I used to think that the Optimal Writing Environment was a comfortable chair in a quiet room with no distractions. When I couldn’t access my private, soundproofed, totally imaginary office, I could make do in the back corner of a quiet coffee shop with a muted color palette. With these standards, and four entire children, you can imagine how often I felt like I “could” write.
Recently, I learned that I write better when I’m standing up. Not only standing up, but with headphones on, and dancing. Like, all four limbs engaged, kinda hittin’ it, Dancing. I look ridiculous. I feel ridiculous. But you know what? IT WORKS. And I can do it even while my merry quartet of mayhem hums alongside me.
Back when I worked in the flickering fluorescent paradise that (kinda!) paid my bills, I wore headphones, always. This was presumably to help me tune out background noise. In hindsight, it was to provide enough stimulation to allow my Lucky Charms brain to produce the minimum quota of Grape Nuts required of me each day.
You know why that stuff works for me? I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder! ((game show music))
I have suspected this about myself since I was a young child and learned that there was such a thing. But in the early 90s, I didn’t “look like ADHD” (though I daresay my second-grade teacher would strongly disagree with that; sorry, Mrs. Francis). I could excel effortlessly…at the right things. I could also work diligently to master something that drove me. I was in the gifted program. I taught myself to play piano. I received honorable mention in an adult poetry contest when I was 8 years old. Be in three plays at once, run a singing group, hold a job, and get passably decent grades at a high school where the mascot should have been an anthropomorphic pressure cooker? Sure, why not. If it captured me, I would capture it right back.
Flipside: I also flunked algebra, almost twice! And algebra II…almost twice! Y’all, they would not even let me ATTEMPT chemistry, my math was so bad. Turns out, college cares a whole lot more about one’s ability to successfully employ the Pythagorean Theorem, than their ability to stay up all night to arrange the score from Titanic for an a capella group (this is a for-real thing that I did).
Books, lost. Due dates, forgotten. Papers, written (pretty well!) in absolute panic at 3am. I would lose the thread halfway through a lecture and start inventing stories in my head, or have imaginary arguments with people I didn’t like the look of (spoiler: I won). Sometimes I’d plot a double major, or an interdisciplinary major, so I could design it myself. Probably my favorite thing to do was make massive to-do lists, wherein I could organize my entire, rapidly disintegrating life on a single sheet of paper.
I wonder how many of those I left on lecture hall desks…
On top of it all, I was suffering from PTSD (director’s cut/extended edition), eating disorders, and depression. Obviously, I graduated early, and with the honors commensurate to my ability and “potential.”
Hahaha, just kidding, I dropped out after a year!
I got my life together a liiiiittle better when I had to work to feed myself, because literally no one was going to help me after I Abandoned My Potential and left school (which saved me from actually killing myself, but go off, I guess). I now realize that kind of fight-or-flight pressure is when ADHD kids perform, so hey, blessing in disguise.
Now I’m 36. I have been, for all intents and purposes, a functioning adult for some time. Eating disorders tended, depression downgraded to episodic and manageable. PTSD treated like a rock star, thanks to the life-saving miracle that is EMDR therapy.
BUT I STILL CAN’T DO THE THING. And I am out of excuses. I am out of reasons why I don’t have a direction for my life outside of “keep my kids alive again today.” Or why I can’t stick to a list, or why I am incapable of getting anywhere on time, or why I have an entire craft store’s worth of half-baked ideas tucked in various corners of my home. Do you have any idea how many blogs I have started?? I have all the ideas and no way to execute them. I am constantly overwhelmed by the noise in my mind. So, being the expert that I am in mental health, I said, “I know what’s going on here…I have anxiety!”
On a whim, I tacked “…and maybe some ADD?” on my intake paperwork, when I went to beg for anxiety meds. It runs in my family, and ya know, while I’m here.
They ordered something called a Qb test, wherein I got to play the world’s most boring video game whilst wearing a bitchin’ ping pong ball hat.
I wasn’t exactly sure how the test worked, but I was sure I wasn’t doing it very well. Afterward, I cackled maniacally in the parking lot for a solid 20 minutes. I laughed even harder when I got my results: 99th percentile for hyperactivity and impulsivity!
Well, as someone who eloped in Vegas, while she had a boyfriend who was definitely NOT her now-husband, I was shocked, I tell you. SHOCKED.
I’ve been on meds for about two weeks now, and they have been magnificent, glorious weeks of clarity and productivity. I’m able to parse out the thoughts that matter, and ignore most of the ones that don’t. I yell at my kids less, because I’m not overwhelmed by the noise in my head. I no longer want a drink at the end of the day to shut everything up for a hot second. It’s mermaid-riding-a-unicorn magical.
Some folks want to tell me that there is a stigma around this diagnosis, and I just smile. Honey, I was always ADHD. Do you think people who can’t function properly get to go through life without a stigma, just because we don’t have a label? This “label” is the most empowering thing to ever happen to me (obligatory “outside of my children, of course”). My idiosyncrasies have found their synchronicity. This is my superpower. Stigmatize me all you want; I’ll be busy cranking out my new life, because I now have the means to Work To My Potential. And I won’t hear you, anyway, because I’ll have my headphones on.
Happy ADHD Awareness Month!