Episode #5: Your Identity Apart from ADHD

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In this episode, I talk a lot about how to form your identity apart from your ADHD and as a woman with ADHD, how is that even possible?

When you’ve spent so much time in your life, focusing on all your shortfalls and all the things that you can’t seem to accomplish as easily as your peers, it’s really easy to form a really poor conception of who you are as a person and where your worth comes from in society today.

It’s so common for us to heavily weight our worth in outside. Monetarily, financially, careers, relationships, all those things in the world today tend to define our self identities. And also it’s how we measure people. In a subset, I’m going to talk about how I hid my ADHD from the people who cared about me the most, and also how once I realized I had ADHD, how I was able to piece together my identity, apart from my struggles.

I hope that this episode will help you. I hope that maybe you’ll see yourself in it. Thank you so much for listening. Let’s dive in.

Coming back to my brain in high school and my need for reassureance that there wasn’t something wrong with me. So I got that out of my relationships and when you do that as a girl, it opens you up and makes you extremely prone to toxic relationships.

Toxic relationships and ADHD

And I will go into ADHD and I believe our nature towards toxic relationships in a totally other episode, because I need to do more research on it, honestly, and it would be too much to try to cover here. But what I will say is because I was using my relationships to affirm my identity and affirm that I was a good person and affirm that there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

I also found myself in a toxic relationship that also affirmed all my worst fears. That person was very good at exploiting my worry that there was something wrong with me. You’re lazy. You don’t do this. You don’t try, you don’t. And as an ADHD person now parenting ADHD children, there are a few things that I try hard not to say to them, because I know that internally they are trying as hard as they can.  They’re trying as hard as they can. And they’re still not able to do the things that they want to be able to do. 

So I was 14 and I got in a relationship with a boy who was a lot older than me. He was 16 at the time, and we stayed together on and off for a very long time. But in high school, I noticed that I was drawn to that relationship for a couple of things.  One, as an ADHD girl, I obviously am going to struggle massively with impulsivity and in adolescents, that’s going to come out as typical adolescent behavior, possibly, you know, rebellious, serious risk-taking, but innately, I was a good kid. I didn’t like the idea of sneaking out or sneaking around or doing anything along those lines.

But this boy, he had all sorts of freedom. He probably shouldn’t have had for his age, but I was extremely drawn to that because that was powerful. And I’m impulsive. By nature, I’m impulsive. So I’m not going to look at that and go, “you know, that could probably get me in trouble or that’s probably a bad idea” or anything along those lines. No, no, no! That sounds like fun and also scary, but fun! So I was drawn to the freedom he had that I didn’t, and I was also drawn to this., you know, a sense of, he was, he was pretty popular and he was also, he wasn’t necessarily well-liked actually, he was totally the bad boy. And if you’re a mom listening to this, thinking that your teenage daughter has ADHD and you’re like, “oh my gosh, my teenage daughter only dates the bad boys, and I don’t know why.” Well, here’s why… there is a part of us as an ADHD person, as an ADHD woman, that likes this idea that I can handle something somebody else can’t. I can be with somebody that other people would say, “oh, that person’s, that person’s really difficult or they’re harder.”  I can do it because that will affirm for me that “I’m smart and I’m worthy” and all these things. So we want this, we go with this person who’s not very good for us. 

How do you form your Identity as a woman, apart from ADHD?

Impulsiveness and worst fears realized

And what ends up happening in those toxic relationships is our worst fears are realized because this person takes the time and they get to know us, especially in our adolescence.  They get to know us in a way that we’ve never allowed somebody to get to know us before. And they start to tell us things and explain to our already scared, misperceived self-identity by saying things like, “Look, you know you don’t do your homework, you don’t get good grades. You’re lazy. You know you’re irrational or you’re dramatic, you’re just being dramatic.” And as not only just an adolescent girl, but as an adolescent girl with ADHD, yeah. I knew I was dramatic. I have emotional dysregulation. I have ADHD. My downs are so far down and my highs are way high up and everything in between bounces around. So yeah, I’m emotional. Yes, I’m chatty and yes, I’m thinking to myself, I must be lazy because I don’t do the things everybody else can.

So, how did I climb myself out as this?

How did I create an identity for myself apart from that relationship or apart from my actions or what I felt like were my inactions. As I got older, I made some even more impulsive decisions. I was 17 and I decided I was going to move out on my parents against their better judgment.  They begged me. And I think my dad even stood in the way and tried to come pick me up and called the police and all sorts of other things. But I totally said, I’m moving out. I want my freedom. And I moved in with this boy-man, who was not in a place to be having his girlfriend live with him, but I wanted my freedom and I was impulsive. And I said, this is where I’m gonna go. So I did that and I got pregnant, I was four months after I turned 18. I got pregnant with my first son and I had him three days after I turned 19. 

