Identity

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Identity. We don’t choose this life. We don’t choose the skin, hair, eyes, features of our face. Shape of our body. Our height. We come here fully packaged and tasked with the same job of every single human that lands here. Come to know yourself….look at the reflection in the mirror and know you. Spend the time finding your interests. Your people. And hopefully, if you are really lucky, thrive. Grow into your youest you. Find passion…work and rework and rework some more. Become.

But what happens when the you you got, ain’t the you they want? When your parents look down at the the precious baby and say, I was hoping for ______. When the teacher says, it would help if you settled a bit. Stayed quiet more. Gave the “right answers?”

See the problem is, this world had a right answer in mind before you were even expected. An answer that looks, sounds, speaks, acts….IS right. And it’s not shy about telling you, you ain’t it. It tells you in the images you see in movies, tv and magazines. It tells you in the stories you hear from your teachers. You close your eyes and imagine the world….painted as the right you can never be.

And when you come to realize this, you begin to shrink. To be less and less of the you you really are to fit. To be closer to right or at least less wrong. See, that’s the thing you finally get. You are wrong and no one ever had to say a formal word for you to know it. Once you know, you begin to go inward….searching for the ways to hide…or resist.

And you see….the problem here again is you twist and turn so much…molded by the silent and the vocalized rights and wrongs of this strange world…that you miss your mission. You dropped the mirror through the denial and it shatters…tiny bits of broken glass reflect light and cubist angles and images…a monstrosity. No longer human. No room to thrive in the one dimensional frame you are trapped in.

Others? They walk by and view…critic, despise, reject the ugly, tormented image they helped to create. But you see, they, too, have missed the mission. They too have faced the tortured process squeeze all uniqueness…all individuality…right out of their core. They are left…the bitter Apple, seeing through the small slits where seeds live.

So here we are. These things. These lost identities. Lifeless objects. Powerless. Totally oblivious to what we have become and even less aware of what we could have been.

My Adult ADD Diagnosis

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I didn’t go into the therapist office that day looking for a diagnosis. I went because as a newly married woman beginning to think of starting a family, I was afraid of my own damn mind. I had worked several years to pull back the layers of hurt that paraded itself on the surface as “fine” or even “successful.” The more I addressed the unspoken emotions, the more I seemed to find and that day, I came wanting to be reassured I was emotionally stable enough to consider children.

The therapist looked across the room and said, “so what brings you here.” I tried explaining my past and I contextualized the type of support I had received. “So what are your current challenges.” I began to detail my struggles with organization, time management and a reoccurring stressor I had at work that involved a lot of writing and a dreaded deadline. These honestly were my biggest concerns. They caused me shame and anxiety.

He began to ask me a variety of questions varying from details about my experiences in school as a child to current ability to focus and attend. After many questions he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “you sound like a classic case of adult ADD. Listen, I am going to be honest. The only known treatment, outside all the adjustments it sounds like you are already taking, is medication. It’s up to you if you want to try this and it can take awhile to find the right one but it can be very effective.” He also went on to tell me about how often patients like me come in and are given anxiety medications but that of the true problem is ADD, the anxiety should subside with more focus and attention.

This was the beginning of my journey with ADD. I was a 34 year old professional and as my life continued to grow, the more overwhelmed by the seemingly simple tasks of life I was.

My first reaction to this news was devastation. I had honestly come so far in so many areas of personal struggle in my life that the diagnosis of one more thing let too much to bare. I felt panicked about the idea of taking medication and I in no way wanted anything to do with a label. I called a close friend who was also a therapist and she, having known me since 3rd grade, was not surprised to hear about the diagnosis. She did, however, devised me to stay calm, look at all the coping mechanisms I was already using and look to expand those. She advised waiting on medication especially considering my limitations were not as great as what I might have thought. For example, I found that using a house keeper was an a great solution for my issues around the house. Instead of being ashamed of this, why not embrace it as treat for myself and a way to support another person’s income? She also advised starting with vitamins, looking at my diet, exercising and looking at other forms of natural support like aroma therapy and herbs for my anxiety. This call calmed me and I followed all this advise.

Next came the stage of discovery where I began learning about ADD. This was pivotal because it brought about identification and tremendous hope. I learned I wasn’t alone and that yes, my ADD could be a gift and not a curse.

