I am not my ADHD

Let me tell you a story. I built a sand castle, a grand castle. I spent hours paving roads, building bridges, and digging sand to make way for tunnels. I dug so deep…until I reached water. Are you listening? I’m telling my story. I forgot where I was. I’m sorry. Let me run back to that beach. I can’t find the castle. And I can’t remember the way over the bridges or the way the roads turn. No. I can’t remember where I dug the tunnel. All I see is water. Waves crashing, one on top of another.

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Sometimes this happens to me. My memory plays tricks on me. Most days I don’t remember which direction the sun rises or sets. And I don’t remember the years during which WWII happened. I haven’t forgotten everything though. I remember holding my sister’s hand while she laid in a coma in a hospital bed. And I remember the feeling of being heartbroken. And I remember going into 5th grade and needing extended time on exams because I couldn’t focus. The sound of the kid behind me tapping his foot drove me crazy. Tap. Tap. Tap. It became the melody to a song I played in my head. Oh and the sound of the clock ticking mesmerized me. I’d plug my ears, but it didn’t help. It just added percussion to the song. And I remember my teachers checking my planner after each class to make sure I wrote down my assignments. Meanwhile I watched my friends run out to recess. I remember my friends asking why I needed longer on exams. I remember not knowing the reason or why I was even explaining. Yeah, I remember.

It was around 5th grade that I started taking a yellow pill. The doctors said it would make me focus in school. I remember 27 mg in that little yellow pill. 27 mg made the sound of the ticking clock quieter. 27 mg made the tapping shoes fade. It made my head feel weird. It made me speechless and lose my personality. 27mg took away more than the distracting sounds. The little pill made me less creative and depleted of my spunk. I remember one day I accidentally took 36 mg. I never finished my homework as fast as I did that day. Then I remember going out to play with my sisters, but I had no interest in playing. Keep working. Keep working. Keep working. That’s what my brain told me.

I remember one night going to my room and throwing everything around. Screaming. Tears burning my cheeks. I was a little girl who wanted to be herself – chaotic, loud, distracted – without explanation. Her frustration was real and valid. But she wasn’t aware that there is so much beauty and chaos to a mind that races. That her creativity could be endless.  She didn’t know that the sand castle is here and then washed away by water. She didn’t know that the tunnels wind and turn in ways that are magical.

As I grew up I would learn those lessons through allowing that little girl the space to learn. The space to be creative, in spite of all challenges that came with learning. It was when I  decided to study Chinese in high school that I had a major awakening. Chinese is a hard language. It is all about memorization. The strokes of the characters and the tones can only be learned through rote memorization. Strokes and tones often slipped from my memory. To compensate for my forgetfulness, I spent sunrises and sunsets going over the strokes of each character until my hand cramped.

My first year of learning Chinese was emotionally challenging. Teacher Tao made me question my ability and potential as a student. She said that I always looked nervous in class. She told me to stop overthinking. She said because I was nervous and overthinking, I was always forgetting the words we learned. During our daily quizzes, the strokes of the characters drifted from my mind. I was frustrated. Teacher Tao always tried to rip the quizzes out of my hands before my extended time was up. A few more ticks of the clock was all I needed. Time kept moving. Teacher Tao didn’t think it was fair that I got extended time. I wanted to give up Chinese.  I didn’t though. No. I had a passion for foreign languages. I was not going to let go of the spirit of the curious little girl in me. She wanted to be free.

During Chinese class each day all I could think was don’t look nervous and don’t forget a word. I didn’t do so well on my first midterm. Teacher Tao said: “I know that you have a problem (yes, she used the word problem), but if you weren’t so nervous, you would have remembered the words.” Then she added, “Other teachers who don’t know you have this problem will think, why doesn’t Wei Wei (my chinese name) know this, maybe she’s not working hard.”

That night I went back to my room and couldn’t stop thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Not stopping thinking. I was annoyed. But I was thinking I needed to study more. Yes, study more. Memorize all of the words that night. Memorize the entire Chinese language that week. That’s too much. Maybe that month. My thoughts would spiral. Remember the year that WWII started. Remember where the sun sets. No just go to the sunset tonight, bring a compass. Find it. Just find it. Where does it set? Walk North, South. It’s not North. It’s not South. East or West? West. It’s West. Yes, it’s West. I’m walking and I think the sun may have already set because it’s dark now and I’m crying, alone, and I’m lost.

