Some have noticed that I have maintained pretty much radio silence on social media since Christmas. The more perceptive have interpreted this to mean that my mental health was taking a battering. In truth, the last few months have been a real struggle, coming to terms with a neurodiversity diagnosis and the subsequent battle for treatment, the loss of my father over the lockdown and a build-up of stress and anxiety exacerbated by lockdown. For those who share some of these struggles, it will come as no surprise that the ability to write and socialise - two things that are beneficial to my health and wellbeing - were severely limited.
Be reassured that I have not spent all the time since Christmas curled up
in a ball! I have been receiving some excellent support and been trying to learn as much as a I can about burnout, anxiety, ADHD and me. I have also been trying to rest and recognise the signs of burnout before they become impossible to ignore. The complex relationship between depression, anxiety, shame and (undiagnosed) ADHD is hard to untangle, especially after four decades of short-term coping strategies and workarounds that have become second nature. In short, it feels like starting over, sifting through all my previous ways of working and relating to the world, trying to pick out the healthy from the toxic. All this, whilst also trying to get back to living life.
One of the more negative, even destructive aspects of neurodiversity is it’s undermining of self-esteem and inner confidence; imposter syndrome on steroids! As I emerge from this period, I am gaining a greater awareness not only of the gap between my inner and outer selves, but also how my external confidence is too often mistaken for inner strength or even arrogance. Gaining a proper perspective on your own strengths and weaknesses therefore takes intentional effort and focus. The temptation to hide away these personal battles is no less strong than it was before, but recognising that openness is part of recovery is the thing that persuades me to keep at it.
ADHD in adults has only been officially recognised in the UK since 2012 and many myths about it still abound. So ADHDers and professionals are both learning as we go along. For me, one of the obvious traits is impatience; once I see a problem, I need to solve it! That is no less true for my own health and wellbeing, wanting to find solutions asap. Part of my recovery is learning that it is a process which happens slowly and deliberately, that it is not easy or constant, but more trial and error, forwards and backwards. My own impulse to rush in needs constant reigning in to leave enough space to appreciate the benefits of little and often.
Of course, one of my biggest fears is ending up with burnout again, foregoing the lessons learnt in an attempt to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Certainly, I recognise in the past times when I have had the same kinds of symptoms and patched myself up enough to get back to work. This time, I am forcing myself to take it much more slowly in order to embed new patterns and practices and leave enough spaces to allow for flexibility and rest. There will also be room for experimentation as I try out different approaches to find the most efficient and effective. All this will take time and I – and others – will need to be patient as I try to work out what works and what I need to step away from.
I am incredibly grateful to those institutions and line managers – including the fantastic team at Southlands College – who have seen the value of what I bring and made space for me. Not only have they given me permission to be myself but have allowed me to believe in myself. Thanks too are due to those in the church who have helped me to reframe all this in the language of calling and in the light of God’s unconditional and creative love. This has certainly helped me to reflect on the times when my lack of consistency, time management issues and inability to reign in my ideas – all aspects of my neurodiversity – have been counted as failings.
In the midst of all this, my calling as a pastor and preacher has been renewed and strengthened over the past twelve months. I have been richly blessed by those who have continued to affirm me in ministry and now, like everyone else, my vocational task is to work out with God how and where this calling is to be fulfilled. I am excited by the ideas that have begun to formulate during the last few months, especially in the area of reconciling communities and communicating the gospel. I also carry some sorrow with me as I learn to let go of the frustrations and guilt I have carried for three decades, borne of failed attempts to ‘fit in’ to roles designed by and for the neurotypical. I am hopeful that, as I let go of impossible and improbable futures, it will free me to work and minister in more fruitful ways.
It is important to embrace all the positive aspects of my ADHD as it shapes who I am and how I interact in the world. Knowing at a deeper level that I am out of step with the neurotypical world has allowed me to inhabit the role of non-conformist more easily. Although, like most people, I have a craving to be liked, it has rarely led me to keep quiet and fit in when there is obvious injustice. This has naturally led me to a life of activism, speaking up and speaking out, whatever the cost.
Having a brain that seeks to absorb as much information as possible from the world around has allowed me to be attentive and see things that others often miss and generate ideas that are creative and energising for others. Innovative solutions to intractable problems or deathly tradition have helped me to engage in the ministry of reconciliation with energy and passion. It has also equipped me in my preaching ministry. I hope too that a combination of a keen eye and intuition has made me a good pastor and friend to those in need of spiritual support.
Step One of the 12-Step Programme challenges the individual to embrace their own helplessness and powerless and acknowledge that all previous attempts at self-help have not worked. It is am acknowledgement of the need for help from others as well as God. Whilst I continue to battle my own reluctance to relyon others, I find the advice given to John Wesley ringing in my ears:
‘Sir, you wish to serve God and go to heaven. Remember you cannot serve Him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.’
Now I must put my Methodist money where my mouth is and continue to find companions to help me find the way to recovery. Since I posted the news of my diagnosis , a number of friends and colleagues have been in touch to share their own struggles. Two have since been diagnosed with ADHD and two others are on the waiting list. I hope they have found the path to diagnosis and treatment less fraught than I have and are enjoying the prospect of a fresh start at life. And please feel free to drop me a line if anything I have written strikes a chord and prompts a question.