“But I Went to Law School! I Couldn’t Possibly Have… Oh.”
“As the kids say, I was ‘shook.’ But in a strange way, receiving my ADHD diagnosis also felt like arriving at a familiar place of comfort. Home, even. All of a sudden, so much more about me made sense.”
Some days, I move through the world seeing only half of it. I don’t mean that figuratively — my distractibility is so high I sometimes forget to put in both contact lenses and leave one behind. I usually don’t notice that the vision in one eye is clear and the other slightly blurry until after I’ve left the house.
Before I knew I had ADHD, little things like this irritated me. They caused frustration and even shame. If I could just try harder, the nagging self-talk informed me, I would not rush through things. I wouldn’t be so sloppy. I’d literally see the whole world, instead of only part of it.
At 38 years old, I made an offhand remark about this lack of focus to my doctor during a routine appointment. “Have you always had this issue?” he asked. When I confirmed that I had, to the point of madness, he suggested I be evaluated for ADHD. I scoffed and waited for him to say he was just joking. Instead, he got quiet and continued looking at me as a lifetime of daydreaming, clumsiness, disorganization, anxiety, and daily failures flashed before my eyes.
Finally, I stammered: “But I went to law school,” as if this achievement had inoculated me.
“That’s nice,” he replied.
What, Me: ADHD?
One thing was certain: I was so resistant that he followed up by having the referring physician reach out to me to schedule an appointment for an ADHD evaluation. Maybe he didn’t trust me to go through with an evaluation. Or, maybe he was already convinced I would receive an ADHD diagnosis and knew that leaving it to me to schedule anything would be a dangerous gamble.
Spoiler alert: I have it. The three-part evaluation included a computer test, which indicated that 94% of the people who took it were better able to remain on task than I was — in other words, only 6% of people were more easily distracted. And remember the pool of test-takers: people who have had such sufficient issues with focus that someone in their lives thought they needed to be evaluated for ADHD. In the land of daydreamers, I would still be considered spacey.
Hotel Honolulu Here We Come… I Think
As the kids say, I was “shook.” But in a strange way, receiving my ADHD diagnosis also felt like arriving at a familiar place of comfort. Home, even. All of a sudden, so much more about me made sense.
The more I studied up on ADHD, the more I understood myself. Take trip-planning. Until my diagnosis, I did not understand why I could not plan a trip to save my life. When we visited Hawaii a few years ago, there were a million tiny failings of my executive function, but suffice it to say: we showed up at the wrong hotel in Honolulu and, after a few days, realized we had no flight to get to Maui because it hadn’t registered with me that these were islands — not that it would have mattered because I booked the Maui hotel for the wrong dates, anyway.
If you’ve ever visited Hawaii, you know that its people are incredibly kind, which was a good thing as that kindness was all that stood between me and a full-fledged, crying shame spiral in the lobby of a Hilton. (The wrong Hilton.) I’m a mess, the familiar mental refrain chimed in, I’m a failure. I can’t even book a trip. Other people seem to manage this. Why can’t I?
Limited executive function, that’s why. An under-stimulated frontal lobe. Those mental refrains are more constructive than “failure,” and much less likely to suck you down into the dark, hostile plumbing of the shame drain.
Gaining ADHD Perspective
My ADHD is currently well-managed: I exercise, prioritize protein intake, use fish oil supplements, and take daily medication. With a few walks around the block sprinkled in, I’m able to focus at work for the whole day. The mental fog has lifted: the other day, during a walk, I noticed for the first time that grass is in fact very green. Yet the contact lens thing still happens. Why is that?
I like to think that my brain is prioritizing. Maybe there are only certain amounts of neurotransmitters available for a given day. My ADHD treatment has enabled me to have access to at least some of them, and my brain is directing these benefits to the tasks that matter most. Family schedule. Work to-dos. Paying bills. Putting in one contact lens.
But no matter the reason, there is a greater lesson here. ADHDers can be consumed by shame and self-loathing because, yes, we often drop the ball and, if you disappoint yourself and others for long enough, nothing is a small deal anymore. It wasn’t just about the stupid contacts. Every extra left-eye contact languishing in the cabinet became emblematic of my personal failings.
Armed with my diagnosis, I decided to reframe my thinking from “I’m a sloppy mess” to “one is better than none.” You’ll be amazed at how applicable this reframing is to most tasks that you think you’re failing at. Try it at least once today, and once more each day after that. Your perspective will shift. You’ll realize that none of this is about you as a person. As it turns out, it really is just about the stupid contacts after all.
Updated on February 3, 2020