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Neurodivergence is a gift, not a curse.
So if you’ve been thinking to yourself, I hate my brain, I get it. I had to go through your process of grieving the brain I wanted to have. So I could accept the brain that I do have. And now that I have, I will tell you without a doubt, neurodivergence is a gift, not a curse, but how do you embrace that?
Let’s talk about the steps you can practice to help you start to flourish.
First and foremost, I want to talk about in this episode. About something I’ve been told over and over so many times, when I’ve talked to anybody about my story or I tell them where I came from or about my past. A lot of times they will say, “You’re so resilient!” And I think the first few times I heard it, I had to actually look it up because I just didn’t really associate myself with any sort of positive affirmation of words!
Resilience is just basically being able to roll with the punches and that’s putting it lightly! It’s a matter of looking at your circumstances and saying, “Okay, this is what I have. This is the hand I’ve been dealt. What is my best option here?” And I think success first and foremost, it’s more about grit and resilience than it is about organization and time management.
Now I’ve met lots of successful people that are super well-organized manage their time.
Great. And that’s all fine and dandy, but that’s not me. And that’s not me because part of my brain doesn’t function the same way. There’s this ADHD. But you know, a little bit of it is also true. I had trauma as a child and some of it is anxiety. And some of it is just silly little habits that I picked up on the way. But ultimately you can get where you want to go.
If you just have perseverance and resilience and you’re willing to adapt, you can also get where you want to go, probably a lot faster, if you are organized and you manage your time. Right? But for argument’s sake in this case, I’m not going to talk about that because we spend so much time as ADHD people comparing ourselves to other people. I don’t want to do that anymore, and I’m definitely not going to do that here.
I want you to know one of the books that really, really changed my mindset when it came to realizing that I was capable of change even though I have an ADHD brain, and that I could still do things in my life that would impact my future, even if my brain is operating at a deficit, it will still eventually gain momentum.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The book is Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you haven’t read it, it’s excellent. You’ve probably heard of it, especially if you’re anything like me and you’re a self-starter and you want to learn business habits and business ideas and different things. Along those lines, it was a top recommended business book for me, but I found it was more of a life book. I don’t think James and I have the same background of beliefs. There is definitely some scientific stuff that he talks about that I’m not so sure my Christian faith would agree with, but on a deeper level, everything James tells you in that book is so good and it is so well-written and well thought out that after you read the book, you can’t help, but come away with a sense of, “Oh my gosh, I can do this. I can change.”
Trauma and ADHD
So let’s go back a little ways and let’s actually talk about how we decide, especially for me. As a woman with ADHD, how does my brain decide what decisions I wanted to make and what decisions I don’t want to make? Girls who possibly experienced trauma in their childhood are going to be molded by such. For example, if the father figure in your life leaves your family, or maybe your parents get divorced, your brain is going to recognize the pain of such a tragic event as trauma. Now in trauma responses, your brain sort of shifts into survival mode.
And when your brain actually experiences trauma, it takes the perceived or the real danger and gives you that “fight or flight” response. Now, when you have emotional trauma, the difference is, there’s no real reason for the “fight or flight” response, but what will happen if you have ADHD (and again, I say it on every episode, at least once… I’m not a doctor, the things I talk about, some of these things, they sound great, but they are my theories based on the research that I’ve done, and I could be totally wrong) but understanding what I know about the ADHD brain. Knowing that it is operating at a deficit and it is usually lacking dopamine, norepinephrine, sometimes serotonin, but a combination of those feel good chemicals, right?
When you have trauma in your child and you have either physical trauma or you have emotional trauma and your brain goes into that “fight or flight response.”
To deal with the trauma or the perceived dangerous thing that’s happening to you. Your brain is going to release a bunch of those chemicals. It’s going to release a bunch of dopamine and norepinephrine, and it is the brain’s natural way to release endorphins to help your brain cope with pain. But if you’re not actually feeling physical pain, what you have instead now is this perceived pain, but you’re using that pain or that trauma experience that causes that pain and so your body in reaction to that pain.
