Because, honestly, the signs were not subtle. It’s not like, “ah yes, looking back now with new knowledge, I can see all the hidden signs,” no. No. Looking back, it feels like a failing. Like someone – a parent, a teacher, any adult – should have said or done something.
I’m gonna toot my own horn for a second. Bear with me.
I was a good student. Top of my class all the way through grammar and middle school, scored in the top national percentile on all my standardized tests, tested at the college level by halfway through eighth grade. Not genius-level, mind – not even close – but academically and intellectually strong, you know? I applied to a local prep school for high school at 13, and from 500 applicants, based on grades, placement test scores, and a personal interview, I was chosen to receive the school’s most prestigious scholarship – so long as I maintained a 3.5 GPA, the school would pay half my tuition for all four years (20 years ago, this was the equivalent of about $18k).
And, I’m happy to say, I kept up my end of the deal. Four years and dozens of Honors classes (including two APs) later, I graduated high school with a 3.75 GPA, and on paper, I looked like a model student.
But what that black-and-white documentation – be it report cards, test scores, transcripts – won’t show is the night upon night of restless anxiety knowing I should be working on homework but not knowing how or where to start; the tearful struggle of trying to study for tests; the loads of extra credit work to make up for just not getting huge swathes of material in classes that didn’t interest me.
It won’t hint at the shouting matches with my parents where they told me to pull it together, the accusations of being lazy, or the insults about being overly dramatic in my emotional reactions to basically everything.
It won’t show the long stretches of social isolation because I didn’t understand how to initiate or sustain conversations or relationships with other kids (and because my interests were so specific/niche); the perpetual losing of assignments, forgetting of deadlines, or misplacement of materials.
There will be no mention of being perpetually unkempt because my ability to monitor my appearance/grooming was lacking, or the seemingly endless rounds of insomnia and sleep anxiety stretching back literally as far as I can remember.
No mention, in other words, of the – now glaringly obvious fact – that I had Something Going On.
Sure, I did well academically – because I was academically gifted. It took very little effort for me to excel in the subjects I enjoyed. The subjects I didn’t care for fell by the wayside because I’d forget to turn in assignments, forget class materials, and had absolutely no idea how to study – but even then, with (often literal) blood, sweat, and tears, I usually managed to pull it together enough at the eleventh hour that I eeked out a decent grade. The fact that those grades came at price of panic attacks, days of anxiety, screaming, and tears? The fact that I didn’t understand how to make friends, how to emotionally regulate (how many times did I wind up in tears at school? How many times did my mom sarcastically tell me I should get an Oscar for my hysterics?), how to stay organized? Didn’t matter. My grades were good. I was “successful.”
I’m 36, and it’s only in the last few years – after over a decade of working in Special Education – that I’m beginning to piece together the narrative of my life with ADHD, and looking through the lens of neuro-divergence, so much of my life makes so much more sense to me. Why every setback or criticism felt apocalyptic; why I didn’t just get upset, but burst into hysterics; why I didn’t just get angry, but raged. Why trying to wrangle my thoughts and responsibilities felt like trying to herd cats. Why a disruption in my schedule made my heart race and my fingernails itch. Why the cadence of everyday life seemed to move with a rhythm I just couldn’t quite match.
I’ve not reached synchronicity yet; I might not, ever. But at least I feel like I’m operating on the same time signature. That’s a start.
I hope you stick around as I work more towards finding my rhythm.