Freeing yourself of pressure with forgiveness and self-love

Max Laboyrie
Dec 16, 2022

Welcome to ADHD stories, a Cog series in which ADHDers share their journey from struggle to treatment to living well.

These stories are meant to help answer questions like: What does ADHD look like? How is the process of diagnosis? What is the impact of different treatments?

Most of all, we hope these stories help destigmatise ADHD and allow ADHDers (diagnosed or not) to feel seen and capable of improving their lives.

This is the story of Cristina, founder of psycho-education and wellness platform Supernaturals. After burning out in an incubator programme, trying to start her own business, she was diagnosis with ADHD. After her diagnosis, she grieved her younger self, who was misunderstood by her strict mother. By learning about neuroplasticity and learning to love herself she was able to gain control over her ADHD and recover from her burnout. Ultimately she was able to forgive her mum.

“When I got diagnosed with ADHD, I grieved my younger self. Suddenly, I saw myself from a third person perspective and I grieved my childhood and all the hardships I’d been through. I was a disorganised and dreamy girl and my mum gave me a hard time for my behaviour because she never quite understood me. She had very high expectations of me, and when I didn’t live up to those, she asked: ‘Who do you take after? You are not like me.’

“I don’t blame her, though. She had a very tough life, being raised and growing up to be an adult in communist Romania.”

But, although Cristina is understanding of her mother’s strictness, there is no doubt that her upbringing had a lasting impact on her. Cristina seems to have taken her mother’s expectations into adulthood. She now sets the bar very high for herself: she is extremely driven, and demands a lot from herself professionally. Some might consider these to be great traits, but combine them with a splash of self-criticism and a dash of difficulty dealing with criticism and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a burnout.

Which is exactly what happened when Cristina went from one fast-paced environment to the next. She went from working night shifts and juggling between roles at a unicorn startup to starting her own wellness business and working 14 hours a day in an incubator programme.

She was happy initially. This was just the type of environment she wanted to be in, learning from investors and being surrounded by hopeful entrepreneurs with big dreams.

But after a while the tiredness and self-doubt started to creep in. “My coach suggested that my vision for the company was too grand and that people were not ready for holistic health. They asked me to work towards another idea. I felt defeated and gave up. I just couldn’t fight anymore and felt worthless, so I decided that I wouldn’t build another business. I was burned-out and started experiencing panic attacks.”

Around this time, the pandemic hit and it came at just the right moment for Cristina. When she lost touch with everyone, she started her journey to healing from her burnout.

“I went to see my GP and then a psychologist to get help. After a couple of sessions, she asked me to take an ADHD test, and low and behold, I ticked all the boxes. Having ADHD felt like the cherry on top of a mental health cake, although I now realise that it was more the root of a lot of my mental struggles.

She never sought an official ADHD diagnosis as waiting times in the Netherlands were around six months. Besides, she had already gotten a long way herself by rewiring her brain.

After reading about neuroplasticity in The Source by Dr. Tara Swart, she started training herself to deal with distractions and focus. Instead of waiting for motivation or hyperfocus to come along naturally, she forced herself into a flow state by focussing on a task and pushing through distractions for 20 minutes.

She didn’t just focus on these practical changes of behaviour, but tried to gain control over her ADHD by being more healthy all across the board. “I tried to get more sleep and started going to bed earlier at night, I started eating more healthily and I tried to get sunlight in my eyes in the first three hours of being awake.” Besides that, she started weaving yoga, exercise, meditation and self-hypnosis into her daily life.

But, key to Cristina was being kinder to herself and lowering the bar she set for herself. Since her youth, she’d been under pressure and subject to criticism and high expectations — first from her mum, then herself.

“One day, while practising self-hypnosis, I became aware of the fact that I’d internalised my mum’s critical, stern voice. I truly hated myself at times and I’d question myself in my mother’s voice, thinking: ‘why am I so different from my husband, why can’t I get out of bed in the morning without feeling tired, why is everyone performing while I’m not?’”

She confronted this internalised voice through self-affirmation and replaced it with a kinder one. “I started pushing myself to say ‘I love you’ to myself in the mirror. It was painful initially, because I didn’t believe what I was saying, but I would force myself to repeat the act once a week. As I did so, the thought slowly became less alien to me and I started acknowledging that I did, in fact, love myself and that I was proud of being on this journey of getting better.”

Now that she’s recovered from her burnout and is gaining control over her ADHD, she’s trying to start another business, striving to help others who are struggling with mental health.

“By the summer of 2020 I realised there were many companies with the same vision as mine which were starting to launch their products. This was the confirmation that I needed: my vision was confirmed by millions of people in need of mental care and wellness.

“Consequently, I put myself back on track and decided to build something even better: Supernaturals, a platform which brings all aspects of wellness together.

“We’re a psychoeducation platform, but we don’t just teach about the brain and neuroplasticity in our workshops led by psychologists and psychiatrists. We also teach about the effects that diet, sleep, physical activity and meditation have on the brain and the importance of a healthy relationship with them.”

The first person Cristina psychologically guided — besides herself — was her own mother.

“My mother’s mother had Alzheimer’s disease. My mum couldn’t come to peace with the fact that her mum could not remember who she was. This was a big trauma for her. She went through a few stages of grief and only after my grandma’s passing, did my mum understand the depths of the disease. This process of understanding unlocked reflection and healing and I am happy I was there to guide her towards forgiving herself.”

Eventually that sense of forgiveness started to flow through Cristina. She’d gone through a process of grieving her childhood, actively changing how she dealt with focus and distraction, incorporating self-care into her daily life, positively changing the tone of her internal voice, and, ultimately, she was able to forgive her mother.