(Actually, I’m not sure it was lifelong. It seems I remember it hitting around fourth grade.)

Somewhere around the age of 10 or 11, I started to change.

I can remember being a very happy and active small child, very imaginative and playful. I had a good humor and I’m pretty sure I was easy to get along with. I don’t remember being a slug, in fact, I NEVER took naps, and I didn’t need them. There was a time I got in trouble in kindergarten because I told the teacher at nap time that I ‘don’t take naps’ and she called my mother. My mother simply looked at her like she was a nut and “But she doesn’t,” and I was never required to do it again. I still had to lie down and be quiet mind you, but I didn’t have any trouble with that either.

But right around the 4th grade (that would make me 9 or 10 really), I can remember the struggles starting. My schoolwork hadn’t started to suffer yet, but the fog was starting to form.
By fifth grade, it had me firm in its grip. My teacher, who was hateful in the extreme, TRULY hated ME. She was convinced that I was the laziest child who had every clouded her classroom and had no trouble telling me so. All those times I didn’t turn in my penmanship papers, the oral presentation that was so ‘off-the-cuff’ because I hadn’t done the work, rather only ripped through the cliff notes five minutes before, she made those into some sort of personal vendetta that she could cure only through humiliation and punishment far too severe for the nature of the crime. If I had been a less intelligent child, I would have been put back for sure, but my innate abilities saved my ass. It helped that I read encyclopedias for fun.

It stayed that way. All through grade school, it stayed. Through high school it stayed. Algebra class was the most frustrating failure I could imagine. All my life I had been told I was smart, but here I was a complete idiot, enduring it only by ignoring it. The confusion was too much. But how do you explain that to someone who has access to your intelligence tests? And how do you explain to anyone about the molasses in your brain, the one that makes you so hard to wake, and so inclined to sleep, so slow to move even when you knew the importance of speed and weren’t intentionally being that way? How do you tell them that you can’t keep your mind from wandering no matter how you try? There is no leash for the mind.

I talked to my mother about it at length yesterday, and she remembers all this. She would ask me, no IMPLORE me to explain. All I could say through my tears was that “I forgot”, or “I don’t KNOW why”. She was just as confused and frustrated as I was and had no clue what to do. She confessed to me about her worries for me and for my future, whether or not I would ever be able to make it in the adult world where responsibilities don’t accept excuses, the same ones I found myself having for my daughter.

Research now confirms that this is a condition that manifests around pre-puberty and persists at its strongest during the teen years. It usually diminishes with adulthood, but never really ‘goes away’. Some are luckier than others.

In fact, I consider myself very lucky indeed. I have recourses and resources my mother never did. Medical knowledge has caught up with the condition. Back then even the classic hyperactive type of ADD wasn’t recognized easily, now they know that it can manifest in two ways. Boys generally exhibit the ADHD that is easy to spot, but girls, with their different brain chemistry, exhibit it in opposite fashion. The girls with ADD may not be ADHD at all, no hyperactivity. It is inertia, dreaminess and a paralysis stemming from a perfectionism that is obsessive and aggressive.

All that said, it is important that we learn to recognize the ADD girl. She is bright, very bright. She is creative and imaginative. She is not at all disruptive, in fact she is usually so quiet that her behaviors aren’t really noticed until the half-finished homework is found crumpled up in the bottom of her book bag covered in doodles and bleeding red ink. She is the one with ‘so much potential’ that the teacher doesn’t get why she is failing. She is everywhere, but we don’t see her sometimes until it is too late.

I always thought I was just an introvert, an introvert in the extreme. Now I see.

Jack ‘out of the box’

I watched a piece of the most incredible show at my brother’s house the other day, “Crossroads”, a music festival that features some of the most revered and renowned guitarists alive.  I couldn’t help but be awestruck not only by the talent, but the absolute dedication to the craft that each one obviously possesses.

I am what you could call a ‘jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.’   In many ways, that speaks volumes about me.  My mother would tell you that I have a huge musical talent.  I would say that a mother’s love looks through a magnifying glass.  She would also likely say that I could have gone so much further, if only.

As a child, I took piano, organ, violin, clarinet, and voice lessons.  I played violin and viola in the school orchestra and clarinet in the band.  I played hand bells for the River City Ringers (May they rest in peace) and recorder for a quartet.  But I am not the master of a single one.  Oh, I can read music, but not well enough to play an instrument and impress you with it.  That takes years of practice, something I have never had the fortitude for.

