ADHD, anxiety, brain, change, getting older, hope, loss, lost, memory, mental health, neurodivergent, regret, sadness, time, truth
I’ve just been diagnosed with ADHD-C.
This is the first time I have written about it.
It’s all new, not because I don’t know what it is or how it is, or what it looks like. But because I now see the cracks and imperfections in the lens through which I have viewed the world since I was very young. I thought I was seeing the truth, gained through hours of hard-thought insights and late night searching, impressive analysis and difficult acceptance. A reluctant embedding of trauma and its effect, radiating out from a central point – a central person – into the future-past. Into my teens. Into my adulthood. Into my time-puddled brain. But now… Truth is a coin which has been balanced on its edge for 48 years.
Now I am staring down 50 and looking back over roads travelled, dug-up, re-paved and closed for repair, and I’m thinking: “who was this person who lived my life?” and “who am I now that it’s too late to be anyone else?”
I’ve been watching some YouTube videos from Joe Nierman aka Good Lawgic, a New York lawyer who talks about life, law, faith and ideas (go to https://www.youtube.com/@GoodLawgic). He triggered some thoughts.
The first thought came after he noted that when we are surrounded by people who have similar incomes to us, there is no envy. Envy only occurs when there is a mix of people who live in poverty alongside people who have visible signs of wealth. We compare. A situation which can be comfortable and acceptable to us in isolation can become intolerable to us when we see how others have it better.
The second thought came from a guest of his who said that the vast majority of the developed world live in more comfort and security now than did past kings and queens. For the most part, even those who feel that they are on the lowest rung in this laddered society have access to a roof over their head that someone else built, and warm food that they don’t have to grow or kill. There are plenty in the world who don’t, but then there are plenty who do.
What do these two ideas do for me?
One of my reactions to the ADHD diagnosis is to feel excluded from success. The firefly messages all around me tell a narrative of hard work, focus and social skills.
Successful people study and work long hours, they form valuable relationships and learn to manage people. They are young. They are driven. I cannot relate to any of that, except for the driven part. And I think that my laser focus on Netflix binges, the optimal organising concept for my kitchen drawer, or the difference between 30 shades of blue paint are not likely to form transferable skills.
Successful people also frame any weaknesses in these areas into acceptable benefits. Like the woman who says with mock-reluctance that her weakness is a tendency to work too hard, or the guy who says that his weakness is his perfectionism. Here are attributes masked as weakness. A self-aware nod to the seedier side of work culture, and a way to provide an under-the-table look at the traits which an employer could exploit.
I don’t understand these stories – they are not about me, my brain, or my work. Attention to detail for me is a spot-luck process. I can proof a book perfectly, but send an email to the wrong person. I can work for 14 hours straight on a relatively unimportant or non-urgent task which should really be flipped in an hour; then I can procrastinate and unproductively pick at a time-critical job worth a great deal of money. Even now, I am writing this blog post instead of working on a portfolio entry for my Chartership programme. This post is optional and no one is waiting for it; my first submission deadline for my Chartership is 6 weeks away and I am desperate to get it finished on time.
Is it any wonder that I look into the aquarium world of work and see only sharks and sharps? I have long joked that I am unemployable, and my current boss is a saint. Now I feel that the joke is on me. And here come the thoughts, a tsunami of doubt and fear and loss and disappointment, and never, never, never. Never gonna be successful. Never gonna be that woman in the great suit running the boardroom. Never gonna be earning that great salary with that smooth company car. Never gonna be doing the exciting work, the interesting work, the work that might make me feel like I have a purpose and a reason.
But then I come back to Joe and Scott. And the idea that we become unhappy not because we are in unhappiness, but because we are not comparing ourselves favourably to the narrative superheroes.
I am now looking for stories of success that come from working differently, thinking differently. I have discovered that there is a whole world of ADHD entrepreneurs and people who have success at holding down and thriving at work. When I compare myself to this group, I feel much better. There is hope here.
So, what about the second idea? The one about looking at the hardship of the past before judging the apparent hardship of the present?
I am finding myself looking back at my life in terms of wasted decades and lost potential. If only teachers had seen the signs, if only my parents had spent time listening to me, if only the internet had been around, if only the guardians and practitioners around me had known about ADHD and the subtleties of its expression in girls. If only the world had been able to look neurodivergence in the eye and not flinch. In the 80s and 90s, that simply could not have happened. My younger self was lost to the waves.
And so I dwell. I am sinking into my memories, my toes curling in the silt of long-ago slights and losses and inflicted cruelties.
But then I come back to my new idea.
A new idea is like a new structure to build around your story – a structure that only I can build and a story that only I have the right to write. I make a cup of tea and I work out a way forward.
I’ll try not to compare myself to ideas or people who are different from me.
Instead, I will compare where I am today to the darkness of a time when I couldn’t see the way forward. Today, I am in a better place.