So, It Looks Like I Have ADHD… (And So Does my Main Character…)

Long time no see, my lovely readers! I know it’s been a hot minute since you’ve heard from me, as I’ve just been kind of a creepy recluse for the past half a year or so who keeps postponing book releases and retweeting things on Twitter. But, if you happen to recall my last couple blog posts and more recent stream-of-consciousness Twitter threads (though I don’t know why you would), then you should have a fairly decent idea of what’s been going on with me.

But, allow me to get you up to speed. Essentially, these past few years of my life have been a struggle. I’ve been in and out of school, uncertain where I’m going with my life, floundering about with a part-time job and an unsuccessful writing career I couldn’t seem to get off the ground, and a brain just chock full of goals and dreams that I never seemed to be able to achieve. I was the stereotypical “gifted kid” who grew up to be a disappointing and underachieving adult. My depression and anxiety that had been with me since college were only getting worse, my self-esteem and motivation took a nosedive, I was having near-constant headaches, couldn’t get a good night’s sleep to save my life, my ability to concentrate on anything was not only worse than ever, but totally shot to hell. I was making people uncomfortable at work with my jittery behavior, and had a few coworkers half-jokingly say it was like I was on speed when I had moments of being unable to control how fast and erratically I was moving when I got worked up. I was distant from my friends (and I’d never been great at keeping up with them), too guilty for not talking to them in so long and too afraid of rejection or feeling like a burden on them to feel like it was worth it to reach out. I felt trapped in my own life, watching my twenties drift by in a fog while all my peers seemed to be happy, well-adjusted adults. I felt like a lazy, worthless piece of shit so much of the time because I couldn’t seem to get anything started and couldn’t keep from procrastinating, missing deadlines, or frantically doing things at the very last minute (which is how I’ve always operated, but as an adult it’s been way worse), and everything just seemed so goddamn hard.

And then, at a certain point late last year, I reached my breaking point. And now, after months of waiting for this appointment, I was finally able to have a neuropsychological evaluation a few days ago, and it turns out there’s a 99% chance I do, in fact, have ADHD.

I say 99% because I still don’t have an official diagnosis yet. For those of you who’ve never had a neuropych evaluation, it’s a lengthy process that can take multiple hours. For me, it was about 4 hours and broken up into 2-3 parts, depending on whether you consider the tests and questionnaire in the actual evaluation portion to be two separate parts. After the extremely in-depth 90-minute interview that made up the first part, the psychiatrist who interviewed me said that he believed I had ADHD (along with a buttload of anxiety and depression symptoms that probably largely stem from not dealing with undiagnosed ADHD very well for so long). The only thing that would make him question that assessment would be if my evaluation showed some test or question result that was wildly off-base for someone with ADHD.

However, there’s a lot to the evaluation, and the actual results of it can take 2-3 weeks to analyze. And even once I do (hopefully) have an official diagnosis, I’ll have to be referred to someone else for actual treatment/medication, as this psychological practice is apparently very small and only does evaluations.

Long story short, though, it is quite a huge relief to have a professional finally tell me that, yes, I do most likely have ADHD. That this is what’s going on in my brain, and there are things that can be done to help me to live with it better. I do wish that I didn’t have to wait for who knows how much longer to actually start some kind of treatment that will hopefully help me, and there is that anxious part of me that can’t help but worry that the results will come back in two weeks and they’ll be like, “sorry, but you don’t have ADHD after all, there’s nothing we can do to help you.”

And I feel like because of that lingering uncertainty, there’s this lingering tension in me that I can’t shake, this feeling of being a fraud or an impostor, or someone just faking it for attention/pity/making excuses for myself/etc. Like, on the one hand, a huge part of me has already accepted and internalized this about myself, and I find myself unconsciously and automatically considering myself part of the neurodivergent community. But… should I really? What if I’m appropriating a label that isn’t for me? Especially since I’m still not officially diagnosed?

And that’s not even getting into the lingering shame over mistakes I’ve made in my life, and disentangling (if it even can be disentangled) what’s been a setback caused by my ADHD, and what was just me making bad choices and causing my own problems. My entire life has basically been recontextualized in the past few months, and even though the past few days in particular have granted me a sense of relief and a fresh, optimistic outlook, I know I still have a long journey ahead.

So. Now that I’ve likely made you thoroughly uncomfortable with all this deeply personal business, those of you who are still here are probably wondering what the hell this all has to do with the clickbaity part of the title: “(And so Does my Main Character).” Well. After a lot of deliberation and hesitation, I’ve decided to make it official that Kiera Anders of the Risky Business trilogy has ADHD. Ashlyn, her best friend, does as well, which might be unsurprising to some readers due to A) the fact that in real life, neurodivergent people often tend to gravitate toward each other and strongly relate to one another, even if they don’t realize they’re not neurotypical; or B) her “adorkably scatterbrained” personality is pretty well established in her introductory scene.

But Kiera? Some of you who’ve read High Risk might be going, “Huh… you know what, I never would’ve thought of her that way, but now that you mention it, it all makes sense.” And maybe now you’re seeing her in a whole new light. Maybe some of you were frustrated or confused by how inexplicably restless, emotionally dysregulated, or just plain impulsive she can be. But for those of you who have no idea where this is coming from, allow me to try to explain my thought process.