Okay. We feel this pain, but we don’t want to feel it.
And we want to be able to deal with it, and our body releases a whole bunch of extra dopamine. You’re going to go through a time in your, in your life, where you’re going to have a period of this rush of that. When you are a girl or a young girl, or a woman who has ADHD and is already lacking in that area, it’s going to totally shift your brain chemistry. I’m not necessarily saying that trauma causes ADHD. I don’t necessarily think that, but I think it exacerbates it. So maybe you were on a path where even though you had ADHD and it was underlying and it was there, you were coping just fine. But your reserves are now gone and your brain is working inside panic mode because you’ve experienced a trauma.
An aside: I don’t want anybody to listen or come away from this episode and think, oh, she’s blaming the parents now. That’s not it at all.
I am a parent of an ADHD child. I’ve made several mistakes. I forgiven myself for those mistakes and I try to do better. And that’s all anybody can ever ask of anybody. What I am saying though, is there sometimes are things in your childhood that you experienced as trauma that aren’t actually trauma. Especially if you have ADHD, there can be, if you have ADHD and you have such a hard time emotionally with constructive feedback or criticism of any sort, your brain might recognize all of that as trauma. If your parents fight (even though every married couple fights in some way now, maybe they don’t yell, but maybe they do!) Your brain might still recognize those things as trauma, even though you’re not in any real danger and it’s just your environment.
And so what will happen to girls or women? And what I think definitely happened to me is when that started to happen, when all of a sudden I was losing my regular dopamine and chemical supply, which would have been my humble, happy, you know, cohesive home. (And I’m not saying my parents divorced is to blame for my ADHD. Mom, if you’re reading this, it’s not your fault. And I love you.)
So, you know, if you experienced something along those lines where you were, you’re getting a pretty good stream of dopamine. You’re getting positive feedback. Your parents are all there. Everything is all together. It’s all, everything’s good. Right? You can come home. You know, you know that life is good. And then. Trauma happens and trauma enters that ADHD brain and all of a sudden you’re like, whoa, I need my stuff back! I need that nice, happy home back. I want to get back to that. When the trauma also happens, you have this rush of dopamine, this rush of norepinephrine, you have all these chemicals just throwing at your brain to stop the pain in doing so when you have ADHD, you are going to avoid the emotional pain because that’s what we do, we avoid it.
Now, there are a lot of parents who put their kids in therapy during traumatic events like this. And that’s really, really good, but if you’re not willing to go through the emotions, you stunt your growth. So what will end up happening is, your brain knows this sort of pain it’s intense and is as intense, sometimes as physical pain and because it kicks on your “fight or flight” response, but you can’t physically do anything about it sometimes, this will come out in adolescents with more risk-taking behavior. They’re acting out. They find themselves having a loss of respect for their family members. A lot of people will just categorize this as typical teenage drama. But when you have ADHD, a lot of times, it’s way more than that.
Now it might be expected. And I think what happens sometimes is parents when they go through these things, they go through these things that are out of their control. They get divorced, they get in a bad relationship because they mistake somebody’s character for being a good one. And then that person leaves, or that person hurts them in front of their children. They already are carrying so much. They can’t sometimes bring themselves to not blame themselves for their child’s poor behavior. And so sometimes what I see a lot of parents do, and what I know, I think my own mother might even admit to having done, was she got us wrapped up in the pain she was feeling too, beause we were experiencing it. At the same time, it was really hard for her to look outside of her own mistakes enough to recognize that some of the things that I was doing, even though they made sense with the timing of my traumas, they were also big giant signs that I had ADHD too, and that I was dealing with that too. So trauma can tie the feeling of happiness to being broken hearted. And then Bam, you’ve got yourself set up for relationship pitfalls.
So now as an adult, recognizing that your ADHD irregularities don’t comprise who you actually are, but instead are just one component and reasons behind your behavior, you can instead, start to form habits out of self-awareness.
And move yourself in a direction towards better judgment. So I said that the first thing is definitely to recognize that. Finding success, whatever that looks like for you, okay. It’s more about grit and resilience when you’re an ADHD person than it is about self awareness, self-organization and time management.
