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How TikTok’s Obsession with ADHD Made Me Seek Therapy

Let’s cut to the chase — I’m a pretty anxious person. From indecision around any topic (like which restaurants to eat at, what jobs to apply for, whether I should turn left or right across any given street) to the hyper-awareness of my surroundings (how I can know exactly which pants are in my giant clothing pile), my mind has never known peace. At first, I thought I was overthinking it. But, let me tell you, if you’re actively thinking about the fact that you’re thinking too much, chances are that you’re a few Inception-layers deep into some anxiety. Thankfully, you probably aren’t alone. 

The pandemic has affected us in a lot of different ways, one being distinct changes in mental health. While mental health is already a continuous up-and-down journey, staying inside has absolutely heightened my pre-existing conditions — or surfaced some hidden ones. Whether you’re feeling heightened levels of anxiety, deeper pits of despair, or all-consuming fogs of confusion, exhaustion or hopelessness, they’re very real feelings being shared by a majority of people at this point in time, due to a variety of very real reasons

I experienced a lot of changes. My depressive episodes lasted longer (but felt more dull), my anxieties were still there (but somehow, felt heavier), and I was diving head-first into an entire roster of new interests. I’ve always been able to hyper-focus when needed, and I’ve always had a lot of crafty, creative projects, so it didn’t seem that strange — until TikTok came along. 

For lack of a better way to say it, TikTok has fully changed social media and I immediately understand why: TikTok has an algorithm that curates content specifically toward your interests—whatever those interests might be. For me, this involved cooking videos with how-to recipes, people with lots of plants and very cool makeup transitions set to remixed audios. However, as quarantine wore on, my curation started to change. 

Seemingly out of nowhere, my recommended content took on a new interest: ADHD

While I was pleased to see content that strangely related to how I think and operate in the world, it was also slightly alarming that I was resonating so closely with a mental disorder that I have never been diagnosed with. While the act of self-diagnosing is dangerous, learning more about other mental disorders and how they manifest can help inform people on symptoms and treatment options. For me, it sparked a curiosity that turned into a journey towards my own mental health. I began searching for a therapist and familiarized myself with other specialists in the area. 

Before I knew it, I had finished an entire month of therapy. I strengthened relationships with my family and my siblings. I took control of my physical health, and I am realizing more and more ways how I act out of anxiety or depression. While it’s too soon to say whether or not I have ADHD, I do believe the symptoms correlate with my personal experience–and wouldn’t have taken this next step towards understanding myself had it not been for those TikTok videos.

TikTok has released numerous statements detailing its mental health network, fully acknowledging the niches of therapists, doctors and mental health professionals on the platform. While TikTok serves as a great way for small businesses and creators to get their work out into the world, the same goes for the mental health (or physical health) fields. TikTok ADHD content can be anything — teenagers that have been diagnosed for years listing off their habits that are explained by ADHD, psychologists doing a dance while explaining the thought process of hyperfixation, people explaining how they have to actively stop themselves from stream-of-consciousness talking and so much more. 

I’ve learned that ADHD often goes undiagnosed in women, something that has been widely studied for many years but continues to surprise many. I’ve learned that some of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD, go hand-in-hand with a slew of other conditions, reinforcing the point that it’s entirely possible to self-diagnose yourself for a condition, only to discover you’re experiencing something much different in the future. I’ve also realized that TikTok’s obsession with ADHD comes from a number of different places, but centers around people wanting to find community, and people looking for answers.

While TikTok can never substitute the help of a mental health professional or service, it gave me the tools to feel confident in taking that next step towards therapy, and towards better understanding myself. Whether or not that involves ADHD is still to be determined — but I’m ready to find out.

A version of this story was published April 2021.

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