And after I turned 19, I tried again to get out of this bad toxic relationship.

And I went and lived on my own and I told myself, I’m going to do it.  I’m going to live on my own. I’m going to prove everybody wrong. I can do it. And do you know what actually happened? Everything got worse for me because living on my own exploited, all of my struggles, I couldn’t keep my house clean. I couldn’t pay my bills on time. A lot of struggling to pay my bills on time, I think also has to do with the economic state.  At the time, this was 2009. I was working a job for $8 an hour and trying to live that way. And that’s just impossible. I was also only able to work part-time because I had a son, but the fact that I couldn’t keep my house clean and the fact that I struggled so much to organize my life, continue to affirm for me, all of the things that had been told to me from this person in the past that I was unworthy, lazy, stupid, crazy dramatic, and the worst of all that I would never be able to succeed without him.

Moving past the toxicity, even with ADHD

By the way, spoiler alert, all those things were a total lie. Obviously, I’ve been able to find success without him. I have thrived without him, and I’ve even figured out why I operate the way that I do and how to manage it. But at the time I was fighting this silent enemy, really. And I actually don’t like to look at ADHD as my enemy anymore, but at the time when I look back at it and I see that I was battling something outside of myself, that I didn’t recognize it does kind of feel like something that was just sitting there breaking up my ability to be a responsible adult.

So, how did I create my identity or how did I break away from that identity of myself that I had created all those years?

And again, let’s also go back to why, why didn’t anybody recognize what I was really dealing with? One, as a girl, I was going to mask it. Obviously, that’s what I was doing, all those times in school, all those times in high school, in middle school and elementary, when I would lie or I would tell somebody that I had it all together and I didn’t, or I would make it out like I was this really smart girl who had all my stuff together, but yet my grades were lacking. I was masking it. And that is something that women do I think better than boys do now, boys will still have that presentation sometimes of masking it. I do think my oldest son had some masking, obviously he was hiding his referrals from me.

But I think all of that behavior of masking our struggles comes from this innate knowing, we know that we don’t want to be like this. We don’t want to disappoint the people that love us. We don’t want to show you that there is some sort of proof or evidence that we’re not smart. And why is that? Because we’re worried. We’re not smart as it is, so we mask it. 

We don’t tell anybody what’s going on, but I will also say because that was also one of the reasons that nobody recognized it in me as I got older and I started to recognize it in myself. I really started to look at what ADHD is. And like I had said in the beginning, some people will say, well, ADHD is not a disorder. It is just a different type of brain wiring. It’s a different type. Well, we could say that about any sort of mental disorder, okay? I think what it comes down to it, your brain generally is going to be different. You are going to need to be physically active to get the chemicals in your brain that you really need, or that you want.

A lack of any number of chemicals

But it also comes down to because we have this lack of chemicals. There’s a lack of dopamine or norepinephrine or serotonin, all these different ones that play on our prefrontal cortex, which houses our your executive functions. If you’re listening to this and you don’t have ADHD, your executive functions are those things that allow you to schedule a doctor’s appointment, or to organize your day or to keep a schedule or to be able to just take a shower or brush your teeth day-to-day tasks that you don’t really think about, their second nature because your brain just says, “oh yeah, that’s what I got to do next.” Our brain doesn’t do that. We lack the chemicals in that portion.

And when it’s a lack of chemicals, there’s only very few physiological things you can do to create those chemicals.

And then a lot of times too, just as with people with depression and things along those lines where they’ll say, “oh yeah, if you have depression, you should exercise more.” Yeah. Try telling a depressed person that, that, yes, you need this chemical in your brain, but before you have it, you have to convince your brain to go get it.  It’s (pardon my language) but it is damn near impossible. So when you have ADHD and they tell you things like, well, if you worked out, you’d probably feel better. Or if you just picked up your house, you’d probably feel better. Yeah. Being able to stay clean and on top of things does give you dopamine. And I will tell you that I’ve seen some people who grew up in a fairly healthy household who have ADHD, who did develop some of those good coping mechanisms in dealing with their ADHD.

Where, for instance, my husband, we’re pretty positive he has ADHD, but he’s developed this coping mechanism of “if it’s feels overwhelming, I have to take care of it right this second. And if I don’t, then it’s just going to feel overwhelming.” And I don’t like that feeling for me. I instead went and got my dopamine from other sources, from my relationships, from my social value.

You’re operating from a deficit

Okay. But an ADHD person is always going to be searching for that missing chemical. Now you can create it by creating good habits, but it doesn’t always stay that way. If you hit another traumatic event, or if you have another stressor added to your life like a harder job or motherhood, you’re going to have a lack because the things that you were doing in the past, they’re not enough anymore.  And that’s because you’re always operating from a deficit. 

