ADHD and Your Lived Experience: Personal Narrative

Episode 140

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Shelly and Cam continue to explore the lived experience theme for the new season with a deep dive into personal narratives. Our personal narrative is the narrative we tell ourselves to explain a situation or rationalize a behavior – ours or someone else’s. ADHD can make it really hard to distinguish our inner dialogue from our experiences in the world. The brain works hard to ‘tell a story’ to make sense of our experiences. Sometimes it gets it right, but often it omits or adds pieces to make the information more palatable, to fit a certain story.

Shelly and Cam share numerous client examples of how one’s own lived experience or context informs their narrative. They go on to share how coaching and therapy can help with seeing these statements for what they are – a perspective – and if this thinking is serving the client and who they are and what they are trying to achieve.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly.

[00:00:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:02] Shelly: And this is translating ADHD. Before we jump in today, quick group coaching announcement, equanimity with Cam begins Tuesday, October 4th. It meets at 1:00 PM Eastern on Tuesdays. More information about this class is available on the website translatingadhd.com and click on the group coaching tab. So Cam, where are we going on this theme of “your context matters” today?

[00:00:33] Cam: There are so many different ways we could have started this. And we started last week with whether or not ADHD is a superpower. And I really think it was a good jump-off point. And, just considering this, Shelly, of where can we start? I was thinking first about modalities and how we build information, but I think that before we go in that direction, I wanna really look at your personal narrative. Because something you said last week, and that was that we talked about strengths and challenges that our clients with ADHD present both strengths and challenges as individuals and that many of our clients come.

Really in a one-down place and not able to identify strengths that they bring to the table or to see any strengths associated with their unique brain wiring. And that just got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves, right? This internal dialog that is going on. And that internal dialogue or that personal narrative is informed by our own personal context, right?

Our history, the family, we grew up with the relationships that we’ve had our socioeconomic background. Gender race, everything that we talked about last week informs this personal narrative. And so I just thought that it might be a great entry point for our listeners to start to explore this whole thing about context.

So when I talk about personal narrative, this is the thinking sort of the patterns of thinking and feeling. That are going on in all humans. And so there are the stories we tell ourselves to explain a situation or to rationalize a behavior. Right. And that our brain is always working to kind of rationalize a situation or explain a situation.

And when you bring 12 people together they’ve done studies of this to look at a video, you have 12 different interpretations of reality. So our own preferences, our biases inform. What we perceive. So for our listeners, when we start to see ourself separate from this narrative, that is an entry point.

You are not this narrative you are informed by this narrative. The interesting thing about ADHD is, ADHD makes it hard to distinguish ourselves from this narrative, like those thoughts that we have, they’re very compelling. So black and white thinking the all or nothing, emotional regulation has us fully invested in that story, in that narrative. So that’s the opportunity here is to start to pull those apart.

[00:03:39] Shelly: Cam the way that I like to talk about this is, I like to say the emotion that comes with the narrative is real. Our valley moments are emotional, our emotion driven moments. So the emotion is real, but the story often isn’t real and teasing those two things apart is some of the most important work that you and I do as coaches, because that’s where we really start to discover what truth is.

[00:04:09] Cam: Yeah, and that emotion that’s very real then drives certain behaviors.

[00:04:15] Shelly: Absolutely.

[00:04:16] Cam: And it’s what we do in coaching. It’s actually. Part of this equanimity class is to look at the role of emotions and start to see them not as just something to regulate or put a lid on, but to really reveal and let them be more of an asset or a resource like time, Like some useful structure.

[00:04:37] Cam: So Shelly, what this reminds me of is a specific client who as she showed up, you know, on paper, she looks great on paper, in the sense of her external presentation to the world, stable relationship stable job. And yet as we dig. And start to again, in coaching we, we talk about identifying these patterns of thinking and feeling some work for us, some don’t. So this is related to cognitive behavior therapy, But this is also in the realm of coaching and this is called prospective. Is that there’s the situation.

And then there’s our perception, how we’re looking at that situation, how we’re perceiving and interpreting that situation. And so helping our clients that, first of all, there’s the reality, there’s the situation. And then there’s our take on it. And we’re not analyzing the difference between coaching and therapy is we don’t do analysis.

What we do is we help our clients reveal and observe just to see it’s not necessarily what is right. It’s their own take. And so for this particular client, as we dug in and identified thinking, or feeling that is working for them, there’s also the limited think. The automatic negative self-talk that comes with the ADHD experience and her narrative, or this statement is I’m broken and it kind of almost came out like a whisper at first, embarrassed to share it.

