How I dropped the ADHD label and recreated my life

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Posted November 24, 2020 from Australia
Cara Szellemes
Cara Szellemes on dropping the labels so you can choose your life

I was diagnosed with ADHD at four years old and for nearly five decades it defined who I was. The label became a crutch, an excuse and a reason for how I showed up in life.

It kept me disconnected from people and perpetuated the stories that I was broken and flawed, a poor listener and unable to form strong bonds with others. I coped with life by throwing myself into creative entrepreneurial pursuits and causes because, even though I felt lonely and largely misunderstood, at least that way I could feel valuable to the world.

All that changed a few years ago when I discovered that I could break free from the label and what has followed has completely transformed who I am in the world. 

My Journey

At 9 years old, I walked into a shop filled wall to wall with handmade calico dolls. The owner smiled and said, “would you like some felt? If you make something I could sell it in my shop.” I took the felt and started what became a lucrative enterprise making bookmarks, small dolls and teddy bears. Sometimes I’d make $20 in a week! That was the start of my journey as an entrepreneur.

In my adult life,  I’ve always been drawn to entrepreneurship and innovation.  I’ve built 4 micro-enterprises and one tech startup. I’ve enjoyed a measure of success in everything I’ve done but ultimately, felt like something was missing. The experience was like banging into an invisible barrier and I didn’t know how to break through it.

So I went searching. My quest led me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of talking to life coaches, attending entrepreneurial think tanks with all the big names in lifestyle entrepreneurship and digital marketing. I participated in prestigious accelerator programs and countless online courses.

While these were all awesome and impactful, none of them made a fundamental difference. I still couldn’t understand why I failed, why I felt like I could never shift what was getting in my way, why I struggled to connect with others, why I felt alone in my experience. I feared I was stuck that way. And those experiences took a toll on my health. I was overweight and had chronic anxiety.

Then in 2017, a friend introduced me to a personal and professional development program that was unlike anything I'd done before and from that point on, everything started to shift.

That experience sparked a new journey where I went from feeling fundamentally flawed to recreating my entire life. For the first time, I got why my life turned out the way it did and why the rabbit holes led me nowhere.

What was missing was right in front of me the whole time. 

I discovered that being fulfilled in life had nothing to do with my desires, talents, abilities, winning formulas and strategies and this was a massive shock to me. I had built my entire identity around being smart, being creative, being admired and talented. But I had to let it all go and be open to the unknown. 

I stopped creating, strategising and seeking approval, the strategies I used to cope in life, and took on life in a new way. I started talking to random strangers about what mattered to them everywhere I went and interviewed over 100 people in 3 different countries. I picked up the phone every day and called someone from my contacts list. I visited people I hadn't seen in years and I listened. And the experience was transformative.

I started to see how I wasn't alone in feeling alone. Listening and deeply getting others' experiences of life showed me that what was in the way was the deeply embedded prejudices, opinions and negative thoughts, all the blame and shame, all the stories and memories of hurt feelings, wounded pride and rejection. It was all me and it was time to get out of the way. It was time to drop the label.

Now, many of the things I once thought were immovable have shifted. I now have deep caring friendships, an epic relationship, dramatically improved health and vitality, work I love doing every day that makes a difference to humanity, and tools to pick myself up when I fall down. And this is just the start. 

Labels don't have to define our lives. We can be whoever we want to be in life and that's what I want to pass on to my own children, two of which are on the Autism spectrum. It's your life. You get to choose. Who do you want to be?

This story was submitted in response to The Real Me.

Comments 18

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Jennifer Zeng
Nov 24, 2020
Nov 24, 2020

Dear Cara,

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Very inspiring!

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Nov 25, 2020
Nov 25, 2020

Thank you!