It’s more about grit and resilience and perseverance, and sometimes even passion, which we are super good at. We are super passionate people. You want to talk about hyper fixation? We are passionate.
How do you make decisions with ADHD?
So the next thing I think that it’s important for you to do to start asking yourself why you make the decisions you do. Now, I know if anybody that’s listening to me has been through cognitive behavioral therapy, even just general regular behavior therapy, you’re saying, “Oh yeah, okay, yeah, I know self.” That’s typical, but the truth of it is it is so important to get to the root of why you make the decisions you do or, if you’re like me, I spent the majority of my twenties super indecisive!
Why am I so indecisive? What am I worried about? Who am I thinking about pleasing? Am I focusing on what is actually best for me or what will grow me? Or am I worried about saying this or saying yes to this or saying no to that because of somebody else’s or because of my perceived rejection from somebody else. Such a large component, especially for girls who have ADHD, is that we can’t handle being rejected. We just are going to cry about it and get really upset about it and dwell on it for way longer than we should. And it’s going to affect our mood and everything else.
If you can get to the bottom of why you’re making the choices that you’re making, why you’re making the decisions the way that you’re making them, why you are struggling to make the decisions the way you’re making them. You can start to hinge on that. True motivation behind all of your actions. It’s hard.
Self-awareness by Journaling
One of the best things that I think I did in my self-awareness journey was journaling. I would write down everything that was going on. When you decide to do something; or a lot of times in our heads, especially when we have ADHD, things can get really black and white for us. And I know I’m going to talk about that here in just a second, but you don’t have to write every tiny detail out year and a half to write down every single thing you ate that day or, the color of the sky.
I used to have journal entries that were like, “Today is March 1st, 2012. And all I did today was wake up, eat breakfast and took a nap and went back to bed. And it was fine.” And then, when a couple of days later, I all of a sudden make this really bad judgment call on like my banking, I can go back and I can look over the last couple of days and I’m like, well, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I was kind of in a shell and not coming out. And maybe that’s kind of a sign that I’m going to do something impulsive in an effort to just get that chemical balance going, When you start to do these things and you start doing things like journaling, you start to figure out why you’re making the decisions that you’re making. You can self-reflect and you can change direction.
What type of person will you be?
Ask yourself what the type of person you want to be. What do they do? And I’m not saying, what do they do for a job or career or whatever… I’m saying, what do they do? How do they make decisions, what kind of decisions do they make? How do they decide on certain behavior and what would it take for you to become that person?
Now, there’s a spoiler alert here: You are already that person, you don’t need to actually go become that person, that person and you are one in the same. You are totally capable of being all the things that you want to become. You are… you’re in there.
You know it, I know it deep down inside, you know it, your mom probably knows it. I’m saying that because once you recognize that, you can be that person. And I know it sounds so cliché, “you can be whatever you want” but it’s true. You have ADHD, you have a different kind of brain. Yes. But that doesn’t mean Jack. It doesn’t. You can still find success. Maybe it’s going to take you a couple more tries. Maybe it’s going to be harder for you in some ways and easier for you in other ways.
So what you are already, that person, all you have to do to move in that direction is start taking small steps. This is in the book by James Clear. What he talks about is the idea of 1% improvement each year, on your habit. So many people will be like, “Oh, this is the year I’m going to eat better and workout every day.” And they kind of set themselves up for failure. And one thing that was taught to me when I started becoming a content creator and I started my blog was that when you reach goals, they can be on a spectrum. And I know I’ve talked about spectrums when it comes to mental. Why can’t we put goals on that? You know? “Yes. I smashed my goal if I get this many podcast downloads. Okay. But I’m still going to be really happy if I get this money and that’s my swing, that’s point A or point B and anywhere I land in between is pretty good.”
If you are at least taking steps in the direction that you want to go, you’re already on your way. And I know I’m probably saying like every cliche thing in the book, but as an ADHD person, it’s really important that you recognize that because you can get stuck, you will make yourself stock. If you cannot realize or find a way to accept your weaknesses, embrace your strengths and just keep going.
