For as long as he can remember, Alex dreamed about working in the film industry. But he kept putting it off, hoping that one day he would have the extra time and money to train as a cinematographer.
Now, just shy of his 40th birthday, he feels deep regret for not acting sooner.
“I’ve loved movies since I was a little boy. Watching Jurassic Park with the smell of popcorn wafting through the theatre gave me such a thrill. I wanted so desperately to learn how to make films like Stephen Spielberg.”
Discovering ADHD in adulthood
Alex was recently diagnosed with ADHD and he’s still processing how his uniquely wired brain may have caused him to lose sight of his goals.
Every time he would have the opportunity to take a class or meet up with people working in film, he would get overwhelmed with imposter syndrome and rather than reaching out or attending an event, he would scroll through social media, feeling increasingly inadequate.
“There were days I felt so inept. Like, why couldn’t I just make the call or sign up for the class? It’s been so frustrating.”
When his coworkers began commenting on how easily he would get flustered by competing priorities and a heavy workload, Alex began to wonder why. His peers seemed to be fine with managing their time and responsibilities and were also enjoying their weekends with friends while cultivating satisfying hobbies. Meanwhile, he was putting in extra hours to catch up and missing out on important rest and social connections.
After a friend suggested he might have ADHD, Alex searched Google and saw himself in the many articles and blogs about adult ADHD. After speaking with his family and taking time to reflect, he decided to look into a formal diagnosis and made an appointment at the Adult ADHD Centre in Burnaby.
A common thread
Turns out Alex is grappling with a widely experienced aspect of ADHD: regret and dealing with the consequences of not being able to act decisively and in his own best interest. When perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and overwhelm collide, it’s a recipe for paralysis that can lead to years of inaction. This can also cause diminished self-esteem.
While he works full time as a production coordinator for an animation studio, Alex is still feeling the urge to create his own stories. He recently signed up for an introductory course at a local film school that he can attend on the weekends.
“The small step of signing up for that class brought such a rush of relief and exhilaration! I never thought I’d be going back to school at my age, but I’m starting to realize there is no limit on what I can learn.”
Creating tiny wins
Instead of stewing in the overwhelm of costs associated with buying camera equipment, Alex has found a company that rents gear at a reasonable price so he doesn’t need to make a huge investment right away.
He’s also joined an active cinematography for beginners group on Facebook and he is slowly getting to know others that share his passion for film.
For the time being, Alex isn’t comfortable disclosing his ADHD diagnosis publicly, but he hopes that over time he’ll be more comfortable talking about it.
“It really impacted my life in a negative way for so many years. I wish I had known about my uniquely wired brain earlier, but I can’t turn back time.”
Studies indicate people with ADHD are more likely to have deep feelings of regret from unrealized potential and stifled dreams. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
Some careful planning, compassionate self-awareness, and a healthy dose of humour can go a long way in coping with regret and choosing new ways to cope with stress, perfectionism and the insidious shame that often arises from inaction.
Strategies to take charge of your perspective when regret takes over
1: Separate your ADHD brain from your character. You are not flawed or insufficient. Go gently on yourself.
2: Create new neural pathways by overwriting negative self-talk about an undesired outcome.
“Maybe I didn’t act then, but I have agency to act now. I’m a creative person!”
3: Create small achievable goals that aren’t so overwhelming. In Alex’s case, he could sign up for a MOOC (open online courses that can be taken in your spare time) intro class online and start to get to know other creative people.
4: Unfollow and mute social media accounts that keep the sting of regret fresh. Instead of comparing yourself to those further along, follow accounts that offer ways to move forward.
5: Practice radical self-compassion. For many people diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, it may be the first time they learn how to be tender and gentle with themselves.
Remember: you were doing the best you could with the resources available to you at the time. If anger is something you regret, take some time to name the emotions underneath and aim to make small changes, one at a time.
1: Dr Sharon Saline
2: Additude Mag
Robbie McDonald was diagnosed with ADHD in mid-life and writes about mental health from her home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.