When Your Relationship with Your ADHD Changes

Episode 181

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The hosts culminate the current theme of disruption and ADHD by exploring how change and disruption can fundamentally change one’s relationship with their ADHD. We often think that once we learn about our ADHD and lock into effective tools, practices and perspectives that our relationship with our ADHD will become fairly immutable. Just like any relationship, though, life events both planned and unplanned will change the dynamic of a relationship, including our relationship with our ADHD.

Ash and Cam discuss the challenges Ash is currently facing with his executive functioning and challenges of managing his ADHD. Ash acknowledges his struggle and the recent discovery of this significant change. Cam points out how Ash had to get both vulnerable and curious to make this observation. Even seasoned ADHD coaches like Ash have to re-navigate their own Understand, Own, Translate process.

Ash reflects on his recent experiences and major life events, including the pandemic, divorce, moving to a new home, his father’s passing, his child coming out and his own transition. Ash discusses how these events have led him to reevaluate his relationships, especially with his mother and her family, and how these events allowed him to prioritize authenticity and integrity.

Asher shares the emotional and physical changes he has experienced, as well as the challenges of navigating his ADHD alongside hormonal changes. The discussion touches on the need to let go of expectations of returning to a previous “normal” and embracing the journey of self-discovery and adaptation. Cam highlights the dynamic nature of change and the challenges of pinning down and understanding evolving situations. They discuss the importance of shifting from binary thinking to journey thinking, accepting that change is a continuous process. Ash shares his personal journey of self-acceptance and finding new ways to navigate his ADHD and gender transition.

The episode concludes with Ash expressing gratitude for the support and love he has received from listeners and the greater community. Ash is grateful for the platform to share his story as a trans person and continue their work on the podcast.

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Episode Transcript:

Ash: Hi, I’m Ash,

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. So Cam, we’ve been on this thread of disruptions for the last several episodes, and today I kind of wanna talk about where I’m at right now. And I’m gonna start by saying I’m really struggling. My executive function is the worst. It’s been in a pretty long time, and alongside that, my ability to manage my own ADHD is not where it used to be. By the way, before I say anything else, I just want to give a shout out to my clients who have been incredibly patient with me. And I wanna say my coaching is not affected by anything that we’re about to discuss, but things like communicating, responding in a timely fashion, attending outside of the things that are obligations, massive struggle for me right now.

I’m really in the thick of it, and I have been for a while. And what makes it so difficult, and that’s kind of the topic of today’s episode, is there’s a lot of factors at play here, which makes it really hard to distinguish what the heck is going on with my own ADHD, despite the fact that I help others all day, every day figure out what’s going on with theirs.

Cam: Ash, I really appreciate you, first of all, just sharing what’s going on for you, right? This modeling of vulnerability, but it’s part of this whole understand, own, translate model. In order to get to that ownership level, there has to be this understanding and a willingness to look at this stuff.

But this bigger picture of, you know, when our relationship with our ADHD changes, I think that this is what happens, is we go through our lives and we think, okay, I figured out this ADHD, and expect that it’s not gonna change. And yet when we have lots of change, lots of disruption, lots of choices that come into play, we can’t anticipate how that’s gonna play out. And that sort of can catch us off guard, and then we’re caught off guard and we don’t have the executive function to address it effectively. It becomes this really compounded dilemma.

Ash: Cam, you might recall, it was maybe a month ago, I’m not sure – time is very weird for me right now – that I sent you a message saying up until right now, I was expecting to get back to what worked. I was expecting things to level off and to find my stride again. And I’m now realizing that’s not going to happen. That was a huge moment of awareness for me because it took me from a place of stuckness and frustration to a place of curiosity. Okay, if I’m accepting that my old baseline is not something I’m just gonna slide back into, now what’s the work? And by the way, still trying to figure that out.

Cam: So listeners, before the episode Ash and I were just recalling a bit of his timeline. And so Ash, why don’t we start there with going back to this timeline where your normal – last week we talked about the collective new normal – your sense of what is normal or what is going on starts to change. So you wanna recap that for us.

Ash: And I wanna start by saying that we’ve all been through it in the last three to five years, and we talked about that last week. We’ve all been through it. The last three years, for me, have just been a snowball of major life event, major life event, major transition. Every time I think I’m about to catch my breath, something else is there.

