Labels: from Self-Doubt to Self-Discovery

I must admit, my hands were sweating a little as I sat in the doctor’s office. Being here was something I had run through my head many dozen times before. I had asked my DH to book the appointment, knowing that if it had been up to me, I would never have picked up the phone.
Even with all I had learned, I was nervous and unsure. Would I be believed? Would I be dismissed as not having ‘enough’ symptoms for a referral? Would my knowledge about my symptoms be seen as too much? Maybe it was all in my head – and everything I thought was perfectly normal. Even knowing those doubts were silly wasn’t enough to calm me completely. And yet, here I was.

“So, how can I help you today?” the doctor said, smiling a little. It was a beautiful, if cold day outside, but in the surgery it was lovely and warm and she was dressed just right, in a reassuringly plain cardigan and a no-nonsense button-up shirt.

“I think I have ADHD, and I need a referral to a specialist for an assessment.”
She nodded. It was not going to be a problem at all.

And as we talked, I found it easier to run through all the problems I had day to day.
The everyday struggles that I now knew was not a character flaw, but had a name.

How I would have to think about everything I held before I moved from room to room. How I had to visually check everything was with me and not left behind. Knowing that mindfully being aware of all my things before I exit a room was the only way I could limit the times I would leave something important behind.

How I had to write down a person’s name the instant I met them or I would not remember, ever. (Thank goodness for social media and little pictures with names.)

How I could rarely do important but boring things – even if it meant disaster, unless I was able to imagine the sadness and frustration of my family. How I used alarms and reminders to structure the day for me and my children.

Experience and coping mechanisms – almost but not quite unconscious – that let me almost function as a normal individual. Little rituals that mean I might only leave my handbag, or expensive music instrument, or child’s glasses or necessary medicine behind a few times a year if I was very, very careful. Every day. Every minute.

It had taken me quite a while to realise that everyone didn’t do these things. Years.

And it only kicked off when my children needed help. When my son, and then my daughter were diagnosed with ADHD among a range of diagnoses, it started me on a steep learning curve. One that I re-embark on every day, as my assumptions about what ability and disability look like change, and change again.

It has been a journey of discovery, as I have let go of old fears and prejudices. To stop fearing the idea that getting a diagnosis would somehow limit my children, or myself, and put us in a box. That somehow, not knowing how they think and what they need was preferable to having a piece of paper with a medical label on it.

Over the years, I learned to listen to the niggle that something was different.

I learned that the only thing to fear about a label was the fear itself. (Thanks Winston).

I learned that I and my kids will get labelled anyway – but those labels will be less than useful – ‘lazy’, or ‘disobedient’, or ‘wild’, or ‘inconsistent’ . . . or worse.

I learned about the wonderful calm that comes from having tools and strategies that work.

I learned that labels are powerful, and enabling. We are fish that can’t climb trees, and that’s OK.

I learned that discovering my children’s quirks empowered me to find answers to my own difficulties.

I learned that I do not need to live with the negative self-talk I adopted to ‘explain’ why I couldn’t do what others could.

As I got up to leave the doctor’s, referral in hand, she commented,
“Oh I see it now – you’re doing your checklist.” A little startled, I looked up and smiled.

Yes, yes I was. And that was just fine.

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