What the solutions look like

So medication and therapy helped tremendously. But the other thing too, is that when I really started to look at ADHD and what it was based on brain imaging and recognized it for the deficiency that it is, I realized that even getting on medication, it is not going to fix me. It does not make me clean my house. Okay. Except for maybe the first week that you’re on it. When all of a sudden you’re like, oh my gosh, I’m going to get this done.

It gives you the chemicals you need that, all of those things that everybody told you growing up like, oh, well, if you tried it this way, that might work, but you couldn’t still apply that. Getting on medication, I feel personally (and I’m not saying medication is for everybody) but for me personally, medication gave me that ability to where, when somebody would suggest, well, if you tried this way that might help you. I could apply it. Before, I couldn’t apply it. I couldn’t apply the things that I needed to do with medication. 

But where does my value truly come from?

The other thing I started to do was, I started to really dive into one, where does my value come from? Does it come from my ability to keep my house clean? Does it come from my ability as a wife to be able to do all the things? Does it come from my success? Monetarily, does it come from my finances? And when I started to realize that all of those things could change from outside of me without anything that I did, my monetary situation could change drastically based on the economy, could change based on my job. So my worth can’t be tied up in those things because those things can vary.

It has to be tied to something constant and it has to be tied to something that will never change. And that’s God. When I did that, and then when I also looked at who I wanted to be and who I actually was being as an ADHD person, who had always used relationships as my dopamine, I was so prone to people pleasing and not wanting to disappoint people and wanting to fit in and be with people that claimed to care about me.

I would spend a great amount of time having friends and doing things with them. But when I really started to look at who it was I wanted to be. Who did I want if somebody said who’s Lacey Estelle, what is she like on a personal level? Who were they going to say I was, or were my kids gonna say that I was a good mom? Was my family gonna say that I was a good daughter? Was my husband going to say that I was a good wife.? If I want him or them to say those things, what do I need to be able to do? And I think that that is where I was really able to look at my actions. 

People are not who they say they are, they are what they DO

People are not who they say they are. They are not who they say they are, people are what they do. My toxic relationship was based on the love bombings that I would have: the highs that I would have, that I would use, that I would chase all the time during the cycle of abuse and chasing that high was always going to end up in. I was always going to end up in despair because that high did not last.  And in chasing that high, I was chasing that high of where my abuser or my then boyfriend would love bomb me and telling me that I was worthy and wonderful. And he was so sorry. And that I was this great person and constantly chasing that kept me in this cycle of codependency, of needing his approval and needing his approval.  

And then when I wouldn’t get it and he would then switch to affirming all of my worst fears. I was like, oh my gosh, I have to go back to this. I have to prove to him that I’m not, that I’m not this terrible, awful, lazy person that he thinks I am. And that I’m worthy of the love that he originally showed me.  So I have to try to appease him and you will do that as an ADHD woman. You will do that with any relationship you have. If you don’t recognize yourself as having ADHD, if you recognize yourself as having ADHD, you recognize that you’re operating at a deficit, then you can go get the chemicals that you need, whether that’s by medication or that’s by some sort of alternative treatment.

And there’s all sorts of alternative treatments. Once you get those chemicals, then you can form your identity apart from your faults and you can form your identity, not based on other people’s actions, but based on what you did. Who are you? What do you do? And then you can start to shed all of the things that you thought you were and recognize that they that’s now who you are.

You need chemicals for your ADHD brain to function and are still worthy of love

You do try hard. You do work hard. You are not lazy. You are not stupid, and you are not all of your worst fears. You are a woman who has ADHD, who needs extra chemicals in her brain to be able to optimally function and you are worthy of love and you are worthy of success and you are worthy of all the things that you would like to have.  You deserve all those things you deserve. To be able to do the things you want to do without the struggle in your brain of not being able to grasp them so to speak. 

And I know this podcast episode has probably gone in some crazy circle, but ultimately what I think I want you to take away from this is that ADHD in girls and ADHD in women is not always recognizable because we’re going to mask it. That’s who we are. That’s how we are. A lot of times that’s how it presents to us or presents in us. We’re going to mask it because we want for you to like us. We need for you to like us because of the fact that rejection is so hard for.  Which is a whole other episode, but rejection is so difficult for us. And we need this, these outside sources to affirm for us that we’re good. That we’re smart. So we’re going to fake it. And we’re not going to tell you when we’re struggling and we’re not going to let you know, and we’re going to do all these things.

We’re going to create all these crazy ways to function as best we can. So then nobody knows how hard it actually is for us and internally we’re going to also be thinking, “Okay, wow. How does everybody else just make this look easy? Because internally these things are so hard for me.” School was so hard for me, getting up in the morning was so hard for me, but I was not about to tell anybody that, because look at all these girls who clearly can do it.

