The Greatest Gift of ADHD? Permission to be Vulnerable


In a bright blast, which I can neither deny nor ignore, my stubborn non-acceptance of my way of being became a full-body embrace.

I thought I had done this already — lived the feeling of recognizing that it’s okay to have ADHD — but then another layer was showing. I was the side of the slice of lasagne — newly cut and oozing.

It caught me off guard because I had, at least on the outside, stopped questioning every behavior, every emotion, every mistake as a sign of ADHD or something else. I thought I had decided that ADHD was the answer. ‘Really,’ I chide inwardly now, ‘since when did you ever decide anything?’ My capacity for knowing things wholly, it seems, was arrested by faulty ‘executive functions’ and then it wandered in some other direction altogether.

[Self-Test: Symptoms of ADHD in Women]

My almost-acceptance of my late-life ADHD diagnosis has a tinge of indigence about it — and also enough warmth and softness toward my very existence as a human being to bring a gentle smile to my heart. I now feel that I am meandering toward a most valuable and ultimate knowing. That my quest to be in the world and within myself in a way that is comfortable is incomplete, but getting closer.

Following my diagnosis, I assumed self-care to be self-compassion. It turns out that doing nice, comforting things for myself is incomplete self-care if I don’t also acknowledge the bittersweet truth of my humanness. It is incomplete — and ineffective — if I don’t offer to myself what I offer to other people: unconditional positive regard not despite their way of being, but because of it.

True ADHD self-care requires intense vulnerability — a tenderness that is difficult to conjure after so many years of disdain and disapproval, which lead to self-rejection, which leads to a state akin to martyrdom. Trying to please everyone else all the time is an unhealthy way to live, and it is falling away more and more each time I refuse to deny my true needs.

I’m beginning to see how learning self-compassion is a prerequisite for showing compassion to others. If you deny your needs — out of shame or embarrassment or overwhelm or some combination of the three — you are denying compassion to yourself and to those around you. Self-denial doesn’t make you a ‘good person,’ as you imagined it would or should; it makes you resentful, and that’s not good for anyone.

Though I came to see my ADHD some time ago, this new understanding of the role of self-awareness and healing — with permission to be vulnerable — came to me like the revealing of a wrapped gift inside a wrapped gift that you suddenly realize is the real thing.

ADHD Gifts: Next Steps

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Updated on September 30, 2020

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