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There are places I’ve been, experiences I’ve had, people I’ve loved that I cannot remember and cannot forget. My brain is full of juxtaposition. But it is full of so so much love and passion. I ultimately conquered the Chinese language. And sure I’ve forgotten some of it now, but I still conquered it. The storm has been gusty. It has knocked my castle down more times than I can count. Move in a new direction, go to a new beach, and build your castle.  

A creative and chaotic mind is beautiful.

I am not my ADHD.

 

 

 

 

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Wandering without a clear direction

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It is never easy to fall in this lifetime. The outer world we reside in can be full of flowers and sunshine; full of love and laughter. Meanwhile the inner world – our souls and minds – can be paralyzed. And thus there is a dichotomy in our society between the story we are expected to portray to the external world and the story we experience internally.

So what happens when we fall? What happens when strong women fall, get up, and stand on shaky ground…wandering without a clear direction?

When I was a little girl we had a tree house that was supported by a tree with roots that were thick and overgrown, twisting violently above the ground before diving headfirst into the damp brown earth. One day I was running down the cement path that led to the tree house. I tripped on a tree root and fell to the soaking wet earth. Knees scraped. Blood dripping down my legs. I cried. I screamed for my mom. I did not stop. Did not. My mom rushed to me. Consoled me. We plopped down, resting side-by-side against the ridged bark of the tree. She held me; she was remarkable like that.

I’m older now and society tells me that I’m supposed to get right up when I fall. Society of course expects me not to cry out for my mother when I fall. But after two career changes, I’m not where I thought I’d be. I’m not where I learned I should be. I’m afraid.

Society taught me to climb and rise; society taught me that success is quantified by a salary, a job title, a relationship, a child. Society put so much pressure on me. Society expected me to hold unbearable weight. Society taught me to keep my secrets and sins inside like poison to drink. My mouth is bitter from swallowing the poison I must not spew. The poison of being taken advantage of by men; losing a job; feeling ashamed and afraid; being rejected…the poison of so, so, so many secrets and facades.

And amidst all of the external expectations, I daydream. I’m falling in soft grass. I am led to a river, clutching the grass only for safety. Right away I take fear when I see that my reflection is not there. Where my face should be is nothing. I put my finger in the river and watch the water circle. Then I put my lips close enough to drink but I am not even a shadow there.

I don’t know who I am through all the secrets I must harbor. Slowly I begin to reconcile that I am not strong enough to carry the weight of falling and standing up without a voice for grief. But I am strong enough to walk on shaky ground, wandering without direction. As I wander, I hear the cry of myself when I was a little girl. I decide to hold her, as my mother would. I decide to remember her wild, infinite dreams. She wakes from her fall and chases forward. I hold her tightly because she needs me. And holding her reminds me of who I was before the world told me who I should be.voice

 

My hope is that we can come out of our hiding together to reveal to the world the beautiful strong women who fall, get up, and stand on shaky ground…wandering without a clear direction.  

 

I write for the little girl in me; in us

 

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When my faith is tested and life steals from me, I write. In turn I gain clarity, healing, and power. Even in the darkest loneliness, an astonishing light of my being is shone through my written words. It’s the little girl in me. And so everyday I write to the sigh of a breath, to the beat of a heart, and to the rise of a prayer. Through writing I can see the future open up before me – a book waiting for me to commit to its page, the story only I can write.

In times of grief my soul bleeds onto the pages, and in times of triumph, my words escape me and boast about the pages. But when I escape from my pen and paper, I am escaping from the truth; from something that I am afraid to think or feel. Being honest with myself is the most emotional part of writing. Writing can be a scary place for me. It is a vulnerable place. I hide from my pen and paper for fear of what my words will reveal – the truth.

It is the little girl in me that urges me to witness uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. To try little by little to relinquish control and the desire to get caught in them. In stillness I acknowledge that nothing in life is permanent; my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions all pass before me. When my feelings settle into my awareness they are like secrets that whisper into my ears and urge me to transcribe them on paper.

It is only when I face my fear that I gain freedom to write prose with command, authority, and emotion. Oftentimes my embrace of inconsistency through omission of words or incomplete sentences creates forceful expression. I rely on a sentence to say more than the denotation and connotation; it tells a secret. I string together words so that I can reach out a hand to a reader; to the little girl within her.