It is a chemical balance, but it isn’t your value!

So if they can do it, something’s wrong with me, but it’s not a chemical imbalance. Well, It’s a chemical imbalance straight up at us. And once you have all the tools that you need, and if that tool includes medication, being able to do those things and accomplish those things becomes way easier. And then you can start to form your identity outside of your faults and outside of your dopamine chasing because your value doesn’t come from being able to accomplish all the things you want to accomplish. 

So that’s gonna wrap up this episode and I hope you really like it. I hope that it helps you to recognize that if maybe your daughter is struggling with ADHD and maybe you don’t notice and you feel like she’s just being lazy or that she just being a rebellious teenager, but there might be something else going on, you know, look at her motivations. You know, if you’re just having a conundrum of why in the world would she want to do this? Or why in the world would she want to date that boy? Or why in the world would she decide to make these really bad decisions that I know she’s more than capable of not making those decisions, well, start to ask yourself, maybe she is searching for a specific type of chemical that she’s lacking in her brain.

Talk to an expert: a neuropsychologist

And if that’s the case, then talk to a neuropsychologist. They can help you to better understand your brain, they’ll do all the testing that you need them to do. They’re not going to look at you from a psychiatrist standpoint and just ask you if you want medication and not saying that medication is bad. I don’t think so, but I don’t like the idea of medication being the primary motivator when you’re talking to a doctor because you want help with your brain. I think that understanding your brain is the best starting point to getting help as an ADHD woman, and to being able to find success in find your identity outside of your.

If you are listening to this, because you think you might have ADHD, did you resonate with any of the things I talked about? Do you, can you look back in your elementary school days or your high school days and say, wow, you know, when I really think about it, I, I probably was always relying more on my social relationships to give me the chemicals that make me feel good.

ADHD and addiction (a form of self-medication)

Or, and we’ll talk about this in a later episode, a lot of ADHD people struggle with addiction. And that’s self-medicating, that’s what it is. Addiction is self-medication and it’s self-medication because people lack a certain chemical in their brain originally, and they need to find ways to get that chemical in their brain.

And a lot of times they turn to drugs. So maybe you’re listening to this, and you’re just realizing that maybe this addiction that you struggled with in the past, or maybe when you went through your college days and you found yourself doing cocaine all the time and you think to yourself now, oh, I would never touch that ever again now, but you think back and you’re like, well, maybe I was searching for something more than just peer pressure. Maybe I was using that because it made me feel good. And if that’s the case and you’re still in your life right now, where you’re thinking to yourself, Man I still struggle with all these tasks and I just feel like I’m not a very good mom or I feel like I’m not a very good wife because I can’t get the house clean, and I can’t organize myself enough to figure out how to create dinner every weekend, but I can go out to the garden and I can garden all weekend long because I love it. Or I can sit down and read a book all weekend long because I enjoy it. Or I can binge watch Netflix because I love it, but I can’t make myself unload the dishwasher, everything.

That’s ADHD. And if it’s really affecting your life and it’s and affecting your relationships and if your husband is questioning, you know, your motivations and you’re thinking to yourself, man, why, why am I like this? I want to be different. And I can’t seem to make myself different. Well, if you have the want to be different and you can’t seem to make that happen on your own, that sounds to me like a chemical. That sounds to me, just like when somebody says they’re depressed and they want to be happy, but they can’t figure out how to make that happen. It’s the same thing with ADHD. You want to be functional. You want to be able to remember things. 

So I hope that you will post comments in the comment section on the show notes. And, again, I will make sure that we link to any books or resources that I talked about in this episode, in the show notes of this podcast. And I hope that this helped you to get some answers, to relate to yourself and relate to me in ways that you’re like, wow, that is, that is so me and I hope that the one thing that you do take away from this episode is that you recognize, like I recognize.

Your value comes from outside of yourself

Your value does not come from your ability to succeed in all the ways that you think you need to succeed. Monetarily, financially, academically, relationally, your value comes from something completely outside of yourself that you don’t have control over. And that’s from God and you don’t necessarily have to believe that, but you can believe that I believe that. And if it comes from that, then you can recognize that. You may just need a little extra help. And even if you do get to a point to where you are succeeding and you’re functioning optimally, and you’re accomplishing all the things you want to accomplish, ultimately even at the end of the day, those things are not what make you worthy of love.

And those things are now what make you a worthy human being. Those things are just these great things that you’ve always wanted to tackle, and you’ve always wanted to accomplish. Now you can. So I hope you enjoyed. I’ll talk to you soon.

Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle is the writer of Lacyestelle.com and the Podcast host for An ADD Woman.

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