I was that strange kid who knew at a very young age that I wanted to go to university. I don’t know when exactly it started, but I was working towards that goal from an early age. I used to read a bunch of different books on how to get the best grades to get into university. Many of them recommended doing extra credit projects, which would show the teacher my enthusiasm for learning.
I started many different projects along these lines. I remember one in particular, about the St. Lawrence Seaway, where I spend hours reading up on the history of the canal. No matter how much research I did or how many hours I spent motivating myself, none of these projects ever got finished. Homework too often waited till the night before it was due to get done. On the few occasions that I did manage to start an essay early, I would get significantly worse grades than those I wrote at the last minute.
It was the same story with the books I wanted to write. Even back in elementary school, I found telling stories exciting and started more than one novel. I have folders filled with half-finished stories, ideas, and countless rewrites of the same story I had been working on for over a decade. I have a ton of notebooks filled with story concepts and short scenes. Still no matter how many notes I had, or how much I wrote, I never seemed to be able to finish anything. At the very beginning, I would spend hours designing the title page for the story or project I was working on. Eventually my parents started to mock me for this tendency, always joking when I started a new project to “have fun making the title page and nothing else.” At some point, the joking bothered me enough that I started avoiding anything to do with a title whatsoever, convinced that if I worked on it first that nothing else would get done. This made eventually setting up my IndieGoGo for Young, Sick, and Invisible especially fun, since I had to come up with a title before I had even written a word of my story.
This wasn’t the only time that my difficulties with self-starting or motivation was mocked or derided by my parents. I had trouble getting up to do my chores. Sometimes it was because I knew doing them would cause me pain (more on that later), but even when I knew that I had to do them or I would be in trouble, actually standing up and doing it always took a fair amount on talking myself up. Since this overlapped with my tendency to get so absorbed into books I was reading that I would end up unintentionally ignoring my parents until they started yelling at me, they would complain that I was lazy. My aforementioned inability to finish a project only reinforced this idea of my laziness in their minds.
In addition to being lazy, I would drive my parent’s nuts with my tendency to speak quickly, loudly, and to interrupt frequently. It wasn’t intentional. I had it drilled into me often enough that interrupting someone when they speak is impolite. I worried a lot about that, and yet despite that it was as though I physically couldn’t control it. I needed to say what I needed to say or I would forget it. I spoke as fast as I did to get the words out in time before my mind would move on to the next thought and make me forget what it was I was trying to say.
Chattiness wasn’t just a problem at home however. A tendency to talk too much would follow me everywhere I went. In stores I would managed to get worker’s life stories out of them. In class or at school, I would talk to anyone who would listen. It was one of the most common complaints on my report card. What’s worse, whenever I would get anxious, I would talk even more. Sometimes I would just keep talking until someone physically told me to stop. This worked great as conversations because both something I wanted to do all the time, and a source of anxiety for me. People would interrupt me and cut me off, and I would end up worrying that I couldn’t finish what I wanted to say. Sometimes I would respond to conversations/things that happened, several minutes, even hours later, with most people being completely lost as to what I was responding to.
My grades followed the same pattern from year to year, I would start out strong with my grades being near the top. Then in the middle of the year, they would tank. It’s not that things became more difficult or that I stopped trying, but it was like somehow I couldn’t pay the same amount of attention, or like I simply wasn’t retaining information in the same way. The dip in my grades would earn the displeasure of my parents, and the fear would somehow manage to kickstart me back into bringing them up.
I think it was about grade 10 when I first consciously realized that my grades were the best in the classes where I doodled during the lecture. If I spent time drawing in class at the same time that the teacher was talking, I would retain more of what was said. Since at the time I had an incredible memory, being able to focus enough to process what was being said, was enough for me to do well on the upcoming tests.
Despite this negatively parabolic tendency in my grades, most of my teachers throughout school were convinced that I was gifted. I had a gift for memorization, learning stories, lyrics, and scripts faster than many and retaining them for a long time afterwards. The sheer amount of songs whose lyrics I have memorized is staggering, especially if you consider that more than one of them is in a language I don’t even speak. I would remember conversations almost word for word weeks and even months later. More than one of them was frustrated over the fact that despite my traditionally defined intelligence, I never tested as gifted when we were given standardized tests. What’s funny about this is that I consistently placed in the top percentages on different tests, getting the highest score at our school for the Biology Contest, and regularly scoring in the top 20% of various math contests. Whenever we were given the standardized tests though, my grades would be disappointing.
