ADHD Liberated Me by Rochelle


Learning I had ADHD liberated me. I know. That probably doesn’t make sense to you. Please, allow me to explain…

I have been a square peg, contorting myself mercilessly, trying to fit into the round hole of societal expectations my entire life. As a young child, I was unable to colour inside the lines. Upon reflection, this feels like the perfect metaphor for my life. Why could I never stay inside the lines? What was it about me that just never really fit anywhere?

I assumed it was because I was creative. I grew up in rural Saskatchewan with only one sibling. In most of my childhood memories, I am playing alone. My family did not have a lot of disposable income as every penny was reinvested into the farm. New toys were a luxury reserved for Christmases and birthdays. So, I learned to play with what was around me. I animated the mundane and assigned characters to each of my pencil crayons. I could play for hours by myself with whatever rocks and sticks were lying around and never get bored. But when my mother came to check on the progress I had made “cleaning my room,” she was always dismayed at how much messier it was than when she first assigned the task.

And I was a messy child. I talked non-stop. I was emotional. I was clumsy. I struggled to keep my concentration while practicing piano, even though my mother was a piano teacher. Most sessions ended in tears (mine and hers, I believe). I was decent at school, catching on to most concepts quickly. But I did not apply myself when it came to subjects I was not interested in.

Looking back now, I have dozens of memories that look different through the lens of a child who has ADHD. Like so many others who are diagnosed in their forties, there is both joy and pain attached to these memories. Viewing my childhood self through the lens of ADHD is like shining a light into some very dark corners. Everything is easier to see and distinguish, but there are some things you’d rather not see up close. So many encounters, core memories and experiences take on new meaning. I have newfound self-acceptance. Suddenly time blindness, a lack of organizational skills and poor emotion regulation are symptoms of executive dysfunction – the way neurodiversity expresses itself in folks with ADHD. Executive dysfunction feels very different from a profoundly flawed character, which is how I have viewed myself for years.

How much self-hatred could have been spared if I knew there was a name for what I was going through? What kind of coping strategies might I have learned to adapt to poor memory retention, emotional reactivity and overall disorganization? What would life look like if that little girl had been supported? Who might I be? What might I have accomplished by now?

For decades, I have struggled with finding balance in my life. I tend to over commit and over engage, and I have never understood why. I can often handle a lot of tasks and take on several projects simultaneously. Yet I have never understood when enough was enough or knew when to decline new commitments. A people pleaser to the core, I never knew when to say no. For years this led to periods of high output or production and periods of massive burnout. And I could never articulate to others why I needed to take on so much to stay focused. My loved ones would often say things like, “do you think you might taking on too much?” or “are you sure you can handle all that?” Instead of hearing those messages as love or support, I heard them as a direct criticism. “Why don’t you have any faith in me?” I thought. (If you have never heard of rejection sensitivity dysphoria, look it up. I assure you; it is very real for many of us with ADHD).

What I learned about myself after diagnosis, is that certain executive dysfunctions were at the root of this cycle of high productivity followed by extreme burnout. The reason my time management was not working was because despite organizing my days and accounting for nearly every hour of every day, I was not taking into consideration my propensity for time blindness. Time disappears on me. Regularly. I struggle to switch between tasks and Lord help me if I get distracted or pulled off course. It may take hours to return to a task that could have been finished in minutes because I completely lost track of what I was doing and began a new task instead. I also often struggle to activate. I knowingly take on too much because I have always felt that, provided I am already in motion, I will stay in motion. If I stop, however, I may never get going again.

Many people who are diagnosed at my age learn about their ADHD when their children are diagnosed. As ADHD is highly heritable, parents are often assessed to determine which tree the apple fell from. In my case, this was not what led to my discovery. Having had fibroids, endometriosis and hormone imbalances, I have not been blessed with my own biological children. Little did I know the impact that hormone imbalances played on ADHD and the severity its of symptoms. I sought answers when hormonal changes coupled with traumatic experiences combined to make previously masked ADHD symptoms completely unmanageable. Why could I no longer function properly? Why was I even more emotional than usual? What on earth was wrong with me?

As it is for many people, learning I have ADHD has been a blessing. I now have names for my symptoms. Like many others have already mentioned, I have endured far more painful labels … lazy, disorganized, messy, flaky, crybaby and so on. Of all the things I have been labelled, a person with ADHD is by far the least offensive. Now I have context. Now I have language. Now I know how to set my own and others’ expectations of me. Now … I am free. My ADHD diagnosis gave that to me.

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