Saturday – Entry 37:
I should be working on my second draft, but I am gripped by an epiphany I just had. One could say it is even an old epiphany rediscovered with new words.
I will never like myself.
This is the epiphany I had: I will never like myself. Not unless I change how I think. Somehow I have sewn my self-esteem into my goal making so that if I fail to meet my goals, I hate myself for the failure. If I meet the goals, then the momentary boost in self-esteem is erased the moment I select a new goal. And there is always a new goal. That is why I will never like myself. Now that I realize what I’ve been doing, I can’t think of a more wrong-headed way to go about developing self-esteem.
When I was younger I liked myself. I was pretty awesome if you asked me. Self-esteem at that time wasn’t based on accomplishments because I was too young to have any—not in my late teens and early twenties. Instead, my awesomeness was based solely on the caliber of my goals and how good I looked working on them. Awesome goals meant awesome me.
Then life tossed a rusty oil tanker into my duck pond. I became disabled at twenty-five and “trapped” as a full-time stay-at-home dad. I was a loser. Just ask anyone around me. Once you got past the veneer, there was just me, and what good was I? Friends, bosses, colleagues would all lose faith. I even had members in my church telling my wife at the time to divorce me because I was disabled and flawed. That was twenty years ago. The story never changed. Loser loser loser. What good was a man who didn’t earn money? What good was a man who was mentally impaired? And I believed it right along with them.
Now that I have taken a few moments (and a phone call to a good friend) to think about it, and now that I can see my negative behavior from an outside viewpoint, I realize that this is a common problem with a lot of people. It’s just that adults with ADHD tend to internalize the criticism more than their peers. Consider this. Take an employee who is courteous, creative, productive, and profitable and give him an ADHD-fueled problem with punctuality. Suddenly, he has no value to anybody. Even now somebody out there reading this was just thinking, “But you’ve got to be punctual!” I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t be punctual, but that too often the entire value of a person is dismissed because of one flaw. Some might say that one flaw could be a deal breaker depending on what the flaw is, but let’s just assume for the sake of my epiphany that the flaw is perceived worse than it truly is.
In my case, I developed the mindset that if I could only achieve Goal X, then people would think of me differently. I saw the lack of achievement as the flaw that needed to be corrected. The problem with that mindset was that I began to believe that if only I achieved Goal X, then I would think differently about myself, too. I took my self-esteem and sewed it into the fabric of the goal. I made them inseparable.
If I missed a goal, I was a failure. If a goal needed to be changed because circumstances changed, I couldn’t adapt because my self-esteem depended on completing the goal as it stood. If I finished the goal, then I was only as good as my next goal. No wonder I had such lousy self-esteem. I had weaponized goal making and turned it on myself.
So how do I break this mindset? This is at least a thirty year habit developed in high school and nurtured throughout my adult life. The friend who I called suggested I needed a seam ripper to separate my self-esteem from the goals. Based on the name, that sounds violent and destructive, but seam rippers are subtle devices used with surgical precision. She suggested that I think of one thing a day that I liked about myself. This was a perfect solution.
I learned to manage my depression by first forcing myself to be thankful of one thing every day no matter how I felt. That was difficult, but soon became easier. After a while I could list a handful of things I was thankful for with great ease. I had trained myself out of the depressive’s pessimism into something far more constructive. Positive thinking empowered me, not because I wore rose-colored glasses but because I made it a daily habit. My friend actually listed my goal making and achieving as one of my positive attributes. I tend to agree with her, so I don’t plan on abandoning goal making. I just need to like myself separate from them.
Now is the time to create a new daily habit. The only question left unanswered is whether I plan on doing it privately or incorporating it openly for others to observe and participate in. Obviously, this is just the first of many steps towards pulling self-esteem and goal making apart at the seems, and it seems like on over-simplistic solution, but when I thought of making this a thirty day goal, I realized quickly that this will be a very difficult goal to reach indeed.