Mrs. Collins was cleaning out my desk. Crumpled paper after crumpled paper. I was filled with shame. She was my favorite teacher. I was her favorite student. She thought I was the best writer in the class and let everyone know it. She passed out lined paper everyday with a picture at the bottom intended to inspire. A pumpkin in October, or a dog, or a house. We’d write something based on the picture. Some kids showed promise, but she’d glance over at me still working hard with my pencil and crayons. “This is good, but you’ve got a challenger” she’d say, nodding my way.
But now she was trying to find my math homework that I had failed to turn in...again. And astounded by the mess. She took me to the principal’s office and got out the paddle. But something in my tears told her this was not the answer, and she put it down.
You can’t beat a person into balanced brain chemistry.
I related this story as I sat in my doctor’s office, fumbling for the tissues and dabbing my eyes. We’d talked about a slew of health problems that day, but this is the only one that made me cry.
I told him about Mrs. Collins cleaning out my desk. How I was in the gifted and talented program, but my grades were all over the place. There was no pattern or consistency to my achievement. I was called lazy. Everyone was baffled by my inability to achieve. If I had been bouncing off the walls my issues would have been readily apparent, but no one knew what to do a with kid who gazed out the window and only turned in half of her assignments.
I told him about my messy house. My difficulty with traditional employment. How, while I was cooking supper, I would stop in the middle of chopping a carrot and put a couple of dishes in the dishwasher, and throw a few clothing items in the laundry. I’d bump around like a pin-ball, finally back to where I started with the carrot. Trying to make sense in the midst of internal and external chaos.
“There is no doubt in my mind that you have ADD.”
And then more tears. Tears of relief. At that point I wasn’t even thinking about the medication. I was just happy to have my suspicion confirmed by a professional. I’m not lazy, or selfish, or unmotivated. I am OVERWHELMED by the circus in my brain. I am confused when faced with a large task. I am exhausted by the mental gymnastics that barely keep me treading water.
I wish I knew this when I was 7. It could have saved me thirty years of heartbreak. And I do mean heartbreak. For me, and the people I love. My parents, teachers and loved ones watched me flush all my potential down the toilet for years and years. My husband lived in a situation of unpredictable chaos. And I sought hundreds of ways to help myself, but supplements don’t work unless you remember to take them. Routines can’t be established when your brain chemistry is out of whack.
I’ve heard ADD explained this way...your brain is an internet browser, and all the tabs are open. My inability to focus meant that I could barely concentrate on anything unless it was right in front of me. Potlucks, birthdays, anything that required planning sent me into a horror spiral. I’m only finally getting to the point where I feel like I can do simple things, like mail Christmas cards, without breaking down in tears.
My four children provided the perfect cover. My problems started long before I overwhelmed myself with a task that would be daunting for the neurotypical. Perhaps that was my strategy. Surround yourself with chaos and no one can blame you for failure. A great disguise, but no recipe for peace and happiness.
So now I’m on a controlled substance. It’s a strange feeling. But liberating.
The first thing I noticed with the medication was that I felt more patient and calm overall. I have been on medications for depression and anxiety (and indeed I am now) but Adderall did more for me in making me feel calm and focused than anything else. I can walk through the aisles of Sam’s Club with all four of my children and not feel like having a mental breakdown.
I took them places all summer long without my head feeling like it was full of rocks. We found our bathing suits and sunscreen and towels. The kids had friends over. The house stayed clean. Not Martha Stewart clean, but normal-dirty. And that is good enough for me.
And now I am finding that instead of being a detraction, my ADD is actually an asset. As a marketing consultant, I can zero in on a campaign and tell you if the information will reach a chaotic brain. Too cluttered, too noisy, not enough clear information. These are things I can spot easily. If your campaign will reach someone like me, then it will reach everyone.
Having ADD is for me, as much a point of my identity as brown eyes or my small stature. And instead of being neutral, it’s almost a point of pride. I love my wild, creative, out of control brain. But I am also happy that I have the tools to make it work for me!