An ADHD Thanksgiving
Just as I was starting to feel like a scatterbrained, worthless, ADHD fraud again, I realized the dinner I’d made was perfect. Every dish had wildly different cooking times and prep, but they all hit the table perfectly done, hot — and at the same exact time.
“Kids! Get away from the damn pie. I told you already.”
Margaret shoos out the little dressed-up mob of our kids and guest kids through the swinging kitchen door as I tumble a pot of hot, boiled Yukon Gold potatoes into a mixing bowl, turning my head away from the steam.
“You okay?” she asks.
“I’m fine, fine…but where’s the butter and milk?”
“Next to the mixer” she says.
“Behind you, next to the sink,” Margaret says, and takes the potato pot from me as I take a slug of gin. “How many is that?” she asks.
“Only my second and no more today.”
There’s a beat as she looks at me. Has she been counting? She turns to the stove.
“I’ll start taking things out,” she says.
“Everything but the gravy,” I say, “that’ll go out with the potatoes.”
Margaret heads into the dining room with string beans and sausage stuffing as I start the mixer, pour the butter and milk into the potatoes. As soon as the kitchen door swings closed behind Margaret, I pour more gin into my glass. Okay, maybe it was more like three. Anyway, this only makes it three and a half, or four and a half — I’m not sure.
It’s Thanksgiving 1997 and, drunk or sober, I’m acutely aware that I’ve got a huge undeserved mountain of luck to be thankful for. I’m still a couple of years from getting my ADHD diagnosis, and anyone can see I’m on a roll. I’m a show-runner on a hit TV series. My wife and I have two gorgeous kids. We’ve just moved into this sprawling classic Pasadena house with a circular drive where we park our German cars. Friends and family are gathering around the dining room table to toast us and each other — everyone will be honestly grateful for the blessings life has bestowed on each of them. But in the kitchen, as I spoon the mashed potatoes into a serving bowl, I know that there’s no amount of thanks I can give to any higher power that can make it right that this life I’m living here is mine.
Other people might be fooled for a little while, but I know what a screw-up I am, and soon they will, too. I wasn’t just having trouble multi-tasking; I could barely task half the time. I’m always back-filling for important things I forgot and mistakes I made, even though I get to the office hours before anyone else — just to organize and nail down each day before it happens — and to practice looking like a calm, articulate show-runner in the bathroom mirror down the hall from my office. There is no way that I’ve earned the fairy-tale life I’m living. And when that comes out, boy — it’ll be a mess.
Now, as it turns out, I did end up losing that particular job on the hit series, and after a couple of other show-runner jobs, I ended up leaving the business. But it wasn’t because I was discovered to be a scatterbrained, worthless fraud. Well, I did go through a period of calling myself that in the shower, but that wasn’t really the truth.
I wasn’t an idiot. I just wasn’t interested.
Getting diagnosed, getting on ADHD meds, getting sober, and getting into therapy have all helped me become infinitely more honest and comfortable with myself, but for just an instant, a glimmer of truth shone through on that Thanksgiving in 1997. I brought out the mashed potatoes and gravy; we all said grace and toasted our thanks. Then, as another scatterbrained-worthless-fraud tape-loop started playing in my head, I realized the dinner I’d made was perfect. Every dish — the gigantic beer-basted turkey, the sausage stuffing, the acorn squash, the sauteed green beans, the mashed Yukon golds, and the made-from-scratch gravy all had wildly different cooking times and prep, but they all hit the table perfectly done, hot — and all at the same exact time. If you don’t know, this takes some serious skills — like multi-tasking, concentration, and okay: being interested and happy in what you’re doing.
That glimmer of truth went away for awhile, but I remembered it in time. And though I wasn’t going to go back to working in kitchens like I did in my twenties, I was going to go back to doing work that interested me, and only work that interested me. So this Thanksgiving, we’re gathering around the table at a friend’s house giving thanks. And I’ll give thanks to that 1997 Thanksgiving and promise to remind my two kids of that glimmer of truth I saw back then. Because I want them to remember that when people with ADHD are doing what honestly interests them, they can show the world some serious skills.
Updated on June 7, 2021