I write to reconcile the all too familiar battle between fear and bravery. The battle that we face together. We cannot undo the past that has unfolded to reveal the present. And so I write to give the little girl in each of us a platform to keep her wildest dreams alive.

A deep look at my scars

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Drawing by Nikki Weiner

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a memoir. It is with humility and courage that I set out to be transparent with my readers and myself. “The only requirement,” to be a writer, said Stephen King, “is the ability to remember every scar.” We all have scars. I do. You do. We do. It’s not until we enter our wounds that we find the meaning in this life. At least that’s what I hope. After all, our wounds eventually turn into scars that serve as proof that we survived.

I remember my scars when I get naked – spiritually and emotionally. My greatest fear in this life is being alone. Through my writing I I reveal the scars that I’ve hidden for too long and show them to the world, and grasp the hands of my readers. After all, we are all watching our wounds fade a little each day. It is frightening to be vulnerable, but it is with faith and courage that I hope to inspire and move through life with other girls and women.

When I was 5 or 6, I wanted to say goodbye to my dad on his way to work. I heard the engine of his car start. I remembered his kiss on my cheek moments earlier, but I was afraid of never seeing him again. I rushed up to the window where I could grab a glimpse of his car. But I couldn’t see out of the window. I was too short. My mom helped me stand on a tiny stool. As my mom pushed the stool closer to the window, my fingers slipped off the windowsill and my chin hit the glass window. Blood dripped from my chin onto the floor. My parents rushed me to the hospital. Today, if I look in the mirror and tilt my head back a little, I can see the scar on my chin.

Scars aren’t always revealed on our bodies, but instead in our souls. I have wounds from hearing words that cut deep. I remember hearing the words: “We’re breaking up;” “You’re fired;” “Your sister is in the ICU unit in Boston’s hospital.” The power of words is undeniable. All the while, we use such cruel words to talk to ourselves. I remember telling myself: “You aren’t skinny enough.” “You should just give up. There’s no point.” “You are alone.”

I remember the boy in elementary school who threw erases at the back of my head in Spanish class. I told the principal, but nothing changed. I endured a year of bullying and was afraid of going to class. No one should ever feel that way. The sad truth is that so many of us have felt this way. I also remember the guy who spread rumors about me on social media. He united others to join his cyber bullying efforts. They all hid behind computer screens. It was cruel and I sunk. No one should be subjected to such a disgusting practice our society has cultivated. And again, so many of our youth have experienced this. These events are scaring.

When I think of bringing a baby into this world, it makes me want to collect every bit of life I have made, all the parts of me that are precious and fine and beautiful, and carry, push, drag them through the veil, out, away, over to my infant where no one can hurt us. Over there. Outside this place, where we will be safe.

But that place doesn’t exist. Thus, I write to empower girls and women to share and remember their scars. Our scars do not need to define us; we get to write the story of our lives. I write to unite girls and women to get one step closer to being vulnerable and to being unashamed. I am far from immune to fear and shame. A good friend of mine told me that shame comes from secrecy. So, I stand before you, naked — both spiritually and emotionally — ready to share my stories. Remember, our wounds eventually turn into scars that serve as proof that we survived.

 

Growing pains

Here is my confession, growing up isn’t easy.

I turned 25 the other day and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. It’s a weird age in which I feel I have to depend on myself more. This past year I set out to improve certain areas of myself, which I believe will launch me towards the unimaginable – at least that’s what I promised the little girl within me. While here in China, I get the chance to grow, and at the same time help students get to the next chapter of their lives…college. As hard as it is to groove with change, little by little, I realize that I am exactly where I need to be. I am a teacher of what I’ve experienced and a student of all my current experiences.

Yet there hasn’t been one night this week I’ve slept with ease. I try to solve infinite equations of how the future will play out, but as the hours pass, I am left panicked in the dark. It is when I write that I am able to let the unknown be and let go of control. For this very reason, at midnight I feel compelled to write this post.

My mom posted a photo I sent her of me looking joyful as ever with coworkers.  People are commenting about how she must be having such a great time…and oh, what an experience she must be having. I was happy for the period before, during, and after the picture…it must have been a cumulative 3 hours. I  let myself stop working and relax at some dance classes.