Learn to accept your faults
So, because I know that you already are this person I’m going to tell you the most important thing you need to do is you have to learn to accept your faults. Not only do you have to accept your faults, but you have to forgive yourself for all the mistakes you’ve made so far. That one’s always hard for me. I have to forgive myself a lot and I have to humble myself before my God, because I’m Christian and I spent years doing things that God would not have wanted me to do because I just didn’t trust him. I didn’t trust him with how He made me. I didn’t trust Him with what I understood about Him, but I will tell you once I really got to know Him, there is no one I trust more.
So you have to accept your faults and you have to accept that you’re not going to get it all right. Even if you have ADHD, it’s okay. Those without ADHD, neurotypicals, are not perfect. They have weaknesses too. They do. So what? They don’t have ADHD and they’re on time all the time. Who cares?
They’re not perfect. They have things that they struggle in. And so if you can recognize that everybody, not just you, everybody is working towards betterment, they’re either working towards betterment or they are stunting their own growth, there’s no in-between. You’re either stuck where you are or you’re going to look at the stuff you have and you’re going to go, okay, I’m going to keep going, one foot in front of another. Baby steps. If I have to crawl, I will keep going, realizing that our circumstances only win the day over us if they allow us to stay defeated. As long as you continue to persevere, you will find success in whatever form that looks like. Now, for me these days, it looks like a comfy couch, a fairly clean picked up home, a husband who knows I love him and loves me well, church on Sundays and my kids have brushed their teeth and they’re kind of nice and that’s setting the bar probably pretty low, but to me, that’s all I need deep down.
Why do you want what you want?
Even if you are the person out there listening to my podcast and also listening to like four other podcasts, all about business, and you’re telling yourself I’m going to be a millionaire that’s great, but I want to go back to number two, where I said, you need to start asking yourself while you make those decisions. I’m so glad you’re here and you’re listening to my podcast. Why is it that you want to be a millionaire? What is it that makes you think that having wild success with money? What is it that, that money will bring you? Is it peace? Is it security? Is it joy? If you answered yes to any of those things, then you need to go back and you need to write down the thing you’re actually doing. That’s the money, but maybe it’s joy or maybe it’s security, or maybe it’s love. If it’s any of those things, you need to actually chase those directly, not the thing you think.
And the reason I say that is if you have ADHD and you’re like me, you will chase entrepreneurship. You will chase success. You will chase relationships. You will change jobs. You will chase having a house. You will chase your way to finding fulfillment only to get there and realize that none of those things will actually bring you true fulfillment. None of them, regardless of your ADHD. The only thing that brings those things is the truth. And if you’re a Christian and you’re listening to my podcast or reading this blog, you know who I’m talking about, you will have to forgive yourself repeatedly because you’ll take two steps forward and one step back and two steps forward and four steps back. And that’s okay. We’re not working towards world peace. I mean, yes, obviously we want that, but the things that we’re changing in ourselves, they’re not going to be an overnight thing. If anybody listening to this podcast or reading this blog post is an avid workout person, you know. You work out all the time. You build strength, you build muscle, better than probably anybody else that you know, you didn’t get the biceps you have by going to the gym one time.
It’s Not Black and White
We also know that as an ADHD person, we know that we can see it. I can see that that person deciding to change took a really long time. We will set ourselves up for failure by thinking in our minds that it’s either this or it’s that, that it’s black or it’s white. And let me just tell you, it’s not black and white. It’s not, especially when you have ADHD, you might decide I’m going to go to the gym. I want to do better this year. I want to work out and you’re going to go. And you’re like, you got that startup dopamine of starting a new project and starting a new habit and you’re all excited and you’re going and you’re going and you go for like 15 days.
And then what happens? You’re like, “oh, I don’t want to get up today. Well, I got tomorrow.” And then tomorrow comes and I don’t want to really get up tomorrow, so I’ll go “Yeah, I’ll go another day.” And next thing you know, it’s been like four weeks.
