Lost in the Upside Down: my struggles with ADHD

A student explains how she hyper-fixated on “Stranger Things” to distract from her anxiety.

I followed a structured routine during high school: wake up at 5 a.m., go to school, start homework, go to the gym at 6 p.m. and then go back home to do more work. When I graduated in 2021, I suddenly had endless free time throughout the summer to sit on the couch and browse through Netflix.

I became anxious that I wasn’t being productive enough without a schedule to follow, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move from the couch.  

I didn’t understand that I was completely burned out after my senior year, and my mind needed to rest. I had obsessive thoughts about how my productivity determined my self-worth. I couldn’t think about anything else, relaxation was out of the question.  

By the end of May, I was exhausted. My anxiety, confusion and sadness about my lack of productivity made me feel worthless. My feelings were going to break me; my only goal was to survive. I opened Netflix to distract myself, and found that the fourth season of “Stranger Things” was coming out soon. I decided to binge-watch the whole series in advance because I thought it would help me unwind.

It only took me four days to finish the entire series, including the new season. My mind was completely silent while watching, my obsessive thoughts and worries disappeared. I didn’t remember a single detail about the plot while watching, I just remembered the silence. 

I started to watch it repeatedly; every time I finished it, I restarted. Binging was a cycle I couldn’t escape. 

I stopped taking care of myself, I couldn’t gather the energy to brush my hair and I’d forget to eat because my attention was focused on the show. I replaced my real feelings with the emotions the show evoked in me. 

When the show itself wasn’t enough of a distraction anymore, I researched the production and watched interviews with the cast to find comfort. Even if I was with friends or doing other activities, I’d eventually go back home and recharge by watching “Stranger Things,” as it overshadowed any other interest I used to have.  

After almost two months, I realized I was letting time slip through my fingers. My friends started voicing their concerns, but I wasn’t prepared for the obsessive thoughts and guilt to come back if I stopped watching.  

I knew the situation wasn’t normal when a relative asked what I’d been doing with my free time and I couldn’t come up with an answer. Two days later, I completely stopped watching the show and impulsively deleted Netflix from all my devices. 

I became terrified of wasting my time, I was about to leave my home country, Colombia, to attend Temple University and there wasn’t much time left to spend with my friends and family. 

I needed help, I called the therapist I’d been seeing inconsistently for years. 

“I have so many thoughts flooding my mind all day and it’s just exhausting,” I told her. “I tried to be productive, but I can’t. I either focus so much on something that I obsess over it or simply can’t focus at all.” 

During that session, my therapist told me that I had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which gave me a sense of relief. An ADHD diagnosis didn’t solve all my problems, but it helped me understand that I wasn’t just unproductive without reason.  

With her help, I made weekly plans with my friends and returned to some hobbies I had set aside, like writing, which was a healthier way to manage my mental health. I bought a weekly planner and wrote down some activities that I knew I’d enjoy and wouldn’t stress me out. 

These activities helped me reconnect with my feelings. By taking these steps and spending more time with my friends instead of alone with the TV, I found that their support motivated me to work on my mental health.

I tried to learn how to be less hard on myself and find a balance between enjoying things in moderation instead of using them to escape reality. “Stranger Things” is still one of my favorite shows, I just had to learn how to find balance. 

I’m still coming to terms with the fact that every day is not going to be productive. I’m trying to understand that no matter how many things I achieve, I still deserve to rest and enjoy myself without feeling guilty.

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