights to share soon.
Read more about my healing journey with depression.