A Diagnosis is Not Defeat

by | Jul 26, 2021 | Bold in Faith, Bold in Life

   How struggling with failure led to my ADHD diagnosis and changed my experience with work, life, and my faith.


I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life. I’ve gotten the grades without trying, achieved the highest test scores, did double degrees in college, set a good example for my siblings coming after me. I was proud of being a teacher’s pet. I relished being the golden standard. I was good at anything I put my mind to when it came down to it.


And when I started to fail at my first job out of college — in the fancy city of San Francisco, ahead of many peers looking for jobs, and before I even officially graduated — it felt like the cracks I’d worked so hard to fill with accomplishments, praise, and new projects, grew wider and wider with each “this doesn’t meet our standard of perfection.”


Hear me out before I launch into this next bit: a job that asks you if you have a tendency towards perfectionism — and hires you if you say yes — is likely not a job you want to work at.


When I left that job two years ago, I carried the weight of what I felt was a failure with me everywhere I went. I was bitter and ashamed that I wasn’t deemed good enough when I felt like I’d given everything to that job. I was very sensitive to rejection of any kind, and since my life mostly consisted of social interactions at this point, being left out put me in a rut.


In my six-month search for a job, I did spend a lot of time at church. I’m talking like, spending five hours mulling around my home parish on Sundays, hanging out for daily Mass three to four days a week, a lot (noting that this might not be that much time to some folks out there, but for me — yowza, I got a lot of Jesus time in). But despite the time I spent at church, I saw very little when it came to fruit during this time.


My life was much the same for the next year — despite finding a great new job, moving home, seeing old friends, getting into new habits — those feelings still followed me around. I was lost in constant daydreams, under stimulated by day-to-day things, constantly distracted, easily agitated, and overly defensive.


When I told you before that I’m a perfectionist, I didn’t mean it in the ‘I do everything right. I make everything perfect’ way. What I meant to tell you is that I am deeply imperfect, but I will polish and shine the things that I’ve done so that they’re blinding when you try to look at me. Nobody wants to admit that kind of truth about themselves. It hurts to have to be that truthful when the world is full of square images of people who are ‘living their best lives,’ and we so desperately want to be like that. Not many people post about the days when life is hard, or simply okay. So what happens when you’re forced to live out what feels like your life’s biggest failure in front of everyone?


You have to tell the truth: to family, to friends, to strangers who may or may not hire you. But more importantly, you have to tell the truth to yourself, and to God.


When you stop covering up the failure and hurt — that’s when things begin to change.




I was scrolling through TikTok about half a year ago when a video came on my feed that started with a line like, “Women are often diagnosed with ADHD later in life because ADHD doesn’t always present itself the same in women as it does in men.”


Now, if I was still a “perfectionist,” I would have scoffed, scrolled past, and thought ‘couldn’t be me.’ But when I did some light research, I found that often women who were diagnosed with ADHD as adults were high achievers in school (hmm…), were often never viewed as needy, disruptive, or hyperactive (interesting…), but at some point, past the average diagnosis age of seven, women hit a wall where suddenly things are no longer easy like they once were.


The more I investigated it, the more I could check off — and three months ago I was officially diagnosed with ADHD.


This is not to say that anyone struggling with some items I’ve listed above should immediately go and book an appointment with a psychiatrist. There are lots of factors that can also lead to these different experiences — burnout, culture fit, and poor management being a few. I had everything set up for my success and I was still struggling when I made the decision to talk to someone.


Accepting that I needed help was a hard decision to come to. When your whole life has been based around not being lazy, focusing more, or praying harder — letting go of these coping mechanisms and accepting the fact that you need help from something beyond your own merit can be hard. I feared that I was admitting another failure. My own brain (and if you know me, I am very proud of my brain) had been working against me, and the betrayal I felt was deep. But obviously, being different is not a failure. And I quickly saw how my diagnosis enabled me to better my life from top to bottom.


I’ve stopped working up against deadlines at work. I could hold a conversation with my friends without interrupting or losing my train of thought. I started leaving church actually learning from the readings and homilies. My patience grew alongside my attention to detail. When I pray, the words are no longer habitual, but explored language that has moving meaning in the moment.


Getting diagnosed with ADHD was a hard-won victory. I grew up where a lot of Christians believed that you could pray away just about anything, if you really tried. I consider the medications I’ve been prescribed as a gift of recognition to the unique nature in which God made me, and how I interact with him and his creation. I’ve lived a life where I swept all of my differences and struggles under a rug, but we were created to live fully and authentically among each other — differences and all.


I hope that, if you are struggling like I was, or your support system isn’t providing what it’s supposed to, you find hope in this. The idea of “normal” was created by folks who were looking to other people who were different from them. You were made with purpose, just the way you are. I pray you don’t forget that.

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Katie Willem
Katie Willem

was raised in small-town Alabama and grew up dreaming about grand adventures. She’s now taken on cities around the globe (Grenoble, France and San Francisco), and created her own world through The Laskar Series. She works for a company that’s changing the financial services industry for the better.

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