As an individual who had to advocate for years in my 40’s to finally receive a diagnosis of combined-type attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it is my mission to help educate others get what they need to lead successful, joyful, purposeful, and fulfilling lives.
Strength in Vulnerability
True confession: I hated this picture of me for the same reason I love it now; it’s authentically, unapologetically me! It is a little scary and a lot vulnerable to dig up what I had buried way-down-deep, but telling my story has brought healing.
If sharing it helps even one other mom, dad, kid, teacher, or leader feel less alone and more worthy – more capable of seeking the tools they need to practice living their life’s-purpose – then it’s worth the butterflies and sweaty palms!
Coloring Inside the Lines
Sure, I had always had the perfectionist tendencies, impatience, and emotional reactions typical of someone with ADHD, even as a youngster. But I had internalized them, holding the “restlessness and lack of focus” inside. As an elementary student I had earned praise for coloring inside the lines, paying attention in class, and offering my old-soul thoughts (to anyone who would listen).
I got my energy out on the kick-ball and soccer fields as a fierce competitor in anything athletic. I was invested, emotional, and intense. In everything I did, I wanted to perform well. And so you can see that very early on, I had learned how to channel my brain’s restlessness into performance.
Hyper-Focus and Inside vs. Outside
Over time, my channeling, coping, or masking, as we now call it, led to a deeply-fixed mindset. I developed hyper-awareness of the rules, and I focused on following them, to the letter! My hyper-focused mindset narrowed my thinking to the extend that I was afraid to make a mistake, get a “bad grade,” or get in trouble. To be clear: getting in trouble meant forgetting to put my spelling workbook on the back table. No kidding.
My rigid mindset became the skillset I used to follow the rules to get approval: “Learn the rules and follow them. You will be safe, and people will like you.” After all, I was a conscientious kid, and doing the right thing was important…Right?!
But in seeking – and soaking up praise for – performing well, I became dependent on earning praise rather than expressing who I was. The motivation for my actions and understanding of my self worth became dependent on other people’s affirmations. “Am I doing it right? I need you to tell me.”
In order to cope with my restless mind and high sensitivities as a bright, young, undiagnosed ADHDer, I chose actions that projected the image of me that I thought other people want to see. After all, I thought, the real me might not measure up. This is the point where the separation between “inside me and outside me” became set in stone.
The Performance-Based Prison
My, what I call now, “who do you want me to be? mindset,” became my own self-enforced prison of performance. It was a kind of chameleon act; can any of you relate? I nestled in to the identities I thought would help me fit in best with those around me. But I constantly worried that the real me might “accidentally show herself” in my flaws and mistakes. The chasm between the inside me and the outside me began to grow wider and wider, eventually showing itself in symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
Thankfully, through new research, ADHD awareness in women, and hard work in my 30’s and 40’s, I can understand that my fear-based, shame-avoidant habits as an undiagnosed ADHDer are what ultimately evolved into the source of the anxiety and depression that I now manage very well. But my well-developed coping mechanisms were what kept me from obtaining a clear ADHD diagnosis for many years and what kept me treading further down the path to poor mental health.
In my experience, the medical professionals from whom I sought help well-intendedly but misguidedly looked at the outside of my life, instead of listening carefully to what I was saying about the inside of my mind.
Ironically, I simply “performed too well” to have anxiety, depression, or ADHD.
Escaping the Performance Prison
I was alone for a long time in my journey to get healthy. I had to develop awareness, learn the triggers to certain behaviors and and my own disconnections without guidance or coaching. Providentially, I had created Yellow Parachute Learning Partners in the process, which I now understand was an outlet to finding answers for myself and advocate for others!
I learned enough about the brain, ADHD in women, and my co-morbid symptoms to continuously advocate for my own mental health. Ironically, my progressive autoimmune disease is what finally enabled me to begin taking prescription medication for anxiety and depression. In fact, when my body got sicker, I got what I needed to start healing my mind. Oof! That’s a tough pill to swallow – pun intended.
With medication, I was able to experience the positive effect of regulating my emotions enough to delay my reactions and smoothen some of the highs and lows. There still remained some patterns – and researching – that only an ADHD diagnosis, treatment, and medication would help me address.
Obtaining my diagnoses helped me manage my frustrating ADHD symptoms but, more than that, it also explained deeper things I had thought made me a bad person, a horrible weakness, a character flaw. Shedding that layer of self-loathing has opened my mind and heart to a life I didn’t know I could have.
Peeling Back the Layers
The “me” you meet in coaching sessions, at Target(a rare sighting), sports games, school events, and walking on the street is joyful, passionate, energetic, and loves every aspect of her life! Even better – the me on the outside matches the me on the inside, something that before diagnosis and treatment I did not know was possible. I have put careful, purposeful, meaningful practice into living this statement. And I desire that you would have the same opportunity – earlier and with more easily accessible tools.
A Parting Sentiment and Call to YOU
I didn’t look like the typical kid or adult with ADHD. I graduated from a prestigious college and went on to create a successful, fulfilling career that suited my symptoms and life-style needs. (WOW – I am grateful.) And with more information, earlier in my life, I could have created a better mental health and support system to help me actually feel like the person I seemed to be on the outside.
I will never know if an earlier diagnosis would have protected me from the mental health crises I faced, but I do know that my personal experience can help others – especially young girls and women – know how to advocate for themselves to get help sooner than I did.
And as a mom of two awesome dudes and one awesome dudette, I can tell you there’s nothing I won’t do to help my kids build the awareness, resilience, and skills to shine in their purpose.
Which is what I hope for you. Whatever your challenge or obstacle, the world cannot afford to miss the “you” that is hiding underneath coping and masks and worry. No matter where you are today, you CAN learn to how love yourself fiercely, you learn to live in your true purpose. And by simply showing up as “you,” you help others do the same.
Let’s link arms to figure it out together!
Contact us now to figure out your next steps.
Yours in the journey,