Emotional Dysregulation & Mental Health

Updated: Jun 27

I used to think I had depression. And I had a good enough reason to believe so. I moved to a new school in the 8th grade with high hopes, only to get bullied the entire year, and was excluded by my friends throughout 9th and 10th grade. The 11th grade was better, but not by much. Nothing significantly sad was happening in my life, but I constantly felt heavy and depressed. I would micro-analyze everything people said to me and was convinced no one genuinely liked me. And always in the back of my mind, unacknowledged, was the thought of myself being a failure to everyone I know.


Since I can remember, I've had trouble focusing on assignments, remembering basic instructions, and sticking to a schedule. My inability to complete tasks on time is an issue that's been consistently brought up in parent-teacher meetings since kindergarten, and my forgetfulness is so bad it was mortifying. I've always had a hard time completing timed tasks and focusing in classes. I didn't even realize this until fairly recently, but I have always thought of myself as a failure, as some sort of abnormal kid who couldn't pull her shit together even for her own sake. By the time I started the IBDP, I had all but given up trying to get good grades and was settling for whatever I could get.


Then the pandemic arrived, school closed, and I had no motivation to do anything but scroll through social media all day in an attempt to get some dopamine in my system. And in the middle of April, I found out I had ADHD.


I was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) at age nine but found out about my diagnosis at 17. Here are the facts: ADD is an outdated term, and is a neuro-behavioral condition now referred to as ADHD - I, or predominantly inattentive ADHD. There are two other types of ADHD: predominantly hyperactive, and combined. The DSM-5 lists the symptoms as inattention, hyperactivity & impulsivity, and ADHD may be diagnosed if these symptoms are present before age 12, are not restricted to one setting (such as the home), interfere with the person's quality of work and functioning, and can not be explained by any other mental illness/disorder.


Sounds correct, right? This is what most people (myself included) think of when they imagine a person with ADHD: someone who's constantly bouncing off the walls and unable to focus. However, that's not the whole picture. ADHD - I is often underdiagnosed because we do not bounce off the walls all the time, and have less of a hyperactive behavior presentation but more of an inattentive presentation, which is often mistaken for simple laziness. On top of this, the DSM-5's description of ADHD symptoms is incomplete and leaves out an important symptom of the condition: emotional dysregulation.


From the early 1700s to the 1970s, emotional dysregulation was consistently included in descriptions of ADHD symptoms. However, after the 1970s it vanished from all formal ADHD symptom lists. Why? Scientists wanted to focus on quantifiable symptoms, or things they could measure. Since it's difficult to put a number to emotions, they just removed it from the list. Because of this, emotional dysregulation has never been a part of any of the DSMs. Even with an overwhelming amount of studies confirming that emotional dysregulation is as significant as the other three symptoms, it remains off the DSM-5.


So what does this have to do with everything? Remember how I thought I had depression? Turns out my extreme emotions had a lot to do with the emotional dysregulation that comes with ADHD. Confused? It didn't make sense to me at first either.


Emotional dysregulation is an easy term to misunderstand. Here's what it means. People with ADHD react to situations with the expected emotions. For example, reacting to an insult with anger, or to bullying with sadness. However, we have trouble regulating these emotions. What this means is the person reacting will tend to draw out their emotional reactions for much longer and often go down a spiral of rumination (dwelling on the same feelings for long periods of time). This can heighten sadness, stress, anxiety, etc, and their effect on mental health, and can also result in being labeled as "overly sensitive", "weak", or "depressed". It also means that small things people say or do can have bigger impacts on people with emotional dysregulation than most realize. The flip side to this that joy and excitement are amplified as well, making us fun people to be around when we get hyped up.


So what does this all mean? One implication this can have on people with ADHD is their treatment. Lots of people don't know about this factor in the condition and opt for treatment relying solely on medication, or strategies aimed only at managing attention issues, neglecting to care for their mental health. This can also cause misunderstandings when people don't realize emotional dysregulation is just as big a symptom of ADHD as inattention and hyperactivity (like I did).


And this brings me to the reason I set up this website. Firstly, I want to combat misinformation. Before I found out about my diagnosis, I only had an extremely ambiguous idea of what ADHD was. It was never taught in school, so I knew next to nothing about its causes, effects, or symptoms. I thought people with ADHD were just hyper and that was all there was to it. It took weeks of research (and weeding out the ADHD-is-a-pharma-scam articles) to gain even a basic understanding of what's up with my brain. On top of this, there's so much conflicting and false information on the web. I want to help educate both people with and without ADHD about what it is and why it should be taken seriously. I also want to connect with others, both neurotypical and neurodivergent, and create a platform for people to share their stories and experiences with mental health and neurological disorders. Finally, with this blog, I will continue to post articles about ADHD & mental health and hopefully, interview and post pieces by others as well.


If you've made it to the end of this post, I have to congratulate you. As someone who gets distracted as easily as I do, I don't blame you if you skipped half the text. My posts will be much shorter and less monotonous in the future. I'm also looking for submissions on anything from mental health to stigmas to any disorder or condition you know of or have, so if you'd like to write a piece for the blog, hit up the contact page to let me know! If writing's not your thing, you can send me an email asking for an interview as well. Thank you so much for reading!


TL;DR :

I found out about my ADHD diagnosis pretty late, and when I tried to research it, I found heaps of untrustworthy resources and misinformation. I realized I had also misunderstood aspects of my own life because I didn't know enough about it. Because of this, I decided to research as much as I can and share the information on this blog as a way to educate others in the same situation as me and help spread understanding of what it's like to have ADHD.