Finding Your True Self When Context Shifts with ADHD

Episode 202

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Exploring the theme of how context shapes our sense of self, this episode delves into personal experiences that highlight the impact of context on identity. From a client’s transformation inspired by a TV character, to the host’s own journey transitioning with ADHD, the discussion emphasizes the importance of understanding how external influences can shift our perception of self.

Asher shares his own experience of how shifting context influenced his own identity. Tune in to gain insights on navigating the world with ADHD while staying true to one’s authentic self amidst changing contexts.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash.

[00:00:07] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:09] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Cam, we’re kind of building on last week’s episode this week. Do you want to tell our listeners a little bit more about what we will be doing today?

[00:00:18] Cam: Well, actually, this is what you brought up last week, Ash, of this, of the significance around our lived experience and how context informs our true self. And you brought that lovely example of a client who grew up in India with this, again, what was reinforced around her of what it was to be a girl, what it was to be a woman. And how that whole perception of what it was to be a woman changed after watching one episode of Xena, Warrior Princess, where Xena shows up as an empowered woman speaking to a man with conviction and confidence. And you know, you got a problem there, bud, and how it just completely sort of shifted her whole notion of her who.

So that example you shared last week about how your own experience of going through your transition from a woman to a man and how context has been shifted. And you shared with me last week about this, yeah, my sense of self was like what I learned or what I knew went away And so we thought it would be a great idea to look at. And as an adult navigating the world with ADHD, we’ve talked about this ever since episode one, the significance of context, our lived experience and connecting to our sense of self and locating that as we go forward to see oneself in the picture.

Well, then what happens when the picture you have all of a sudden goes dark or different or changes? And then how that impacts your ability to navigate the world as an adult with ADHD. You came last week with this whole topic, and you shared a great story, an example of your client. Again, just how context and embracing your true self with ADHD, but resonated for you. This whole idea of a sense of self, context and navigating the world with ADHD.

And I guess the question I have is, like, what got your attention there? What, made this relevant for you to bring to the podcast last week? You brought up your example of your client, and we talked about our clients, but like, what’s it for Ash here? What’s, what was the thing that kind of was the impetus for this discussion?

[00:03:16] Ash: Thanks. Yeah, so it’s the intersection of a couple of things. Number one, I’ve been pulling on the thread of doing deep work with my clients in the realm of their who, their why, questions of purpose, and questions of identity. This is very much just a natural way that my coaching practice has evolved, to my noticing that when my clients learn new things about themselves, or come to awareness in a way that they haven’t before about powerful moments or powerful perspectives or values or needs, and know something more about themselves. It changes the picture of how the ADHD coaching looks from there because they’re starting to see strength. They’re starting to see their unique value.

So my coaching has been developing in this direction for quite some time. Where the intersection point happens is where we are now, what I can hopefully say, firmly on the other side of a period that I like to call the Dark Ages. That’s from about June of 2020 until about now-ish. In those four years or less than four years, I had so many major life events happen, and I’m not going to name them all off, but it was just one thing after the other, after the other.

The thing is, is one of my ADHD gifts, and the reason I was a damn good professional organizer, is I’m good in a crisis. My organizer’s brain kicks in. And so a little over a year ago, when I was making plans to come out, I was focused on the logistics, my business, and this and that, and how am I going to message it? And how am I going to make sure that the contacts that I’ve had in the past know how to find me or know where this or this has happened, getting my medication, starting the process of medical transition? And then I was off to deal with other stuff. It was just perpetual firefighting that was the moment of life that I was in.

And so now over a year into transition, I just really have some time and space to think. I’m also in a place where the next phase of my life doesn’t look like what I thought it was going to look like. So there’s some curiosity there in terms of what I want as a single person and what’s next for me and in a number of realms.

Here’s what I thought this period was going to look like when I got over this hump when I could see the endpoint, and I thought I was going to get back to it. Yeah, I lived alone in this house before. I have been running my ADHD coaching business for a long time. It’s kind of ready to settle back into a groove. And I found that I was struggling to do that.

And so I’m a coach, right? I want to get curious about why that is, but it’s really difficult right now because I don’t even know how to describe this – what it’s like to be at this point I’m at right now. But what the best words I’ve come up with, and the TLDR version I give most people, is that right now in this moment in my life it feels like I’m closing a chapter. All of the work that I’ve done to this point, the work that I did on my own ADHD, The work that I’ve done on any number of other things, what I’ve learned about myself along the way, really the introspective work I’ve done in whatever form it’s come that’s gotten me here.

