I Can’t Help Myself

The Four Tops had a song in the 60’s titled, “I can’t Help Myself.” I Ioved that song when I was an adolescent…still do. But the adult version of me has developed an aversion to helplessness. I don’t want to hear myself saying, I have ADHD and I can’t help being impatient…I can’t help being late…I can’t help interrupting others…I can’t help tuning others out, or as Elvis sang, I can’t help falling in love with you. (Footnote: As a teenager, I “fell in love” with (1) pretty girls who didn’t like me, and (2) songs that made me feel sorry for myself!)

I can help myself. To become a responsible adult, I had to give up trying harder to be like the other 95%—the neurotypicals—and incorporate a new mindset, “Try another way.”

I once asked a high school pitcher, a star on his baseball team, this question: “If you didn’t have a right arm, would you try to use it?” He was relying on his unreliable memory, misplacing appointment cards and telling himself that he would remember the appointment. I told him that the memory in his phone was more reliable than the appointment cards, and more trustworthy than the differently-wired brain beneath his baseball cap. He agreed. He couldn’t deny it.

I learned a valuable lesson from a clerical worker at my first mental health clinic job. I was about 22 years old then and complaining on a rainy day that there was no place to park near the building. She said, “Who do you think you are? We all have to park where we can.” 

I’m not entitled for any reason. Relinquishing responsibility because I have ADHD will not prevent consequences for my negligence. I get stopped for speeding when I deserve to be stopped. I get a penalty for late payments on bills when I postpone paying them. I experience effects of my wife’s hurt feelings when I am inattentive, or when I forget an important event.

I can help myself. It is no one else’s obligation to do my work or clean up my messes.

Helping yourself starts with acknowledging your brain difference and accepting yourself, as you are, with the compassion you would grant to a close friend. Billy Joel sang, I love you just the way you are. He didn’t add…and now change yourself. Instead, he said, Don’t go changing to try and please me. Changing behavior and habits is not the same as changing the self. Embrace yourself, and it will be much easier to change habits and patterns of behavior.  

It is okay to be different. Fly your freak flag proudly, but don’t embrace “can’t help myself.” 

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