I started by reading online about ADD and came across ADDitude magazine. The website was very informative and it led me down a path I continue to explore: podcasts. Not only does the magazine have monthly webinars featuring professionals and experts to support people living with ADD, the record them and make them available as podcast episodes. This is where I was introduced to Terry Matlen and Dr. Edward Holloway. These podcasts filled me with identification and helpful information. It also led me to explore other podcasts, experts and books. One of my very favorites, Faster Than Normal with Peter Shankman is all about the concept of ADD as a fast brain way if being in the world that can be a gift and not a curse. This concept and the personal stories shared each episode continue to remind me that I didn’t have to see my diagnosis as something negative. Did you know there are many successful entrepreneurs, therapists, teachers, etc. with ADD? The brains of these types of thinkers are creative and the personalities tend to be passionate and quite able to hyper focus on a topic of high personal interest.

Since my initial diagnosis, I have continued to educate myself. Dr. Edward Holloway’s Driven to Disrtraction and Delivered from Distraction have both been extremely helpful in understanding my brain. I find myself hunger for the information and as I put it in, I see some subtle changes in myself. Mainly, self acceptance. For the first time ever, I am not judging myself. I have words to explain and understand my limitations and I am finding it easier to apply different tools.

Anytime I have needed to make a change in my life, it always begins with awareness. I get to see what needs changing. For me, the diagnosis signaled a need for change. The interesting thing about this awareness is that it literally was around issues I have struggled with my whole life. Right now I am just grateful for information and my budding self acceptance. I continue to learn and try out new tools for myself.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with time management, focus or organization, all I can say is that there is help and there is hope. ADD and ADHD labels are not a death sentence. On the contrary, they can be the beginning of a new more gentle life of accepting oneself. Even without a label, podcasts, articles and books on the topic of ADD and ADHD can be helpful for anyone.

 

Podcasts about ADD

FTN: Faster Than Normal

ADHD Experts: ADDitude Magazine

Adult ADHD ADD Tips and Support

 

Books about ADD

Driven to Distraction by Edward Holloway

Delivered from Distraction by Edward Holloway

Queens of Distraction by Terry Matlen

 

Surviving the Brokenness: Navigating Parental Mental Illness

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Mental illness. It was present in my childhood though I didn’t have a name for it. When my mother used crack, I knew what that was called: addiction. She would go in and out of rehabs, crack houses and our various motel rooms and apartments. But when she went to what my father called “the looney bin” and made me wallets made of leather or decorated wooden boxes, I had no real name for that. My mother happens to be one of those people who live with the complicated mix of addiction and mental illness. While I never directly saw her use crack, I did see the many bottles of psych meds and I saw the breakdowns. Breaking dishes, screaming, crying, rocking. Tearing all books, papers and money. Walking out of the door nude. This was my mother and I had no words to call what I saw. Of course I sensed that something wasn’t right as I constantly tried to tell my mother about my day and she simply stared out into blankness. I would get so mad and say, “Are you listening to me?” She couldn’t really be present for me and she was incapable of being responsible for me much of the time. She would leave. Whether on a drug or cigarette run, and I cared for myself. This is how I adapted. I took care of myself.

Today after years of experience and personal work about my childhood trauma and my mother, I have seen a degree of forgiveness and compassion develop. These qualities, which always seemed present on the surface, really took time and work to become authentic. How could I truly experience these without having first addressed my own pain? I couldn’t but for many years, I thought I had. Instead, I discovered a boulder of hurt, anger, frustration, and utter sadness buried deep in my psyche. It took time and lots of reassurance that it was ok to both feel and reveal this monster, and then…boom. There it was. First there were weeks of tears. Tears for myself for the first time ever. Tears for the little girl who never got her needs met. Tears for the teenager that never got to rebel. Tears for the young woman that never got guidance or support. Tears for the times I was ignored. Tears for the times I was stuck in the cross fire of my mother’s insanity. And then came the anger. Anger that I had this mother and others didn’t. Anger that I couldn’t make these circumstances change. Who was this anger towards? The sadness was for me. Just plain sorry for myself. But the anger? That was something different. The anger was towards God. How could He? Why would He? I felt all this. And then slowly, I began to let it go. To feel better. To accept. To move forward.

Today I continue to weave in and out of my feelings. For a time, it seemed that all was well and I felt a steady stream of affection and forgiveness towards my mother. She was out of her addiction and her emotions were even as she practiced taking care of herself. She was utilizing all her support systems including medication and our relationship thrived. We even had the chance to talk about my childhood and I got to see her boulder of pain and regret as she wished that she could have been different.

