That Time I Cheated

The other week I was a guest on Amy Hallberg’s podcast, Courageous Wordsmith. We were talking about growin’ up ADHD and I remembered this story. 

In sixth grade, the Gifted Program at my school announced that we would all be participating in Kansas History Day. I talked to my Dad about it and decided that I was going to write a paper about my ancestress, Hortense Kooken Green.

Dad did a ton of reminiscing for me, and pulled out some family heirlooms. An old Bible (more like a blackened mass), Hortense Kooken’s bacon-cooking fork (very short! She must have had nerves of steel!), and this fabulous family photo that hangs in my office now. Hortense is standing at the far right of this rather grim group of pioneers. I can’t help but notice she’s the only one smiling. Word was that she wore the pants. 

I also did research in historical archives, conducted interviews, took photos, and prepared a lot of materials that I’d need to write the paper.

…But I /couldn’t/ write the paper. Because ADHD. 

I would sit down and a wave of thoughts and words would wash over me inside. But I could not organize the enormous gush into any coherent sentences. Then the gush would become static–totally impossible to parse into individual concepts. 

Mrs. Healy was the Gifted Program teacher at my school. She had reddish hair and freckles, and very pale skin like me. She had a really kind smile. I could tell she got a kick out of me, even when I exasperated her. I adored her. 

So here’s what she did: she sat with me at the computer in the West Elementary library and took dictation. 

I told her what I wanted to write, and she wrote it down. 

We wrote a 12 page paper together. She showed our whole group how to do footnotes, so I carefully created the footnotes for the interviews I’d done with my dad. 

I submitted the paper and it won a prize.

Here’s the really sad thing:

I didn’t think, “Wow, what a great job I did writing this paper!” and feel proud of myself. 

I certainly didn’t think, “I had an area of challenge and I got support for it.” 

I didn’t think, “Mrs. Healy supported me to show up as my best self.”

Nope, I was ashamed. Because I hadn’t “written” the paper. 

I thought, “I cheated.” 

Alas, confusing “getting support” with “somehow cheating” is a really common mindset error among ADHD women. 

When I think back on this episode in my past, I feel sad. 

And I also feel SO GRATEFUL that I have taken the time to educate myself about ADHD, about how my brain works. 

It has allowed me to better understand many painful episodes from my past. 

It has allowed me to better APPRECIATE the occasions when I was really well supported. 

It has allowed me to CHERISH the people who saw me most clearly. 

The people who helped me the most were not always the ones who saw my gifts! 

/// They were the ones who saw my FRAILTIES. ///

Who saw the ways I needed support to shine. 

If you follow my work, you know that I’ve since mastered doing the writing part by myself. I churn out a blog post every week. And in my last profession, I wrote three book-length works about yoga! 

But when I was 12, I couldn’t do that.

I needed a Mrs. Healy, and thank goodness, she was there. 


In this new year, where do you need support? You don’t have to do this alone. Especially if you’re an ADHD woman, I can help–I’ve been Mrs. Healy for many clients.

Shoot me a personal email, and tell me what’s going on. So that whatever you’ve got cookin’ for 2023, you’ve got some ideas for how to support yourself.


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