“When Time Isn’t On Your Side”
I’d feel guilty about being late — but frankly, I don’t have time.
You know that song “Time is on my side”? I’d bet you a million bucks the writer didn’t have ADHD. After all, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are often — OK, fine, usually — late. I know I am. Recently I learned there’s a neurological explanation for this: People with ADHD function on a different timetable. In other words, we experience time differently.
In this ADDitude article, Ari Tuckman notes that for people with ADHD, “It’s difficult… to plan for the future because they don’t see the future as clearly as do their peers.” Likewise, writes the psychologist and ADHD specialist, “Because everyone — not just those with ADHD — feels the present more strongly, it’s difficult to do challenging things now that won’t have an immediate positive impact.”
I don’t believe those of us with ADHD are entirely at fault here.
To feminist philosopher Alison Kafer, the concept of “being on time” isn’t innate; instead, it’s something society has created. What if we ceased to place such a high value on punctuality, she muses. What if we stopped penalizing people for being late, and viewed such punishment as ableist?
Naturally, as someone with chronic ADHD, this intrigued me. But my boyfriend, who is neurotypical, just could not wrap his mind around the idea that our social mores exist outside us, meaning that they could be changed to be more inclusive of people with disabilities (PWD). Now, he is a scientist; abstract thinking has never exactly been my boyfriend’s forte. And yet, in this case, I think it’s just impossible for neurotypical people, much as they may love us, to understand how far removed their world is from ours — or, for that matter, that their world isn’t the only world.
Punctuality can be a struggle for all PWD: a need for “extra time,” according to Kafer, might result from a slower gait, a dependency on attendants (who might themselves be running late), malfunctioning equipment (from wheelchairs to hearing aids), a bus driver who refuses to stop for a disabled passenger, or an ableist encounter with a stranger that throws one off schedule.
People with ADHD practically invented the concept of needing extra time; from the day of our diagnosis, we know we are destined to forever be at odds with time. Think about it: The longest-acting CNS stimulant medication is said to last 12 hours; but many people, from attorneys to high-school students, work far more hours a day than that — often well into the night. And even so-called regular people, who only work in a professional sense eight hours a day, are born with the ability to concentrate and be at least slightly productive the moment they get out of bed in the morning and only resting their brains after they get back in at night.
It’s not like that for us ADHD people. The simple fact is that it’s impossible to have an average life if you have less than the average amount of time. And not having enough time is ADHD 101.
I used to apologize anytime I was even the slightest bit tardy to an appointment or late on an assignment. Now, I’m trying something new. As I near my 28th birthday, I remind myself that life is short; the time in which we actively live, even more so; and for people like me, with only 12 hours of each day at our disposal, time is the most fleeting — and the most precious — thing of all.
So I would feel guilty at my lateness, but frankly, I just don’t have the time.
Updated on December 2, 2019