I’d spent a lifetime behind a screen of witty self-deprecation. I made people laugh. It was a part of my personality — the quips popped from my mouth in a narrative I couldn’t control. But, at 45, freshly divorced and struggling, I found myself in a therapist’s office. In our third session, she asked, “Why do you treat yourself so unkindly?”
Ultimately, she diagnosed me with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), and the pieces came together. I’d always been a jokester, blurting out zingers to explain my “inner dummy,” to name it before anyone else could. I laughed at myself for forgetting things, for taking the same college math class six times before finally, barely, scoring high enough to get the credit. I quipped about the mistakes I made, even in the classes I was good at.
As I married, had kids, and began working, the smoke screen of slapstick stayed intact. Behind it, I struggled with anxiety and depression, with angry outbursts and a bleak sense of failure. I blamed myself for not being good enough. I saw the jokes I told about myself as painful truth.
When my therapist identified the real issue, everything changed. Now I take ADHD medication. I set up systems of organization — calendar alerts, specific places to put keys, purse, and phone. These are all critical for me to function well.
I haven’t stopped joking about myself. Being goofy and self-deprecating isn’t bad. I’ve struggled and succeeded. I’ve fought battles most people don’t have to fight, and I take pride in that. But I curate my own narrative now, editing the way I speak about myself. The jokes I tell are still rooted in truth, but not the kind that hurts.