For most of my life, I would have described myself in a number of ways, none of them particularly complimentary.
Messy. Forgetful. Chaotic. Weird. Highly strung. Moody. Flaky. Disorganised. Mental. Hard work. Not good enough. Shameful. Too noisy. Childish. Unreliable. Always late.
And so on.
These were my identity.
I had been told ‘You are so…….’ so many times that I internalised ‘I am….’ and made that who I was.
So I wasn’t ‘Esther’, I was messy, childish, moody, weird…. I didn’t see myself as a person so much as a collection of behaviours that only ever seemed to disappoint the people around me.
The healing process that I went through in my Yoga teacher training helped me see the person behind the behaviour and learn to like and accept myself a lot more. But at the same time, some aspects of those behaviours seemed to get worse.
I genuinely thought, when I got sober, that most of my problems were over and that my life would be better.
It didn’t take me long to remember that there were reasons I had started drinking the way I did, and that I had a lot of healing to do now that I was able to sit with the emotions instead of drowning them in Shiraz.
And that was ok. I learned to live in that space of painful, healing acceptance. And I grew there.
But there was something still not right.
Some things seemed to get worse when I was sober. My sense of overwhelm at my life sometimes got so huge, I felt like I was frozen to the spot.
My attempts at running a business seemed to recall so many school reports ‘Esther has potential but could do so much better, she needs to apply her self more’.
I felt like I was in a race to do all the things, and would end up not achieving very much. Or at least, that’s how it felt to me when I looked at the list of things I wanted to achieve.
On the outside, apparently I looked like some sort of Superwoman. Inside I felt like I was stuck in mud and doing nothing.
I was sober and more at peace than I could ever remember, but still so lost and at war with my brain.
My child, my teacher
Marcus, my now 10 year old son, is a huge fidgeter. He displayed some other odd behaviours that, once I got past being irritated by them, made me wonder if there was something different about the way he operates.
I knew that one of the traits of ADHD is fidgeting, so I started investigating that.
As I looked down the list of traits, and read article after article about the condition, I thought I saw Marcus, and to my total surprise, I definitely saw myself.
So much so that it was as if someone had observed me for a week and then written a list of my defining characteristics!
I had spent my entire life feeling like I didn’t fit anywhere in the world, and then I found that I fit perfectly in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
The more I learned about ADHD, the more my whole life made sense.
The low self esteem. The turbulent emotions. The sense that I don’t fit. My time keeping (or lack of!). MY ever changing interests and high excitement about a new project until I get bored, at which point I might never mention it again, and hope you will forget about it. My inability to keep my room, and later home, tidy. My absolute horror at what promised to be a fairly boring married life at 19.
My thrill-seeking behaviour, often leaning towards total recklessness. Two decades of substance abuse. The CV that looks like the work of an 8 year old going through everything in the dressing up box. The list of previous addresses that makes me think living in a mobile home would probably suit me a lot more. The forgetful, absent mindedness that people assured me meant I don’t care.
I had been working on the assumption that all these things reflected badly on who I am. That they were fundamental flaws in me that made me wrong, bad.
And now there was all this information telling me that none of this was my fault. My brain just isn’t built to operate the way that I have been expected to be.
I felt validated and able to accept myself for the first time. I was able to tell people “If I have ever disappointed you, I didn’t mean to, it was my brain not operating the way we all expected it to.”
Although the discovery and eventual diagnosis was just the start of what is a lifelong journey of learning to work with the brain I have, I released so much shame and self loathing when I worked it out.
I still battle with my ADHD on a daily basis. I struggle with many aspects of how my brain works, but I have tools to help me. Many of them are the same tools that helped me get sober, and help me stay there.
But even when I am locked in battle with a brain that wants to scroll through Instagram when I have other, far more important things to do, I can still love, forgive and accept myself.
And sometimes, that is good enough for this woman who spent decades telling herself she was shit.