So it started with the pandemic as it did for everyone. When the world shut down in March of 2020, my ex-husband and I decided to get divorced in June of 2020. I moved into a new home in September of 2020, and our divorce was finalized that October. And that was the first period where I thought, okay, I’m about to be able to catch my breath.

October to February, it’s like, okay, catching my breath, I’m hitting my stride, and then my father passed away. And I don’t wanna spend a lot of time going into detail there. But let’s just say that event was very complicated by the fact that there were no covid vaccines yet. And a lot of my family members are covid deniers. There were some other circumstances at play that meant I didn’t attend my dad’s funeral. So, grief was already complicated in the pandemic. Those normal things that happen when someone passes away and people gather around you weren’t there for me in that way, and that was really hard.

On the other side of that, I’m in this new relationship. So that’s another change. So, then last summer my kid came out, and that’s all I’m gonna say because that’s not my story to tell or my information to share, but it’s important context for what happened next. Because when my kid came out, I realized that I was going to have to address the problem of my mom and her side of the family head on.

And I’m not afraid to say this, okay. It was total mama bear instinct. Okay? Yeah, I’m a dad. I got the mama bear instinct. Still, just really clarifying moment for me because after my divorce, I realized how much I had been contorting myself to please my family. And I decided I wasn’t gonna do that anymore because I’d already done something that they’ll never understand. I got divorced, not because I was being abused, nobody was cheating, nobody was spending all the money or going behind anybody else’s back. We amicably decided this was no longer the relationship for either one of us. We worked with a mediator and we had the world’s friendliest divorce. That is something that my very traditional Catholic family can’t and will never understand.

So I thought, okay, we’re done. I’m not contorting myself anymore. And then my kid came out and I realized, oof. But I am still contorting myself because I’m biting my tongue. When I’m around the family, I’m playing nice. I’m going along to get along, and my family in particular does this thing where if they don’t like something, they just won’t talk about it. Just stick their fingers in their ears. La, la, la, la, la.

Cam: That’s not an uncommon family dynamic, Asher.

Ash: They’ll just ignore it. When my kid came out, I had two clarifying realizations about my relationship with my mother – and this is prior to my knowing I’m trans, by the way – is that she wants to be in my life, but she doesn’t wanna know anything about it. That’s always been our relationship because I’ve never marched to the beat of my family’s drum, and she knows it. And so she just won’t ask about those things, and if I bring them up, she would change the subject. The second was I’ve been parenting my mother longer than she’s been parenting me.

And so with those two realizations, along with really seeing in full relief just how much I had contorted myself, and what impact that has had on me in my life, knew I didn’t want that for my kid. That tolerance without acceptance is so damaging. I just couldn’t have that for her. 

Cam: I just wanna interject here just to notice something in that no longer willing to contort. This week we’re inviting our Resilience participants to do our values and needs exercise. And I’m seeing there’s a value here, right? As you just said, it’s like I’m no longer willing to be with this tolerance without acceptance. There’s something there about like authenticity, integrity, that is coming through full force. In all of this is getting closer to your own truth. This is what’s true for me. Right?

Back to when we were working with each other, and you decided to end your marriage. I remember that sitting here and it’s like, why are we both trying to work so hard, and it’s not working for either of us? So I just wanted to bring that into the conversation of, you know, this curiosity and really studying what works for me and back to, in a way, how can I let things be easy.

Ash: Absolutely, and you hit the nail on the head with authenticity. That is absolutely one of my values. And if you remember way back in the day when you were my coach, we worked on authenticity because I wasn’t showing up authentically with my clients. Especially not when I was wearing the organizer hat. I thought I needed to be a certain way, a certain type of person. I needed to be professional, I needed to be blah, blah, blah. And the more I have let my true self show in my business, the better it’s gotten for me and my clients.

So coming back to where we are in the story, summer of last year, I cut my mom and that entire side of the family, which is by the way my only local family – my father’s family does not live in St. Louis – out of my life. Massive step and something that, by the way, I’m not sure if I could have ever done it for myself, but I sure could do it for my kid.

And so here we are for the third, fourth, or fifth time, I don’t even know where I’m like, okay. Whew. 

Cam: Clear saline coming up. What was your term you just used? It was something really good.

Ash: Oh, I have no idea. I have no idea what I said. My clients will do that all the time. What’d you just say? No clue. No clue what I said.

