“Be still and know I am God.” Definitely my least favorite verse in Scripture.
Growing up, I used to hate it when pastors would quote that verse to us followed by the phrase “Focus and quiet your mind,” and then ask us to sit silently for ten minutes or more and listen for God’s voice. First of all, my body ached to sit still for that long without moving. Inevitably, I began to rotate my ankle in circles or wiggle my toes or play with my fingers.
Second, “Quiet your mind”?! Seriously? What does that even mean? I’ve never understood that phrase. My mind doesn’t know quiet. It knows two speeds: racing or sleeping. On or off. Flying or dreaming. But awake and quiet? Forget about it.
And focus? Yeah, right. I heard someone describe it perfectly once. My mind is like a computer screen with twelve windows open in the browser and six programs running at once. I skip from thought to thought and topic to topic like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower. Unless something is intensely engaging, forget focus.
But I had always just figured my struggles were a quirk of my personality.
Thankfully I had parents who taught me life skills that helped me overcome my difficulties with focusing. When my mind began drifting and Mom saw me taking an hour to get ready in the morning, she’d chirp, “Pretend you’re in a hurry!” We created games and races and competitions in the house to motivate us to stay focused and complete tasks quickly. We would reward ourselves for jobs well done. We made lists. We had rules. All of this order mixed with fun was an ideal environment for me to grow up and thrive in.
As a result, I made excellent grades, learned how to manage my time well, and generally succeeded in my school age years.
But then I got married. And the rules were gone. I was in charge. There was no one to prod me along and remind me of the strategies I needed to follow, and I began to struggle. Not terribly, but enough to frustrate me and confuse my new husband. Neither of us understood why it took me so long to get things done, why information so often flew in one ear and out the other, or how we could drive the same routes a thousand times past the same landmarks and I somehow never saw them.
(Side note. ((My brain thinks in side notes and parentheses.)) Ironically, do you know what inspired me to sit down and write this blog post right now? I read this phrase in a devotional: “Sit in a comfortable place. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly. LISTEN. What is God saying to you? Be still. Just listen.” That worked well. I sat still for all of three seconds and then decided to blog instead about how I couldn’t sit still.)
Back to the story. To keep it short, the strategies instilled in me by my parents in combination with a husband who brings out the best in me helped me to live a “successful life.” I put that in quotes because although technically my children were well taken care of, the house was clean, I finished my college degree and got a great job, and I even learned how to cook, I was constantly frustrated with myself. I could always see my shortcomings and felt like I wasn’t good enough. I knew I could do better but didn’t know how.
This past year, I began to notice patterns in my daughter and in myself that mirrored each other. One day, her teacher brought some of her behaviors to our attention (playing with her fingers, needing constant reminders to refocus, needing things to be repeated multiple times, etc.), and while I agreed that they needed to be addressed, they didn’t concern me. I sat down with some of our friends, one of whom is a psychologist, and began telling them what the teacher had said. Laughingly, I began to list off a number of my quirks that were similar to my daughter’s.
After listing off about eight of them, I suddenly stopped. It hit me as I watched their faces and listened to myself that perhaps these funny little behaviors had something to them.
I’d always known I had some quirks, but hey, we all do, so I brushed mine off for years, laughing at my odd idiosyncrasies. They had never interfered dramatically with my life, so why would I pay much attention?
Until suddenly they did. They began to interfere a lot. But still I managed and chocked it up to a difficult season in life. I just needed to step it up and push harder. I got angry with myself and did some self-talk: “Stephanie, get yourself together and make it happen!” And I did. Sort of.
About a year ago, I went to a retreat for missionary women here in Peru, and at the retreat we were given the opportunity to reflect, to think introspectively…and to see a counselor.
In my session with JoAnn (an incredible counselor and life coach based in Minnesota), I shared with her my frustrations. I told her how something felt wrong with my mind—how it flew at a million miles a minute, how I struggled so, so hard with focusing, how my brain flitted from task to thought to memory and back again 20 times in under 10 seconds. I thought perhaps it was a result of working in social media or just a natural by-product of today’s technology.