This is what I was looking for, which is amazing, but also a little disorienting. And not just that we’re not just closing a chapter. The missing piece was a pretty big one, right? Like one that changes my context from age five. So my brain, because I’m so relentlessly curious about lived experience, and I’m also trying to figure my stuff out, there’s just an enormous amount of stuff to sort through.

And because I have ADHD, that can be distracting. Might be working on a practical matter. And then by the way, the reason I say the age of five, it’s because that’s the year I was in kindergarten. And I was told by one of my friends that the boys only played with the boys and the girls played with the girls. And that change in social structure, oh, I hated it. I was so upset, and I had no idea why at age five, but now at 39, I do know for the first time.

And so you can imagine, Cam, if that’s age five is one little moment that has such a different meaning. Now there’s a lifetime’s worth more to sift through. And there’s also how I’m showing up today. I catch myself sometimes behaving in certain ways where I’m like, why did I do that? Raise my voice in a way when I’m talking to you. An authority figure or demurring or protecting men’s feelings, things that had been socialized into me for my entire life, or things that I learned how to do to cope with my dysphoria to wear the mask of a woman.

Hilariously enough, Cam, I think smoking was such a hard habit for me to kick because it was always an excuse to take a break from a big social setting. From a social setting where I had to wear that mask. And by the way, not all social settings were like that. I would say that the people I’m closest with have probably seen the least amount of change in who I was versus who I am today. Because I’ve always been this person.

[00:09:15] Cam: But, well, and I, can I interrupt for a second? Is it that double duty of masking in the sense of masking as someone with ADHD and then masking as a woman?

[00:09:29] Ash: Yeah. And it’s interesting to pick apart some of those things and notice what’s ADHD and what’s not ADHD. Because the place I was kind of at before the dark times is where I was on a path. I would say at that point I had found enough of my North Star by way of the career path that I was on. And also how I was showing up in that career. I was showing up a lot more authentically and doing a lot less masking. Doing a lot less behaving how I’m quote-unquote supposed to behave in this role.

And then there’s this massive disruption on the other side. But to that point, again, every bit of awareness work I’d done was trying to figure out there was some part of me that was always waiting for something, right? I don’t feel like I can go for that. The next level of speaking gigs, for example, was something that was on the table for me before the world shut down. Speaking gigs in 2020. And it wasn’t about my looks, you know. It wasn’t I need to lose weight or I need to do this, and it wasn’t about my skills.

I’m a very adept public speaker, with strong skills of mine. There was some just thing that I couldn’t put my finger on. Questioning in the realm of ADHD and storytelling because I was missing key information that I now have.

[00:10:58] Cam: Well, what you said earlier about, again, trying to get back to me, that is trying to get back to me when I am different.

[00:11:08] Ash: Yeah.

[00:11:09] Cam: Has changed. When you’re in the midst of big-time change around your sense of who you are, you know what I’m, what, what’s fascinating to me is how your coaching skills have been a resource here.

[00:11:24] Ash: Yes. And no, I’ve actually…

[00:11:29] Cam: Say more.

[00:11:30] Ash: I mean, to a degree, yes.

[00:11:32] Cam: Well, I just, again, let me interrupt in the sense of, again, you’re training as a coach. And I just want to interject for listeners about how your coach training is coming and how I’m hearing it here right now. So it’s like listeners might be like, why did you just rudely interrupt Ash?

[00:11:49] Ash: Oh my gosh, listeners, Cam could never rudely interrupt me. Okay. Never. Like this, that’s just not possible in our dynamic. I don’t think that’s a thing.

[00:11:58] Cam: Well, what you’re doing, though, what you’re doing, I think so well here is, I, and again, this is back to something that I’ve been thinking a lot about is when we have ADHD. And we’re sort of, when we’re inundated with information, or its sort of inconsistency, and is there this inflection point or this moment of hesitation. It can take us offline, right?

Of this isn’t working for me. And I’m not sure how to proceed. And therefore, I’m going to not proceed. And it’s not like we’re saying that it’s just that that’s what happens. Now notice that, that there’s a large population where it’s like, this is a lot, and it just takes the wind out of the sails. And then we’re, you know, in irons coat, a sailing term, right? Just sort of in the doldrums, and there’s no, we’re just sitting in the water.