This is down in the recesses, right of her emotional. So it took a lot of vulnerability for her to share that, but as we looked at it and start to compare her reality and this narrative, that the narrative is something that she’s really borrowing from way back in a, history of her experience.

And it doesn’t necessarily reflect her identity now who she is becoming. And so it’s a throwback, it’s this old memory that is just stamped into her mind, you know, with ADHD, they always talk about. The challenge with memory is that it fades right working memory and the ability to pull up things to access memory.

There’s a whole nother aspect of memory with ADHD. It’s the regulation. It’s these emotional, these strong, emotional memories that we can’t shake that we can’t get rid of. They’re indel. But if we start to see them for what they are not a reality, but actually it’s just a narrative. It’s some language that we’ve developed to explain a situation.

As we worked with each other, we start to see the impact of that voice chiming in particularly when she goes and has a one-on-one with her boss. Every week a one-on-one with her boss, and yet that’s just there in the background as a, quiet voice. It informs how she shows up that. Oh, kind of feel like I’m in trouble, right?

That one-on-one is really a coming together, a collaborative effort to define outcomes and successes and positive supports. We talk about curious accountability, developing useful structures to be successful in this job. And yet there’s this nagging thing that’s in the background. So what we do, what I’ve been doing with this client is to, again, not to focus just on that, but to, okay.

When does it show up and what has it get activated? I just did a blog on, you know, one of my certain ways of being in the world, which is to avoid, I don’t avoid all the time. It’s typically when there’s a stressor and there’s some stressful situation. I go to a default mode, which is to hesitate, to not step well.

That’s my intent of ADHD showing up. That’s my big brain ADHD showing. But also informed by this narrative of it’s not quite right. I may make a mistake. That’s a narrative that’s informing that mode for my client. I’m broken is informing a mode of kind of one down, or I can’t really show up as an equal.

[00:09:16] Shelly: Cam. I wanna talk about two clients of mine who have different narratives based on similar family background.

[00:09:26] Cam: Ooh. Great.

[00:09:27] Shelly: Because we’re talking about narrative and how our personal history plays in here. So I think this is a great illustration. So both of these clients come from successful families, families with some amount of generational money Family is very driven. By hard work and successful outcomes, families with lots of family members doing incredible things. One of these clients has this perspective that she’s not doing enough. Her career’s not enough the way her and her partner have chosen to live their lives. Which comparatively to other family members, lower earning jobs, but jobs that they love and are satisfied with not enough. So there’s this whole perspective thing for her as a person transitioning from full-time employment to self-employment by the way, which is where we’re at right now.

Well, I’m not doing enough. I should be doing more. When I look around other people are doing more. It’s not enough. And that’s actually what we coached about last week to a degree, because now that she is fully into full-time work, that narrative is affecting her ability to have good days, because it always feels like she should there’s.

That should be doing more. I should be doing more for myself, for the family, for the world. I should be busier. I should be doing more. So the second client has a completely different limiting perspective or set of limiting perspectives there around money and around embarrassment about generational wealth. And so for her, the narrative is I wouldn’t be here. If not for my family’s money. She just takes herself out of the picture. The only reason I’m here, the only reason I have the life that I have, the only reason I’ve gotten this far with ADHD is because I have resources that I did not create myself. That have aided me in getting me here. So similar backgrounds, very different personal narratives that have stemmed from those backgrounds.

[00:11:45] Cam: That’s so fascinating, you know, and. That have you found the what’s different there, their own context or presentation? Because part of it is a real mystery right? Of why, why would that be? Why would it you have similar backgrounds and yet you have different limiting beliefs there

[00:12:02] Shelly: Well, that’s the fascinating thing about the work we do cam isn’t it. At the end of the day, as coaches we’re taught to detach from outcome, which is a lot harder as a skillset than it seems because we have our own biases. We have our own way of understanding people, even if it’s not our lived experience, because we’re in the business of lived experience, it would be easy to look at these two clients and assume as we’re digging into limiting perspective that I’ve worked with client a and these are her perspective.

So surely client B has some of this on board, but that’s rarely the case, right? The whole thing of the work we do is finding those differences and where they come from. And that’s back to some of those differences are quantifiable, right? These client’s perspectives are both quantifiable in terms of their family background, but the stories that have sprung forth and where those are coming from, why are they so different?

