When Westbrook writer, pastor, speaker and mother Jess Basson was diagnosed with adult ADHD earlier this year, she discovered the key she was looking for to unlock the pages of her first book, Empty Cages.
Like many women, before she was diagnosed with ADHD, Jess was treated for anxiety and depression. She was 38 years old, had low self-esteem and couldn’t figure out why she felt so lost.
The bubbly mother of two and wife of Grace Family Church pastor Tom, Jess had been blogging and speaking for many years, but it was only through her diagnosis that she was able to find the cover to a puzzle she says she had been trying to figure out for years.
Originally from Empangeni, Jess moved to Durban when she was eight years old. She loved school and was a ‘jack-of-all-trades’. “I was in the B-team of just about every sport and deputy head girl. I left school ready to take on the world,” she smiles.
When she started studying, though, Jess began to lose her way. Her parents were in the ministry and she knew for sure that wasn’t the path she wanted to take. But when Jess met and fell head-over-heels in love with physiotherapy student Tom in her third year, that all changed.
“I remember him sitting me down and telling me that he wanted to become a pastor – and then he begged me not to break up with him,” she laughs. But, having felt so lost at university, Jess says she realised that this was what she wanted too. “I knew it would give meaning to my life and be a way for me to make a difference. It is just who I am.”
Jess’s dad encouraged the couple to travel before settling down into a life of ministry, which they did for three years before returning to SA and joining the staff at Grace in 2007.
Jess threw herself into the church, following her passion for sharing
life-transforming ideas. She did this through hosting chats, writing blogs and speaking on stage.
In 2011, after six years of marriage, she gave birth to their first son, William. “He came into this world like a firecracker. He is my wild, strong warrior child. Luke, who was born two years later, is sunny, warm and easy-going.”
Jess suffered from post-natal depression and says she ‘bumbled’ her way through the first few years of parenting. “I started a blog called The Rookie Mom where I spoke openly and honestly about the behind-the-scenes side of mothering. People really enjoyed it, I think because so many could relate. I have a lot of written content from that season of my life because of the blog.”
When William started struggling at school and was diagnosed with ADHD, Jess researched and found out as much as she could about it. “The more I read, the clearer it became. I went back to my blog and it was right there, written all over the pages. This was me. The ‘time-blindness’, forgetfulness, inability to commit, procrastinating – I was textbook ADHD. The whole time I believed negative things about myself, that I was lazy, lacked self-discipline and even that I just wasn’t actually that ‘smart’! It led to depression, anxiety and very low self-confidence.”
It was then, Jess says, that she realised what her book had to be about. “I suddenly knew what I needed to write about – the story of being stuck in a cage, finding keys along the way and walking out into freedom. Empty Cages is about naming your cage, picking up keys to unlock it, and walking out the door and into freedom.”
Jess hired a writing coach to help her with structure and accountability when she set out to write her book. “I so enjoyed the writing process. I’m actually not even very attached to the outcome and success in terms of sales, although I would love to see it make a difference and help others.”
Empty Cages: Keys to Finding Freedom is not only about ADHD. Jess says it’s about the universal truth of being able to find what is holding you back in life and getting the support you need to solve the problem.
“I would never have found my freedom if I hadn’t been around good people who helped me lean in and bring what was in the darkness into the light. I’m much kinder to myself now. I have a better sense of humour about my flaws and more receive empathy from my family. I’m also harder on myself where I need to be. It’s been so liberating and the positive knock-on effect on my mental health has been amazing.
“No matter what we are struggling to break free from, when we know better, we can do better. When you can name your cage, you can find your freedom.”
Text: Leah Shone