So what I heard you say was, again, observation skills as a coach developing that. Of that sort of what’s going on here, that keen observer, and kind of bringing curiosity to the situation So that’s where I want to point out that you doing the work here being whoa, it’s different How this is different. This is not the same. This is a different situation

[00:13:20] Ash: Yeah. And the night I had that awareness, interestingly enough, I’m very much in that place that you were describing. Sort of on newly on the other side of the events of the last four years, there’s a lot of just administrative life stuff that needs handling, taking care of adjusting, et cetera. You know, I’m still not out of the woods in terms of the extra tasking there.

And I was kind of chalking the overwhelm up to that. And so one night, I was picking up my house because I was having a friend over the next day. And it was relatively clean. It just needed some picking up. And this is the kind of cleaning that I enjoy doing. Usually put on some music, smoke a little weed, and have a good time with it. Just bop around, clean a thing, organize a thing. I’m trying to get myself in the mood, and I’ve been struggling with chores. Put on some music.

I get started, and that’s when my brain hits me with the fifth or the five-year-old kindergartner moment. And then pew, a thousand threads just light off from that. I had to sit down on my couch and even think about what this meant. What, like, what am I onto here? And that was the awareness that I came to is you’re onto, you’re not going to solve this sitting on your couch for half an hour thinking it through.

And so when I said yes and no, what I meant is yes, there is that initial awareness that like, whoa, like there’s rediscovery work to do here. And there’s a lifetime of things that I just kind of put a lid on because I didn’t have a way to make better meaning of them than I now have. There’s hefty work ahead.

And so where I say yes and no, is the no is right now there’s just so many thoughts all the time. It’s one of those galaxy brain moments, but when you don’t want it to be, it’s just every time I start to open that door, it’s like, it’s, it’s too much to process or grab hold of something, make meaning of, like we do with our clients.

Listeners, in a typical coaching session we’re looking for a topic that we can learn something new about and design some actions around in the span of 45 minutes. So, you know, the question, how did I not know I was trans, or what does my identity mean now as a man, or what was dysphoria and what was ADHD? Much too large for a coaching session. If this were a client of mine, these are the kinds of questions that you end up answering in dribs and drabs by way of grabbing onto smaller coaching topics and seeing how those things show up.

And so at the 10,000 foot view, it’s like, yes, everything’s so much clearer and makes so much more sense in so many ways. But my brain is also in ADHD, which does not help, Cam. It does not help. Is just if I’m not otherwise engaged. And that’s why I’ve been doing a lot of. Not not avoiding the administrative stuff. That’s not the problem. It’s if I’m not engaged or focused on something, my brain’s almost making me bananas right now because it’s a busy place.

[00:16:41] Cam: You know, so two things, and so I appreciate you talking about this because again it’s hard to talk about and make sense of it when it’s a really busy place. Number one, listeners, are you appreciating that Ash is in a place of journey thinking? This is journey thinking, at least it seems from my perspective. This feels like journey thinking in the sense that you’re kind of with your experience, and you’re being with it and it’s not easy, but you’re not avoiding, number one.

Number two, you’re giving me some, it’s almost like what you’re sharing is, and this is another thing for coaches is, is don’t be afraid of being educated or learning from your clients. And the client experience, like I’ve said this before, it’s like, some clients are doing stuff, and I’m not quite sure what it is. And it’s, as you said, this healthy dose of curiosity of knowing what I know, and the gap between what I know and what I don’t know. And then it’s, again, it’s like, I have to just keep noticing here.

And I’m, I have a question for you, or it’s sort of like, I’m wondering. That as you said, you’re in here and it’s like, I have a thousand thoughts, and it’s not helpful. And they’re big questions, and it’s not easy to answer in one sitting. And when you had context, and here’s this, like, you had context and now you don’t in a way, or you’re rebuilding context. You’re rebuilding context is my seems what we’re talking about here. 

[00:18:28] Ash: And in the realm, Cam, of what is at the heart of my coaching practice, which just adds to the uniqueness of this moment, right? I work with people on questions of their identity, purpose, strengths. Yeah.

[00:18:44] Cam: But does this context in a way provide a container? But there’s some way, there’s somehow that the container, like, as you said, I’m closing this chapter, and I’m like getting back to me. It’s like there’s sort of like in a container. I don’t mean like a, but again, this sort of frame or a reference point. It kind of helps to kind of keep those questions spatial. I mean, they’re getting into like time, space, continuum, and like relativity. And we’re doing some kind of quantum mechanics.

[00:19:16] Ash: That’s what it feels like, honestly, and I’m a really good coach. And right now I am by far my most challenging client. It’s a good question, Cam. I don’t know that I have a great answer for you now.

[00:19:29] Cam: Yeah.