You see, since I’d started seriously writing romance, I’d always thought of Tera from The Loft series as the character I’d put the most of myself into, to the point where she’s a rather unflattering and brutally honest self-insert, or at least close to it. I mean, there’s definitely some wish-fulfilment to her character–like, man, do I fucking wish I had the focus, memory, and consistent motivation to learn multiple languages–but she’s basically the human embodiment of my anxiety.

At the same time, though, the root of her anxiety is very clearly PTSD; her persistent worries, her jitteriness, and her inability to ever fully relax largely stem from specific sources of trauma that I have not experienced in my own life. Tera is the way she is for a reason, whereas I… am just like this. I don’t have an “excuse” for being an emotional wreck who can never just turn my brain off. And I’ll admit, at times I kind of felt a little guilty, wondering if it was inappropriate to be writing such a character whose trauma I didn’t share, especially since I often did feel a sense of catharsis when writing her POV and did feel as though I could strongly relate to her day-to-day struggles. I’m not saying you can only write what you know, that no one can ever write about a trauma or other life-changing event that they haven’t personally experienced, but the thing is, I often felt like I was writing what I knew when it came to Tera apart from her backstory. I couldn’t help but feel weird about that at times, like maybe I was completely misrepresenting the experiences of someone like her, or maybe it was a moral failing on my part that–having never lived through what she has–my depression, anxiety, and general inability to live the life I wanted was only getting worse.

Enter High Risk and Kiera Anders. Whereas Tera Bodnar pretty much falls into the category of “unlikable female protagonist,” Kiera was kinda meant to be her “cool” counterpart. She’s the romance protagonist who’s suffered tragedy, sure, but she’s collected, confident, and all-around has her shit together. She has her flaws, of course, but she’s really the successful, driven, self-actualized woman that I wish I was; totally not “me” at all, Tera that was the one that was “me.” And then in walks her long lost love, and of course all that sharp focus is shot to hell.

And that was the story I’d been writing, but then something strange happened. I ended up putting more of myself into Kiera than I thought I had been. So many of her quirks and traits and behaviors and thought patterns that I’d either written off as being due to Caleb’s influence (more than once, Kiera claims that this “isn’t like me,” or other characters say that about her), or hadn’t realized were as promient as they ended up being were really just my day-to-day experiences.

But like, aren’t romance main characters just like this a lot? Easily distracted by their love interest, thrown off-kilter and unable to concentrate because of their love interest, restless and fidgety and hyper-sensitive to stimuli because of their love interest. Surely, I was just giving readers what they expected with a lead who was frequently ansty, always “on,” had a tendency to either hyper-focus on something or get caught with her mind wandering, exhibits multiple “nervous habits” that might be considered stims, has intense but very changeable emotions, and is generally quite impulsive. Surely, all of these things are normally out-of-character for Kiera and just goes to show how strongly affected she is by Caleb coming back into her life.

Because I mean… when I really thought about it, I couldn’t picture Kiera not being like this at any other time. Everything about her speaks to someone whose mind and body are never truly at rest; someone who craves stimulation but also experiences it very strongly; someone whose brain is usually grappling with ten different things at once. She might say “this wasn’t like me at all,” but there’s really no evidence to the contrary, and frankly, she still exhibits the same restless tendencies, scattered thoughts and emotions, distractability, and moments of hyperfocus even when Caleb is not involved. And things about her that just seemed normal to me apparently stood out to a number of readers in a handful of early reviews I read, which surprised me. A number of people seemed to interpret her thoughts or behavior as signs of anxiety or insecurity, or a general emotional instability. But that was Tera they were describing, I thought; not calm, focused, utterly self-possessed Kiera. There was something about her that some readers just weren’t getting, and I didn’t get it, either… until suddenly, I did.

I felt like there was some missing piece to the puzzle that was Kiera; true, I felt like I had a pretty clear sketch of her personality down on paper, and I like to think she’s a well-drawn, well-rounded character. But even to me, something about her felt off, and I started to get the sense after a while that I wasn’t being fully true to who she was as a character, that there were things about her for which my justifications or explanations felt incomplete. Like, why was she particularly sensitive to “dumb blonde” stereotypes like being thought of as an “airhead” or not being taken seriously as a professional in her work? Why was she so itchy and restless at times when she wasn’t even feeling nervous or worried about anything?

I think it should be clear by now where I’m going with this. When I realized I have ADHD, things just snapped into place. And I realized that I’d crafted a character with a lot of ADHD traits without even knowing it. And at this point, it really just feels like the best way to do this character justice is to make it official that she does, in fact, have ADHD.

So, is this a retcon? Eh, technically yes? I don’t like calling it that since it does feel so true to Kiera’s character to me, and it doesn’t really change the story. Well, the story as you already probably know it; now that I’m consciously finishing the trilogy with this fact in mind, I can’t say that it won’t affect Kiera’s character. Because that’s just how her brain is wired; it affects her whether she notices it or not the same way it affects me, and even though it wasn’t outright stated in the originally published version of High Risk, it was still there just under the surface.

