Guest Writer, Mental Health, Running

My Experience with ADHD and How Running Keeps Me Going

Everyone, meet Heidi! She was one of a few people that answered our call for stories the other month! I’m so honored she decided to be vulnerable and share her story with the Still I Run community. It takes great courage to open up, but I truly believe that sharing our individual journey is one of the most important things we can do.


My childhood

Heidi at first 5K

My first ever 5K and running event!

It’s hard to pinpoint why, exactly, I started running. My father was emotionally abusive and I was able to escape when I graduated high school and joined the Navy. I served for five years, during which time my military career was basically one long struggle.

Even as a kid, I knew I was different. I never felt like everyone else, even when I tried really hard to fit in. Trying to fit in only seemed to highlight just how weird I actually was. The things most people liked seldom interested me and the goals and desires of others always seemed to be very different from my own. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with me.

My parents, at that time, didn’t think mental illnesses were real. On top of that, I was homeschooled up until the 8th grade and felt very isolated back of that. If I hadn’t been homeschooled, perhaps at least some of my issues would have been caught sooner. Instead, I reached adulthood and my time in the Navy with a vague sense that there was something wrong with me. Well, maybe not wrong, but different at least. It seemed that there was undeniable proof that no matter how hard I tried to do what was expected of me and no matter how much I wanted to meet my chain of command’s expectations, it was never good enough.

In the Navy

Things got exponentially worse when I was on shore duty while in the Navy. I was at a museum. It was considered what others in the Navy called cake duty and some people even expressed jealousy for my easy assignment. I hated it, however. I hated myself almost as much for even being there. I literally begged for more challenging work or at least more variety. Unfortunately, it never materialized. The Navy’s logic was that if I was struggling to be good at my easy job, how would I be able to do a difficult job well?

I didn’t try to hide my unhappiness or disgust, but it still flew under the radar, barely recognized by anybody at all for what it was. My chain of command told me to have a better attitude because I had “just about the easiest duty station in the history of the Navy” and I should enjoy it while it lasted. I wanted to enjoy it! Believe me, I did, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to though because it was so easy. Who hates having an easy job? I do, apparently. I stopped wondering why and started trying to return to sea duty. Sea duty was something difficult that kept me busy doing real work.

That never materialized though, because one day, January 20, I found out I would not be able to reenlist. I’d planned on serving in the Navy for the rest of my life! I wanted to serve until I either died in the line of duty or became too old to effectively do the job anymore.

I didn’t just lose a job when I was told I couldn’t reenlist. To me it was loosing a career, my home, my whole sense of identity. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live like that.

I wanted to end it

I decided that the best way out was to kill myself. It wouldn’t be time to switch over the summer dress whites for a few months, but that was my favorite uniform and it’s what I wanted to leave this earth in. I wrote a note explaining why I’d been left with no other choice. I said this was the only honorable way out of a situation I’d been quite unwillingly forced into. I then got my 9 mm Beretta. It was in my hands with the safety off. I was going to shoot myself in the chest so that whoever found my body would still be able to easily recognize my face.

Now before I continue, let me say, I am extremely stubborn and don’t let anything go easily. It’s something that works against me, but for the most part, it’s pretty helpful. Fortunately, on this particular morning, my stubbornness was on my side. Some small, tiny part of me wasn’t quite ready to give up the ship. I thought about one of the people I worked with at the museum, a retired Navy Captain who had always listened to my gripes and complaints about shore duty. He seemed to understand my frustration. And just like that, I flipped the safety of my gun back on, put it away, changed into the uniform of the day, and went into work, pretending I hadn’t just nearly died by my own hand.

Keeping it a secret

I figured if things got too bad, I would talk to the retired Navy Captain I’d befriended. I could always kill myself some other time. Two years passed before I ever did tell him what I was originally planning. Now I wish I had told him a lot sooner. Part of the reason I waited so long was that I thought my chain of command would use the information against me if they’d found out. Even when I did share it though, it was just with the retired Captain, who is now my mentor.

I intended to keep it a secret for the rest of my life because my plan was to re-enter the military as an officer and I didn’t want this getting in the way. After I’d been out of the Navy for about a month, school finally started for me. I was working on my degree. First my associates at a community college and then my bachelor’s at a four-year university. My schooling distracted me plenty from my depression and after a few years, I was almost enjoying my life for once.

Why I started running

Heidi with half marathon medal

My third half marathon, the Petersburg Half Marathon.

