This is probably one of the most personal blogs posts I have ever written, and against all self-preservation instincts, I am feeling compelled to share it. Sometimes we don’t realize we have been hiding until someone busts open the door and shines a flash light in our eyes. So, here goes nothing…
Hi, my name is Jen, and I have ADHD. Whew. That sentence was actually hard to type. Did you know October is ADHD Awareness month? Me neither! It’s actually ironic, I was diagnosed with ADHD my junior year of high school, but it’s only been in the last few weeks that I have really allowed myself to process what that means for me, and to finally accept it as something other than just a “problem” I have. Awareness indeed. Maybe you don’t believe that ADHD exists, and right about now you are thinking “not another one of these people who think there’s an excuse for their problems!” I get it. I totally get it. I don’t judge you for not believing if that’s you. In fact, I envy you. I envy you the luxury of getting to choose whether you believe in it or not. As someone who has lived it her whole life, I can tell you it is a very real thing, but if you haven’t ever had to learn to struggle through it, then I am truly happy for you.
If you happen to be someone like me, then you get it. It’s hard to know there’s something about you that you can’t control, but nobody else can see it, and therefore often dismiss you as “weird” “annoying” or “stupid.” Do you know how many friends, family members, people in passing, have told me that “there’s nothing wrong with you. ADHD isn’t real. You just have to try harder. You just need to eat better, exercise more, read a certain book, get over it, grow up.” None of which was particularly helpful.
When I was a kid in elementary school, it always felt like I was seeing and hearing everything through a fog. I was smart, but it seemed to take me twice as much effort as everyone else to fully grasp what the teacher was saying. It wasn’t for lack of trying, believe me, but it tended to frustrate my teachers. They weren’t the only ones frustrated. If I wasn’t struggling academically, I was struggling socially. When you are the kid who randomly flaps her hands when she talks, or doesn’t understand sarcasm or know when not to say something super awkward it makes it hard to make real friends. To some extent I did learn how to work around a lot of the things that I struggled with as a kid. Others, not so much…
I still annoy people. During a meeting, I’m repeatedly clicking my pen because my mind is racing so many different directions, and the motion of the clicking is the only thing keeping me focused on the matter at hand, the only thing keeping my brain feeling grounded and centered. But it’s annoying to literally everyone else in the room. Another time, when I’m beating out a rhythm on my legs with my hands, completely unaware that I’m even doing it, but for some reason my brain is trying to focus, and a friend kindly, but firmly reaches across and stills my hands in front of everyone and tells me I need to calm down…the embarrassment as another friend says “thank you!” in obvious exasperation, and I’m once again reminded of how annoying I can be.
I still struggle with recognizing when it’s not a good time to talk to someone. My mom used to stare at me as I would walk up and launch into a full blown conversation complete with twenty questions and need an immediate answer…while she stood there with her arms full of groceries trying to put them away by herself. Because I didn’t even notice the groceries….or that she was struggling. Social awareness is not a strong suit of people with ADHD.
I promise I am not having a pity party, it’s hard to tell on the other side of the screen I’m sure. I am simply stating facts. Facts that up until yesterday I just accepted, and dealt with quietly. But yesterday as I sat in the specialist doctor’s office, me fidgeting with my hands in my lap, and my son kicking the legs of his chair, without thinking I reached over and stilled his feet and gently said, “Calm down bud.” I meant nothing behind it other than encouragement, but when he smiled at me sheepishly, and ducked his head, my heart broke as I suddenly realized I had just done to him what well intentioned people had been doing to me my whole life. Reminding him that once again he had done something that was annoying, unacceptable and out of place.
I wish I had known that quote about the fish when I was a kid, though I probably wouldn’t have had the understanding for it then as I do now. The thing with kids who have ADHD is, after a while of someone making you feel “less than” for your inabilities to function like the “normal” kids, you start to believe there’s no point in trying. You start to believe that you don’t have the right to speak, you don’t have the right to try to fit in, and that at some point, you just have to accept the fact that nothing you ever do will be good enough. That box people keep trying to fit you into is never going to work, so we make our own, or we just stop caring about trying because we no longer believe that we will succeed. What’s the point if you know you’re always going to be wrong.
Funnily enough, the word deficit isn’t actually an accurate portrayal of what is happening in our brains. We don’t have a deficit of attention, we have an overabundance of attention being applied to many different things all at once.
Sometimes that is actually a good thing! I’ve had people tell me “you’re just so quick at jokes and ideas.” However I’ve also seen the look of complete confusion when I suddenly start talking about a subject completely unrelated to what we were talking about because I’ve already moved about four topics past it in my head.
