I was diagnosed at 48 with ADHD. But, unfortunately, my "go-to" strategies that had worked all my life failed me. The tools I developed in elementary school and perfected in college failed, as my son says, "epic." Those strategies that served me well were "work harder and stay longer."
The fact was, I got all kinds of kudos and appreciation for my dedication and hard work. It was a source of pride and made me feel good (accomplished even) when others noticed my tenacity and can-do attitude. But do you want to know the irony? My selection for assignments was often based on that tenacity and hard work! Over and over again, the work and effort I gave paid off in recognition and additional responsibilities. After all, I was the "Go-to Girl."
But that all changed when I took on a new position at a new location, which required a whole new skill set, including understanding small-town politics. It called for more than being willing to work hard, treating others fairly, and even understanding my role on the team. The long-time "go-to" strategies no longer worked as I had to be efficient, automatic, systematic, and even play the hardball political games. That kind of efficiency and lack of humanity made me feel robotic, inhuman, and soulless. But I'm jumping ahead of myself.
I felt prepared and confident. My work ethic was beyond compare, and my reputation was second to none. I had prayed to my Maker for a good fit in my new position, asking for the perfect place to showcase my skills and make a "real difference" in lives. My years of experience have given me many opportunities to work with some great leaders and other talented individuals, and I was anxious to touch the lives of others in the same positive way. Little did I know of the "difference" I'd be making in the quality of my life!
So I entered this position when the economy called for everyone to do "more with less," and multitasking was a badge of honor in the office. Sound familiar? Then the feeling of overwhelm started to make its way into my life. With all my preparation and knowledge, I felt like an impostor! It felt like I couldn't keep it all straight, and it didn't matter how hard I worked to stay on task or worry about the deadlines. It started a "hamster wheel" of judgment where I called myself names, told myself I should do better, and silently agreed with condemning eyes.
It felt like I had to be superhuman all the time with superpowers like being able to leap to my supervisor's conclusions simultaneously, magically see through colleagues' hidden agendas, and divine high-priority items based on little to poor communication. I was miserable working with people I didn't understand and who didn't understand me.
The lack of time and too much "stuff" to do started dominating my life at work and home. I couldn't sleep, and I was constantly distracted by my thoughts. Finally, I started seeing a counselor but was told I was "too accomplished" to have ADHD. After all, I did not meet any of the childhood criteria, and I was college educated, professional, and so well "put together" on the outside. But no one ever knew the cost of keeping that facade up! My two strategies of staying longer and working harder were not cutting it anymore, and it exasperated by the harsh, hostile atmosphere only added more to my high-stress level.
This inability to reel in my thoughts kick-started my "people-pleaser monster" into high gear. When I look back, it was when I had lost perspective; my boundaries, my inner voice, and my confidence all left me. My compass was off-kilter, and I focused on "winning the un-winnable game of pleasing the displeased."
I had overused the strategies of working hard and staying longer, making myself sick. I stopped doing everything I enjoyed between my illness and my emotional state. My time at home was thinking about work and my screw-ups (both real and perceived), and it was more than frustrating because I knew I was talented and intelligent, but it wasn't coming through.
Have you seen Les Misérables the movie? Ann Hathaway plays Fantine, the mother of Cosette, who ends up selling everything of value she has (necklace, hair, teeth, and even her body) to keep her precious daughter intact. It felt like I was "Fantine" in Les Miserable …losing "bits and pieces" of myself and becoming unrecognizable to myself and those who loved me.
I had every sign of Adult ADHD for women listed in the ADDitude article linked here; it didn't connect until I had a family member diagnosed in college. So, I asked my doc again about ADHD, and I took a computer test that challenged me and made it clear I was ADHD. But, man, was that day sweet!
Sweet, because I no longer felt crazy! I wasn't the lazy or stupid person I had made myself out to be in the mirror each morning. Instead, I knew I had an invisible neuro-difference in my brain that had been exasperated by the stress of a high anxiety, hostile work environment, and thoughtless coworkers.
So how did I get my "Go-To" Strategies back? I didn't. I developed a whole new set of skills that worked for me, including using timers and alarms, task planning and management, and learning mindful activities that included prayer and quiet time rituals. I ditched the things (and people) that didn't work for me. I adjusted how I tackled my life and the projects in it.
I became VERY intentional… with my decisions, time, and those I loved. This intention empowered me to do what I'm good at, including connecting with those I work with in the ADHD community, providing timely resources to those desperate, and designing life strategies based on strengths rather than weaknesses.
If you've seen the end of Les Miserables, the movie, you know my ending, my friends! A beautiful and fully restored Fantine returns to Cosette's wedding. She is happy, radiant, and joyful! I feel like Fantine on the wedding day, gazing at the beautiful life I've created, crafted, and polished. I can't tell you how full and satisfying my life is since I chose to honor myself and my differences. It's a life full of the things I choose with the people I love and about something important to me.
So I don't mourn my "Done, Gone" strategies. Instead, I want you to be intentional with your precious resources so you get the life you want. I want you to start making decisions about you and your life. Today, I'm glad my "Go-To" strategy left me, and I could discover this whole new part of me that is so much more than I could ever imagine only a few years ago.
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