JoAnn had gently asked me if I had ever considered that I might have ADHD. I immediately said no, because the picture I had in my mind of ADHD was hyper kids running around, bouncing off the walls, who did poorly in school. Certainly that wasn’t me. Plus I’ll admit I’m a skeptic by nature and having been raised with three brothers, am quick to brush things off and try to muscle through things on my own.
But after that night with our friends, my conversation with JoAnn came back to me. I went home and my mind began filling with memories. Memories of getting up from the kitchen table five times during dinner. Or beginning ten tasks in the same day only to leave them all unfinished. Or misplacing things because I had set them down in odd places while wandering around the house, lost in thought. Or how I had always struggled with retaining information. (I can often read a book and the day after finishing it, forget the names of every character and most of the story’s details. A year later, I might not even remember reading it.) Or how in any type of lecture or sermon or talk, I had to have something in my hand or I’d panic. And without taking notes, there was no chance I’d remember what was said.
When I woke up the next morning, I cracked open my computer and began to do some research on ADHD. I was shocked to read the stories of others and find my own story written within theirs. It was so refreshing to read about other people’s struggles that so closely paralleled my own. Through some assessment and conversation with counselors, my diagnosis was confirmed.
Once I found out, I cried for about four minutes. No one likes hearing they have a “diagnosis.” But immediately after, to my surprise, I began to feel a sense of excitement. All of the sudden, I realized two things. First, without knowing about my diagnosis, I had been living a happy and successful life for the last 32 years. Second, now that I knew the name of what I was struggling with, I had new tools and strategies to live even better!
In fact, I met a friend who also has ADHD, and he describes it as his superpower. His sharp and fast-moving mind allows him to quickly move from subject to subject and carry tons of details in his mind at once. Another friend who also has ADHD is one of the funniest, smartest, most capable people I know. Both are my inspiration.
My Myers-Briggs type is an ISFJ, and I just think of ADHD as adding another letter to that. So, I’m an ISFJA. ADHD doesn’t need to limit me in what I can do. It simply describes another aspect of me that I wasn’t aware of. In fact, ADHD brings out the funny side of me, and that’s a side of me I love and that I wouldn’t trade away for anything. It helps me be spontaneous and fun and live in the moment.
And best of all, it helps me understand my daughter. I’ve noticed that many of the behaviors she has that frustrate me are ones that I have too. I am so much more patient with her now, because I get her on a much deeper level. Now I’m able to teach her the same strategies I was taught to help her succeed too, instead of just feeling impatient.
I now know to always carry something in my hand. (It keeps me calm and helps me focus.) I use lists with regularity. (They keep me on track.) I go to bed at a decent time. (When I’m well rested I’m able to focus better.)
Now I’m not perfect. I’ve been known to bust out of a routine or strategy. (That’s exactly what I’m doing right now as I’m blogging.) But for the most part, I’m choosing to stick to the strategies that help me be the best me.
At first, I hesitated to share the discovery of my diagnosis. But then I noticed as I occasionally mentioned it in conversations where it felt appropriate, that it brought relief to parents who had children with ADHD. It has brought understanding to those who may have shrugged it off as a fake diagnosis. And it has given encouragement and a sense of camaraderie to other adults who have also recently discovered they have ADHD.
ADHD doesn’t define me. It simply describes a side of me. I’m not your “ADHD friend,” I’m still just “your friend.” A friend who has a pretty hilarious side to her that yes, brings challenges with it, but also brings fun and adventure and randomness and joy.
When you think about it, no one is really “normal” or “regular.” We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. We all have different personalities and different interests. We all have different upbringings and life experiences. And all these things combined make us the unique and special individuals that we are.
Be yourself. You’re the only you there is. And you’re pretty awesome.
What are some of your strengths and weaknesses? How can some of your weaknesses actually be a strength? As you’ve gotten older, what are some things you’ve discovered about yourself?