I’ll tell you a secret: I fear letting myself get too happy for too long; too comfortable for too long…for fear of losing control. So, I timidly admit that I’m working through some hard growth in life. If I didn’t admit how hard I’m working each day to be a better version of myself, I’d be falling into the societal trend of posting cool instagrams photos and Facebook statuses. I’d portray the story of those women…you know, the ones who are gorgeous; fit; engaged; got a promotion at work; got into graduate school; the list goes on. I’m telling the real story though. The trouble is that too often we feel pressured to keep a façade; make it look like we have it all figured out. We don’t. With 25 years under my belt, I know that every chapter of life brings new challenges that we must face. It is how we face them that defines us. What’s more, it’s how we share them with each other that empowers us and empowers others.

However, with my current responsibility of teaching students how to write college essays, it doesn’t matter what shit I have going on in my life – professionally or personally – I need to show up for these students. I need to wear a mask…every second I am with them. I find that when I stand in front of the class, the students look up at me wide-eyed. I see myself in them. They yearn for all the knowledge I can give them. It is then that it is easy to take off the mask and channel my energy and passion into being their support.

Through working with a 16-year-old girl this week, I am reminded of how important it is to love myself. This reminder came through her feedback form about my workshop. She wrote: “If this is possible, please tell Nikki I love her! Because she is patient, and she makes every point clearly, and also pays a lot of attention on me, she is willing to share her personal experience, and she is so passionate about the workshop, which encourages me to be more active. All in all, I really like her teaching style. P.S. She is really beautiful, and I love beautiful woman.”

I’m striving to do better; to do the unimaginable. In spite of my tendency to move faster than those following, I’m working to slow down. In this way I can learn…personal growth is a slow process. Before I am the CEO of a company featured on the cover of Forbes, I need be the CEO of my growth. I must navigate through the crevices and cobwebs in my soul. I must tear through the webs. I must get tangled in them. I must try new routes. I must not look back or accept defeat. I hope you won’t either. Take the journey with me…Let’s go minute by minute, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat, step by step. Minute by minute, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat, step by step. Minute by minute, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat, step by step.

P.S. To the little girl within me: I honor your growth, I love you.

The cauliflower cure

She came running into the room; panting and with broken English, she blurted out, “I bring you salad, tofu…” Then she paused, pointing to something in a take-out container. She looked up to me: “How do you call this again?” I smiled and let out a soft chuckle, “Cauliflower,” I replied. I had told her yesterday that I loved cauliflower, and that it was among a list of 5 foods that I eat in China.

For my first 8 days here I’ve channeled all of my energy reserves into preparing a college application workshop. I should admit that I am designing what I hope to be recognized as a Nobel Peace Prize-winning College Application Workshop. I float through the days in a daze, and not the “I’m crazy in love” kind of daze; rather the “horrific jet lag” daze that persists for more than 8 days. Perhaps I have chronic jet lag because I’ve pulled my large suitcases from a hotel infested with cockroaches and fingernail clippings to one without electricity in 100 degrees weather.

I’m so tired I often forget to drink water; I’ve peed all of 6 times in 2 days. In my half daze, as I walk to work, I dodge savage cyclists. This morning, I wasn’t so lucky, one of them crashed into me. He didn’t stop to see if I was hurt, but neither did I. Instead, I floated along, rubbing my bruised arm. Meanwhile, the fact that I can’t stand the taste of Chinese meat doesn’t help my dazed state. For 8 days I’ve sustained myself on bread, tofu, and rice. I admit I’ve already had to take my traveler’s diarrhea prescription.

Tonight I was starving and working late to prepare the Nobel Peace Prize-winning College Application Workshop. My stomach growled at everyone as they skipped out of the office to enjoy their weekends. For me, though, I couldn’t complete my workshop to my standard without working through the night. I edited and revised each presentation, while simultaneously daydreaming about the day my workshop would lead me to the cover of Forbes magazine. I imagined the headline reading something like this: “How One Self-Made Woman Designed the College Application Workshop of the Century.”

So when a coworker came running towards my desk with salad, tofu and cauliflower, I paused. I felt tears building in my throat. It was such a tender gesture. She cared. She noticed me. She helped lift the weight off my shoulders. I muttered, “You are seriously too kind. You did not have to get me this.” She replied in broken English, “Just express my love.” When she left, I squeezed my chopsticks around a piece of cauliflower and, to my surprise, teardrops dripped from my cheeks, landing in the cauliflower sauce.