“Oh No, I’ve Said Too Much.”
ADHD in women like me can often mean significant emotional struggles and self-esteem issues. But I opened myself fully and vulnerably to a group of women I hardly knew one day, and something truly remarkable happened. Here’s my story of overcoming self-stigma.
I was surprised to find that I wasn’t squinting through the cold light of a stage spotlight. It felt like I should have been. I have mostly known spotlights to catch the way dust dances in the air, but to stand in one is to stand alone. Everything else goes dark but your feet and the space in front of your face. Now, the dancing dust was fluttering in my chest, and sleepy streetlights spilled into the living room, staining the ground gold through cracked curtains.
I had just completed sorority recruitment, which is a harrowing process for anyone, but it is a special hell for women with ADHD. The dates, times, little details, and the constant emotional overloads are a recipe for disaster. But I did it, and now, in front of my new sorority sisters, I was speaking about a challenge I had overcome at our “Women of Alpha Phi” night.
I don’t know if overcome is the word I would use to describe my ADHD. I think the ADHD overtakes me most of the time, and I think it always will. Holes dug too close to the waves will always fill with water; dealing with ADHD is like that. Ritalin, extra time, and self-awareness have upgraded my teacup to a bucket, but my fight isn’t against the relentless water. My fight is staying calm when the water is rising. My fight is learning how to float when it fills to the brim.
I no longer hate myself for having ADHD. I no longer hate how close to the waves I am and always will be. So I spoke about overcoming that.
At first, I was talking to the crowd, but then I was following the train of my internal monologue with my mouth. I was saying things I didn’t know I was totally ready to say. But after I heard them in reverberation, I knew it was okay. The faces in the crowd were happy.
I explained ADHD in women using metaphors. (I use metaphors a lot, but this time it didn’t seem to bother anyone.) They didn’t zone out when I cupped my hands over my forehead to mimic the way my focus works like a water dam. Most people can control how much water, or focus, they let out at, but I can’t. My water dam is either open or totally shut, and I don’t have a say in the face of the roaring water dam that releases attention into my system. However, the tides turn when I am on medication; then, I control my mind with floods of focus.
I didn’t know I was going to say this, but I next revealed a secret hidden deep down: The pills make the grades. The ADHD medication made higher grades than Marimac could alone, I said. And I resent myself for not functioning at the level that the Medicine can, I admitted. My friends from home always scolded me for this one. The rational me scolds me, too, but the Medication jealousy is an emotional mountain to climb — rationale has nothing to do with it.
I took a deep breath, dust filling my airways, and the train stopped for a moment in my mouth. Shakily, I asked, “Does that make any sense?” knowing full well that it made no logical sense at all. Pills don’t make grades; people do.
But then the spotlight space dissolved. I wasn’t on a stage, or just a place separated from the crowd. I was with them — 50 girls who were now my sisters. We were all sitting together. And I knew it because they nodded. All of them nodded. Big enough for me to see it; they wanted me to know they nodded.
I am familiar with my focus breaking. I know what happens when my fingers break from the function I give them, tapping away something new, different, unrelated, discarded. I know what happens when my mouth gets broken, opening and spilling stories better left untold in the waterslide ear of someone near. And I thought I knew all the breaking there could be.
But this breaking was like each of my ribs became rows of gunpowder and someone laid a torch on my sternum. It was like someone put deflated balloons in my esophagus and then inflated them instantaneously. If the breaking that their nodding put in me had a sound, it would have sounded like the tree limb that gets torn from the tree in a storm. I was ripping, on fire, and choking on air. It was like I had clapped to a room, hoping for clapping but expecting silence and smirks in return, but instead the whole room reverberated with the clanging of 50 seismic cymbals.
I used to just flood with water, and that water is the chaos that I wade in always. But the affirmation that their nods gave me flooded me with something new, and it helps. It’s not the coldness of a spotlight; it’s something more like sunlight. Spotlights are cold and catch dust, but sunlight catches the silhouettes of birds and pollen and sea foam. The support that Alpha Phi gave me flooded me with sunlight. That night began a sensation of warm affirmation that I hope to never lose grasp of.
I was speaking about overcoming my self-stigma for my ADHD, but I didn’t know I still carried residual self-hatred within me. The wave of affirmation incinerated those useless appendages that held me hostage. Releasing myself from self-hatred was like releasing a flock of birds into my mind’s sky. The overcoming isn’t about fighting the symptoms; those will always spiral up and down. The overcoming is about fighting the disorientation that the spinning and sinking brings. The overcoming is about finding people who will help you see the silhouettes of your birds.
I hope that this helps someone else find the silhouettes of theirs.