“The Slow Road to Happiness”
When I dropped out of college, I thought I was down and out for good. But the champion my mum saw in me as a child eventually emerged and turned everything around.
When I was a kid, my parents had high hopes for me. I was bright, and I ended up getting a scholarship to a private boarding school. The next decade would be hard for all of us.
When I was expelled at 16 years old, my mother finally took me to a psychologist, and I was diagnosed with ADHD. She had long suspected something similar – she couldn’t make head or tail of the fact that her smart, curious, boy was so averse to learning. She had been told of the long evenings, hour after hour, locked alone in the boarding school’s dining room staring at a blank sheet of paper just… not working.
I couldn’t figure it out myself. I was told that I was lazy or bad. When my mum tried to intervene and take me to a psychologist, the headmaster told her that what I needed was discipline. He also told her that, if I was taken to a psychologist, he would consider it to be undermining his position as headmaster, and I would not be welcome back at the school.
So in a way, getting expelled was the best thing I ever did.
I would love to say that a prescription of Ritalin and a diagnosis let me conquer my difficulties, but it did not. I had become averse to authority during days of constant punishment and isolation. I had no idea how to learn. And, frankly, I was immature: I had some catching up to do.
Somehow, I got myself to university. But I ended up dropping out. At 22 years old, with no money, no qualifications, and no prospects, I became an un-contracted removal man for less-than-minimum wage. If you had met me then, the words “bright future” would not have crossed your mind.
Yet, 12 years later, my life is unrecognizable. I am happily married, we have a beautiful baby daughter, and I run a successful business doing something I love. In my spare time, I study for a master’s degree.
The one thing that tarnishes this otherwise brilliant life is that my mum isn’t here to see it. She passed away midway through my transformation—post marriage, pre-baby. That’s particularly sad, because she gave me my ability to turn things around.
My mum championed me when nobody else would. She instilled certain values that were waiting to emerge when the right situation and context came along. I have no idea whether my daughter will take after me, but if she does, I know how I’ll try to help her.
My mum taught me that my brain is not broken. It is different. And that can be a good thing.
With that difference come challenges that only I can learn to manage. I procrastinate – I make a ritual of it. Now, I have five things on the go at once; when I can’t focus on something, I move on to something else. Because I am in a position to pick and choose clients, at least 80 percent of my work is something I want to do. That means, eventually, it will be the thing that I pick up in order to procrastinate, when I “should” be doing something else.
Sometimes, when the hyperfocus, which is the other side of ADHD, fails to materialize and deadlines loom – well, I have to knuckle down and try. And, despite what I thought as a teenager, it does get better.
You can make it better. Exercise, a healthy diet with plenty of fish oils, and about an hour more sleep than you think you need, works for me. So does dual n-back training. This training is touted as an IQ booster. But what it really does is train your working memory, which helped with my ADHD symptoms immensely.
I’m lucky, of course: I’m self-employed. I realized how powerful that seed my mum planted in me was when I was in a context within which it could grow. When the time comes for my daughter to face the working world, whether she has ADHD or not, I’ll tell her this: You have a unique mind, no one will ever manage you as well as you can manage yourself. We will support you, so take a risk or two. Don’t fear failure, it’s a learning tool. Own the fruits of your labor, because labor is the only form of capital that is truly yours.
ADHD kids might take the slow road to happiness, but the character they build along the way makes it a road worth taking. And, because difference leads to potential, it is not worth it just for them, but for the people around them, too.