Because my clients are two different people. With different brains. They both have ADHD, but the way they see and perceive and process the world is different. The narratives that happened within those two families, despite being similar were probably different. Their lived experiences between then and now are different their modality strengths and how they make meaning. How they process and understand the world around them are different. So in these two instances, can I pinpoint a reason why those two perspectives are different? I really can’t. I’ve had other client situations where we can sometimes that’s even the thing of coaching, right. Is I think my perspective should be this, but it’s this let’s examine. Why that is what’s informing, but in this particular case, I can’t really say that it’s any one thing. I don’t think it’s any one thing. I think it’s two people with similar backgrounds who are two very different people. And the sum of their lived experiences have led to two different sets of narratives.

[00:14:13] Cam: Yeah. I realized the limitations of my question. As soon as I asked it,

[00:14:17] Shelly: No, but I think it was a good answer. Like I think it was good to explore. 

[00:14:20] Cam: it’s good to explore. And it’s a great answer. You’re underlining sort of, again, the opportunity for the listeners here is this important cause and effect work or cause and effect opportunity. We talk about being in the valley and our unique valley experience with the very real emotion that goes with that experience.

And yet kind of looking back and seeing what is informing my take on this right now. It’s not simple. There is no one answer and it’s really not about. Finding out exactly what caused this because in a way that’s destination thinking, I need to know exactly why I am the way I am. That is another one of those things that can happen with add is I gotta know exactly what’s going on before I can proceed.

When I’m thinking about my client with her I’m broken and your two clients and myself with the avoid. It’s kind of looking at what are the different factors that are coming in and contributing to this to start to appreciate causation that is both ADHD in nature and not right. Their life experiences inform where they are now.

And so this cause and effect work is really good. For exercising, your executive functioning that it’s not this absolute, this is the way it is, but to start to see, oh, you know, I’m thinking about my client, the I’m broken one and your client of, I wouldn’t be here and not seeing themselves in the picture. That’s expanding universe dilemma where it’s accelerating and expanding and we can never catch it.

[00:16:14] Shelly: Cam, I wanna toss another one in, because this is one we haven’t really touched on yet. And that’s who we are. Gender race, et cetera. I had a client talked about this client before, who was let go from his previous job. And that is the place where we started coaching. We went to work on his ADHD, which he saw is the primary reason for losing that job.

We did an episode about this client. That’s where we talked about distinguishing the year’s mind and ours. And we did that with him in this work scenario, come to find out. His ADHD was a factor, but it was far from the only factor. This job would not have been a great fit for him, ADHD or not because the expectations that were put upon him coupled with the lack of resources and support, put him in an impossible position. So that was important discovery work we did in the coaching, but something that didn’t come up in the LA the last time we talked about.

Was this statement. So this client is a black man, and at some point along the way, coaching about and unpacking all of this. He said, my dad raised us kids reminding us constantly that people that look like us don’t get second chances. So here’s a client that’s been let go from his job. Carrying this story of people that look like me, don’t get second chances. That was an important origin point defined because it has nothing to do with ADHD and everything to do with the fact that this client is a black man. And. It was driving his behavior, doing some work around that was so much of the perspective shift that he needed to get where he is now, when we first started working together, he was trying to get a passion project off the ground, but that sort of morphed over time until I have to make this work because there’s nothing else for me.

I don’t get second chances. I have to make this work. And so finding that narrative allowed us to really pick things apart. And in the meantime here comes this job opportunity that he wasn’t even looking for, that someone reached out to him to see if he would be interested in coming to work for this company, doing what he was doing at the previous job. By all rights, it looked like a great fit. And as of the last time I talked to this client, it’s still a great fit. But with the story of, I don’t get second chances, he might have never even tried to take that job because he had kind of written off that whole career area. Cuz I’m done with that. I don’t get a second chance there. I don’t wanna do that again. And coming into the workplace itself and learning to navigate that new workplace, right?

This is the client with all the secret strikes and all of those stories. Imagine having layered on that and I don’t get a second chance if something goes sideways, that’s it. I’m done. Massively limiting. And by the way, not that there’s not some element of truth to that perspective. I don’t at all mean to say as a white person, that perspective has no basis in reality, it does.

And we all know that it does, but. Getting away from the all or nothing, thinking there and talking about what’s real for him and his experiences as a black man, it’s not all or nothing. And that was important to find.

[00:19:41] Cam: That was really nice, you know, and again, it speaks to the nuance of the work that we do with our clients that a personal narrative can be this sort of absolute declarative statement that we just sort of take in hook, line and sinker. Right? Oh, I’m broken. Therefore, you know why. Right. I know that I’ve used my limited thinking to cover for my glitchy activator, right.