After being sneered at, scoffed at, told that there really is no such thing, and having people look down their noses at you for not being “normal,” I concluded that you don’t talk about ADHD. You can believe it’s real, but you don’t talk about it. To anyone. Ever. It’s a bad thing to have ADHD. When you do finally break down and tell someone, it’s in a hushed tone, and with a sense of anxiety that the other person is suddenly going to think you’re crazy. Or that they’ll try to tell you the reasons why you don’t have it. “I forget things too, that doesn’t mean you have ADHD. I zone out while talking to people too, that doesn’t mean you have ADHD.” Our doctor once explained it this way: Everyone actually has characteristics of ADHD, Autism and many other diagnosable conditions, but it only becomes diagnosable when it begins to affect your ability to function “normally.”
Even now, I do not talk about it to anyone other than my closest friends and family. Because I’m scared. I’m scared that people will automatically assume I’m scattered, stupid, not trustworthy, or one of “those” people who will believe in any fad issue. Even a week ago I could not have fathomed writing this, saying any of this in such a public way. So why now? Because now it’s my son who is struggling, and I’m coming face to face with my cowardice.
In the past few months I have sat beside him trying to help him as he struggles through the math that always caused me so much anxiety. I have fielded the notes and phone calls from his sweet teacher who is trying her best to help him focus and succeed. I have talked him through an anxiety attack as he cries and says “I’m never going to get it because I’m so stupid! I can’t remember what my teacher said! I tried to listen, but I still don’t get it! I hate having ADHD!” And every single time, I have said something to the effect of, “having ADHD doesn’t make you stupid. There is nothing wrong with having ADHD, it just means your brain works a different way than most people.” And every single time I winced a little on the inside because I didn’t actually believe it for myself. For him, yes. The mama bear in me will fight for him in ways I never would have been brave enough to fight for myself, but I was still stuck in the deeply rooted thought that there was something wrong with me, and ADHD wasn’t deemed an acceptable reason.
Yesterday it finally clicked that if I’m going to try to get him to believe that he is not “wrong” because of his ADHD, then I needed to start believing the same thing about myself. Not an easy task.
My mom sent me a video of a TedTalk by a woman named Jessica McCabe awhile back, and this morning after all the boys left for school I finally took the time to watch it. It’s called Failing at Normal: An ADHD Success Story and it was like she was talking about me. The way she explained ADHD was informative but encouraging. I already knew about my diagnosis when I was going through my worst rebellious stage as a teenager, but I didn’t understand how it correlated with so many of my decisions at the time. The ADHD brain craves stimulation, and it often seeks that stimulation in unhealthy ways, be it lifestyle or relationships.
Thankfully, unlike her, instead of struggling alone through my 20’s I happened to meet and fall in love with my husband. Being with someone who sees you and accepts you the exact way you are is a huge deal for anyone, but especially for someone like me who needs a whole lot of patience and a whole lot of grace. I’ve told people how hard our first year of marriage was, but I never said that a big part of it was the fact that a diagnosed ADHD person and a diagnosed OCD person were learning how to live together. It was a real treat of an adjustment I’ll tell ya! Just the other night though, my husband commented on the fact that we work so well together because of how different, yet oddly similar in some ways our brains are.
For a long time after we got married I convinced myself that I no longer struggled with ADHD. Those things that used to hinder me were all gone, “outgrown” if you will. We had our kids and I still didn’t think of it as being something I still struggled with, more like a past version of myself that was just a fond memory. But then our kids got older, and I started noticing that there were some things that just seemed to be harder for me to deal with than for other “normal” moms. I realized that instead of having outgrown my issue, I had simply stopped having anyone around me that could point out when I was struggling. I no longer had a teacher or a boss giving me the routine or the structure, I was the one in charge, and the train wasn’t staying on the tracks very well.
A lot of the last few years for me have been just learning to recognize what overwhelms me, what causes me to lose focus, how to incorporate better routines and structure so that I can keep everyone moving and on task.
ADHD isn’t all bad, there are things about it that could even be deemed positives. People with ADHD tend to be more creative thinkers, often intuitive and able to cut through the logic and see to the heart of a problem. I can hyper focus on projects and get them done…for the most part.
This isn’t a post I wanted to write. In fact I had a mini anxiety attack just thinking about it, but I have been reading a book called Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot, and it has wrought a change in how I perceive my life, which conveniently coincides with all this other self awareness I’m undergoing. Yeesh.
“’Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure,’ Psalm 16:5 NIV.
‘I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say that there are things which happen to us which do not belong to our lovingly assigned portion?… Are some things then, out of the control of the Almighty?”
Whoa. I literally wrote “whoa” in the margin of the book. I don’t get to say that I think God gave me the gift to write, and then question how on earth I have ADHD. Is that out of the control of my Creator? That would be a ginormous NO. He gave me this brain, and has a purpose for it, and it is time for me to stop hiding it and step out and see where He takes me. So…
Hi, my name is Jen, and I have ADHD…and I am really ok with that.