How A Person With ADHD Thinks

Flowcharting a thought Process

Day zero:
There is always a day zero for my ADHD brain. It’s the ‘before’ time of that particular action. Before hitting the big shiny send button on an email. (Editor’s Note: With ADHD, your Day Zero may last up to 5 years.)

Day one:
Having contacted TotallyADD to ask if I might reference their wonderful site in the book I am writing about finding self-compassion with ADHD, I am already struggling to find my own self compassion through the self-doubt which rears up in the corners of my confidence.

Day two:
It’s a yes. And an invitation to write a guest blog. But will what I write be what they want? Niggle niggle. The only way to find out is to DO SOMETHING.  I am anxious. I feel it ramping up and my hyperactivity joining the party.. then impulse.
I write to Ava Green, TotallyADD co-founder.

Day three:
Ava kindly agrees to read some sample pages of my book.  Everything’s a lonely journey at the moment, as you know, not least writing. I have shown no one my work and let’s just say that the send button looked particularly bright and shiny and inviting…

I know what’s coming.  That send button is a double-edged sword.
My self-doubt, which bubbles away like an old hag’s pot just a fraction shy of my self confidence boils over. This can go one of two ways. But I am a self-compassion writer with ADHD… and in this blog I necessarily  ask myself… Can I really walk the walk?

Day four:
It’s okay for a day. I’m spacey from my feat of daring. I don’t know what Ava’s feedback will be. But I have been given an opportunity to watch my mind.

This is what happens:
I stop writing my book. Exactly as I stopped painting after taking my work to a craft fair where no one bought anything. This might be construed as some kind of tantrum. But often, for people with ADHD it’s the big Q hanging that hangs over self-worth.

Working in hyperfocus before we build confidence around it, can feel tenuous. We are not always encouraged to work from ‘that place’, the realm of executive function often having been openly more valued from our early years.

a man relaxing

Self-doubt + Self-compassion – a Heady Cocktail

Personally, it’s taken me a very long time to believe I can do this, given the enormous praise and sense of ‘proper personhood’ that came when I got a maths sums right, or stuck to a timetable – which in themselves held no meaning –  that something I didn’t have to struggle with could be taken seriously in ‘the big out there.’

When we hyper-focus on what engages us, it can feel so safe… while we are engaged. 

A time comes to share the product of our vulnerable, yet capable inner world with the ‘real world’. We can experience the wrench of a finished project. We can also experience the overwhelm of other ‘projects end’ stuff which require our less than cooperative executive functions.

Self-Talk and Humanness

Back at the craft fair, behind the little stall I had set up to display my paintings, my face was the real picture. Steely eyed and tight jawed, I don’t suppose anyone dared to enter my little, palpably-icy zone of self-doubt. In exhibiting those paintings, I had laid my soul bare.  I had left myself open to receive judgment without first offering myself self-compassion. How could I not construe every glance at my work as anything other than disapproval when on some level, I disapproved of myself.

Beginning to find some self-compassion around our very humanness, to just practice the powerful healing of kinder, more gentle self-speak can create dialogue, and build a healthy relationship with the part of ourselves that is quick to berate our ADHD traits, to compare ourselves to others, or feel at odds with our ADHD being. Rather than staying alert to the heart and health benefits of celebrating it.

I call aspects of parenting ‘my work.’ I call writing ‘my work’  – because it is. When we dig deep we can know ‘our work’. What it truly is, is not always obvious to those around us. For so many of us with ADHD, soul work is creative and might be defined as what happens for us inside the task be it gardening, housekeeping sewing, care-giving.

Fulfillment vs Accomplishment

Once, as a Care-Giver in the community, I recognized my soul work as being to offer my clients the sense that I was taking time with them. (Despite how hyperactive I felt!)

Yes, this might have been a response to my need to temper my hyperactivity, which always presented challenge, but it was the part of the work inside the task that mattered. It was an attempt to create a feeling for my clients. One of being attended to gently, and of being offered my full attention.

And I wonder if you agree, that it is within the doing that the part of our being that becomes alive. When we hook into these activities is whenwe are ‘found,’ not in their outcome. Not in the ‘how many things made,’ or ‘how many people give us positive feedback’….. or the dreaded ‘how many likes.’ Because our soul work has its own qualities.  It fills our lives in ways that can never be quantified.

When I was little, I had a knowing somewhere deep inside me, which I now reflect, might be the first awakenings to the experience of flow.

Despite the 1970’s Parent-Culture push, ‘You can be this, or you can do that…’ I knew it doesn’t matter what someone does in their work. What matters matter is the feeling it gives them. That feeling. But sadly, I lost that knowing to feed my ego and ‘accomplish.’

Day five:
And it is to this knowing I turn now in my moment of not-knowing how Ava will respond. This is the point of my life to realize that, on the whole, I opted for struggle. Isn’t there something weirdly wholesome and admirable about knowing you have struggled, about making it hard on ourselves when it’s hard enough already?!

I try to catch that realization, to save it. But it slips through my awareness.  