To rationalize certain behaviors to not get up and seize the day. So it’s starting to just see these patterns. And this is, I think a strength area for us. We deny ourselves this strength work when we are confined to this thinking. But when we start to open up and just be present and curious and see how these patterns interweave and interplay with each other, we’re opening ourselves up to that big brain high associative contextual work.

That I see as an absolute strength, you start to see, oh, there’s more to the picture than what I’m sampling right now. And again, back to what’s informing, how can I modify this thinking going forward? This week I’m launching, like it’s, September’s a ridiculous month for me. I’m launching five classes. I’ve found ways to overcome that avoider, right. That narrative of it’s not quite right. I’ve figured out a way to, to move past that. Does it creep in occasionally when I’m feeling stressed?

Absolutely. But it’s that starting to question and tweak, and that perspectives are something that are malleable. We can start to shape them in a way that really work for us and what we’re trying to do in the world. I’m teaching equanimity, Shelley’s teaching purpose in the new year and purpose. This sense of purpose is another.

Place that informs what we are doing. Right. My purpose pulls me forward. I have to do what I do. It’s simple. It’s crystal clear. And that tethers me and sort of it’s, it’s like a toe line that just pulls me forward through all these class launches. So listeners, as you are hearing this. We wanna leave you with, to start to think about your own narrative and how it comes into play to start to get some space around it, to think about, is this useful?

Is this helpful, Shelly? I know we’re out of time, but I’ve just got one more to share. I’ve gotta bring this in. I’m about to start a class with, with, uh, Melissa Orloff. It’s the relationship class. And we do this exercise in class two and around like, what’s the limited thinking or the narrative that’s driving certain behaviors. And I get two extreme responses there. There’s a couple that are like, I’m completely responsible for that. Everything that’s wrong in this relationship. I’m solely responsible. The other one is, well, this is my spouse’s thing. I’m really here for them. Those are two very polar, right? The last week we were talking about the polar responses, going to the extremes.

Those are two extreme responses that you can just absolutely see how that’s going to influence how they move through this course and how they move through addressing their relationship challenges. ADHD informs, but their life experience informs too. Sort of taking the weight of the world on them. I am solely responsible. No, you’re not. It takes two to tango. The other folks, something we do is a D D – we dismiss and we defend. It’s again, one of those default mode responses, starting to notice those default responses is a really good place to begin.

[00:23:45] Shelly: Cam, as we wrap up, I think it’s important to talk about the role of coaching here as well. We’re clearly not here to hawk coaching. Our podcast is designed so that you can use it as a coach or as a way to do this awareness work. But as coaches, we have an attuned ear to hear those limiting perspectives when they come up. I would say it’s a pretty common experience to repeat one of those powerful perspectives. I’m broken people who look like me. Don’t get a second chance. I wouldn’t be here if not for my family and their resources to repeat that back to a client and have them. Sort of stunned by their own words. And that’s the other confounding thing here about your own context is we can carry these stories and not really realize that they’re there again, the emotion is real.

The feelings are real. And we don’t hear ourselves articulate those perspectives when they come out. It’s wild. So if you’re struggling to know what, what narratives are living beneath the surface for you? This is one area where I would strongly encourage coaching. I think it’s one of the biggest values we bring as coaches – that active listening is so much of our work.

It’s not just questioning and being curious. It’s also reflecting back to the client, what they’ve said, which allows them to really hear it and sit with it and examine it. And so if you’re struggling to get somewhere, maybe consider coaching as a way to examine some of this for yourself. Because an excellent coach is going to hear those things for you and is going to invite you to examine them without any judgment. 

[00:25:39] Cam: Yeah. I think that’s a great place to finish up.

[00:25:43] Shelly: Yeah, I agree. So if you like what we’re doing here on the show, three big ways you can help us out. The first is to leave a review wherever you listen. The second don’t keep us a secret. Share us on social. If you have an ADHD support group at work or you’re involved in one outside of work, share us there, share us with the other people in your life, who you think might be supported by the content of this podcast. And finally, you can financially support the show by becoming a patron. That also gives you access to our discord community, where our listeners are working together to do their own understand, own, and translate work. To do that, visit the website translatingadhd.com, click on the Patreon tab and for five bucks a month, you’re in the community and you’re helping financially support the running of this show. So until next week, I’m Shelly

[00:26:32] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:26:32] Shelly: and this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Episode 140