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How My ADHD Brain Created a Nightmare of Social Anxiety

How My ADHD Brain Created a Nightmare of Social Anxiety

After my diagnosis, even my dreams make more sense. Sort of.
image generated by the author via AI

Note: all people mentioned in this article are fictitious constructs of my subconscious brain. Even the one who is real.

Since my relatively recent diagnosis, I’ve been immersing myself in research, anecdotes, podcasts, videos, and social media related to adult ADHD. It’s been quite the revelatory experience, as my perspective of the last fifty or so years of my life changes with this new lens turned on myself.

Last night all that knowledge finally seeped into my subconscious and I had what I suspect will only be the first of many ADHD dreams.

Or nightmare, really.

This is not fiction or allegory. This is exactly the experience that played out in my dream, no elaboration, just description.

See if you can pick out which particular ADHD symptoms my brain explores as we visit Morpheus’ demesne…

It started with me traveling.

I got off a train to Chicago, dressed casually in jeans and a button-down shirt. I had the distinct feeling that I had arrived later than expected, and that I’d missed some connection and was going to have to find someplace to crash that night.

Not a lot of stress, because I have many friends in Chicago with whom I’ve crashed in the past. But definitely some why didn’t you plan this better? angst going on.

I decided to go into a convenient dream-coffeeshop and figure out what to do next.

Then I met this woman.

She was young, smart, friendly, and she introduced herself from the other table in the cafe and struck up a mildly flirty conversation. When I was younger this might have led to me asking her out in an ethically non-monogamous way, but in the dream it seemed more like a friendly pity-flirt that’s more and more common as my hair goes gray.

Still, we got along well, and ended up chatting and walking around the beautiful summer Chicago market my dream had created.

Then I realized: my pants were on backwards.

I didn’t know how I’d managed to do it, but the zipper was in back and the ass was in front and I laughed it off because haha, isn’t that funny while inwardly (ok, it’s a dream, I guess it’s all inwardly) I felt a rush of embarrassment. How long have I been walking around in public with my pants on backwards?

Luckily, we were near my ex’s apartment.

My ex-girlfriend is the only real person with a role in this dream.

She does not actually live in Chicago.

No idea why my brain chose her (out of an embarrassingly large number of choices) but with that particular logic that dreams have I knew that we were near her apartment, and that she was out of town, and even though I’ve not spoken to her in years she wouldn’t mind if I stepped in briefly and fixed my pants.

The young woman and I went into the walk-up, still talking all friendly-like.

I turned my pants around, but then something weird happened.

I know, I know: “Then it got weird?” But up until this point, this was simply a very vivid but also completely plausible dream.

Until the suspenders* showed up.

As I’d put on my jeans, I noticed on the floor a pair of suspenders that obviously belonged to me — they had a kind of yellow-and-purple pattern on them.

What was weird was that I didn’t remember wearing suspenders. Have I been wearing suspenders this whole day? I thought I was wearing a belt.

I shrugged and put them on, with my new friend helping me attach them in the back.

That’s when my ex opened the door.

Apparently she hadn’t been as out-of-town as my subconscious had led me to believe. She and her husband (she does have an actual husband, but this one was fictional because I’ve never met him. My brain made him up.) came in the door and were, to put it mildly, a bit surprised to see me standing there with half-fastened suspenders next to a young woman.

I put on the cheeriest smile I could. “Hi!” I said. “You’re home! Hopefully it’s ok, I had to stop in and fix a quick wardrobe malfunction.” I remember chuckling in my dream, feeling incredibly embarrassed.

My ex, though, has always been gracious, and she just kind of shook her head (”Oh, that’s so like Gray” her expression seemed to say) as she and her husband took of their coats.

Then things got worse.

I realized I was wearing her shorts**

Looking down, instead of wearing my jeans, I realized I’d put on a pair of jean shorts that must have belonged to her.

Suddenly I noticed, draped over the chair next to me, my jeans — complete with the belt I thought I’d imagined.

I looked more closely at the suspenders, and realized that the purple designs on them were not what I thought.

“Huh,” I said, embarrassed even more. “Looks like I accidentally put on your shorts and suspenders***.” I tried to think of something more, but the awkwardness was huge. “Oops…”

Did I mention my ex has always been gracious? She just shook her head again, glanced at her husband (quite a handsome man, incidentally, very Cary-Grantesque) and said “So, who would like some tea?”

I laughed. “You’re not English. Do you actually want to have tea with us, or are you simply trying to get past my embarrassment?”

She gave me a look. “I said, who would like some tea?” Without waiting for a reply, she went into the kitchen. I turned to check on my new friend, who was sitting on the couch with her knees drawn up to her chest, looking sad.

And that’s when things got mortifying.

I could not remember her name.

I realized that the entire exchange with my ex and her husband had gone by without me introducing her. I realized that I needed to fix that, fast, lest I end up being that guy.

Not just the genus that guy — the particular species of that older guy who hangs out with a woman half his age but can’t even remember her name.

I live in mortal fear of being that guy. In my dream, I tried hard to remember how she’d introduced herself in that imaginary coffee-house.

My brain did not let me. Haha! it said. “She definitely told you her name, and you’ll remember it sometime later, but right now, when you really need to introduce her to your ex whose apartment you broke into and whose clothes you mistook for your own? YOU DON’T GET THE NAME.

I woke up in a cold sweat.

Let’s face it, this is a weird post. But if you know someone who might enjoy it, please do sent it on.


What really sucks is that I got all the feelings.

I laid there in the early morning dark with that hollow feeling of fear and social anxiety in my chest and ears. It took me a while to realize that I hadn’t actually done any of those things — I hadn’t been late on the train, hadn’t worn my jeans backwards, hadn’t snagged my ex’s short trousers and braces****.

It took me a while to get over it, though, because amygdala don’t give a $#@% if it’s a dream or real, it’s gonna pump those chemicals into your brain bag regardless.

It took the most time to stop my brain obsessing about I have to remember her name. I know, in the dream, that I heard it, back in the coffeeshop. I know there was a name for this imaginary person.

But I have no idea what it was. And it’s just as frustrating as real life, except more so, because there’s an added-on you’re getting upset about something that didn’t happen and someone that doesn’t exist.

But hey, at least I got a fun little article out of it. Try writing a dream like that, ChatGPT!

None of the things in the dream were outlandish.

I’ve either done the things in the dream or things like them for my whole life. Especially the mortification of forgetting the name of a person you like.

So there is no moral, no point, no lesson to be learned. I just wanted to write about my dream.

Except, maybe…

My brain has a lot of weird creative tangents.*****

And along with that comes some time blindness, short term memory loss, inattention, and a lot of potentially embarrassing moments when I will have to simply accept that I did or didn’t do something the way people expect.

That doesn’t mean I’m broken, or that guy.

I just have to take the bad with the good.

It is my brain. Might as well make the best of it.

* braces, for my English readers. Stop giggling.

** Dammit, Brits, I mean “short trousers.” STOP GIGGLING.

*** Fine, I give up. Laugh all you want. I’m basically dreaming an episode of Miranda.

**** There, are you happy now?

***** For example, a strange obsession with asterisks and my possibly nonexistent British readers.

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