What if it’s Resiliency that’s Wrecking Us?

This post is about resiliency when you’re neurodivergent. I know that there are critiques about the uses and abuses of resiliency when it comes to race and class, but this is just thinking through resilience and neurodiversity and how it is, or could be, harmful. I have the comfort of knowing that if I or my kids “fail” at resiliency, we will most likely be fine due to our positionality. But it doesn’t make it less internally and personally destructive.

I am a late-Gen-X. My mom is a late-Boomer, as her Greatest Generation parents, who thought they couldn’t have kids, had her “late” in life, at least given the time period. My dad is a full Boomer, but with a father who fought in WWI. I grew up in all the stereotypical ways that Gen-X kids grew up: divorced parents, latch-key kid, responsible for myself and my younger brother at a young age, left to my own devices all summer. I also grew up in an abusive home, first physically abusive, and then mentally abusive. Generational trauma, neurodivergence, mental illness, passed down to me, unspoken because people like us don’t talk about these things. We were resilient, in that we soldiered on, silent and resigned.

Resilience meant not showing sadness, fear, anger. Resilience meant that I was only ever allowed to be happy. Resilience meant that I was compliant. Resilience meant that I was grateful. Resilience meant that I was to appear as normal as humanly possible. To be otherwise was to be weak, to not have tried hard enough, to be lazy, to be a failure. It wasn’t called resilience, it was called “sucking it up.” Our great-grandparents had survived WWI and the Depression. Other previous generations, immigration. Our grandparents, the Depression and WWII. What were we so upset about, anyway?

I look back now, piecing together family histories that were never really told, and think about all of the self-medicating, the denial, the broken coping mechanisms, the trauma. But also how we were told not to think too much about the past, because it was in the past, to be put away and forgotten. But the body doesn’t forget, does it? As much as we try to be resilient, or at least to act like we are resilient, that isn’t what we need. Resilience through silence isn’t resilience, it’s denial.

I was anything but resilient growing up, at least in the ways I was taught. I know and understand now that so much of that was because of my undiagnosed ADHD, that my resilience was staying alive, as imperfectly as I may have been living my life, the decisions I made. I spent all of my time trying to be normal and failing spectacularly at it, and the spectacle of my failure of the source of shame, of punishment, of discipline, of dismissal. None of it made me more resilient. None of it made me normal.

And while I know that these strategies didn’t work with me, I still internalized all of the messages about being normal, being resilient. And so I sit and worry that I “coddle” my children, that they will grow up “soft” and unable to function as adults in the “real world.” But I also see in my neurodivergent children all the ways that this narrative has affected them, how they try to be resilient in a world that is not set up for them, so their efforts ultimately fail, and they don’t know what to do. If they succeed, they will still carry the feeling that they are nonetheless broken. If they fail, same thing.

I didn’t have the option to fail, not really, even if I failed anyway. I work hard to help my kids be successful, to help them try to navigate failure, but I am failing at that, too. I am overcompensating in some ways, trying to be all the things I wanted my parents to be, but forgetting that my kids are not me, and left making things worse. My kids, as much as I want to tell them, are at an age where they don’t want to know about the past, not really, nor do they want to know that the world isn’t set up for them. They want me to fix things, just not like that.

We’re not good at being patient, an ADHD trait, so to tell us that we need to do the work, to be not persistent but consistent, well, that’s a challenge to say the least. And where does the ADHD stop and trauma start, if that distinction even matters. So I let them quit activities mid-year, stay home from school and their activities, do whatever I can for them, when they let me, and even sometimes when they don’t. “I do it!” my daughter used to always insist from the moment she could say the words. I have learned to give them space, but also I am learning when I still need to step in as a parent.

I see and have seen both my kids work so hard to make like nothing is wrong when clearly something is very wrong, to project that resiliency, and then fall apart when they are no longer capable of maintaining the required level of masking, of maintaining, of (really) pretending. The first time was when we got our son’s diagnosis. This time…

I want my kids to be themselves, not some version of themselves that they think that they should be in order to be perceived as resilient, good, worthy, normal. I look at all the ways that my family has long tried to be resilient, good, worthy, normal, and the toll is has taken. I don’t know how to be a different kind of parent, what structure that takes. I am so tired of and from resiliency, at least the neurotypical version of it. I don’t know what resiliency looks like when you have ADHD, when you are neurodivergent in a world not suited to you. We’re just told over and over again to “suck it up” but I’ve tried, my kids have tried, and it hasn’t worked. It never worked.

I wrote this elsewhere, but I am tired of just surviving. I want to find a way to thrive.

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