Reply To: 28 M Corporate Attorney – Just Diagnosed

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“Just diagnosed…” I have really appreciated this online magazine. BUT – I have a huge problem with this “diagnosis” and “disorder” preoccupation. Let me back up.

I described myself for years as a weird dyslexic who could read, write and spell like a fiend… Friends and coworkers who knew, were, or had family who were dyslexic recognized patterns in how I lived life that reminded them of dyslexia… only my scholastic strengths completely vetoed that. It was in grad school when I accidentally “recycled” 1/3 of the tests my undergrad students had written (I had carefully placed them in a newspaper so they wouldn’t get crunched as I put them in my backpack to mark later — and then recycled the newspaper. I only recalled what had happened a week after frantically calling restaurants where I’d done marking and searching and finally confessing to the professor that I’d lost them)… that I was shaken to the core. I went (a PhD student with prestigious scholarships) to the university’s centre for learning disabilities. A battery of tests showed that there’s a strong discrepency between my strengths and weaknesses (I always knew that) and there was a questions of ADHD (which I dismissed because, after all, I could always sit still in school as a kid). But the testing abruptly stopped when they found out I wasn’t on student funding and just working to support myself through grad school (i.e., I couldn’t pay for the testing). Kindly, they didn’t charge me about $1000 which had accumulated so far. But in a marriage later in which I was blamed for everything that wasn’t working between us (for instance, communication – he would get incensed at having to follow my nonlinear sentence and topic patterns), I went back to the university to beg to discuss my test results again, and consulted a dyslexic professor I used to do research with, to figure out “what was wrong with me”. Of course I knew there was a lot wrong with the person I’d married too – but I needed something solid because I knew I certainly wasn’t just a messed up, self-absorbed, f-ing idiot like the person I was living with assumed. But I wanted to grow where I could. Once more suggestions of ADHD came out, I did my own research and… VOILA!! It ALL makes sense. Everything about me since childhood and more – now aligned!

This magazine has helped a lot, but I have a HUGE problem with the basic assumption that ADHD minds are a disorder and need medicating. Research has shown that the ADHD brain exists in a large percentage of the human population in every culture and across the socioeconomic spectrum. We have a particular brain. And it’s exceptionally good at certain things. How frustrating is it when people can’t see beyond the immediately practical, envision all kinds of other possibilities and potentials and weird wacky ideas in order to find a vision that you eventually line up with the possible – and wham! You’re an entrepreneur, a visionary, a leader…! I read that a large percentage of paramedics are ADHD – our thoughts get really focussed in crisis and we KNOW what to do then (take when my mother was driving over a railroad and the arm came down on us. Train coming, my practical, grounded mother panicked and couldn’t figure out if she should reverse or not and with the oncoming train, the usually dreamy daughter was now in command – “NO! Just go – FORWARD!”)_ Whew – and we’re alive. Yes, she was always frustrated at all the things I’d forget all growing up and I went through all the guilt everyone else above describes. But hey, the gift of knowing what to do in a crisis always helps…

I LOVE the way I think – it’s interesting and exciting. People admire my enthusiasm. It is embarrassing that sometimes I get so excited that I can’t complete my sentences before jumping to the next one, and then I can’t complete even a phrase… and then whoa!! I need to just stop, take a deep breath and try again more slowly. And don’t drink too much coffee. Then I REALLY am hopping! Why CAN’T non-ADHD people follow my thoughts? Why CAN’T they complete my sentences in their minds like people who are like me? Sometimes I think they’re deficient… Some of them can only think in a straight line and can’t see the beautiful mosaic of thought with so many amazing twists and turns that could be painted in so MANY different ways and tangents. The CONTEXT is what makes the points interesting (to me!). I remember my very dear and very linear brother stopping me midstream once and asking in order to clear his head, “What is the Point of the story” so he could then understand everything I was telling him. I stopped and looked at him in complete shock: “The STORY is the point!” Yes, he finished his PhD – I didn’t – but I did finish marking another batch of student’s papers on my hospital bed after the C-Section and chose to put all my hyperfocus on actual mothering and teaching my own child rather than writing a dissertation on it (it was a crazy hard decision but I’m really glad I chose that!)

I think it’s all about learning about our own minds, strengths, weaknesses, and how to work with them best. Learning that ADHDers tend to takeover conversations and talk about themselves with an endless stream of anecdotes brings me self-awareness and I can learn to stop, save that anecdote, look at the other person and ask them a question about themself (yes, that’s bad grammar, but I don’t speak like a PhD). It’s not because I’m “self-centered”. I’m a great listener when someone offers to share with me. But it can come across that way and knowing this helps keep me in check. So… I love the “DIAGNOSIS” part – I’ve now put my car keys on a lanyard because the hard part is remembering where I put them when I am carrying loads of stuff from the car to the house to put them on the hook where they belong. This was after a crazy week of dropping my son off in a blanket on the neighbours couch at 6am, trying to drive his dad’s totalled truck to the bus stop, missing it and hitchhiking in to town to teach my middle school students (3 days later I found the keys sitting in the crevice between hood and windshield wiper – I didn’t want to scratch the hood when I set them down to take stuff out of the passenger’s side of the car) and try to maintain the air of a professional. After all, I’m new in this province, it’s an interim teaching position, and I need good references. Good thing they couldn’t see the mayhem before I arrived – early, winded but smug. Okay, so I admit this is my problem, and now the lanyard for getting from car to house, hands free and key around my neck. Despite feeling like a child I tell myself, “You are taking control of your weak area and that is adult-like”. When my students come to class without pencils and books and complain at their inability to remember, I explain, “I, too, am ADHD. I get it. We forget things – over and over. SO – we need to think up a strategy to get around this. How can we….” and I don’t let it be an excuse.

I don’t believe ADHD is a disorder. I believe that sticking kids with boundless energy in between 4 walls for an entire day, 5 days a week, is a disorder. I see those very disordered kids full of responsibility and concentration in their word-working class, handling dangerous machines (they have a great teacher). I think we ALL look disordered in settings that aren’t right for us and modern society requires a lot of executive function which not everyone has. Those highly gifted and orderly administrators would be a mess in some of the worlds we thrive in. (My linear brother was exhausted just listening to me describe a typical day as a humanitarian worker doing various visitations and responding to all kinds of in-the-moment tasks when I was living in Bosnia. I thrived in that setting).

Let’s admit it – all humans look disordered when stuck in the wrong box. But self-awareness is critical. Knowing our patterns and finding solutions when we have to fit into an uncomfortable box is important. But I highly doubt that all of us ADHDers are genetically disordered. Okay, I should be lesson-prepping. That’s really what I got up and hour and a half ago to do.

Have a great day! your highly disordered sometimes highly functional, amazing, ridiculous Effemerald