[00:19:29] Ash: I can tell you because this is all recent. These, these dots I’m connecting. It’s connecting these dots. I’m connecting. It started with that moment on my couch and that bigger awareness. And followed by a lot of frustration and also some curiosity about how I could see forward progress here, and how I could start to break this apart. And I don’t think hiring a coach is the right answer. I’ve thought about that.

And that got me thinking about my coaching practice, what would it look like to put me through the same kind of process I put my clients through. This got me thinking about what is that? What are the elements that are uniquely me in my coaching? And so that’s the question I’m currently trying to answer. There may or may not be a creative project alongside this.

I kind of think it’d be fun to demonstrate the coaching process by working through this stuff in real-time. I don’t know whether or not that’s going to come to fruition or not, but that’s, you said journey thinking, that’s where I’m at on the journey, is I’m, I’m figuring out. I see the undifferentiated mass, and hear it in my head all the time, and I’m trying to figure out. What does approaching this look like?

[00:20:55] Cam: We’ve talked about holding things lightly, and I don’t know, it might be a sort of an interesting distinction between journey thinking and holding things lightly. Cause that’s what, it may not be your experience, but that’s from over here, that’s what I’m noticing, is it’s that you’re really, and it’s, it’s almost like there’s, but you’re respecting this moment. And it’s what does this moment call for. And you’re holding it, you’re giving it the respect that it needs to have.

[00:21:34] Ash: Yeah, I think in some ways I have been speed running self-help my whole life to get here. I don’t have to speed run this part. I don’t have to speed run this part, and I don’t have to do it to the detriment of everything else.

Because what I am doing in the meantime, while I continue to pull on that thread of what this moment calls for, is I’m taking it back to basics. Focusing on my day-to-day. Focusing on re-crafting a schedule that works for me in the here and now. Focusing on re-establishing routines. And making sure that my life is running well enough that there is time and space for this work and for whatever creatively comes out of it, if anything.

And I’m able to do that because I’m not, it’s there, and it’s a big signal. Don’t get me wrong, but I know I can’t speedrun it. And so the question I often ask myself is, what can I do right now? Right here today, what can I do? Well, I can finally re-establish my budgeting software. Because that’s the problem you’re having there. That’s something you know how to do. It won’t take you long. That’s what you can do.

[00:22:58] Cam: I’m doing this. I’m doing a series in my newsletter on, and people, you know, if you have something ongoing, you’re trying to kind of breathe life into it. You have to come up with new things. And the way I breathe some life into my newsletter is to focus on how you know you’re making progress with ADHD. That’s hard to get those accurate feedback loops, and it’s so subjective, too.

I’ve got, I teach classes where people are coming and they’re, they can be very new to their ADHD diagnosis. They’re very new to the ADHD diagnosis. They’re very new to the pain point, right? The struggle and this sort of chaska change the model of contemplative to contemplative.

And that’s where I see you. It seems like is that you, there’s a lot of contemplation. There’s a lot of new awareness. But a lot of people who come in with ADD, I think that they’re, they’re thinking, I’m not putting you in this category, but what you just said there of, I think I can speed run this, that they come in and it’s like, okay, here’s a thing. It’s a dilemma. You’re going to give me some tools. We’re going to address the issue, whether it’s about productivity at work or my relationship, you know, it’s, we’re going to learn about this, and I can speed run this.

And so this is the evolution of Ash, of coming to this place and this acceptance. We talk about understanding, owning, and translating. This is your understanding and owning, and this is big. And I can’t speed run this. Shuts down one chapter, in a way, of being in the world, but opens another way forward.

[00:24:53] Ash: Cam, shortly after I came out, a client of mine, or a prospect… Let me start over. Cam, shortly after I came out, I met with somebody privately from one of our group coaching classes, and we had a great conversation. She was thinking about hiring me as a coach, and toward the end of our time together, she said, and this was six or eight months ago before I got here, she said, hey Ash, can I just say something? I said, sure, what is it? And she said, you just seem really at peace with yourself, and that’s cool.

And I thought about it, it landed, and I always think of you when it comes to compliments. You helped me a long way there with yours, your language of letting it land. And so I noticed it landing, and that’s had my attention for quite some time. Whoa, there’s never been another time and place in my life where that compliment would land, where there wouldn’t be some internal no, that’s what you see, but I’m not.

And so, when I say I’m closing a chapter, that’s what I mean. It’s like, there’s, there’s work to do. But whoo, I can’t tell you the difference in my life being right now where I am today. Partway through transition. I get the way I get gendered in public as a coin flip. It kind of depends on how fresh my haircut is and what I’m wearing and whether or not I do that voice-raising thing, right. Like little things like that. So it’s not that I’m passing or I’ve reached some certain milestones.

