Recently a close friends was diagnosed with ADHD. I have strong feelings about ADHD and had a bit of a tough time at first. You see, she is one of “my people”, those people who are more like me than anyone else I know. We get along because we speak the same language and think the same. However, I grew up in a time when ADHD was becoming a thing, and it wasn’t viewed the same way as it is today. Coming to terms with that was really tough, because admitting that I potentially had it as well forced me to rethink my preconceived notions from my childhood, and see myself in a different light.
I was in high school when everyone started to get tested for ADHD, and it wasn’t the “kids in the slower classes” who typically get diagnosed with “learning disabilities” who I was seeing coming out with diagnoses. It was my friends. It was the kids in the “gifted and talented” classes. The ones with high grades who were “pillars of the academic community”. It was also the wealthier kids, and at the time a diagnoses meant you were allowed to have extensions on tests if you needed them. All of us kids who weren’t getting assessed didn’t understand. We saw this as a way for the rich kids to get extended benefits once again. Why would you need extended time if you were already doing better than the average kid? Why would you need a diagnosis if you were one of “the good kids”? I was angry and frustrated because “If I could do it than anyone could, and they were just looking for the easy way out”.
You see, I admittedly had (have) near debilitating anxiety. Everyone knew it, although I hid (or masked) it a little too well. I would push myself to do the things I was afraid of, the things that made me want to vomit, so I would get over it, because that’s what I was told I needed to do in order to succeed. In elementary school I would need to have a throw up cup with me at all times for the entire first week of school. I think fifth grade is the first year I didn’t need it. Not because I didn’t feel like I was going to vomit, but because I was too the point where I paid attention to what was socially acceptable behavior. When I took tests, even through college, I would be shaking the entire time, unless it was either a short answer or essay test. I was confident about those because I could explain my reasoning for each of my answers. Multiple choice is my arch nemesis. I can always convince myself that at least two questions *could* be right if the test was trying to trick me into picking the easier/ most obvious answer.
In everyday life I was terrified of messing up and doing the wrong thing, the socially unacceptable thing, the thing that would get me in trouble. My brain didn’t quite work like other people, but I didn’t understand this until recently. I could retain academic information because it was cool and interesting. I loved learning and could regurgitate it pretty well because of how much I loved figuring out how things worked together. When it came to being social, handling social situations, I was a mess. I frequently forgot things. I would forget when to call people, what time I had to be home, how much time it took to do mundane things like drive places. There was a period of time when I couldn’t remember to take my keys out of my front door. It made my mom so mad, but nothing I did, no notes or reminders, could make me remember to take the stupid keys out of my stupid door. I used to get so frustrated with myself because I couldn’t understand how I could remember the Krebs cycle but failed to remember that it takes 30 minutes to get home from Rockville. I would constantly put things down and forget where they were, or that I had even been using them in the first place.
But I never considered that I may have ADHD. That’s not what ADHD was, or at least that’s not what we were told that it was. I spent 40 years, well, closer to 35, thinking that I was an awful person. Thinking that I was the dumbest smart person I knew. Thinking that I did these things because I didn’t care about the people around me. It was awful. Knowing this now I can recognize the tools I have taught myself over the years to mask my issues. I spent 10 years trying to find the right one, but I have a calendar that works for me and my family that is my lifeblood. I cannot function without it. Before I even knew I had ADHD I would tell people that if it’s not on my calendar it doesn’t happen. I make follow-up appointments when I am leaving current appointments, because if I don’t they wont happen. My last physical was three years ago, but I swear to you it was last year. I get my hair cut once a year because… time doesn’t mean much for things like that. I have learned to communicate with my family and my coworkers how my brain is working if I am having a tough time, and I know what I need to do to help get back to my normal. I don’t plan on taking meds because I am content with how my life works right now ,so I don’t need a formal diagnosis, but knowing that I am ADHD neurodivergent has completely changed my life, for the better. I like myself a lot more now. I understand myself more now. I give myself a lot more grace.