But then it began to unravel. It started with a returned belief on her part that she didn’t need help. She was fine. She was feeling better and she had God so why did she need all these people? This was the start of a downward spiral that took about a year. At the end of it, she was completely breaking down. Broken glasses, food on the wall, a fire set to her apartment. And then came the institutions again. All through this, I felt myself gradually backing away. Accepting my own limitations to help her and knowing, as always, she would have to be the one to hit a stop point. My life was growing and thriving and I knew that trying to help not only would be ineffective, but it would hurt me more in the end. I would be demanding, tired and angry. All for nothing. So I made a decision. An unpopular one. One that many people simply can’t  fathom. I decided to let her go.

As her apartment manager, friends, and family members called me, I simply said what I knew and urged them each to take the action they felt was best. The manager wanted to call the police. Friends wanted to visit. Family wanted to know what I was going to do to stop it. In each person’s eyes, I could see the acquition: I should be taking some kind of lead. This was the hardest part. Watching her go down and then watching as each person looked to me to do something was a wicked mix. See, I knew at this point, that my help would only delay the inevitable crash and burn that comes before she is willing to seek help. From an outside perspective, my stepping back looks cruel but inside, I actually know it is the most compassionate action.

There is another, more internal reason for my choice to step back: boundaries. Boundaries are what allow me to know where I end and someone else begins. Boundaries are a way of acknowledging and acting on setting my personal limitations. They can be internal initially but made external by my choices.

When it comes to my mother, I have decided that her care and welfare in not my personal responsibility. I love her and I want the best for her but at this point in her life, she is deemed capable of making choices for herself. I honor that for her sake and for my own.

I have also decided, as I make great strides towards personal and professional growth in my own life, my time and energy are sacred. I must take care of myself in order to thrive day by day. I am limited in this way. To try to care for someone, especially someone resistant to help, is not within the scope of taking care of myself. I honor this truth for my own sanity.

Society is shaming. It just is. It likes to tell us what we should and shouldn’t be doing. We get this messages our whole lives and they continue into adulthood. There are rules, spoken and unspoken. One rule is that we honor and care for our parents. This of course, never takes into account the adult children that can’t or won’t for a variety of very legitimate reasons.

In choosing to step back with love, I am forced to accept that I am breaking a societal rule. It is natural that I will hear from people about what I should be doing. I get it.

But today, more than ever, I am owning my own reality. I know what I know. I feel what I feel and I choose what I choose. I embrace and honor myself by being authentic.

The Destruction of Envy

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I grew up constantly envious of others. We were poor, black and constantly struggling. Whether it was my mother being lost in a crack house or mental institution, or my father losing another job or simply not making enough for the day (he was a cab driver which meant money was an issue from day to day), there was struggle. Evictions, motel rooms and once even an extended stay in transitional living…shit was tough. So when I looked around, damn right I wanted what everyone else seemed to have.

I had one friend that became the symbol for all I wanted and didn’t have. We met in middle school and are friends to this day. As we grew up, I would visit her large, well lit home in an area of town designated for black people with money. I knew I didn’t belong in this neighborhood even though my apartment was less than a 15 minute drive. Her mother and step father would come in looking like they belonged on the cover of Ebony. Her mother with her light skin, wavy hair cut to a Toni Braxton or Halle Berry do; fitting the times and him looking classically smooth with a slicked back wave like Billie D. Williams in Lady Sings the Blues. As we grew up, her house went from the sleepover house to the place for all champagne parties and other events. She went from a nerdy kid with thin legs, big classes and braces to a stunning beauty by 16. In college, she lived in NY and traveled abroad for a semester. I know she was supported to some extent in college. This was the girl that seemed to have the perfect life, perfect body and perfect temperament. All eyes were on her when we entered a room and her calm, kind presence was liked by all.

These feelings of inadequacy, born from looking out towards a society that constantly told me I wasn’t enough, persisted through my college years and even into to the beginning of my career. And then something unsuspected and important happened. I experienced an addiction and reached a point where I had to get help. It was this bottom, the ground of all my feelings, lost hopes and dreams, where a new perspective was born.

Day by day, as I gave up what I had depended upon, I began to address the layers of pain underneath my addiction. Gradually, painstakingly, I discovered the hurt, wounded person that had been buried in a cocoon of dysfunction. I began to change and grow with the love and support of several kind, understanding individuals. My pain was replaced with tremendous gratitude. I was a lucky one. I had made it out of my own hell and lived to tell about. At first, the envy persisted. I had regrets and watched as old classmates’ lives seemed to take off past my false starts. I learned to talk about my envy with people who understood and I finally had words to describe that feeling that hit in the pit of my stomach every time I heard from my childhood friend:I wanted what she had and I was angry that I didn’t get it.