Voice doesn’t count.  Voice comes easy.  I’ve never had to work at that particular instrument; it just does what I want it to do.  Piano was boring.  It was hard; it was no fun, and as soon as I found it confusing I just shut down.  Violin and clarinet were OK as long as I didn’t have to practice, but I had no passion for them and eventually put them down too.  Even after I finally felt the thrill of performing with the River City Ringers and finding a real love for the hand bells, it’s somehow still not enough to compel me to church.

So, what’s the deal?  If it is so easy for me to play that I can hold first or second place in the orchestra AND the band without ever practicing, if I can play in public with a selected group of talented people, if I can do all these things, why didn’t I go that extra step?

It would be so easy to blame this on the ADD…oh so easy.  To be able to place a label on this would be a convenient salve for my self-pitying soul.  I can’t.  I won’t.  Let’s be real here.  There is a gift that those performers were born with that I was not and in some ways, maybe I AM just lazy.

If you want to know what an ADD person is passionate about, look at what they are doing when they are supposed to be doing everything else.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that many of those great musicians, artists, writers and actors are full of the stuff.

I think about the children my mother has home schooled over the years, several of which were diagnosed eventually with ADHD and what they are like.  In particular, there is one who is now about 12.  He is so bright, gregarious and loving; you can’t help but love this kid.  He is also obsessed with birds.  He can identify the eggs, the feathers and the nests of so many that you would think he was Audubon incarnate.  My daughter can name a trillion anime characters, complete with the colors or their outfits, the special powers, their theme songs complete with Japanese lyrics, and on and on, that she could practically be an emissary overseas.  I used to draw and write.  I had stories and characters in my head, every facet of their culture imagined, each one rich and as detailed as my daydreams would allow.

I wasn’t encouraged to indulge in my passions.  Even if they had been considered a practical and viable option for adult employment, I think they earned a stigma that made it too tempting for a teacher or mother to discourage instead.  Why would you encourage a kid to keep drawing when they keep doing it during an Social Studies lesson?  That’s not what they are in school for, but I think it may be wise to pay attention to what they are doing, even if it needs to be directed to a more appropriate time.

I think – and this is my opinion only – that the best thing we can do for an ADD kid is to give them some slack, a little wiggle room, but better yet, a real big push right toward what they are telling you they love and are good at.  They are just like any other kid, but here is the thing, the ADD kid has a little gift too, in a way.  They have a great big signpost over their heads that says “I WANT THIS”!

They make it so much more obvious. We just need to look.  They are screaming it at us.  We just need to hear.

I am an adult with ADD.

The missing quarter round in the living room, the unwashed dishes, unironed laundry, the tires that need replacing…these things are yet unchanged.  But after years of always being unfinished, always being late, or worse, forgetting about things entirely, and absolutely loathing the same characteristics when I found them in others, I decided that I was no longer willing to be my own worst enemy.

A few weeks ago, my 13 yr. old daughter was diagnosed with ADD/Inattentive type.  Of course as part of the process, I  had to fill out a million questionnaires describing her behavior.  What I saw was my own face in the mirror.

At first, I battled with my ex-husband about having her evaluated at all!  I insisted it was just because she was like her mother.  “There’s nothing wrong with her, she’s just like me,” I argued, insulted that he would insinuate by proxy that I was defective as well.  But after caving to his demands, I discovered he was right.  WE are not normal.  WE have challenges that normal does not face.  And those challenges are with our own selves.

All my life I have had to start ‘from behind’.  Not because of anybody else’s interference, because of my own.  The interference that comes from my head.

It takes more than one form.  Sometimes it’s the voice that says I can do it later, sometimes it’s the fact that too much stimuli like voices or music creates a cacaphony in my head that makes it impossible for me to distinguish one from another.  It makes me slow to understand directions, reluctant to start or finish projects, and flit from one thing to another.   I am nearly impossible to live with, except for those who truly love me and accept my often offered explanations of  “my RAM is full!”

This week, both me and my daughter started on meds.  It’s been interesting to watch our changes.  Hers have been much more dramatic, but I can see little changes in myself as well.

It’s easier to get up in the morning, I seem to be more mindful when I’m driving, I’m actually tackling a few really annoying projects even though I REALLY don’t want to, and I have finished more than a few this week.  I’m not flying from one task to another, dropping memories like lost buttons, unable to  find and reattach them to my life.  I seem more ‘mindful’ in general, more able to keep things contained in my brainpan.

It’s a journey.  If I can just keep floating a little while longer, maybe I’ll get back to you.