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Nov 26, 2020
Nov 26, 2020

Hello, Cara,

Welcome back to World Pulse! Wow, your story is so inspiring. Great job on not being defined by a label. It's so wonderful to read how you emerge as a creative starting at nine-years-old up until unlocking the key to fulfillment. This resonates with me because I believe this to be true, too, "Listening and deeply getting others' experiences of life showed me that what was in the way was the deeply embedded prejudices, opinions and negative thoughts, all the blame and shame, all the stories and memories of hurt feelings, wounded pride and rejection. It was all me and it was time to get out of the way. It was time to drop the label."

I'm so happy for you! Thank you for inspiring us with your story. Please keep on writing more. :D

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Nov 26, 2020
Nov 26, 2020

I forgot to mention I have a seven-year-old in the spectrum, too. Sending you massive hugs!

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Dec 02, 2020
Dec 02, 2020

I have two boys on the spectrum too. Thank you so much for your comment. All this feedback has really touched me. :-)

maeann
Nov 26, 2020
Nov 26, 2020

Hi Cara :) How are you?

As I read your story, I remembered one of my friends who experienced the same as you. Sometimes in our lives, we have to decide what we will choose to make life better or miserable.

I choose happiness and life. when I read a story like yours, it opens my eyes that I am not alone.

Thank you for sharing, makes my day.

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Dec 02, 2020
Dec 02, 2020

That's really great Maenn! It makes my day that it made your day!

Nini Mappo
Nov 27, 2020
Nov 27, 2020

Hello Cara,
What erased your labels is really simple, powerful, and difficult. I can't imagine calling someone everyday even if I were social butterfly. But that approach is so beautiful, freeing, life-giving that it is no surprise that it works. It also makes me curious about the point of difference in that final personal development course that led to the penny dropping and this approach working where many others had failed.
I applaud your willingness to essentially 'shelve' who you'd been all those years with nothing but determination and hope--hope that you'll actually discover (and like/love) a different you!
Good on you. It is so lovely to hear that you are finally at home within yourself and within your community!

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Dec 02, 2020
Dec 02, 2020

Hi Nini, thank you for your comment. The point of difference was really being in a space of discovery and then sharing that discovery, those aha moments with others... that makes them alive and real. I really got that I lived into a future defined by my past. What that looks like is: if I feel anxiety in the present, it's because of a fear of something happening in my future... which is based on negative experiences from the past. It's a vicious circle lol! When you can put the past in the past and reconcile with whatever happened that impacted you, you can be free to create whatever you want in your future.

Jill Langhus
Nov 27, 2020
Nov 27, 2020

Hi Cara,

Welcome to World Pulse! You're definitely in the right place, and your story definitely resonates with me. It's been a journey to get to where I am today, to say the least. And, yes, labels are extremely harmful and lead to self limiting beliefs. I'm looking forward to seeing more posts from you and learning what you're focused on creating now in your life.

XX

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Dec 02, 2020
Dec 02, 2020

Thanks so much Jill! Happy to connect!

Jill Langhus
Dec 02, 2020
Dec 02, 2020

You're very welcome. I'm glad for the connection, too.

Let me know if you're on Twitter or LinkedIn, and would like to connect:-)

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Dec 04, 2020
Dec 04, 2020

Am mostly on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/caraszellemes/ :-)

Jill Langhus
Dec 04, 2020
Dec 04, 2020

Great, thanks! I've sent you a request:-) XX

Shirin Dalaki
Nov 30, 2020
Nov 30, 2020

Dear Cara,

I love your story and can totally relate. I love what you did interviewing 100 people in three countries, I think it is amazing, selfless and exciting. I know labels do not define us and it is great that you came to this conclusion too.

Shirin

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Dec 02, 2020
Dec 02, 2020

Thanks Shirin! And I'm still going through my show, What's Important Now. I would love to interview women from this community too! Anyone can DM me if they want to be on the show. My commitment is that it is a transformational conversation.

Shirin Dalaki
Dec 02, 2020
Dec 02, 2020

I listened to a few of your podcast and it is very organic and uplifting. I enjoyed listening to them. I like your authenticity.

Cara Szellemes (nee McCullough)
Dec 04, 2020
Dec 04, 2020

Thank you Shirin!