“I Mistook My Sideways Angles for Faults. They Were the Points of My Star.”
“For so long, I tried to fit my sideways-ness into a straight world. But my angles just couldn’t be forced without breaking them clear off. I know now that my angles are unique and give me ‘extras’ — extra ways to be and to do in the world. They are the points of my star.”
You’ve heard stories of a defining moment that changed the trajectory of a life forever. It turns out I had one of those; I just didn’t realize it at the time.
My whole life, I felt as though my intuition and personal compass were inherently broken. Whenever I thought I finally understood myself, I was wrong. That realization was always disappointing and triggered frantic searching, rounds of questioning, and piling on more self-doubt.
In training to become a counselor, I became more self-aware. My subconscious gradually brought tidbits of my personality into view, but it took years for me to see myself clearly — ADHD and all. As part of my training, I was required to work with a therapist. Determined to learn why I was such a walking contradiction, we used something called the person-centered approach. What I learned was this: The person I thought I was and the person I actually was did not align. This was my moment, though it dawned slowly — and continues to do so now.
Now that I know I have an ADHD brain, more and more of my past experiences make sense, but I’m still catching up with myself. Today, at 50, I’m striving to reframe my life with this new knowing. As it turns out, I did have a defining moment but it wasn’t crystal clear. It had peculiar angles and shifted everything I’d ever known or thought, sideways.
My Blurry A-Ha ADHD Moment
The life I remembered was tilted. I couldn’t get inside my own memories anymore — they were like a house compacted and titled by an earthquake. So I resolved to become a detective and to study the clues threaded through my life. They were as clear as day but incredibly hard to see with fresh eyes and vision.
In trying to ‘think’ my way to self-understanding, I realized that my thoughts aren’t ever just in my head; I feel them through my entire body. I’d try working something out in my brain by shifting thoughts around the way one might move furniture in a room — it was laborious and ultimately impossible. Something tangible, usually a hard edge, always seemed to block my way. As if my life were a frustrating game of chess, I could never ‘think a move ahead.’ A metaphor for my existence perhaps.
Through literature, community, and science, I learned that I have combined type ADHD — a textbook case. Initially, accepting that was hard and made me feel as vulnerable as if I were walking naked into a supermarket. I know my story sits among many others on a shelf from which I’ve made frequent selections in the past. Those selections tell me, gently, that I am more than my ADHD. I am a person who shifts with the light. A person who will likely spend the rest of her life trying to clearly define who she is.
That is what I needed to know from the beginning, but here I am.
My ADHD Life
In the ADHD brain, possibilities are endless. That rush of possibility sparks action and is a feeling so familiar it has a name. They call it the search for novelty (God, I hate that word…it sounds like some kind of a seaside shop!). Now that I’m aware of this tendency, I can view it as an opportunity to observe the rush, the flooding in of ideas, and big dreams.
But now I’m using mindfulness to help me see it from a different place that I can only explain as my authentic self. My authentic self feels compassion toward the ADHD mind that scrabbles at all the possibilities and often — in spite of tremendous effort and focused attention — comes up empty. Observing myself has helped me know there is more to me, and everyone else with ADHD, than our quirky traits.
Like others who know a lot more about ADHD than I do, I dislike certain widely-used terms. The word novelty. The word deficit. I’ve always felt deficient in some way, but in my heart, I’ve also known that I’ve more than made up for these deficits with something else. Sadly, that something else may be of less or little value, but it’s still the result of hard work and consistent effort.
I regret spreading myself so thin, but now I know I need to forgive myself for all those projects that I threw my whole self into over and over again that reached the same plateau. The plateau of unfinished projects. The ones that are always met with disapproval in the real world.
But what’s the real world anyway?
Is diversity valued there? My son told me recently that his employer applauds his ADHD traits. They like his energy, his spontaneity, his ability to see possibilities everyone else missed. They like his ADHD sideways way of looking at things! (My son has it, too.)
For so long, I tried to fit my sideways-ness into a straight world. But my angles just couldn’t be forced without breaking them clear off. I know now that my angles are unique and give me ‘extras’ — extra ways to be and to do in the world. They are the points of my star.
And I realize now I’ve been trying to make myself less. A star doesn’t shine brightly without its points. I’ve been rejecting those parts that hand outside the square and they are me, too. All those parts I’ve rejected — I’m reclaiming them now. They are the best parts of me.
When I show up as myself, my whole self — not someone I’m trying to be — that’s the best version of me I can be. At last I’ve learned this. At last, a star is born.
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Updated on June 2, 2020