Emotions & Shame

I Was Living with ADHD Induced Self-Hate for Far Too Long

Anyone can lose their keys or forget to turn off the oven. But living with ADHD means these missteps never stop. Here is how I learned to practice self-compassion, set goals, and surround myself with people who encourage and celebrate my true self.

Living with ADHD is a Daily Stress

Finding lost keys in the refrigerator? Running out of gas despite the Post-it note reminders on your steering wheel? Looking for your phone for the tenth time today? You are not alone, and you are not faulty — no matter what the world tells you.

People are not often forgiving with their words when they see us slip up. Once, when driving a friend from out of town, she asked me to stop at a mailbox. I tried to locate one, and she asked, “How can you not know where the mailbox is in your own town?”

Recently, I attended a baby shower. Even though I had my clothes picked out ahead of time, had driving directions in hand, and had allowed time to stop at the Dollar General store for a gift bag and tissue paper, I was late again. Do this more than once and people think you are self-centered. It’s embarrassing, so I try to hide my ADHD from those outside of our culture.

Living With ADHD Can Breed Self-Hate

I was asked many times when I was young why I was playing “the dumb blonde.” I am intelligent, but I have to remind myself of that still. Even though I have advanced degrees, have received accolades for my work, and started a learning center to help those with ADHD and learning disabilities, I feel inferior. How is it possible for someone to think this way with so many achievements under her belt?

I feel like an imposter, as if I have some character defect. From the outside, my life looks good. I live on the beach, I’m in a great relationship, and I have a solid career. What people don’t see are my struggles with everyday tasks. Anyone can lose their keys or forget to turn off the oven. The difference is, with ADHD, these missteps never stop. ADHD is a lifelong disorder. Living with it is hit or miss, like driving at night without headlights.

When I try to explain this to neurotypical friends, I come across as a victim and a whiner. Add to this the fact that I blurt out whatever is in my brain — which, in most cases, should have stayed there — and you can see why few people understand, or even try to understand, what I go through. So these days I just hold it in.

[Read This Next: The Best Web Resources for Women with ADHD]

Self-hate is torturous. I say to myself several times a day, “You’re lazy, incompetent, and self-centered. Why can’t you do anything right? You just want special attention. It’s all in your head. There is nothing really wrong with you.”

Living with ADHD Requires Perseverance

How do I make lemonade out of these lemons? Instead of curling up in a ball on my bed, I persevere. I keep making mistakes, but I push forward. It’s not easy, and I do get my feelings hurt a lot by critical, harsh comments from others. Some days are better than others, and some I don’t want to remember again. But things pass, the sun rises and sets.

I refuse to live my life trying to save myself some embarrassment, struggle, or heartache. When I die, I don’t want my headstone to say, “She lived till 95, but died at 35.”

Here is what I have learned and want to pass on to you:

1. Love yourself! ADHD is a chronic disorder. Whenever you screw up, put your hand on your heart and say, “I deeply love and accept myself, even though I [whatever you screwed up on — it could be re-washing your clothes for the third time because you forgot to put them in the dryer, or trying to unlock the wrong car in the parking lot]. No matter the misstep, this is my mantra. I say this each time I struggle, make a mistake, or don’t meet my goal.

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women]

2. Find a mentor who understands and encourages you. As Mister Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” When I was 22, I was floundering. My childhood friend Nancy encouraged me to go to college. I told her no, they would kick me out and I wasn’t college material. She said “Go anyway.” I needed the outside reinforcement of someone I trusted to allow me to believe in myself.

3. Don’t settle for less. Keep taking risks, regardless of the outcome. When I left my public-school teaching position to start my business, I was determined to create a program that went beyond what anyone was providing students at the time. Learning to manage the organization and administrative side of the business was a painful process for me. Through trial and error I developed systems tailored to my business needs. I eventually reached a point to be able to hand off those tasks to my hired employees!

4. There is no one right way to do things. Whatever works for you is the way to go. It’s OK to try new approaches to manage things when the novelty wears off and the boredom kicks in. For instance, I’ve recently changed my cooking strategy from preparing food in bulk and freezing it to hiring a meal delivery service. I don’t know how long this will last, but for right now I’m enjoying the ride. Free yourself from self-judgment by giving yourself permission to create new hacks.

5. Reboot your brain. Most of us use hyperfocus as a strategy for getting things done, but give your brain a break to refresh, or you will burn out. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you will threaten your productivity if you take a break. Recently, I created a new website, and it was hell on wheels for me! My frantic self was convinced that if I stopped to take a walk, I would fall more behind, so I couldn’t enjoy the benefits of taking the walk. I needed to find a new hack. I unchained myself from my desk every half hour and, for two minutes, I jogged in place, ran up and down the hallway, and did a quick stretch to diffuse all the tension in my brain.

In the end, please remember that you’re a person, not a label. Different isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.

Living with ADHD: Next Steps

Linda Karanzalis, M.S., is an ADHD coach and founder of ADDvantages Learning Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.