I was diagnosed at 48 with ADHD. My “go-to” strategies that had worked all my life failed me. The tools I developed in elementary school and were perfected into college failed, as my son says, “epic.” Those strategies that had served me so 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 it made me feel good (accomplished even) when others noticed my tenacity and my can-do attitude. You want to know the irony? I was chosen for assignments 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 hard ball political games. That kind of efficiency coupled with the lack of humanity made me feel robotic, inhuman and soulless. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
I felt pretty prepared and confident. My work ethic was beyond compare and my reputation was second to none. I had actually 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 had given me tons of 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 have any idea of the “difference” I’d be making would be in the quality of my own life!
So I entered this position during a time when the economy called for everyone to do “more with less” and multitasking was a badge of honor in the office. Sound familiar? It was then the feeling of overwhelm started to make it’s way in my life. With all my preparation and knowledge I felt like an impostor! It felt as if I couldn’t keep it all straight and it didn’t matter how hard I worked at staying on task or worried about the deadlines. This started a “hamster wheel” of judgement 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. Super powers like being able to leap to my supervisor’s conclusions at the same time, magically see through colleagues hidden agendas and divining 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 both at work and at home. I couldn’t sleep and I was distracted by my own thoughts all the time. 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 to keep that facade up! My two strategies of staying longer and working harder just were not cutting it anymore and it was compounded by the harsh, negative 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 really lost perspective…my boundaries, my inner voice, and my confidence all left me. My compass was totally off kilter and my focus was on “winning the un-winnable game of pleasing the displeased.”
I had over used the strategies of working hard and staying longer and made myself sick. Between my illness and my emotional state, I stopped doing everything I enjoyed. 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 smart but it wasn’t coming through.
Have you seen Les Miserables 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 as if 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, only it didn’t connect until I had a family member diagnosed in college. I asked my doc again about ADHD and it took a computer test that certainly challenged me and made it perfectly clear I was ADHD. 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. I knew I had an invisible neuro-difference in my brain that had been exasperated by the stress of a high-anxiety, negative 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 that includes 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 made the adjustments to how I tackled my life and the projects in it.
I became VERY intentional… with my decisions, time, and those I loved. Which empowered me to do the things that I’m good at including… connecting with those I work in the ADHD community, providing timely resources to those desperate, and designing life strategies that work based on strengths and not weakness.
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! Today, I feel like Fantine at the wedding day gazing on the beautiful life I’ve created, crafted and polished. I can’t tell you how full and satisfying my life 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 it’s about things important to me.
So I don’t mourn my “Done, Gone” strategies. In fact, I want to urge you to start moving forward by getting a diagnosis or determining treatment or making a career move! I want you to be intentional with your precious resources so you get the life you want. I want you start making decisions about you and your life. I can say today that I’m glad my “Go-To” strategy left me and I could discover this whole new part of me that is so much more that I could ever imagine only a few years ago.