And then what do you tell yourself? “It’s been four weeks. I can’t go. I can’t go. I quit clearly. I must have quit. Freaking quit.”
No. You just haven’t gone for four weeks and that’s it. Go get up and go.
I don’t care if you went for 10 days and then stop going for six months, as long as you go back, you’re gonna continue to go. Right. That was the shift for me realizing that just because I stopped doing something or just because I didn’t hit my mark and check every single box. It didn’t mean that I didn’t make progress. I still made progress. You can still make progress. Things are not black and white. When you have ADHD, there’s this whole giant gray area. And sometimes that gray area means that we sit in our bed under our covers for hours, days, and we do nothing and we’re not going to do dishes, but guess what?
When we get a bed finally, and we’re like, “Okay, we’ve got to deal with our crap. We’re going to do the dishes.” Just because you didn’t do them three days ago, doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Just cause you went to the gym a month ago doesn’t mean you can’t go today. Just because you wanted to finish that book and you only read 16 pages doesn’t mean you can’t pick it up today, even though it’s been sitting there collecting dust for six months… pick it up today, read another page. If you can embrace that and you can forgive yourself for not getting it right all the time, realize that nobody gets it right all the time. You’re gonna make mistakes. You’re going to fail. You’re going to have setbacks. You’re going to have times where you are going to do something and you’re going to go.
We Can Grow and Succeed
Sometimes there’s a terrible mistake and now I have to deal with the consequences of it. Okay. Keep going. Here’s the truth. The world likes to tell us that we can’t change. I know you’ve heard this before: people don’t change people. If you go talk to any 70 year old and ask them if they are exactly the same as they were in their thirties, they might say that some of the things about them have stayed the same, but they’re going to tell you they’ve changed drastically and dramatically because life demands growth from us. It demands it. If you’re not willing to grow, then the only thing you’re doing is stunting yourself and stunting your own success. But grow.
It doesn’t always look the way that we who have ADHD perceive it to look.
A lot of us think that it’s either you’re going to be successful or you’re not, or you’re going to be married and have two and a half kids by 25 or you’re not, or you’re going to have bought your first house by the time you’re 30 or you’re not.
And it just doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t, you have to learn to love where you are and you have to learn to love the process of getting to where you want to be. And like I said, life demands growth from us. And if you are busy sabotaging your own life, it’s because you don’t want to grow. You don’t want to do the hard things. You don’t want to keep going forward and go. Things like, “this sucks… okay, let’s go avoid it. I’m going to go drink or I’m going to go blow on my rent money.” You’re better than that.
I don’t mean that to sound like your parent, that hounds you all the time. What I mean by that is, when you look at the person that you really want to be, that person feels secure enough in themselves and trust themselves enough to make good decisions about their money, to make good decisions about their behavior, to make good decisions, but they didn’t get that way because they just snap their fingers. Or they were born with perfect brains. They got that way from practice.
Try again and get closer!
Now you have ADHD. You’re like, “but I try and I fail.” Try and fail again. Keep going, try and fail. Try again and fail. Try again and get closer. Fail still, but get closer. It’s progress. This is something that I’ve been telling my 12 year old son, because he struggled so much with getting his homework done. He wants to do his assignments. I get it. I had ADHD, too. I said, stop looking at them as being so overwhelming and just do them. I don’t even care if you get them all right. I don’t even care if what you’ve got down on the paper is just something so. Done is better than perfect.
And here’s what I have found is that if you just do the practice of doing the motion of trying to do the thing okay. Of trying to do the homework of trying to finish the project of reading one page, it does. James Clair is right. And I know he sites his information from someone who talks about habits, but there is compound interest in human change.
Mindset Makes the Difference
When you focus on just moving the needle by 1%, even with us who have ADHD, we can change. We can grow. I remember being 21 and thinking to myself by the time my oldest is in kindergarten, I’m going to have it figured out. I’m going to have it figured out by the time I’m 25, I’m going to have it all figured out by the time I’m 30, I’m going to have it… Wait. It doesn’t work that way. I’m going to turn 32 this year. I get a lot of listeners that I know that are in their forties and fifties and you probably hearing my age and going, oh man, I wish I knew the things that you know when I was 32, but there’s a lot I don’t know and I will have never arrived, ever. And because of that, I think that mindset is the only proponent I truly have towards success because if I recognize that I’m not perfect and nobody else is either. I can then instead choose who I want to listen to and I can choose how I want to form my decisions.
