The Hills Are Alive With … ADHD
I discovered that Maria, of The Sound of Music fame, is a lot like myself and other ADHD women – flighty, charming, and hyperactive.
The part had my name written all over it. When the Princess of Wales Theater in Toronto held a call to find the perfect Maria for a dramatic production of The Sound of Music, I thought I should get it, hands down. No, I am not an actor, but I do have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I figured I could method-act my way through the performance, and skip acting school.
There are plenty of parallels between Maria and me. Consider the opening scene of the film: Maria, belting out a song on a mountaintop, suddenly remembers that she’s supposed to be singing vespers at the abbey. She takes off at breakneck speed, stumbling down the mountainside, late for service. How often, I thought, have I run (late) into a board meeting because I’d been caught in the ADHD whirlwind of another activity?
In the film, the nuns discuss how they can solve a problem like Maria. They call her “an angel, a flibbertigibbet, a will-o’-the-wisp, a clown.” How many job evaluations have I squeaked through because of my superiors’ conflicting opinions of my erratic behavior? Truth be told, sometimes I didn’t even make it to evaluation time. I got sacked. I understand Maria’s fear when the Mother Abbess sends her to work as a nanny.
Shortly after her arrival at Captain Von Trapp’s home, Maria’s impulsive behavior and spontaneous remarks both repel and attract her new employer. Maria confesses, “I can’t seem to stop saying things, everything and anything I think and feel.” This sounds familiar. Impulsive blurting is a hallmark of my ADHD. I felt like a shoo-in for the part.
Maria’s lack of polish contrasts with the ever-so-controlled (and controlling) Baroness, whom Von Trapp professes to love. Or at least, to understand. Still, Maria’s exuberance tempts him; she’s won his heart.
In Maria’s presence, the captain’s heart was happy, but his head was in disarray. And he’s not the only one she affected this way. A nun laments, “When I’m with her, I’m confused, out of focus, and bemused.” Ha! She thinks she’s confused and out of focus! She should try being Maria. Or me. Or any woman with severe and untreated ADHD.
Before receiving an ADHD diagnosis, many of us wore other labels – none of them complimentary. Just as the nuns called Maria “as flighty as a feather,” my mother used to beg me to “light somewhere.” My constant movement drove her crazy. I also heard, “you’re giving me a headache,” so I could imagine playing Maria while the sisters call her “a headache,” “a pest,” and “unpredictable as weather.” Piece of cake. I wouldn’t even be acting.
Maria, the cloud who can’t be pinned down, can’t succeed as nanny or nun. Not only does she not play by the rules, she doesn’t even know them. And if you try to teach them to her, she’ll either forget them a second later – memory being a problem for many of us with ADHD – or she’ll leap over them to pursue something more exciting. “I just couldn’t help myself; the gates were open and the hills were beckoning…,” says Maria. She was right. She couldn’t help herself. She was incapable of getting back to the abbey in time, just as she was incapable, while living at the Von Trapp estate, of stifling her creative impulses. That’s why the Von Trapp children loved her.
When the captain finally professes his love for Maria, she is befuddled. How could anyone possibly love her? She searches her memory to find something lovable about herself. “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” Only she can’t think what.
By the time an undiagnosed person with ADHD reaches adulthood, her self-esteem is often shot. It’s hard to remember that “something good” among so many failures. Feeling like failures, undiagnosed ADHD adults may hide behind drugs or alcohol, instead of away in a convent.
Or, like Maria, some of us discover that a bout of exercise helps us focus and calm down. If I were Maria, running up and down the Alps and scampering through the abbey halls might well be among a few of my favorite things, too.
But without a nearby mountain to spin on, or an accurate ADHD diagnosis, untreated adult ADHD can lead to a lifetime of pain and confusion. So how do we solve a problem like Maria’s and mine?
Maria found her happy ending in the captain’s arms. Many professionals stress the importance of a healthy relationship to stabilize ADHD symptoms. Achieving it isn’t always easy, and divorce rates are higher among ADHD adults. Just for a moment, think about if Maria had been one of these grim statistics?
Roll the sequel: The honeymoon’s over. Zoom in on a disillusioned husband. He’s sick of Maria being late for social functions; he’s fed up with her unladylike behavior; he’s mystified by her ineptness at household management. Anyone with severe ADHD knows that household management is anything but simple. He gives her an ultimatum – conventionality or convent – and Maria makes her choice after a lot of thought: She heads straight for the hills after his devastating rejection.
Fortunately, we’ve been spared an ADHD-inspired sequel, and as far as we know, Maria finds happiness for the rest of her life. But some of us adult with ADHD still feel like we’re alone and spinning on a mountaintop. Please call us will-o’-the-wisps, not weirdos. Help us meet our schedules by giving us those pint-sized beepers we can carry up the mountain. Offer affordable ADHD medications (when we need them) while we work out our strategies to manage all those ADHD symptoms. Otherwise, those of us living with the condition may find neither captain nor Concerta.
But enough. I’m off to sing in the nearest abbey. Maybe I’ll take Maria with me. We could perform the “Concerta Concerto” or the “Ritalin Requiem.” Now where did I put that piece of paper with Maria’s phone number on it?