This is one of those posts I really really wish I didn’t have to write. I’ve always processed everything in words, writing helps me make sense of things, to join the dots and connect. Writing is a tool my neurodivergent brain has developed as a strategy to organise my at times overwhelming thoughts into some kind of order. A strategy I didn’t even realise was a strategy for a long time, it’s just something that’s always come easy to me, when most other things haven’t.
When Christmas 2021 came around I was hoping, thinking that the world can’t get any worse, that we’ve seen the worst of it over the last two years. The world has dealt with a collective grief, and luckily I didn’t lose anyone during the height of Covid, for which I am more grateful than I can put into words. Those of us who didn’t lose friends or relatives have been experiencing a different kind of grief. Grieving for a life we once had that has been taken away. A life where we didn’t have to consider the risks when meeting up with friends. The closeness to others we took for granted, assuming it would always be there. But we can never assume. We can’t assume that anything or anyone will always be there. Because as we’ve learned in the last few years life can change instantly. And it can be very difficult to recover from that.
A few weeks ago I lost two grandparents (from both sides of the family) within six days of each other and I’ve mainly been functioning on adrenaline and Elvanse since December. I’ve dealt with grief before, both the sudden death of a friend in my 20’s and other grandparents when I was a teenager, but this feels different. Two bereavements in such a short space of time is a lot to unpack. I have more awareness of how grief affects me now, and I’m currently working through the realisation that ADHD and grief are very much intertwined. Grief while still in a pandemic is also an incredibly complicated concept to get your head around. My Grandad died (the first of the two deaths) just days after Putin began to invade Ukraine, so while I was getting my head around the imminent death of my grandad, who was incidentally in the army and saw terrible atrocities himself, I was watching a European nation dealing with a collective grief and trauma, while thousands of people were becoming displaced by war. I banned myself from the news for a while, still with the knowledge that a war had began, and Covid wasn’t even a distant memory.
Since both deaths, I have been thinking and working out what it is I’m feeling or need to feel. No one tells you how to grieve, it is a very personal journey with no clear map or end point. There is no right way to grieve. One thing I have noticed is that my ADHD feels louder than ever, even with the wonders of Elvanse, I feel in a bit of an ADHD black hole at the moment. For neurotypical people grief can affect executive functioning, processing and emotional regulation, so really it’s not surprising that the things I already find difficult are compounded by grief. The grief I’m experiencing is already so much to process, and it wasn’t there before, so everything else that used to take up brain space gets pushed out to make way for processing these two bereavements. I’ve found myself struggling to find the words to process anything else outside of my immediate feelings of grief and to some extent guilt. I’ve thrown myself into work because I want to feel I can still get stuff done, after Elvanse has shown me a world I didn’t know existed, but I find responding to work emails or focusing in meetings overwhelming, and exhausting. I haven’t felt this fatigued in a long time. The tiredness affects my dyspraxia, making my coordination a bit of a literal hit and miss state of affairs. I’m more chaotic than usual, even now I’m medicated, with millions of thoughts swimming around in my head with no real order or structure. I’m writing this post right now, when really I should be writing the eulogy for grandmas funeral, prioritising tasks seems to have gone out of the window, along with my ability to sleep through the night. ADHD medication doesn’t work as well if you haven’t slept well, and I know it. Insomnia and inconsistent thoughts at 3am have become my new normal.
Over the years to compensate for my heightened difficulty in processing when dealing with any difficult or traumatic events, I’ve tried to get the emotional processing right. This usually involves talking. Or at least trying to make sense of it all to other people. Except I’ve realised not everyone responds well to me trying to unpack big feelings by texting them essays or over email, so I’ve become more selective about who sees that side of me these days. I’m lucky that I’m coming to the end of ADHD specific therapy while all of the grief is going on, which helps, I have an outlet and someone who is paid to listen to me. And help me process my emotions and neurodivergent complications that accompany my grief. Sometimes though, I just don’t know how I feel. This baffles me because I often feel emotions to the extreme, if I’m upset I’m very upset or when I’m angry I’m incredibly angry. Numbness is common with grief, as is disassociation. I’ve felt both at times. The latter is terrifying when you don’t know what is going on and is an experience many neurodivergent people share, often happening when my brain feels overloaded with too much information to process or deal with. The first time I experienced disassociation was a few days after my friend died in 2014, at the time I didn’t know what was happening to me, let alone that it was a very normal reaction to a traumatic event.
I’m still at the early stages of grief, and I’m yet to navigate two funerals, but I do know that without being properly medicated for my ADHD I wouldn’t have been able to get through the last few months as well as I have done. I and my therapist is expecting a crash slightly further down the line, once the dust settles, the adrenaline subsides and it all hits me again. Everyone around me has been largely supportive, a network I’m lucky to have to help get me through the next few months, although I have encountered people who don’t know what to say. I speak for myself here, but saying something is always better than saying nothing, even if that something is a cat picture. The realisation that I’m never going to hear grandads stories about India again or show grandma my cats on face time, those things that once seemed like a small part of my life, feel massive now. It’s Cliche’ when people say, “it gets easier,” it doesn’t go away, levels of functioning will improve but it’s very much forever. Learning to live with grief is one of the hardest things we have to do.
One thing my grandad taught me is the importance of connections, he made friends everywhere he went, people were captivated by the stories he told and he really valued the friendships he made. I hope to continue to live up to those values as the next few weeks, years and months unfold. As I said at the beginning of this piece, you never know when things will change.
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