And I can look at my behavior and I can say, okay, I did this. And it seemed like it stemmed from this. So what if I changed just that one tiny thing?
Does that make a difference? You don’t even have to do it consciously because I can tell you, I’ve been practicing doing all these things for years. And I still have days that I don’t even really recognize that I’m doing them.
And when I started my blog five years ago, I can tell you, hands down, I have had several reasons to quit, and I just told myself, keep going, keep going, keep trying, keep turning the wheel. Keep turning the wheel, keep turning the wheel. If God doesn’t will it, He’ll stand in my way. But from what I’ve found, I continue to experience not only in financial circumstances, but in networking circumstances, in friendships and relationships and people I meet. And that’s so important. So trying is really all we have.
We hear a lot of people say, “Oh, there’s do or do not, there is no try.” I get it, I’m a Star Wars fan. But when you have ADHD, that mindset can keep us stuck. I don’t want you to be stuck anymore. I was stuck. You’re not stuck.
Nobody has it all together. Nobody is in someone else’s weaknesses or strengths. I want you to keep in mind that perception (when you have ADHD) is so much the issue. Just today, me and my son, my 12 year old, we were over in our old neighborhood. It’s not in the greatest part of town. And I asked him, we were leaving his basketball game, “Hey, you want to drive by the old apartment?” He said, yeah. Now, you just go back about five or six years ago and me driving past that old apartment probably would have been pretty triggering. I don’t even know if I would have been able to do it.
That was where I experienced my first real issue with postpartum. I had my second son there and I made so many mistakes in that department, but still, my son wanted to drive by it. So we did, he told me all sorts of silly, funny stories, silly, funny memories and silly funny things that he did. (Evidently, he named our tiles and our bathroom in that apartment. And I think that’s just hilarious.) And we laughed and I drove away and he asked me if we could also go around the corner to my mother’s old house, because that was one of the big perks of that apartment that I had. It was very close to my parents at the time. And we drove over there and he told me other funny stories he had from when he was really little in that house. And he laughed and I told him I was so happy that his memories of that place were happy ones. And he said, “Yeah, I really loved living there.”
Now that’s relating it to my parenthood, but even if you take every mistake you’ve ever made, I don’t even care. If you made some capital punishment mistaken, you went to prison, you are allowed to change. Your ADHD does not define you. It is how your brain is hardwired and you have to learn to work with it, but it is not who you are. Instead of being stuck and feeling like you just can’t, where you would never do that to someone else. You have to start telling yourself, one, that your ADHD does not define you and it does not get to decide what you are good at or not good at, only you and God get to decide that. And two it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to screw it up. It’s okay to not do it right the first time, fifth time, or even the tenth time. As long as you keep at it. That’s all. That’s all you need. Perseverance, grit, and resilience.
When I talk to whoever is listening to my podcast, out there in my mind, I’m talking to 21 year old me who believed a lot of lies about who I was and who I was going to be based on a lot of other people’s perception of who I was. And at the end of the day, when I really realized who I was. I saw so many of people’s misperceptions because I just had ADHD and they didn’t notice. And instead, what I found was underneath on my ADHD, I’m smart and I’m caring and I’m kind, and I love people. I don’t always tolerate them very well because I have sensory issues and anxiety, but I do really love them. Every person has an experience worth learning from. You just have to learn to take from your own experience, too.
I imagine you’re thinking, well, what about medication? What about therapy? Keep going, get those things. Or don’t get those things, but keep going, pick a direction and go. And as long as you don’t stop, no matter how many times you fall, you’re gonna get there. I have faith in you. I know God’s with you. And I know that 21 year old me, she really needed to hear that right about now. I hope that this, and the podcast, fills you with the love that I’m trying to convey in it.