“What Happened When I Stopped Apologizing for Being Me”
When I started researching ADHD, all of my “differences” finally made sense. My quirks were part of my brain chemistry. I was done contorting myself to fit into a neurotypical world…until I realized that life is smoothest when we all make concessions in the name of harmony.
I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) at the tail end of my 20s. If I had to sum up my experience in one sentence it would be: “Sounds like you have ADHD, why don’t we throw a variety of medications and doses at it until something sticks?”
It seems odd to me now that I received medication but no education to go along with it — although at the time I didn’t realize just how useful that information would have been. Given that most medical schools and residency programs give the condition little more than a passing mention, I’m not sure the doctor realized that I could have used an education, either. Or that, most likely, he needed one too!
With medication alone, things improved a little, but I continued to struggle in many ways. My job bored the heck out of me and, short of nailing my fingers to the keyboard, there was little I could do to make appreciable progress on a regular basis. I didn’t understand that my nervous system was interest-based. I didn’t know that support like ADHD coaching existed. I was certain that I was losing my mind because day after day nothing I tried could inspire me to do what I needed to do. More than that, I felt alone in my struggle.
Getting myself to do boring things was like trying to mix oil and water, or trying to catch a cloud and pin it down. I worked overtime to make my world function. I shed tears over interruptions, knowing that to get going again was to start at square one. I couldn’t figure out why the general responsibilities of life seemed much easier for everyone else than they were for me. Day after day, year after year, I wondered what the rest of the world figured out that I hadn’t. Let’s face it — masquerading as normal is a lot of work, especially when you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing.
I was in my 30s when I started to research and understand my ADHD brain, and suddenly things made sense.
No wonder it takes me 17 trips from the car back to the house to gather everything I need to leave for work, but only about 15 seconds to decide to leave on a spontaneous road trip.
No wonder I go from “too early to leave” to “holy guacamole I’m super late!” in the blink of an eye, never quite able to find the middle ground.
I guess this explains why, if I haven’t locked myself out, I’m probably getting in trouble for accidentally leaving the door unlocked. And let’s face it, either way I can’t find my keys.
No wonder movies, crowds, and loud places don’t seem to torture others the way they do me — unless the noise all comes together in that beautiful harmony that tunes everything else out and makes me want to take a nap.
Now I understand why I’m sometimes brought to tears by interruptions once I’m actually able to focus, and other times, if I’m lucky, I can hyperfocus through mountains of work in what seems like an instant.
Ah, this explains why I’m either unable to stop talking about something super stressful or exciting, or suddenly losing my train of thought mid-sentence.
Epiphany after epiphany after epiphany.
The real epiphany hit later: I just wanted to relax and to be me, to feel at home in my own skin. I was sick and tired of covering up my differences. To what end? Why did I feel like I needed to pretend that I’m not different?
I wasn’t going to do it anymore. The neurotypical brain being no better than mine, I figured why not let them contort themselves around how I work best for awhile!
I stopped apologizing for leaving cabinet doors open. I didn’t care if my stories went off on tangents until I forgot my original point altogether. I turned down invitations to noisy or crowded places, sharing, honestly, that as much as I would like to be there, attending would be tortuous. I refused to see any movie over two hours unless I was at home where I could pause it.
I was out and proud, and unapologetically ADHD!
I still say no to all of these things, but lately I’ve become clear on another thing — never compromising feels just as icky as never being compromised with.
No matter what kind of brain we have, life is smoothest when we all make some concessions in the name of harmony. I’ve become less “I am who I am and if they don’t like it, let them eat cake,” and more willing to play ball. After all, what right do I have to demand that neurotypicals meet me halfway if I am not willing to do the same?
Having ADHD does not require me to change to make others comfortable, but it also does not entitle me to demand that they learn all about my particular brain style or endure my wrath when I’m interrupted at a critical moment. I don’t get a special pass for being mean or rude, no matter the reason. And you know what else? Like it or not, I still have to show up on time to a lot of things if I want to avoid repercussions (for the record, I don’t like it).
Living in a world that was not built with me in mind feels like a never-ending paradox. I am better than most at some things, while other things that seem mindlessly simple to so many feel impossible to me. The way I manage is constantly evolving, a process of endless tweaks. I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is: It’s not my fault that my brain style is less typical, and, therefore, less catered to, but nor is it anyone else’s fault either.
At first, I didn’t even know there was anything to learn. Then I learned, and knowing changed my life. But then I grew to realize that true understanding and acceptance went both ways, and that changed things even more.
After all, aren’t we all different in our own way?