Have you ever had the feeling that you are not comfortable in your own skin, that somehow you did not grow into it as others seem to do? that others know something you don’t, that you are from a different planet, that people don’t get you? Have you ever been told that you are lazy, disruptive, worthless, or don’t care?
Growing into my own skin
Right up to my mid-forties, my life was extremely challenging.
I did not know that my unusual strengths and weaknesses were connected with a 'bouquet' of neurodivergence. My reactions to being confused and out of step with myself and society impacted heavily on my personal, family and social lives, as well as my education and professional journeys.
My home life was unhappy. It did not matter how much I tried to be good, loving, and helpful; it was never good enough.
Primary school was an out-of-body experience, and secondary school was torture on a daily basis. School teachers agreed I was intelligent; so why couldn’t I sit still, engage, do my homework, or behave? They came to the same conclusion as my parents: this child was a lost cause.
When classes weren't outright boring, I found school extremely perplexing, and I couldn't see the point of what I was asked to do. I daydreamed about life being messy, challenging, and exciting. It was obvious to me that my point of view was absurd and a bad example for other children.
First Experiences of Independence
College revived my ambitious spirits somewhat, and eventually I managed to scrape the minimum points for a university course.
Leaving my disapproving parents behind, I ventured out, poor as a church mouse, but high in hopes. Though rich in life lessons, my first bid for freedom did not go well.
I struggled with compulsive eating and mental illness to the point of wanting to end it all. I did not have the confidence or academic skills to succeed.
I did not dare ask for help in case my worst fears were confirmed—that I was fundamentally and irrevocably worthless. I left half-way through the course.
My ambitions and struggles for meaning in my life were in continuous combat with a sense of hopelessness, chronic anxiety, and panic attacks.
I was an emotional mess and fear of failure or rejection severely limited my options.
I started therapy, got married, divorced, and, with three children in tow, moved to a different country. I had to learn its language and eventually built a new life for myself.
I found a vocation I loved and that provided ample opportunity to use my creative, practical, and reasoning abilities. I discovered I was good at observing what people in my niche really needed and providing that support.
I also learned that I had a talent for writing courses and training people in my subject. My confidence to achieve things slowly grew.
However, I wanted to learn more about my difficulties and how to overcome them. I addressed my compulsive eating issues and began to spiritualize my life. I needed a lot of help to confront my traumas and learn to become more aware of what caused high anxiety and how to deal with panic attacks.
Back to Education
15 years of self-employment brought me a great deal of satisfaction but little financial gain. I decided to go back to university.
This time, I was wiser and more experienced, but still emotionally vulnerable and academically inexperienced. Academic reading and writing still felt like torment, and my coping strategies seemed to strangle me. I was finally diagnosed with dyslexia and visual stress and received some support.
Realizing that I meant business, my tutors encouraged me to use my natural abilities to succeed: my ambition, a good dose of curiosity, and a burning desire to make a difference. That someone believed in me gave me the courage to throw all the traditional do's and don’ts to the wind and instead listen to myself.
It became soon clear that traditional learning methods did not inspire me. I looked for inspiration from others who, like me, had little chance of succeeding in the traditional education system by using traditional learning methods and who had found their own solutions.
To help myself, I designed a system based on goal visualisation and learning methods that cut through all the inessential "stuff" and concentrated on priorities.
My little self-help programme was extremely effective. I finished my undergraduate education with a first-class honours degree in Psychology, which opened all kinds of interesting and useful doors.
I wanted to share what I had discovered and build on it to help others in similar situations. For the next 16 years, I worked at a university with students of all ages, genders, and walks of life.
I created and delivered presentations and programmes for students and professionals alike. Observation and feedback confirmed the soundness of the foundation stones of my self-help programme; it has the potential to facilitate transformative individual journeys for people who think and learn differently.
Early in my employment, I completed a Master's degree in Education and a qualification for teaching at the higher education level to round out my educational experience and learn to serve even more effectively.
Finally - Growing into my own skin
My personal transformation journey was ongoing. The dyslexia diagnosis did not explain the restlessness, the mood and energy swings, or the chronic anxiety. Over time, I began to understand I had co-occurring specific learning differences.
As more and more pieces of the puzzle fell into place, I learned to feel compassion and respect for myself. I did not remain a self-doubting victim of my circumstances. Instead, I had made a habit of confronting my difficult realities, overcoming numerous obstacles, now working and serving in a profession that I adored.
When I finally realised I had suffered all my life from attention issues, it was a huge relief. Now I learned to consciously handle the inattention as well as the impulsivity.
Eventually, I also managed to confront the roots of my social anxiety and feelings of social ineptitude and realised I had many female autistic traits, which were the causes of my chronic fatigue syndrome and burnouts.
Slowly but surely I learned to grow into my own skin and feel comfortable with who I am and in sync with who I want to be. I now unequivocally welcome into my life that wonderful, messy, ever-developing creative spirit of which I dreamed as a child.
Eventually, I left my job because I wanted to serve more fully by offering my services as a transformational coach and entrepreneur.
Now, I am in a position to use my personal and professional experience to give my full attention to helping others who think, learn and feel differently to grow into their own skin and achieve their unique potential.