The teacher turns his back to the class, and I realize this is my chance. Heart pounding in my chest, I dive out of my seat and begin army crawling the classroom perimeter, praying that the other students do not give away my position. The teacher turns back to the class. FREEZE. I hold dead-still, adrenaline coursing through me. The brief pause in our teacher’s rambling signals that I’ve been made.
“12 minus 8 equals 4!” says Mark, the star pupil of our class.
The teacher nods his approval and returns to writing on the board. I feel my body relax and continue my trajectory, nearing my escape at the back of the classroom. The few students who have noticed me watch with mild interest, having become familiarized with my daily antics. I am nearly five feet from the door when a voice erupts:
My heart drops. The teacher pulls me up by my arm and escorts me to the principal’s office. The principal meets me with kind eyes and a look of exasperation. We were well acquainted at this point.
It was not long after this event that I was diagnosed with ADHD. Throughout my childhood, I heard a lot of talk about my “potential” and how I needed to apply myself. I was constantly getting in trouble at school and even had early encounters with law enforcement. While I would surprise my teachers with high test-scores, my grades suffered from failing to turn in homework. No matter how hard I tried and how much I craved the approval of my teachers and family, I could not seem to do what the majority of my peers could do- sit still, stay on task, and do what is expected.
As a 34-year-old, I have come a long way from the kid army-crawling along the classroom floor to satiate his desire for novelty. Through rock climbing and other adventure sports, my sensation seeking behaviors have become more appropriate. Through meditation, I have learned to sit in stillness. However, no amount of meditation or social conditioning will ever make me become neurotypical. I will always experience some level of friction navigating society with neurodivergence. I will frustrate my friends and loved-ones with my: forgetfulness- “you forgot your wallet again?!”, distractedness- “are you even listening?!”, and impulsivity- “Not so loud!” While skills, routines, self-care, and sometimes medication are tremendously important in managing ADHD, an equally if not more important practice is one of self-compassion and self-acceptance.
Folks with ADHD are often conditioned to think of themselves as inferior. Even though our brains function advantageously in many contexts, we adopt negative core beliefs through our experiences in childhood, and it takes a lot of self-reflection and positive experiences to challenge and reshape these narratives into something more accurate. When we make a mistake, our inner voice takes on the scripts we heard growing up. We tell ourselves that we are not enough, that we are lazy or careless; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In my sessions with neurodivergent clients, we work on developing awareness around this inner voice. We examine where we have heard these messages growing up. We make space for a new voice: one that affirms our strengths, one that offers compassion, one that reminds us that we are always enough.