Just authenticity is the thread I’ve been pulling on since you and I met over a decade ago, and this is the piece I was missing. And just having it in place makes so much difference. And so I think that the lack of that incongruence thing that we call dysphoria, whatever, again, there are a thousand threads I could pull on right there in terms of digging deeper and finding out what that is. But in the absence of it, I can’t describe the difference to you in terms of how comfortable I am in my skin and the world.

And even in today’s world, as scary as it can be at times for a trans person, it’s a night and day difference. And so I think that a version of me was speed running to get here and to not feel that inner dissonance anymore. And yeah, I don’t have to anymore.

[00:27:28] Cam: Yeah. Yeah. I want to, I want to say one more thing though.

[00:27:32] Ash: Okay. It can be a little long.

[00:27:34] Cam: Yeah. Just to, just to emphasize something here. That’s so well said. And, you know, the client is right. Is that there’s a, there’s a peace here. There’s a being where you are and okay with it.

The other thing I’ll, as we finish up here today, Ash, is this other thing that you’re modeling so well is, as you said, sitting on the couch, and you’re confronted with a thousand things, but you don’t let that stop you. And this is something that people with ADHD can get hung up on. They get hung up on the couch with a thousand things, and they may don’t move forward somewhere else.

So you said, okay, I’m not going to speed run this. I’m not going to address this today. What can I do? Let me focus on the basics. So push where you can push in the moment. And that, listeners, I think is a great takeaway here is if you have unrelenting change or constant change, you cannot get your footing on what you knew or what has been in the past. And you just find that new orientation is to recognize it, build curiosity and awareness around it, and think about where can you create change. Where can you put your focus and efforts?

Also, I’ll just say, it’s so interesting, you’re talking about getting back to basics, and two weeks ago we were talking about my value around basic functioning and how important that is for me as a value. Just a thread there that’s interesting. So fascinating.

So it looks like this might be a place to finish up, listeners. This is a different conversation today. So to be thinking about and reflecting upon how context, your relationship with context, informs who you are. Is there something that is happening or happened in your life where it has changed your sense of who you are? And to be there.

[00:29:48] Ash: Just one more thing I want to throw in, Cam, and it’s kind of a funny story. You mentioned journey thinking earlier and yes, it’s, it’s all over there. That’s the peace. The peace is I know what I can control and what I can do and what I can’t do at this moment in time. And I’m good with where I’m at.

[00:30:07] Cam: Your microphone’s behind you.

[00:30:09] Ash: Oh, was it too quiet? Do I need to start over?

[00:30:15] Cam: You can, I mean, right there, right, yeah, it’s fine. No, it’s noticeable.

[00:30:19] Ash: Okay. Cam, just one more thing I want to toss in, and it’s kind of a funny story. You mentioned that you hear Journey thinking all over this, and that’s because you do. That’s the peace, is being content with where I’m at and putting my efforts towards the things I can control, like taking up kickboxing, because that’s one way that I can change the outcome of my transition. I can’t make testosterone behave any differently in my body, but I can lose weight and get in shape.

But I would say my biggest learning from this whole experience is that I will never again be a person who says never. Do you want to know the last time I said never? When I was getting divorced in 2020, I was also separating from a business partner, Jen. Everybody knows Jen. We used to be business partners as organizers.

I was doing a lot more coaching. It was time to separate our businesses. At this point, this was my sixth or seventh brand or rebrand of an organizing or ADHD company, including this podcast. And I was just done. Like I’m not doing this again. And I’m firmly on the journey at this point. I don’t know if I’m going to be an ADHD coach in 20 years. Ask me in 20 years. So I go, okay, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to buy my name. I’m going to buy my name as a domain and put it under my name. Because that’s never going to change. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha. Yeah. Uh-huh.

So, I think that’s a big tenant of journey thinking, is how could you say never? I could have never envisioned this life I’m living right now. Two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago. But what I could do and what I’ve been increasingly doing over the last decade is staying curious and looking for that next stepping stone, whatever it might be, and pulling on threads until they either produce something and send me in a direction or they peter out. Not every thread goes somewhere, and that’s okay too.

Oh yeah. I was going to give one piece of life advice. Never say never.

[00:32:29] Cam: Nice. I think that’s a great place to finish up today.

[00:32:32] Ash: I agree. So until next week, listeners, I’m Ash.

[00:32:35] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:32:35] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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