It’s taken me years of painful life lessons to finally feel comfortable in my own skin and happy with who I am. Many years ago I used to think that would come with job satisfaction or academic success. I’m not ashamed to admit I was wrong!
I’ve always been able to fake confidence from a young age when needed but being confident and feeling confident are definitely two different things. Sadly, low self-esteem is relatively common when you have ADHD. When you spend a life time trying and failing to live up to other people’s expectations it’s bound to take its toll.
I also used to incorrectly think that self-esteem was a fixed thing, like I had just accepted that I would always not feel entirely comfortable in my own skin. However, I’ve since found out that though we ADHDers gravitate to low self-esteem, we can still work on ourselves and learn to feel comfortable with who we are.
I left high school with minimal good exam results thinking I was pretty stupid and didn’t know where life would take me. It took years of working with children, something I’m natural at, to build up my confidence. Finally, I’d found something that nobody had to teach me, something which I received praise for and something which I was passionate about.
Years spent reading American teenage literature had instilled in me that university was this great adventure. Still unsure, I applied and to my delight I got in. My first year I was all over the place. I found I was good at answering questions in lessons, but fairly poor at writing assignments. My parents were worried I might quit, but I was determined to see it through. Plus I actually enjoyed the university lifestyle.
By year 2, I suddenly realised that my mums mantra of ‘do your best and don’t make excuses’ while great for my determination did not work very well for my ADHD so I sought help. Applying for support (Disabled Student Allowance) turned out to be the best decision I ever made.
Within a few months my grades jumped from 2.2 (an ok pass) to 2.1 and even some 1.0s (distinction). This was partly down to my amazing study skills tutor Angela who I saw for one hour a week. She kept me accountable, helped me to keep focus on the main points in assignments and also gave me some valuable coping strategies that I still use to this day.
18 months later I graduated from university with the highest grade in my class and when I walked across that stage I felt like I had finally proved to myself that I could do it, despite feeling like many people thought I couldn’t.
“Being powerful does not require others to powerless. It’s a secret that many high profile figures don’t want the majority of society to learn.”ADHD Girl
Yet that feeling of constant confidence I thought might come after, never came. That’s when I realised that confidence doesn’t have to be a feeling; it’s a state of mind. It’s knowing that even though you have your flaws (believe me I have a lot) that you still have much to offer.
Some people find a confident state of mind intimidating. It makes them feel like somehow, they are less, but real power doesn’t come from taking it from others. Simply drawing it from something deeper inside of yourself. Not many people like to acknowledge that because it means that everyone can have equal power. Some people take issue with it because they believe in a system where some are powerful, and others are not. It is actually one of the cornerstones for much of modern society.
We ADHDers need to acknowledge that just because we have ADHD doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to offer. Actually the fact we have ADHD means we can be incredibly creative at creating new concepts and contributing bold ideas that others just can’t connect with. We just need to hone those skills through coping strategies and support.
“We are drawn to people who can keep us accountable. Sadly, this may mean that we surround ourselves with people who constantly put us down and opt for critism over praise.”ADHD Girl
Of course, there is a fine line between having low self-esteem and just being an outright arsehole who thinks they can do everything without any help. The key is to find a balance where we acknowledge our shortcomings, seek, and accept help for them and excel in the ways we know how.
Half of the problem is we tend to surround ourselves with people who criticise us, and this is for two reasons: we link being held accountable to strict authoritarian figures and think they will give us the push we need. Yet we can actually be motivated by kind people who will work with us and root for us. The other reason is we accept the love we think we deserve and when your self-esteem is not that great to begin with, it takes a lot of courage to stand up and say I’m worth more than that.
I think everybody at some point struggles with self-esteem issues; it’s a dog-eat-dog world and we are taught that to thrive we have to knock others aside. Yet how much more could we achieve if we supported each other and more importantly; started seeing ourselves as people who are worth more than simply being knocked aside.