In my darkest time, I was able to open up to people and finally get out of the hell of my own isolation. Envy is part of the secret cave where there is often only room for one. In sharing my feelings, I no longer felt unique. Each time I shared my envy, I heard others say, “me too.” I found out just how normal these feelings were though I can see mine was a particularly exaggerated case. Over time, I learned that I couldn’t change my past and that I never did have a chance to pick certain elements of my life such as my parents or childhood experiences. All I could do was play the hand I was dealt. Both the past and present is full of people who played what at first seemed a losing hand, into a clear win. Maya Angelou, Harriet Tubman and Oprah Winfrey are just a few who I have personally studied and been quite impressed by. Each of these ladies experienced hardships beyond mine and yet, took their lives into their own hands and progressed. So I finally stopped asking “why me?” and I accepted my past and present for it is was.

This took awhile but like magic, once this happened, a new, more striking revelation came to me: my personal trials actually have strengthened me. I can literally be dropped in the middle of a foreign country and survive. I have done it! I adapt well and I am open to all people. My childhood, for all it’s warts, actually had some hidden jewels. I continue to uncover the rewards. For example, having had demanding, sometimes abusive parents parents, in my own healing, I have learned to set boundaries. I speak up for myself in ways I see others cower from and that is a direct result of being sick enough to get help. This life is so full of paradoxes and nothing is all bad or all good. As I began to embrace this concept, I was reintroduced to the yin yang sign I grew up wearing fashionable around my neck. That symbol shows that there is always a bit of light in the dark and vice versa. This is how I have begun to see my past and present.

As for my childhood friend, she is still lovely, talented and thriving. She is a beautiful person and I feel lucky to know her intimately. In my times of self discovery, I begun to notice that she, like everyone has good days and bad days, trials and celebrations. As a friend, I get to see this up close and I am reminded of the futility and childishness of my envy. I don’t say this to beat myself up. I say this only to highlight that growth has occurred. For some, this lesson is innate or learned early in life but for others, like myself, it’s a hard won battle against fear and insecurity.

 

 

Affirm Yourself : Owning and Expanding Your Selfhood

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In my journey of healing, I have had to confort my low self-esteem and self-hatred head on. I had to because these deep soul wounds were causing me to actively hurt myself in a variety of ugly ways. As I began to seek my healing, I encountered many tools and I continue to collect them as I grow.

About two years ago, I came across the guided mediations of Louise Hay. Her affirming, gentle approach to reprograming your own psyche was perfectly aligned to where I was on my path. I listened to her daily and eventually began creating my own affirmations. With the help of an action partner, I allowed myself to affirm not only who I already was but who I dreamed of becoming. We have been reconstructing and sharing our own sets of personal affirmations on an almost nightly basis since then and the changes in ourselves and consequently our lives have been astonishing. Since beginning this work, I have gotten married, changed my job and moved across the country into a new more abundant financial situation. She has left an unfulfilling job in exchange for a full time commitment to creative work, her true passion.

Some of my affirmations are about reaching for my dreams and some are about affirming the assets I already possess but need to own. From time to time, I recorded and listened to my own voice say these as I drift off to sleep.

Here are my affirmations as they stand today:

I am peaceful and connected to my God.

I am calm and focused. I sleep easy and rise with joy.

I am happy, joyous and free because God wills it.

I am living authentically and am making decisions with good, healthy motives (not selfish) because God wills it.

I am sober, abstinent (from sugar and flour), and participating in interdependent relationships (not codependent).

I help others because my experience is helpful to people.

I am a published author who is producing work I am proud of.

I am an educational leader making positive changes in a specific school but sending ripples into a larger community.

I am a PH.D. recipient and I am professor on a college level.

I am a wife and mother and love my family.

I am happy, beautiful and confident.

I am a good friend and I have good friends.

I speak up for myself and others when injustices arise.

I value my ideas and I share them freely.

I accept and love myself.

I am aware when I meet difficult people and treat them with love and compassion.

I am loved and I give love freely.

I am a good listener.

I am not lazy. I am active and I keep my spaces tidy because it makes me feel good about myself.

I am a problem solver.

I am walking in my purpose.

I accept, love and value people just for who they are.

I am productive but willing to make space for love and affection.

Teachers, children and parents feel my confidence and it helps them trust me.

I am calm and fair.

I accept my weaknesses and I find creative ways to do what’s hard for me.

I am discovering and living my dreams.

I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

I am more than adequate for my job. I am excellent, capable, and confident.

I am making 1 million dollars this year .

I am becoming debt free and financially independent.

I take time and invest in looking my best because it makes me feel good about myself.