I think it was grade 10 when I realized that I would consistently get better grades in classes where I spent a portion of my time doodling during the lecture. Something about the process of drawing helped me process information and retain it better. It was almost as though I was focusing more in classes where I was distracted. I tried to keep that in mind in the years to come, and in university, I used to trick to try and help me focus on long lectures in class. Sometimes it would backfire. I would get in trouble, both in high school, and in university, for seemingly not paying attention in class. I was told to stop doodling and focus.
At some point, I started joking with people that I had the opposite of ADHD. That it wasn’t that I couldn’t focus, but rather that I would hyperfocus without meaning to. The prof would say something in class that would start me thinking about something. I would get completely absorbed in thinking about this thing, until suddenly I would look up and realize that I had missed almost the entire lecture. Having Facebook open in the background, or working on world building, or working on writing, or sketching something, all of these would keep me just distracted enough to be able to pay attention without getting too focused on anything.
Then one day my joke was met with a surprising response: “Actually hyperfocus ADHD is a thing.”
It felt for a second like the whole world had tilted and then righted itself again. Everything was the same and yet somehow completely different. The next few weeks were overwhelming as I reviewed my whole life, my memories, through the lens of this new information. Suddenly it all made sense.
I went to my doctor and I asked for a referral to a psychiatrist. It was then that I first experienced the med shaming that goes hand in hand with ADHD. The doctor treated me as though I was strange for requesting to have a psychiatric condition treated. That I was so intelligent that I couldn’t possibly have ADHD. She tried to suggest that I just wanted the drugs. Luckily for me this happened after I had had my experiences with doctors and med shaming, at which point I gave the doctor a bit of a lecture on my past experiences with doctors assuming drug seeking behavior and the physical consequences it has had on me.
I got my referral to a psych. The test I was given to see whether or not I did have ADHD came as another shock. It was a questionnaire where I was to answer whether given situations came up frequently, sometimes, rarely, or never. What stunned me, however, were the questions about whether I had ever been called lazy. About whether I had a tendency to experience a dip in my grades in the middle part of the year. All of these questions were suddenly explaining my own life to me.
My first prescriptions was Concerta: it is the same basic chemical as Ritalin, namely methylphenidate, but working with slow release. The first time I took it, it was strange. It felt like I could actually feel my brain inside my skull.
It was on the phone with my dad, when I got a bit of a surprise. Something about the medication had actually cause me to lower my speaking volume. It no longer felt like I had to shout over my own thoughts to be heard, which I realized was at least part of why I had trouble modulating my volume. My speaking speed had also decreased dramatically. I no longer had to race my own thoughts to say what I wanted to say.
My diagnosis of ADHD helped me understand more about myself and how to get things done. It explained why I had such trouble writing blog posts unless my anger or some other strong emotion was stirred enough to push me over the wall of motivation.
It helped me to find solutions for how to be more productive and get the most out of my day.
I still deal with residual consequences of not getting diagnosed sooner. I feel the need to be more productive than I can sometimes physically handle, if only to prove to myself that I am not lazy. At times I struggle with feelings of guilt if I do an activity I enjoy rather than one that feels as though it should be work – even if I know that it will have some benefit to our situation.
When I was writing Young, Sick, and Invisible, I was plagued by troll brain thoughts telling me that I would never finish the book. That it would be another example of a project I started and abandoned part way through after designing the cover page. Finishing that book, was more than just achieving a life long goal of writing a book, it was a way of proving to myself that I was physically able to do it. To finish a project that wasn’t for a boss, for a grade, that had no marked consequence for not finishing it.
Finishing Hunting Blackbirds a while later, was further confirmation that I could do it. That I am able to finish projects that I start. That I am not lazy but that I have a different way of thinking that other people. My neurology is divergent you could say.
If I had been diagnosed when I was younger, I probably would have had a much easier time in university. I could have learned better how to work with my neurology to be able to study, and not just rely on my natural abilities to pull me through courses as I did in high school. I could probably have gotten higher grades, and maybe I could have applied to graduate school or medical school. I won’t know, and I can’t know.
My ADHD diagnosis made me feel empowered. It made me feel less flawed. It helped me to find ways of achieving what I wanted to achieve and not feel like a failure. It helped me turn down the volume in my brain that sometimes gets overwhelming.
It was like a soothing balm applied to a frequently reopening wound and finally letting it heal. Like stepping out of a cave and seeing things as they were for the first time and not their distorted shadows. Like finding my footing and my foundation, allowing me to rebuild myself on more solid ground.