Cam: Oh, catch your breath. Catch your breath.

Ash: Yeah. I can catch my breath. And now I’m closer than ever to a life that fits. Now I can settle in and start to reap the rewards of all of this work that I’ve done.

Then came the bombshell of me realizing I’m trans, which for those of you that may not have heard the episode that I came out, I just want to reiterate, I genuinely did not know that I was trans. I did not know. Until I knew, I was not consciously aware. And now with some distance, some time, the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think that I would have come to this realization without taking this step of cutting out that side of the family. I didn’t come out to them, Cam. I came out publicly. They may or may not know, but I did not come out to anyone personally on that side of the family.

And honestly, the thought of having that conversation with a majority of those people makes me feel pretty ill. Because I know it wouldn’t go well. And so taking that X factor just out of the picture made room for me to discover what was always there. And when I say always there, I mean it because for all of the other stuff that we’re gonna talk about in the second half of this episode, in terms of personal disruption, I feel more at home in my skin than I ever have.

Even right now, even in this awkward stage of transition where it’s a coin flip as to how I’m gonna get gendered where I’m getting off of a plane. The flight attendant. Thank you ma’am. Thank you sir. Thank you ma’am. Thank you sir. Looks at me. Thank you sir. Ma? Uh, yeah, that happened. It was actually really funny. It made me laugh, but that’s also a pretty accurate view of how people read me right now, as in they don’t know how to read me. And even then, not my favorite place to be, but even then, so much more at home in my skin than I’ve ever been in my life.

Cam: And that’s an important distinction there, this recognition of what the dilemma is. Because with ADHD early on, it’s so hard to determine what the dilemma is. So you haven’t lost that, and you’ve actually gained here in the sense of knowing yourself. More comfortable in your skin than ever before. But seeing that the dilemma is around the actual executive functioning, to make that clear delineation of this is not about my choice that I made and who I am now, it’s about this functioning aspect and my relationship with my ADHD. My relationship with my ADHD has shifted and I’m in this place of uncertainty there. I’m not in a place of uncertainty over here.

Ash: Cam, I just wanna be really clear, and this is not to knock your language use, because..

Cam: No, knock away, still learning. 

Ash: A lot of cis people would use that language, but it’s not a choice. As soon as I knew, I couldn’t unknow. And so the only choices I had from there is to do what I’d been doing my whole life and try to stuff it back down and try to wear a mask. Only now being fully aware that I’m wearing that mask in a way, not that different.

For any one of you listening, that first moment that you realized you have ADHD, whether you were listening to our show, you were reading an article, you came across something in passing on Twitter, and you went, oh, whoa, that’s my lived experience that someone else is talking about. What are your choices? You can choose to look at the ADHD. You and I both know, Cam, and all of our listeners know too that there’s a lot of hope at first, right? That diagnosis or that even that awareness, that label. At first, we think of it as a finishing place, right? So everything makes sense. 

Cam: It’s all clear now. 

Ash: Yeah, exactly. But really it’s a starting place. It’s a starting place because that label alone does not smooth everything over. It does not make our executive function any better. All it does is give us missing information so that we now know what the work ahead is. And that is precisely what it was like when I realized I was trans. Well, pretty close. I realized I was trans, there was about a month of pure panic, and then I shifted into, okay, now what is the work ahead?

And so, by the way, talking about catching my breath, I then had to transition my business. We had to do the episode we did on the podcast, so there was a lot logistically to handle on the professional end. Personally, there were a lot of people I wanted to come out to in a personal way before they found out because I came out publicly on the other side of all of that. I once again went, okay, all right now, surely now I can catch my breath.

Cam: Well that’s when you started your hormone therapy.

Ash: Yeah. Which has been such an interesting experience. So I came out publicly in November, and it was late December when I started testosterone. I will start by saying I feel better on testosterone than I ever did on estrogen. My emotional responses are so different. That’s been an adjustment. I really, really miss the ability to cry, like a good cry for those of you who have that ability. The good cry, you know, the one that feels like shit coming out. But then afterwards it’s like, ah, I feel better. I miss the ability to have that. I don’t have it anymore. I’ve had to find other outlets for my emotion. However, I feel more emotionally regulated. My emotions make more sense to me. They catch me off guard less. I don’t know how else to say it other than this is the hormone my brain was to designed to run on.