But yeah, I kind of have to call this a retcon since changes were made. Initially, I was just going to leave High Risk as it was, and include the first explicit references to ADHD in Flying High (which will be out in just about another two weeks, btw), with an author’s note at the beginning to explain. But, as you can see, this explanatory blog post is already getting way too long-winded, and it felt wrong not to go back and make sure there wasn’t anything highly contradictory with this new canon in the first book.

I’d only planned on adding a couple words or lines here and there to make it more explicit that she does have ADHD and that it affects her life in certain ways, and deleting any references to this not being her usual self. And while that is mostly what I did, I also ended up rewriting multiple passages more heavily than I’d anticipated. Also, I took the opportunity to do some minor rewrites in the flashback chapter to the aftermath of the accident, so that the timeline is less vague and better matches up with related events depicted in Flying High.

For those of you who own and already read the book (and also for those of you who’ve been holding off on reading it until the next one is out because of the dreaded cliffhanger), you might be wondering how to get your hands on this updated version. Luckily for the majority of you who own the Kindle edition, I was able to cajole KDP into pushing the new version to you. However, it could still be 2-3 business days before it’s available for you to read, and I don’t know whether or not you can expect an email from Amazon saying that the updated book is available. They’re a little fickle like that. Just in case they don’t let you know themselves, go to “Manage Your Content and Devices” in your Amazon account, where you’ll find your list of Kindle books. Once the new manuscript has been fully processed (it should be out there in the world no later than Monday), find High Risk on the list, and there should be a link that says “Updates Available” under the book’s title.

Unfortunately, I’m still not sure exactly how pushing updated content of existing ebooks to readers works with other retailers such as Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or Apple Books. If you’re not sure if you have the new version, the easiest way to check is to find this change in chapter one:

From the original edition:

“Hmm?” Already, I could feel my cheeks heating again. This wasn’t like me at all; where was poised, professional Kiera when I needed her most? I’d blow this whole deal if I didn’t get my shit together immediately.

And the new one:

“Hmm?” Already, I could feel my cheeks heating again. Where was poised, professional Kiera when I needed her most? I’d blow this whole deal if I didn’t get my shit together immediately. I wanted to glower at Caleb, resenting the fact that this was one instance where I couldn’t merely chalk my scattered thoughts up to my ADHD. The bastard had to know the effect he was having on my concentration.

If you purchased the ebook from a non-Amazon retailer and don’t have the new edition or know how to get it through them, please fill out this form here, and I will make sure you get a copy.

I feel like I’m making a bigger deal out of all of this than it is, but it feels like a huge deal for me. And I really hope I haven’t upset anyone with my choice to officially depict Kiera in this way, and to make some changes to the first book that are in line with that decision. Is it a perfect portrayal of ADHD? Probably not. I am only human, after all, and only still learning about what this means for me. ADHD affects everyone differently, so this is by no means one-size-fits-all representation, nor do I believe I even managed to truly capture the full scope of what living with ADHD is like for Kiera (or myself, for that matter) in either the old or new versions of High Risk, though I tried my best in the rewrites, and will hopefully continue to paint a nuanced picture of her experience in the next book.

My biggest hope in doing this is that I haven’t stumbled so greatly in trying to write decent ADHD rep that it ended up being harmful instead. Nuanced, compassionate, and realistic neurodivergence and mental health rep is something that’s important to me. And even if it hurts, I want to know if I’ve screwed up, and how I can do better in the future. One big reason I was hesitant to make these changes is that I worried I was straying out of my lane and would come across as not knowing what I’m talking about. Kiera, after all, has a far greater ability to focus and get shit done than I’ve had in a long time, and I attribute much of this to her having been diagnosed at 15, so she’s been medicated for years, had therapy, and learned techniques to help her organize her life. But I’m only now learning this about myself in my late twenties and have no idea yet how my brain might react to stimulants or other meds, so if any of you lovely readers are fellow ADHDers who have been medicated for a while and you find Kiera’s portrayal to be wildly inaccurate, I sincerely apologize and I totally deserve to be called out for it. Again, it’s not the same for everyone, so some might find her relatable and some might not, but if I hurt anyone with my portrayal of her, I’m very sorry, and I promise I will continue to learn and do better.

Well… that was a LOT. If you’ve stuck around until the end, thanks so much for reading all of this. Like I mentioned many paragraphs ago, Flying High will FINALLY be out imminently; I’m aiming for two weeks or less, but I think I’ve finally learned my lesson this time about not announcing exact release dates. I’m super excited to finally be able to present it to you (especially since it underwent yet more rewrites in light of all the revelations mentioned above), and I really don’t want to jinx anything.

I had more minor announcements that I planned on sharing, but this post is already novel-length, I’ve been struggling to write this all out for about five hours now, and my brains feel like mush. I think it’s time to call it a night. Thank you all so much for your continued support. I hope you find what I’ve done with High Risk to your liking, and that Flying High lives up to your expectations. See you all again soon.

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