The Power of Reframing

I didn’t know I had Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), until I was sixty years old. I thought, as do most people, that ADHD affected little boys who can’t seem to stay out of trouble in school. The more I learned about the condition, the more I had in common with those little boys. I’ve realized ADHD impulsivity accounts for some of the most perplexing events in my life.

Fifty years ago, I was nineteen and in college. I went water skiing one beautiful day, but when I was pulled back into the boat, I felt cold despite the sunshine. I peeled off my wet shirt, asking for something dry to put on. I’m not an exhibitionist; I might even be described as shy. What was I doing standing in that boat in my bra, surrounded by guys I didn’t know that well?

It might not have been a memorable event but one of them asked me out afterwards. He eventually became my husband, but only after my further impulsivity resulted in my becoming pregnant.

Over fifteen years later, I was back in school working on a Master’s degree. I saw a flyer promoting a trip to Fairbanks, Alaska that January. I decided immediately I wanted to go though I’d never had any interest in Alaska. Life wasn’t all that happy at home so I opted for a “geographic escape.”

It was fifty degrees below zero when we got off the plane in Fairbanks. That cold takes your breath away. Given the number of projects I’ve abandoned in my lifetime, I was impressed and thankful I managed to finish making the down jacket and mittens that helped me survive another impulsive decision.

There’s humor in these stories, something rare in experiences autographed by my ADHD. I’m beginning to understand how my life was shaped by ADHD. Diagnosed nine years ago, I’m revaluating the past in light of what I now know. There’s been anger, even bitterness, but overall it has been an achingly poignant experience.

During my training to be an ADHD coach, when I first encountered the strategy of reframing, I saw how to use it with clients, but also how it applied to me. Jan Brause, in an article in Coach the Coach, says, “Reframing helps (us) to see things differently and subsequently come to different conclusions, or feelings about the experience.” Facts don’t change; our interpretation of them does.

Is the glass half empty? Is the glass half full? If I believe it is half empty, I’ll think I don’t have what I want, perhaps I don’t even have what I need. I might feel frustrated, discouraged and depressed. When I see that same glass as half full, I realize I do have what I need. If the next day I see it is still half full, I can feel grateful, believing it will be as full the following day. My actions will reflect this.

Five years ago, I moved from the Midwest, where I was born and lived for sixty-four years, to Portland, Oregon to be with my daughters and my grandchildren. I had lost a job, and eventually my house, so it was time to make the move I had planned for when I retired.

Moving led to feelings of loss and dislocation that left me adrift as I approached my sixty-fifth birthday. Facing the next stage of life, I wondered how I would traverse this crossing. It wasn’t just moving or my future in Portland that unsettled me. I found my judgment of the past kept intruding on my present.

Self-judgment has always been a part of my make-up. I concede aging does have some benefits. My attitude has mellowed to the point where my self-talk is, “So what else is new?” But I felt driven to mount a retrospective, a big look back at my life from this milestone. I had been afraid of examining missed personal and professional opportunities and capricious financial management that resulted in years lost, plus the disturbing image of a failed mother whose drinking escalated into alcoholism.

We teach what we need to learn. While it’s frowned on in academic circles, I’ve begun rewriting history, my own personal history, as I now understand it. Using the strategy of reframing, the story of my life turns out to be different from the one I’ve told all these years.

I can reframe what started on that boat in 1962 from a shameful transgression to what I’ve been able to share with the world, my two magnificent daughters. They’ve impressed me with their journeys to maturity and self-actualization; they’re wonderful mothers and contributing members of the community.

I now see my ADHD habit of glossing over details, my tendency to procrastinate and my struggles to complete projects caused problems at school and work. I called myself lazy and irresponsible and regretted not living up to the potential I was told I had. I’ve let myself off the hook somewhat (still working on it) now that I understand the source of these struggles.

Accepting ADHD takes time. It’s a process, not an event. Just when I’ve gotten a new frame in place about a past event, the replacement frame I hung yesterday about something else starts to tilt. It takes attention and concentration to maintain this new perspective. Unfortunately, remembering to pay attention doesn’t come naturally. Obviously it’s a long term project, but I’ve discovered it’s never too late to start.

Reframing allows us self-compassion and forgiveness and consequently a way to go forward. The purpose of reframing the experiences of your life with ADHD is to facilitate moving ahead in their lives to where they want to be. We teach what we need to learn. I’m still moving forward and still learning.

Ann Myers, along with Lynn Shumaker, will be leading the ADDA Virtual Support Group for 50 + Women. Ann, through her own participation in peer support groups and also her professional work, has witnessed the validation and emotional identification that occurs among peers who share common problems. From that foundation, participants can problem solve and encourage each other to move forward. She can hardly wait to be in this group with other “mature” women who have ADHD. We’d love to have you join the ADDA Virtual Support Group for 50 + Women.

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      • nancy a
      • May 24, 2016
      Reply

      I think I would benefit as I wasn’t diagnosed until my 50’s and have an entire lifetime of regrets I’m unable to forgive myself of. My life is a history of reckless decisions. I could really use a new prospective myself.

      • Lacey Landecho
      • May 12, 2016
      Reply

      I am only 34 and was just diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago but was misdiagnosed as bi-polar in my 20’s mainly because of my impulsivity. I loved going to school growing up and got good grades because it came easy to me so even though my sister who was a few years younger than me got diagnosed with ADD my parents never recognized my behavior issues as ADHD but thought I was just rebellious.

      • JW
      • May 11, 2016
      Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’ve recently finished my 30’s and I realize that reframing can help me realize that the could have’s or should have’s are in reality a mirage of expectations.

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