How shame with ADHD begins
A life with untreated ADHD is a life with many inconsistencies. With those inconsistencies in mind, shame with ADHD soon follows. We are more likely to have bad credit, wrecked marriages, messy houses, and ruined careers. We have difficulty showing up on time, following through when we say we will, and being prepared. This is a burden not just on ourselves but on the people we love too. A few of these failures is embarrassing and frustrating. A lifetime of them leads to many of us struggling: we fail out of schools, find ourselves in divorce courts, battle addictions and stand in the unemployment line.
A lifetime of learning slowly that you can’t trust yourself or allow anyone else to depend on you leads to an overwhelming, life stagnating sense of shame. There were so many things to feel shame about that I didn’t know where to begin.
ADHD shame and I are old frenemies
I’ve dealt with shame myself. I have had my share of issues: I dropped out of college in my junior year because I just couldn’t stand the struggle anymore. The constant endless fight every semester to meet the deadlines exhausted me. Failing to get things done properly depressed me. My grades never seemed to reflect my intelligence and I was so tired of never feeling like I was good enough, so I walked away. Then I felt ashamed for not “having what it took” to finish school.
I broke promises to people who I loved; I failed them in many ways. With my depression, I drank too much and spent money as soon as it went into my pocket. Once, I had so many overdraft fees against my checking account that I only had $50 dollars left of a $500 paycheck. I found new words to describe myself. Loser. Failure.
Telling Myself Bad Stories
I had great success in high school as a writer; now out of college with no prospects, I told myself new stories:
You’ll never amount to anything.
You’ll never become who you want to become.
You are all you will ever be.
People like you die alone.
Remember, you are worthless.
Having swallowed these stories down, I allowed my life to conform to the life of one who was worthless. I stopped caring what I looked like, I stopped cleaning my house, I stopped talking to people and stayed in my house on my couch waiting, hoping to die. Fear and shame were the only things that felt familiar. Feeling ashamed was as natural as breathing at this point.
I Haven’t Been Alone
Here is where I’ve got to say, even though I have had a rough time learning to manage adult ADHD, I have been so fortunate in this life. I have never been alone in this fight.
- My family, even if they didn’t understand has always been a phone call away.
- I have friends who have provided me with support and encouraging words.
- People have stepped in at the nick of time with the right word and completely saved me from disaster.
- A stranger in London grabbed my hand in Trafalgar Square to tell me I am beautiful and to hold on.
- Information falls into my lap within hours of me needing it. It’s just how it works.
Hiding shame left me wanting and wishing for my life to end. Depression is a parasite that can absorb every good thought, emotion or dream in your body and convert it into physical pain, mental anguish and apathy. It sometimes can seize you so quickly that before you realize it, a bad day turns into a month and you’re caught in a funk you can’t shake.
A new perspective on shame with ADHD
What does this have to do with ADHD? Well after a lot of false starts, I think I’ve kind of got it down. It started when I came across this wonderful Podcast called “Overcoming ADHD and Shame: Why we feel it and how to manage it” You can listen to it here. Here’s what I learned:
Dr. Ned Hallowell, an expert on the subject gives the distinction that shame is caused by us passing moral judgments on ourselves. Like this for instance: I can’t believe I didn’t get to work on time. I am totally irresponsible. If I lose my job, it’s because I deserved it. I just lack the discipline to get places on time. He further states:
[ ADHD is] not a failure of the will, it’s not a failure of discipline, it’s a neurological difference.
He encourages his patients to get over their shame in order to deal with the disease head-on. He even goes as far as to suggest as long as we “wallow” in shame so to speak, we cannot put things in place in order to help us get to places on time, for instance. If you aren’t wasting your energy on shame, you can spend it on coming up with new skills. Hallowell indicates that shame is “maybe the most painful of all the symptoms and conditions associated with ADHD.”
He went on to tell the story of one of his friends who dealt with shame and it’s toxic effects:
“I have one friend who has actually won three Pulitzer Prizes who will not invite people into her office because of the piles of clutter. Despite her amazing achievements, she’s so ashamed of her inability to pick up.”
The doctor is onto something
I couldn’t agree with Dr. Hallowell more. As long as we are under the control of shame, we could conquer the world and never feel that we have done enough. Here I was managing this disorder, I fought my way through to the diagnosis and ADHD test on my own. Having ADHD gave me a reason for my behavior, but no explanation for how to fix my past mistakes. I began treatment yet my past imperfections were all I could think about. Shame kept me a prisoner.
I encourage you; no, I urge you: don’t let shame control your life a second longer. Do whatever it takes to forgive yourself. If people hold you responsible for things you have forgiven yourself for, make your apologies where you can, make it right if you are able and move on. Life is a fleeting moment in the passing of eternity. Don’t let it pass you by because you cannot recognize you are worthy.
How to deal with shame with ADHD:
- Stop holding yourself to impossible standards: ADHD adults struggle with perfectionism. We want everything to go just right, and when it doesn’t, we get overwhelmed and shut down. Learn to make peace with good enough.
- Understand that you cannot change the past: If you made mistakes in your past, you can only apologize for them and move forward. There is no time machine, and you are allowed to grow just like everyone else. If someone cannot forgive you for past actions, that is not your responsibility.
- You are a work in progress: Everyone, whether or not they have ADHD, has some growing to do. That means you have to give yourself space to learn, and yes make mistakes. Learn to see these experiences as opportunities to grow, and keep moving forward. With treatment, ADHD improves over time. If you want to know how to stop feeling shame and guilt, treatment is the best way to get there.
You have your ADHD diagnosis, you’re joining support groups and learning all you can. ADHD treatment can begin us on the path away from shame. Get ready to live your life well. You can grow free of the symptoms, and get rid of the shame with ADHD once and for all. Others will forgive you. Now it is time to forgive yourself.
Until next time,