Imagine you have 10 tabs open on your computer. A few of them are random and unrelated Google searches, a YouTube video paused half-way through, another YouTube video you just started watching, and the only reason Facebook is open is that you’ve been putting off sending a message to a friend. Oh, and you have Spotify open on your phone with a song paused at the 1:09 mark. There’s also a dog barking in the backyard, kids playing outside; the toaster went off, and the strong smell of coffee brewing lingers in your nose. What breaks your focus is the scratchy feeling of a wool sweater.
That’s what my brain feels like before I get out of bed in the morning.
At 4 years old, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD) and Aspergers Syndrome. I was reassessed at 18 and re-diagnosed with ADHD and a Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD).
I struggled (and still do) with getting distracted by everything. I’ve had to find a balance between being stimulated and over-stimulated, organizing racing thoughts, noticing time-blindness, and overcoming feeling mentally frozen when a task needs to be done. But most of all, I’ve felt like I had to hide my disabilities.
Having all of this extra weight on my shoulders from a young age definitely played a huge part in having low self-esteem. It almost felt like I was carrying a full aluminum trash can inside my brain—it was busy, loud and overwhelming with stuff I thought was useless.
My scattered and “abnormal” brain contributed to me being a pretty insecure kid and teenager. I tried to make up for this insecurity by overplaying being naturally charismatic and outgoing. I was loud and over-the-top to prove my worth and get people to like me. I often used these coping mechanisms to hide having learning disabilities, because I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I felt that my brain was too “messy.”
I’m grateful that I grew up going to church. But unfortunately my church didn’t feel like a safe place to express myself, learn and grow. Whenever Psalm 139 was taught, I struggled with the expression “fearfully and wonderfully made” because I felt so different from my peers. The way I learned, understood, and saw the world wasn’t the same as everyone else.
So did God actually make me who I am supposed to be, even if it’s really different from others?
I was also taught that Christians need to spend at least 15 minutes every day on prayer and Bible study, and if I didn’t, I felt like a failure. Don’t even get me started on how many times I was told getting distracted was bad. Yet I can’t help but be distracted and antsy.
I knew that God loved me, but why did I feel like I was set up to fail at being a “good Christian”?
It didn’t help that I never seemed to fit in with my youth group, and instead of helping, pastors would tell me to “try harder.” It’s like they expected me to wake up the next day without ADHD, or that prayer and better discipline would cure getting distracted.
I so badly wanted to feel “normal.” Why did God make me this way?
Despite struggling with fitting in, there was always something about Jesus that compelled me to follow him. I remember reading how Jesus treated people, and his kindness drew me in to want to know him more. With other people, like my parents, teachers, peers, pastors and friends, I felt like I had to prove myself to them, but with Jesus I didn’t have to because of his unconditional love. A kind of love that holds me accountable, but also full of grace.
It was when I was re-diagnosed with a NVLD and ADHD again that I knew that I couldn’t rely on my own strength to find confidence in myself. What shifted my perspective was knowing that I needed to understand how to have a relationship with Jesus, and knowing who he is, to have even the tiniest bit of confidence.
I started to allow myself to be open to letting my messy be known. The messy being every part of who I am—the good, the broken, and the vulnerable. In order to truly believe that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made,” I had to have multiple moments with God where I laid down my pride, fears and walls to let him break them down.
Through these moments, he showed me how much he loves and accepts me and that the way my brain works isn’t a mistake. I even had faith that God was going to use my story for something beautiful.
Now I believe that I’m a beloved daughter of God and fearfully and wonderfully made. I’m smart, I don’t need to prove my worth or who I am to anyone, and I can still have a relationship with Jesus no matter how distracted I get. My confidence is not found in who I am or what I’ve accomplished; it’s in Jesus.
God showed me how much he loves and accepts me and that the way my brain works isn’t a mistake. I even had faith that God was going to use my story for something beautiful.Abby Bell
I honestly cannot sit still and focus. So how I interact with Jesus will look different from others.
I have found my own ways to genuinely spend time with God. Some days it’s reading a short verse and reflecting on it. Some days it’s listening to worship music or being in nature. Honestly, some days my brain is so loud with distraction and hyper-activity, all I can muster up is a prayer of “God, help my brain slow down a little.”
God meets me wherever I am, at 2:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m., hyper-active or calm, over-stimulated or under-stimulated. When I let him into everything, he’s there. In these moments I appreciate his goodness and faithfulness that much more.
Psalm 139:14 resonates with me in a different way now:
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
It’s actually one of my favourite chapters in the Bible, and I find it extremely comforting to know that God did create me exactly how he wanted me to be.
What’s amazing is that as I begin to know that I’m loved and accepted, I can see the good that comes with ADHD and NVLD! For me that includes having creativity, resilience, unique intelligence, and healthy hyper-fixations on my passions.
Furthermore, when regulated, being highly sensitive creates empathy and compassion for myself and others. I also have learned to laugh a lot and not take myself too seriously when I do or say something awkward–humour has become a coping mechanism!
Culture and society has come a long way in accepting neurodiversity and seeing learning disabilities as a legitimate reality, but it’s moving very slowly. I’m hopeful that Christians will be more open to conversations on the topic of neurodiversity, because God is the inventor of all this diversity.
God created my brain to do good things, to bring glory to him in a unique way; and he did the same for you.
This article was written as part of the Writing Mentorship with our P2C-Students Editorial team.