I Was Always Presenting Symptoms

neon light signage on wall

In many ways, I’ve forgotten this message. In many ways, I’ve intentionally ignored this message. In many ways, I am afraid of this message.

As I reclaim my life, I find my asthma is getting persistent again. With change comes anxiety and when I disregard it, I find myself needing to take my inhaler often.

The thing about patterns is that recognition doesn’t equate to transformation. I don’t magically act better once I know better.

Knowledge and insight are only one part of the equation and as I struggle to make sense of this emotional disarray, I feel less connected to a world that was so comforting to me during my seasons of denial.

I cringe every time I see quotes talking about “step out of your comfort zone” or “you don’t want it because you’re not trying hard enough.”

If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all and they now represent the kind of toxicity that kept me in a state of self-hatred.

Therapy is finally helping and I never thought I’d come to say that. Not because I don’t believe in psychotherapy but because I had so many negative experiences with it that I started to think it wasn’t for me.

Coming to terms with having ADHD and OCD has been challenging but also enlightening. In one sense I feel a sense of relief that I have some context to help explain so much of my challenges, from childhood through now. The OCD was a “well duh” moment but the ADHD was met with some confusion.

The more I learn about how I’ve been the more sense everything makes. However, with wisdom comes heartbreak. Once the relief of knowing what I was working with subsided, I was left with anger and sadness.

I find myself grieving a life that I never got to experience. I am mourning a happiness that I never got to enjoy.

I think about how much time I lost from not knowing that I was going to process life differently. That “difference” provided me a cloak of guilt and shame, where I felt like I was broken and needed fixing. For all of the positive motivation that was drilled into me about being grateful for the privileges I did have, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a form of conditioning to be complicit in my conformity.

I was reminded…

  • How I was lazy for not wanting to do things.
  • How ungrateful I was for not liking to hug people.
  • How I was a “cold fish” for not wanting to express emotions.
  • How my lack of discipline meant I would never earn success.
  • How my lack of desire to smile on cue meant I’d have no friends or romantic suitors.

The more I pushed back on social norms, the less likeable I became and in my desire to be accepted and seen, I forced myself to take on an ambition that would come close to severing the ties to my own humanity.

I was extremely competitive and striving for perfection at all costs.

The irony was that my quest for an ideal version of me didn’t mesh well with the limitations that come from having ADHD and OCD.

So I became a workaholic with little to show for my hustle. I befriend people who only saw my value by what I could do for them.

Then when I went through burnout, I lost clients and friends. And through it all, I was the common denominator so all of the burden and blame fault fell on my shoulders.

And this cycle continued for decades.

I’ve experienced enough health scares to know that there was more at play than physical ailments. The inner work I had avoided started to overpower my external world. My shadow self promoted itself to driver of my life.

I was in the darkest of places and calling it home.

Then I had a hysterectomy and everything spiraled quickly and all at once. By neglecting the feelings of giving up what I felt was core to my identity, I was left in drowning in a void with no one to turn to and nothing to grab onto.

So I did what I always do – I shut down and went into chaos management mode. After almost twenty years of self-employment, I decided to get a full-time job so that I could quit the illusion that I was doing ok…because I wasn’t.

The one thing I held onto so tightly was my brand and the only way to save myself was to let that go. Now I didn’t completely abandon my work. I still do what I do because I do love empowering others but I need to put the mask on myself before I can save anyone else.

In therapy, I was fighting back tears when I heard someone describe the last few months as a grieving process. Because I never considered bereavement as something I’d have permission to do when the hysterectomy wasn’t forced upon me. I chose it.

I chose to have the choice taken away from me and I’m still battling the guilt and shame from that reframe.

But I was grieving nonetheless which brings me to the ADHD and OCD acknowledgement because in many ways, I am grieving who I could have been in that regard as well.

I recognize this as my new journey towards self-actualization. It’s not that I have to rediscover who I am. I have to learn to embody who I’ve always been without the fear of being ostracized for honoring my authenticity.

The more I learn to navigate life while surrendering the ways I’ve coerced myself to conform for validation, the more I recognize how much of the world and the people around me were invested in the disingenuous version of me.

Because now “I am using my disabilities as an excuse.”

My awareness is now an inconvenience to those who liked me quiet, non-confrontational, and agreeable.

To ask for any kind of accommodations would mean that others would have to address the ways in which exploiting the masked version of me benefited them. And since my existence now comes with conditions, how much of a burden is my friendship and kinship?

That because I presented well for decades and never indicated otherwise, I must be making shit up. As I recall so many memories from my life in therapy, I realized how much I was presenting symptoms. You can’t see them when you’re not looking and if I wasn’t noticing them, then I know no one would care enough to look either.

Because if multiple strangers can look at my behaviors and immediately pick up on it, what does that say about the family + friends who “know me” and assume it’s not true.

I’m realizing that the reason I resonate so much with the phrase “sacred blemishes” is because I am the blemish, inconvenient but special to only those who aren’t invested in the illusion of presenting as perfect.

So here goes a new chapter, a new voice, and a new journey of self-mastery through the lens of a multi-dimensional free spirit – with enough quirks to make storytelling interesting.