A few weeks after learning I wouldn’t be able to reenlist in the Navy, I started running. Since my plan was to go back into the military in some capacity and I wanted to be in shape when I eventually got to Officer Candidate School, I started a couch to 5K program. I kept it up for about two years before I got too busy with work and school. At that time I was working part-time and attending school full-time.

The running definitely helped me. While running, I didn’t have to think about how everything in my life was fucked up. I could just put in my headphones and zone out for about 30-40 minutes. When I picked up running again in May of 2015, I realized how horribly out of shape I was. At 27-years-old I should have been in way better shape and shouldn’t be getting winded from walking up a flight of stairs to the second floor.

I started running again and this time, I stuck with it. I continue to stick with it not just because it’s healthy physically, but also because it helps me focus a bit better, sleep better, and gives me more energy. It’s still not enough energy, but it helped.

Figuring out why I was tired all of the time

When reentering the military and attending Officer Candidate School didn’t work out, I had to think of another career plan. That led me to finally talking to a therapist about my host of issues. One of those issues was my chronic tiredness. I’d always been tired ever since I was a teenager. But at the time, I chalked it up to just being a teenager and night owl. I usually stayed up way too late before having to go to school at 7:30 a.m.

When I got older and was in the Navy, I was still tired all the time. I figured that was due to working erratic and sometimes long hours. (my sleep pattern is still messed up today. I believe that’s in large part due to my military service but, what are you going to do? You can’t win them all!).

In college, I similarly had a messed up sleep pattern because of class schedules. Combine that with work and poor choices (like staying up far too late even if I had to wake up early in the morning), I figured that’s why I was tired all the time. By this past January, though, none of these were issues anymore. I had a regular job with regular hours and normal schedule. Even though I got enough sleep at night, I was still exhausted all of the time.

My diagnosis: ADHD

When I went to the doctor, I discovered I had low vitamin D levels and I’ve been taking a supplement ever since. That helped, but it still wasn’t the answer. At that time I also long suspected that I had depression and anxiety. The diagnosis I did receive though caught me totally off guard. It also explained everything that was “wrong” or different about me.

Turns out I have ADHD, with a minor side of depression and anxiety!
That’s why I was tired all the time and why I had trouble sleeping at night; my brain just won’t shut off.
That’s why I could never fucking sit or stand still unless I used all of my concentration.
That’s why I am always fidgeting with stuff. That’s why my working memory – the part that governs doing your everyday routine stuff – is absolute shit.
That’s why I can’t just do one thing at a time and why I can fuck around on my phone or crochet while I’m watching TV without missing much.
That’s why “easy” jobs bore me to death and why things that are hard automatically make me want to do those things, or at least try ! (bonus points if the difficult thing is also physically dangerous)
That’s why the military had attracted my initial attention: it had a reputation of being difficult and there’s a chance you could get killed or seriously injured.

There was a reason behind most of my eccentricities. It has a name, and it can be managed. My boyfriend also has ADHD and he has a Ph.D., so it’s not like I’m doomed to struggle and never be good enough my whole life. I can still be successful. I just have to pick the right field where my ADHD is an asset. Why didn’t my high school teachers catch it? They probably figured if that was the reason I was struggling so much in school, it would have been diagnosed by then. I understand that now.

Where I’m at today

Heidi with marathon medal

My first marathon! (Unfortunately this is when I injured my hip as well)

Today, I take a generic version of Adderall and have a normal level of energy for the first time in my life. I am applying to get my Master’s in History and eventually, my Doctorate. My end goal is a career as a history professor and professional historian.

Since I started running again in 2015, I’ve completed four 5Ks, three half marathons, two 10Ks, a five-mile race, a ten-mile race, and a marathon. Unfortunately, I injured my hip running the marathon thanks to a combination of not having the correct shoes and my own stupidity. I thought, for some reason, that it would be a good idea to run a half marathon a week before my full marathon. I wasn’t able to run for eight months in large part because I didn’t have insurance until about five months after the marathon.

My injury was chronic tendonitis. Two weeks of an anti-inflammatory medication cleared me right up though. What also helped were several visits to my chiropractor to get insoles that offered the right amount of support for my feet, and a trip to a running store with my boyfriend (who’s been a track coach for 40 years) to finally get the right shoes. Running absolutely helps my medication work more effectively and has been an invaluable coping mechanism for me.

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