But with that too comes some challenge. Time and time again, studies show that ADHD is worse for men typically than for women typically. So that’s one factor. Another factor is my body is running on a different set of hormones. My brain is running on a different set of hormones. And so not only does my ADHD feel worse, it’s presenting differently than it did before.

And by the way, this is not an experience exclusive to trans people. A lot of women that I work with who are peri-menopausal or menopausal or even younger women navigating hormone cycles, that premenstrual period every month that markedly affects their ADHD, their emotional regulation, their moods, all of the things. And particularly for those women who are peri-menopausal or menopausal, every client I’ve ever had in that situation feels like their ADHD has gotten much worse, oftentimes to the point, given the intersection of their age at the time this is happening. Right. And the fact that they’re doing this work and they’ve done this work for so long, there’s a fear that something else might be going on as far as brain functionality goes. It’s a scary thing to feel like your brain doesn’t work the way that it used to work. And that is kind of where I’m at right now.

It took me a while to realize that again. I was kind of waiting to get back into my groove. Surely now, now I can take my breath. Now I can get back into my groove. But that person and her groove, she doesn’t really exist anymore, does she?

Cam: I want to go back to what happened a month ago, because I think this could be really helpful for our listeners. That if a listener is struggling with their ADHD or they’ve had some kind of shift or disruption where, whether it’s a family support environmental element where that’s no longer there for whatever reason, to an internal change, a hormonal change, right. That realization. And then what did you start to do? Because you just said it’s like you came to this place of acceptance, and then it opened the door for curiosity. And can you speak to more of that shift there of moving from that scary place, uncertain place to, oh, okay, I’m back to journey thinking here. I’m back to kind of figuring this out.

Ash: Absolutely, Cam. But before we do that, I just wanna toss in one more executive function impacting thing that’s new. I carry around fear and anger all the time in a way that I never have before. I have to be on guard about where I go in a way I never have before. I have to think very carefully about where it’s safe for me to use any bathroom and where it’s not. And there are places in this country that I cannot safely go that has an impact, too. Just wanna put that out there.

So with that being said, a month ago, I don’t know, I had dropped like the 800th ball, but you and Jen needed something from me for the podcast, and I messed it up again. I think Jen was outta town. I was supposed to handle some stuff for her. I said I had it. I didn’t have it. You had to prompt me about it. I felt really bad about that, too, because you’ve already been picking up so much of my slack. I was just feeling really terrible about myself and not just podcast balls. Again, client communication balls. Anybody sitting on my prospect list right now? I am so sorry. I am getting there. I promise. Just family balls, household balls, like I’m back to a state where I’m in that reactive mode. And I can’t quite find my way out of it because I’ve been here long enough now that there are a lot of messes that need to be cleaned up. And I need to figure out my new path forward with my new normal.

So I was just feeling awful about myself and I sat down to reply to you and said as much. And actually started to say a lot more. I typed out this big long message about what a piece of shit I was and whatever else. And as I was doing that, it hit me because I was thinking about how you were gonna respond to whatever I sent you, decided to take a beat, and rather than assume that you were upset at me, remember that this is you. This is Cam, this is my partner in crime, who is stuck with me doing this project together through all of this upheaval. And I was like, okay, don’t need to be this hard on myself. And kind of taking a step back, I thought, Hmm, do I need, what do I need? Do I need coaching? What do I, what do I need?

And it just hit me. Like I have so many factors going on right now, I told you before we hit record. It’s like a giant ball of tangled up twine, all of the different things. My basement’s still not finished, where my partner and I are still settling in a groove living together, my kid is switching school districts, so she’s going to be at my house more often than she was before. The political stuff, the hormonal stuff, the family stuff, the everything. There’s just a lot to tease apart there, and that part I knew. What I wasn’t aware of is that, okay, once I tease all this apart, back to normal.

So the thing I needed to let go of was quote unquote, back to normal or catching my breath. I needed to accept that my normal now is not the same as it was before. And actually listeners, it was that thought and that conversation between Cam and I that spawned all of these episodes on disruption because it got us curious about that and how as ADHD people, we fall into that binary thinking. And here I am, somebody who talks about this on a podcast for a living, who works with people every day distinguishing out this type of thing, falling into that trap of binary thinking, falling into that magical, oh, as soon as I kind of parse all of this out, I’ll be clicking along.

