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Letting Pleasure Lead: Turning Down the Volume on Perfectionism and Anxiety

When I was first diagnosed with ADHD at age 20, I was in deep denial and ignorance regarding how much it affected my life. I remember the first words I said to my then-boyfriend, "I've gotten this far with ADHD, so I guess it isn't a big deal."

Actually, it was a very big deal. One of the biggest deals was the ways I masked my neurodivergence to pass in the highly-demanding, ableist spaces that, at the time, made up my world — a white evangelical megachurch and bible college.

One form of masking was ignoring my body's queues to meet my needs or desires when they arose. Eating when I felt hungry, resting when I was tired, and even using the bathroom when I felt the urge were all things I struggled with in an effort to keep up with my jam-packed schedule. True story, one night, after ignoring my full bladder all day long, I drove home squirming and praying I would make it to the bathroom on time. I remember nearly being in tears as hastily parked my car, ran to my apartment, and tried to unlock the front door. God answered my prayer, quite literally, because I was able to get to my roommate's bathroom and pull down my jeans before peeing on her bath rug as I stared at myself in the vanity mirror.

Now imagine, if I am so apathetic towards my body's needs, how was I able to respond to my body's wants? Every desire was analyzed until my brain was spent and my jaws ached from the decision anxiety. Every outcome filled me with dread. Every time I thought, "Ooo! Going to a yoga class sounds fun today," the very next thought would be, "The last time you went was two months ago! What will the instructor say?? What if you can't do the same moves? See, this is why you need to do yoga at home for a couple of weeks before you go in there and embarrass yourself." Or I would say, "I think it's time to put away my winter clothes," my negative self-talk immediately retorted, "Courtney, it's May! It was time to put the winter clothes away in March! At this rate, it'll be November by the time you finally get them sorted!"

While some days my ADHD felt like a superpower, most times it felt like a specter on my shoulder, scrutinizing everything I did. Often it parroted the expectations and judgments held by those around me (whether directed at me or not), while other times I found unique ways to verbally torture myself. Living in an ableist, racist, sexist, homophobic, poverty-shaming world gave me plenty of ammunition to use against myself, and amplified any direct shaming through surround-sound speakers.

Sixteen years and thousands of dollars of therapy later, I can recognize the once invisible shame patterns that interrupted my body's communication. I see that the perfectionist policing me from the inside of my mind was let in in order for me to please and impress the ableist, racist, sexist, homophobic, poverty-shaming police that surrounded me.

I'm so thankful for the people who told me the truth about myself in those times. While the truth was often quiet and isolated in a sea of judgment and expectation, it stayed with me nonetheless. It made me want to get help so that I could finally believe those truths instead of letting lies fuel my self-loathing. And, finally, I'm thankful for my ADHD, which gave me a deep sense of justice and a desire for more than whatever being "normal" could earn me.

The following is a list of things I try to remind myself of every day in order to keep my inner perfectionist at bay and offer a platform to my inner Truthteller:

  1. It's okay to just do a little bit.

  2. It's okay to just do one thing.

  3. It's okay to do it just for fun.

  4. It's okay to fail, privately or in public.

  5. It's okay to suck, privately or in public.

  6. It's okay to be wrong, privately or in public.

  7. It's okay to say no simply because I don't want to.

  8. It's okay to say yes simply because I want to.

  9. It's okay to change my mind.

  10. It's okay to try.

I hope these words will help you connect more deeply with your wants and needs while turning down the volume on the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts".

With love,


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