There will be a time in your life when you think, what now? Did that really happen? Why did I do/say/think that? We all go there. Some of us admit it, some prefer to bypass big emotions for another day. And some eventually explore them with a therapist. And sometimes it takes almost a decade, and an ADHD diagnosis, to realise what actually went on then. To realise it really wasn’t okay. Neurodiverse or not.
I am 25, a young fledgling youth worker, I have a whole career ahead of me. The sky is my limit. I’m at a top university, studying on a highly regarded Masters programme. I don’t tell anyone I am dyspraxic. I had no clue I have ADHD.
“You will love it here,” she said. We’ll call her Jane. She is a decade older than me, and everything I wanted to aspire to. I jump at the chance of spending my final placement for my degree under her guidance. She ran a youth centre, and it felt like somewhere I could really belong. When you spend most of your life trying to belong, this is massive. I spend two years building up a friendship with Jane, or what I thought was a “friendship.”
I looked up to her for support, to be shown the way, to be made into a better youth worker. Spending hours at night crafting the perfect email. Waiting eagerly for replies. And speaking late into the night on the phone because I thought she wanted me around, that she cared. I put my life on hold, and almost jeopardised my degree, to cultivate this friendship. I worried that I was too needy or a burden. I continued putting all the work in. Looking at her for guidance and the answers. Neglecting the other friends who had been around years before. She’d been to my university several years earlier, I was certain she had the answers.
One day, in the car on the way back from camping, she turns to me and says; “Alice, you need thicker skin…” I look at her for the answers. She didn’t offer any this time. I went home and wondered what I had possibly done wrong, and why I couldn’t be the youth worker like her. Confident. Bold. Loud. And present. I didn’t feel present. The months rolled on by and the comments continued, always accompanied with “I’m proud of you,” “I love you,” I really thought she did. I continued to listen. Continued to believe. Continued to look up to this older woman…
Years later, and following several discussions with people who actually do care in a more healthy way, I’ve experienced a resonance with other dyspraxic/ADHD/ND women about the need to justify yourself to others, to prove your capabilities, often fuelled by years of self hatred and not feeling good enough. Good enough for the person who you believe has it all. The word “believe” is important here. Scratching the surface often reveals a very different story. Accompanied by ambition. Your ambition. And other people’s ambitions, an unhealthy cycle will emerge.
I have bounced between degrees, retraining and jobs because of this ambition. Because I want to prove I have it in me to anyone who will listen. Being a woman with ADHD and dyspraxia is like having a constant internal monologue swimming around in your head, often with conflicting thoughts and a list longer than your arm. Shouting at you to do better. Shouting at you to do it like her. To not give up. When I was 25 I needed a cheerleader and a really good therapist. I had neither. I had Jane, and a cycle of self blame. I now have that good therapist. And an army of cheerleaders, both remote and in person who cheered on my half marathon. A half marathon for youth services I once believed I wasn’t good enough for to call my career. Another place I didn’t know if I could belong. The words: “You don’t have the makings of a youth worker…”, are words I’m glad to have proved wrong. Although my brain still often takes me to a place where I wonder what Jane will think of me now….
ADHD or dyspraxia “awareness” in October is fair enough. But what it often comes down to is being surrounded by the right people. Without this, any awareness is really hard to be heard.