Loving this ADHD Brain of Mine

Self-Healing Through Embracing Adversity Mindfully

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The picture above is like me at seventy also. That is just part of it though.

I was severely punished for being me as a child, punished for the way my mind worked, as if I could suddenly become someone else. But in those days it was still mostly an authoritarian approach to child rearing and discipline. So I was disciplined, heavily, and criticised and publicly humiliated, to make me fall into line. As a result, as a child, I developed complex trauma, and a deep self-loathing that no matter how much I worked at it I could not please my parents ever about anything.

At age 56 I got diagnosed with PTSD and ADHD, following a massive breakdown as a result of trying to reconnect with my father just before he died. He had cut me off when I was nineteen, but in a way that also protected me from his endless dissatisfaction with my being. Although I felt massively rejected, it also liberated me. I also thought it was all I deserved, ever. Being Neurodivergent was an interesting new perception of myself. I always knew I was slightly different, rather an ‘out of the box’ thinker, good at problem-solving but not at any routines or administrative type jobs. Actually hopeless at the latter, though being female I was expected to take on this kind of work. I also have wacky and sometimes shocking sense of humour and have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. I don’t say yes, I say woohoo and jump around.

A Huge Relief

After my diagnosis I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I suddenly understood that it had never been my fault. I was just who I was, expressing my own personality, which was highly intuitive, profoundly intelligent and analytical, very hyperactive and curious, and very blunt, or direct.

But I did and still do have problems associated with ADHD, like distractedness and over-committing myself. I am interested in so many things and want to be doing them all, which can mean I fail to do anything much at all, or I accidentally let people down.

Other Problems Remain

I struggle to get to places on time so I am always super early. This can be as annoying as being constantly late. But my worst is completely forgetting I even had an appointment or arrangement to see someone. Even if I look at my diary in the morning I can forget by lunch-time that I am supposed to be online or somewhere else. I know this makes people feel slighted but it really is not about them, it is about how my brain does or does not work. I can apologise and do. Most people who know me understand I have ADHD and can accept it is that instead of me being rude.

Distractedness can be a problem too. I am in the middle of something and I get distracted. It may be two days before I remember that I was meant to be doing XYZ. The worst is forgetting that I am cooking something and I leave it on the stove to burn. How many pots and pans have I scoured clean of burned on food?

So I can become deeply frustrated by myself, remain self critical or self judgmental, or I can learn a new way to be with it all.

Coming Out

Telling friends and family was interesting. My husband immediately said ‘that makes sense, so now we know we can work with it.’ He does too — he is really supportive and helpful, never judges or moans at me for my clearly ADHD deficits and he knows how hard I work to get it all right. HE understands that everything is a double effort for me. To do the task and to do it in spite of my ADHD.

Other people said they were sorry for me, or how would I cope now, which doesn’t make sense since I had not changed being me, it was just that now I had an understanding and could work constructively with it. Some people even walked away from me. It was like coming out, saying ‘this is who I really am, like it or lump it.’ Most embraced me because they already loved me, and others just didn’t want to know or couldn’t understand. It is ignorance that is the hardest thing for most of us to cope with. It can be so very unkind.

Cultural Complexities

Many cultures still want to reject the idea of ADHD as a money-making device for drug companies. This was promoted by the media for some time, but it is most definitely not a drug company ruse, it is very real and a life-long struggle for many to simply get through each day.

Other cultures are discriminatory against all mental deviations and divergencies and they are equally mistaken. They see it somehow as an aberration to be ashamed of. This is not the case at all. We have so many advantages in other ways that we should be heralded as possibly the way forward for the human race. Look at the number of highly successful people who are self-declared neurodivergents, such as Richard Branson, Chris Packham, Greta Thunberg, Lee Mack, Rory Bremner and so many others the list is endless. Some small organisations recognise these super qualities and recruit specifically from these ND groups. The world needs to catch up.

Strategies to Cope

Find out the strengths of how your brain works is the best place to start. Instead of looking at what is wrong we need to look at what we get really good at.

Self-acceptance became my next main goal. I cannot help this brain of mine, but I can work with it. I can maximise its positive sides and find ways to support myself for its deficits. Every brain has these positives and deficits. We are all slightly different, and ADHD should not be a mental health issue except that there is no sensible allowances made socially for people like us and so we are disabled by the education systems, and the entire social structure of modern life. That is the disability, the system we’re forced to conform to and yet which does not value the positives of neurodivergency.

Create reminders etc for yourself to help with some of the bigger struggles that emerge, such as distractability. I have found that if I mindfully ground myself in what my plans are for the next hour there is a stronger likelihood I will get through them and not get distracted. Longer than that and I will lose it.

ADHD and Education

At school and later in Further and Higher education, I could never get my brain to do what it was supposed to do so I always got lower grades that I felt I should be able to achieve. This added to my sense of self-worthlessness in earlier years but now made complete sense. My brain can totally fixate on something it finds stimulating, but equally I cannot make anything enter its confines that does not make my brain go ‘oh yeah — wow I’m caught’. What fascinates my brain is arbitrary and yet does have some patterns to it.

So it is not all easy going, even this understanding why I am like this. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

It led me to understand the importance of self-acceptance and compassion for self and all others. This has been a huge gift. Compassion and acceptance were almost completely missing in my childhood so I had to learn this skill from no foundation other than what my own heart felt, what in fact I craved but did not understand.

ADHD and relationships

These were very challenging for me until I ‘came out’ and realised I cannot please all the people but enough people really love and value me exactly as I am. Those who reject me have the problem, not me or my friends and loved ones.

My second husband found my energy very attractive, exciting even. He also loves my enthusiasm, my curiosity, my tendency to challenge anything until I fully understand it and agree with it or can embrace it, but I will never follow anything or go along with anything for the sake of it.

He loves that in twenty seven years he has never been bored in my company for one minute. It is just about finding ‘your tribe’ as it is called, the people who do get you and appreciate you.

He now understands why I sometimes get distracted and wander off, supports me in making sure I turn hobs off and remember keys etc. We both keep our keys in a bowl in the same place so I never lose any keys somewhere in the house — for instance.

I need ordered chaos in order to function at all. Don’t tidy up for me, it will throw me out for months, I know where everything is, even if it looks untidy, it all has a place and I will tidy it up when it’s the right time to do so. But I am very loving and affectionate, fiercely loyal and protective, great fun, adventurous and slightly mad. That is who I am and I’m sorry if you don’t get it.

In Conclusion

So yes ADHD and other forms of ND can be challenging to live with but overall I like who I am, I enjoy my crazy mind games, I like being profoundly honest and sometimes outspoken. I like the directions it takes me into, that in my seventies I am still wanting to backpack and travel all over the place, that life will not slow me down, that I have more writing projects than I have tine to write them all down as well as do all the other things I love to do, I just have to remember not to overcommit myself too often. And nowadays I am very open about my ND and celebrate it in spite of other people’s attitudes

IF you like this story you can read more about how I learned to accept and love and be loved here, and more about the trauma side of the story and how I healed from that too here