Ever since I remember, I have always wanted two totally opposite things at the same time – both with equally great passion. To go out with friends and to be alone, to travel and to stay at the places I know, to attend various events, and to stay at home and read.
Whatever I decided, there was a part of me that was always unsettled. As an adult, I realized that other people around me aren’t such a mess of contradictory desires. But it was only after watching this video by Yo Samdy Sam that it dawned on me – this is happening to me because the “autistic part” of me and the “ADHD part” always want – or need – completely different things.
“The inner conflict is maddening”
It’s estimated that at least 30% of autistic people also have ADHD. It’s so common that the neurodivergent community began to create abbreviations for the combination of both conditions: AuDHD, AutDHD, and others. Yet there is so little information out there about people who are autistic and have ADHD – and it’s so necessary for us to understand our contradictory nature.
There are some traits that autism and ADHD share – like executive dysfunction. But there are a lot of traits that are complete opposites. The opposing traits can mask each other, so it can be a problem to get a diagnosis at all.
For example, ADHD demands constant stimulation. On the other hand, autism means you can get easily overstimulated, so you avoid it. You can even get overstimulated and understimulated at the same time.
The first comment on the video really resonates with me. And, apparently, with a lot of others. Vinnie S. wrote:
“The inner conflict is maddening. All the things that make me feel most alive quickly burn me out. Yet, living a quiet little life that avoids burnout triggers depressive episodes through understimulation. When making major life decisions it’s like deciding which kind of breakdown I’d rather have. Heh.”
When one side is “satisfied”, the other becomes more visible
There is also an interesting thing that Yo Samdy Sam noticed. When she goes out and her ADHD needs are more fulfilled, her autistic traits become more prominent. But when she stays at home, where her autistic side can have what she needs, the ADHD traits become more prominent instead. When I thought about it, I noticed that the same thing is happening to me.
Which side was winning was different throughout various periods of my life. As a child, I usually liked to stay in my room and read, as my autistic side preferred. As a teen, I almost always did what the ADHD side wanted. I hopped on any action that was happening around – be it a skiing trip, camping, or a summer camp spent planting trees or repairing an old castle. And as an adult, my mental strength to overcome the anxiety that being active triggers in me had run out and I had to return to my quiet ways – even if the passion for movement and action never ceased. I still yearn for it. I desperately miss it.
Which one I really am?
I have always identified more with my ADHD side, long before I knew I had these two diagnoses. I consider her desires the “right” ones, the ones that make me who I am. But I haven’t been who I feel I am – or should be – for more than 15 years. When I stopped being able to go on camping trips and summer camps, to simply take a backpack and head to nature for days, it felt like a part of me had gone missing. That I’m not really being myself. And I miss that part of me terribly. When I lost my ability to travel abroad, it only pronounced this loss. I’m always hoping that this will all come back to me, that I will feel whole again.
But when I’m writing these words, I realize that my autistic side and her desires – like reading for hours on end – are just as much “me” and as valuable as the part who is always ready to go on an adventure. I’m both. And that realization finally brings me some measure of inner peace.