When I first came upon the idea of self-compassion, its possibilities threatened to crush me. That I could possibly learn to cultivate within myself enough kindness to be consistently – now there’s a word – who I am, was the stuff of dreams no…. transcendence? By this, I mean getting on the other side of my cruel self-speak, and off the conveyer belt of little academic achievements that ‘prove’ me a worthy person.

Truly, and quite frighteningly, I need and want so little. And this is the scary thing. That when I meet myself in a place of self-acceptance and kindness, I will be enough. The effort it takes to ‘do nothing’ threatens to gobble me up.

And therein lies a paradox of living with ADHD, that to do nothing will take all of me.


Day six:
I still wait. I check my phone and emails. However self-compassionate I can be, I recognize that my whole self-worth hinges on Ava’s reply and realize the game of ‘testing’ that I play.

My diagnosis of ADHD is fairly recent, but I recognize this ‘waiting for approval’ for what it is. Part of the loop from which I long to escape. But I knew self-compassion as a friend before I knew my ADHD, and feel a loyalty to myself to draw on the spirit of what came first.

Through the lens of self-compassion,  self-doubt is humanness, not a personal fault. It highlights what matters to you. That it’s worth matters. And again, through the lens of self-compassion, you are a being of innate worth.

I contemplate the stillness of nature. That it needs no approval, that it is as kind as it is ruinous, as tatty as it is beautiful.  Remembering that humanness is part of nature, I have a go at calling on myself to let go with the grace to know what happens, happens. And what will always happen will always happen.  

That lasts about five minutes.


Day seven:
Ava emailed me.  I try hard to stay aware to my response. It’s relief. Massive relief. I am an okay writer after all, aka I am a worthwhile being after all. Hmm.

I reflect that I put myself ‘on the line’ without thinking about how I was going to hold my anxiety. Even with my experience as a therapist, I didn’t recognize that in sending something into the big out there, I had offered out with it, for appraisal, so much of my self-worth.

Impulse has me not preparing my ‘self’ which spells danger by any standard. But I concede that however uncomfortable, it can get things rolling too. Staying in awareness of my feelings and self-speak to see if I can really walk the walk of self-compassion, I notice the ways I was trying to cope with a possible rejection:

‘Oh please, please email me back’ – begging Ava in my head to put my mind at ease. Pretty unfair on Ava, sorry about that.

On reflection, this became pretty close to prayer.

It’s because I’m rubbish. My writing is just a great big over-share and Ava is thinking ‘it’s horribly serious’ – because she is married to Rick Green and he is a comedian… Faaaantastic! Now I’m a mind reader. Perhaps that’s the way to go? And then. Actually, I don’t care. When Ava never replies I will just know.

Have you met my friend Shame?

This is the prediction of my moment of shame.  Shame, I learn, is the feeling of ‘being wrong.’ Unlike Guilt which is about ‘doing something wrong’.

And then a thought, ‘Hang on lady. What are you doing to yourself? The only person who can confirm my worth, the worth of having taken time to do what I love, is me.’

But I can’t go back on knowing, because my self-doubt has been allayed …. this time.

I reflect and wonder on your own experience.  It only takes a glimmer of self belief to surge through my veins and make me fizz. And make me dare…This, then initiates ‘my work’. This blog you are reading which, when that send button looks good and shiny enough, will place me firmly back on the loop of self-doubt. I long to abandon, but that figure, in some way, must still, in some way I am yet to figure out, serve.

Can I walk the walk? Not yet. But I have found that my soul task within this work is to connect with people with ADHD, who, like me when I am stuck in self-doubt, want to find themselves to be enough.

Hey Ava, no pressure to answer!

Kate Fraser-Medcalf headshot
Kate Fraser-Medcalf, BSc Dip.Couns MBACP

Kate is a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor in the UK working with adults with ADHD on Zoom and writing about self-compassion. 

‘I welcome this opportunity to reach out, to connect and reflect with the TotallyADD community on experiences around self -compassion and ADHD’.

For counselling enquires please visit www.birdhousecounselling.com, email [email protected], website ADHDpilgramage.com

See Also:
Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Lazy (Blog)
Coping With Anxiety and ADHD (Blog)
7 Ways to Explain ADHD (Video)

ADHD: What I Wish I Had Known Years Ago – Video
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One Comment

  1. kathrussearth April 10, 2021 at 11:15 pm

    Thank you, Kate! I so appreciate you describing how your thinking goes. Much of what you write here is familiar to what goes through my mind.

    I was particularly struck by “I’m spacey from my feat of daring” and “I try to catch that realization, to save it. But it slips through my awareness.” I have noticed recently that instances of hard-won self-awareness and self-compassion disappear from my memory for a few days right after. I imagine that it’s my brain’s way of coping with the intensity. I am afraid that the awareness is gone forever and that I am doomed to repeat my lessons, adding to shame and frustration.

    At the same time, after decades of this, there is a layer of thought that trusts that the awareness will integrate naturally and that I don’t have to *do/try/force* anything. Perhaps that is self-compassion at work, already integrated.

    I am grateful for the prompt to think about self-compassion in this way–thanks again.

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