I do that, I thought. And that. And that sounds familiar. Unease, enlightenment, and caffeine gently pulsed in my veins.
When my friend referred to herself as neurodivergent, I reached out with a “me too” and suggested we get together for coffee. In our conversation, she referred to folks like herself who have ADHD or others, like me on the autism spectrum, as simply not the majority in the same way that left-handed people are in the minority.
“Do you know how many things are designed for right-handed people?” she said. “It’s infuriating.”
She felt the unfairness of it. I heard that being neurodivergent was not bad or wrong or anything to be ashamed of. I heard: there’s nothing wrong with me; I’m just different.
Now I was discovering another difference.
“Two years ago when I read that people on the autism spectrum often have ADHD as well, I couldn’t take it in. I didn’t want one more label,” I said to my friend, “but I experience much of what you’ve described.”
I wondered if many of the struggles I face daily are traits of ADHD, so I took an online test and checked every box. That led me to notice how often I get distracted, how hard it is to sit still and listen, and how accomplishing a task becomes impossible when I’m not motivated to do it. In re-reading and revising blog posts for my third book, I saw how often I’ve unknowingly done something that offended someone, and, as you read in a recent post, it keeps happening.
The real eye-opener was when my friend told me that people with ADHD are hypersensitive to rejection. That made me want to cry. Repeatedly being blindsided with the discovery that I did something wrong again has imprinted the fear of rejection on my nervous system. I’ve experienced repetitive little traumas with no abusers, just people reacting and responding to my impulsive actions, my sin.
As I awakened to the possibility that my hurtful actions didn’t stem from a moral or spiritual problem but a physical one, I felt angry at the way the Bible has been read and Christianity taught through the narrow lens of morality. I can see now that my Christian beliefs contributed to the denial that kept me from recognizing the traits of ADHD. I believed I was “normal” and that my messiness was because I didn’t value ordinary work. I thought I repeatedly misplaced things because I wasn’t present enough. I procrastinated doing things that were boring because I didn’t care enough about others. I fed my addictions to word games and food because I wanted to feel good more than I wanted God. I interrupt because I’m not patient. I watch the clock for meetings to end because I’m self-centred.
I have learned to judge myself in all these ways. Meanwhile, I’m as guilty as a person who is left-handed, colour-blind or has to buy specialized shoes. Sheesh!
I’m angry and I’m grateful.
I’m grateful God doesn’t judge, despite what the Bible seems to say. I’m grateful to be in communities that celebrate diversity. I’m grateful for the work LGBTQ+ people and mental health advocates have done to destigmatize differences. I’m grateful for friends brave enough to share their stories of not fitting in and loved ones who listen. If it wasn’t for them I would still be beating myself up for not being good enough.
But this revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive of a lifetime.―Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
Questions for your Lenten Journey:
- Notice what you struggle with on a daily basis. What would it be like to offer yourself compassion instead of judgment? What goes on for you when you hear God or a loved one says, “This is hard.”?
- Sometimes people think that if they aren’t hard on themselves, they won’t improve, that acceptance means we resign ourselves to the belief that things will never change. Studies have shown that the opposite is true. When we accept ourselves and our situations with tenderness and compassion, we find the energy to make the changes we can.
- What new ways of being come to mind as you treat yourself tenderly?