Cam, do you remember what you said to me when I said to you that I was realizing that my ADHD is different and that I need to A) give myself some grace and B) recognized that there is no new normal. You’re shaking your head. You don’t remember.

Cam: No, I don’t. I don’t remember.

Ash: Oh, it was really funny you said. “You know, Ash, when you first came out to me, you said, it is no big deal. It’s not gonna have that much of an effect. And I was thinking, hmm, we’ll see how that goes.”

Cam: Yeah. It was almost like piece of cake. Got this now. And it was again, sort of like at that time it was like, oh, the final piece of the puzzle, and now I can get back to it. Normal. Or that sense of like normal and smooth sailing. 

Ash: That big missing piece is in place, right. Now I can get back to normal, and that was the place from which I was saying that at the time.

Cam: I think that right there speaks to the dilemma of not being able to see all the details or nuances and nooks and crannies of a situation of change. Change happens, and we take a snapshot of it and it’s like, okay, this is this and now we can proceed. Now we can move forward. And we don’t really think about how that evolves and grows and changes and shifts, that it’s very organic and alive. And you, here, you are with it going along, and it’s like as you’re trying to address it, it keeps changing and evolving.

And we’re trying to kind of pin it down and to identify what is this thing, right, with this expectation. Right? Back to expectation. With this expectation that we’re just gonna kind of go back, to catch my breath, back to something that I know, and this is the ultimate definition of journey thinking. When you shifted to really like, oh, okay. We’re not going back. It’s not going back. And this is back to last week, Ash, with the collective new normal. We’re not going back, people. So then how do you move forward?

Ash: Well said, Cam. And the last thing I wanna toss in, because hilariously enough we didn’t mention this overtly, is not only is my body running on a different set of hormones, I’m in puberty. Y’all remember puberty? Remember how fun that was? The second dose is not any different than the first. Biologically I am having the male puberty I should have had when I was 12, 13, 14 through 18, 19, 20.

So not only am I in puberty, I’m gonna be there for a while because it’s not an overnight process. It’s gonna take the time it takes. Based on my genetics and that that part’s unknowable, but that too means that my experience is not the same week to week, month to month. It’s evolving.

And so, yeah, coming back to journey thinking, which interestingly enough, I was able to tackle on the trans side of things before I was able to tackle on the ADHD side of things, cuz I was telling myself this story of I have the ADHD stuff licked, what can I do about transition? Transition is slow. I can’t make it go any faster. I can’t get to passing any faster. It’s going to take the time it takes. And when I found myself in that frustrated place, I went, what can I do? What can I focus on right now?

I took up kickboxing of all things because I realized I needed a positive community. And I thought, okay, well, I can’t make testosterone work any faster than it’s going to work. I can work on my physique, which will help, and I can reap the other benefits of regular exercise by bolstering my brain function, bolstering my mood. And I can find a community to be in that I feel safe and accepted in a time and place in the world where I don’t feel safe and accepted many places.

So that was a step I took months ago that I could see clearly. But the ADHD thing, couldn’t see it. Couldn’t see it until I could. So listeners, if you take any moral from this story, if you, for whatever reasons, with your own context, feel like you’ve lost grip of your ADHD, and you keep hoping that you’re just gonna get ahold of it again in the same way you did before, maybe take a step back and evaluate what’s different, what has changed with your context. Is your ADHD showing up differently than it did before? Because that’s been my experience. It’s been a lot of my client’s experience – and not just trans clients – and it’s something worth examining.

Cam: Sounds like it’s a good place to wrap up Ash.

Ash: I agree. And instead of asking our listeners for anything today, I’m just gonna say thank you. I was terrified to come out on this podcast. I was terrified in terms of what it might do to my business, to my ability to make a living doing this work that I love doing. Didn’t know how it was gonna go, and the love and support and kind messages that I’ve gotten from all of you. Those of you that have shared that my story hit you in some way, meant something to you, that you’re glad I shared, it means so much. And even those of you who didn’t overtly reach out, that just the lack of nastiness and backlash in a world where that’s so common just speaks volumes to who our audience is and how amazing all of you are.

And I’m just grateful that I still get to do this work, that I still get to have this platform and that, again, in a place where it’s scary to have a platform as a trans person, of the ways that I live with fear, this work and this podcast is not one of them. And I’m just so very grateful for that.

So until next week, I’m Ash.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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