Everybody has those few moments of shining brilliance that stand out like beacons in their memory; even I do. What I also have, though, are equally clear memories of epic derpitude.
Second grade: Miss Martin crawling my ass because of the way I put the rick-rack on my pantyhose-egg Easter project. I liked my egg; I hadn’t realized there was a right or a wrong way to put rick-rack on a pantyhose container; guess I was mistaken. The term “absent-minded” was used.
Fifth grade: Gazing out the window on a balmy spring afternoon, only to be record-scratched back to the present by the dread sound of my name being called. For what? To answer a question? Was it a fire drill? Perhaps my hair was on fire? My panic was equal to any of the three.
Eleventh grade English: I trudged to Mrs. Little’s desk for a book report. The look of brow-raising contempt on her face as I held the book out to her was my first indication that I’d done something wrong. She took the book gingerly, like a foul thing, and for the first time I was introduced to the concept of class reading lists. My classmates had evidently been aware of this since the beginning of the year. Suffice it to say, my book wasn’t on the list.
Eleventh grade English, part II: We’d been studying haiku, a lesson which terminated with each of us standing and reciting one of our own composition. I was chosen to follow Rusty, a rough country boy who’d just delivered an unexpectedly delicate and lovely haiku. I don’t remember mine, but the subject was dawn and the feeling when one witnesses the birth of a new day. As I finished, Mrs. Little, evidently still annoyed by the book report, said, “You’re never up at dawn, are you?” Honesty compelled me to admit I never had been, and I was allowed to retake my seat.
Eleventh grade English, part III: We were called upon to grade each others’ assignments by passing them back one seat. Billy got mine. Now, Billy was a smart guy and, I thought, a stand-up guy as well. Therefore I couldn’t understand why he felt the need to clarify with Mrs. Little that it was unacceptable for me to have responded to the short essay question with dialogue from the previous night’s episode of Miami Vice. (I still have no idea how that happened.)
My mother had long since resigned herself to my average and below-average grades (though a memorable reaction from her when I brought home my first failing report card stays in my memory) and bewildered reports from teachers mentioning my potential if I would only apply myself. Apply myself. I had no idea how. I wasn’t even sure what that meant. As early as seventh grade, some of my classmates already knew where they were going to go to college and what they wanted to study. I could barely keep track of assignments due the next day. I tried to pay attention in class, but very little held my interest. My mind drifted and I would savagely yank it back, only to find it drifting again. I floated through school, very much on a day-to-day basis. I doodled. I’m sure I daydreamed. One teacher told my mother that I hid a paperback inside my textbook, but I can state that that never happened. I’d have been far too afraid to try something like that. That was too … premeditated, and none of what I did was premeditated. I didn’t act, I reacted.
The teachers eventually gave up. I’d been in a gifted and talented program in elementary school, due, I guess, to a small talent with drawing, but it ended and was never mentioned again. Within a couple of years, my difficulty with mathematic concepts landed me in what I now realize was a special ed class with two boys. We didn’t do anything (literally, we did nothing. The teacher was an elderly woman and rarely showed up. We drew on the board, mostly). I transferred the next year and found myself…floating. Even if I’d realized I needed help, I wouldn’t have known where to turn. I thought my experience was normal, and that my difficulties were because I was stupid. Hell, that’s what my teachers thought, and I had no better explanation. I had no choice but to go with it. I muddled through my classes, sporadically turning in assignments (one teacher showed my poor mother columns and columns of assignments I’d apparently just ignored. I probably tuned out the class instructions).
Despite these lowlights, I managed to graduate from high school and on time, though I was nobody’s idea of a scholar. College never crossed my mind, though I attempted trade school for a semester. I left to go work and then got married. My husband, a born educator, helped me to realize that the problem was not low intelligence (that’s another post!) but that assurance was empty. I remembered the helpless feeling of my mind drifting away, and the problem had hounded me through my work life. I’d lost jobs because of it, and had never been able to even hang onto a hobby. The thought of having children and all that goes along with it was quite out of the question.
Twenty years went by, and a chance conversation on an internet forum flipped a switch in my mind. I’d heard of attention-deficit disorder, but I’d only applied it to little kids. When I read a list of symptoms and tendencies, though, I realized that nearly every one of them described me, for as far back as I could remember. I read more about it, and it explained everything. To say it was a revelation is a hilarious understatement. It was as though someone had written an article with the express purpose of explaining me to myself.
That was five or so years ago. I’d love to report that everything has changed, that I immediately began to apply myself and got a better job and a better house and a better car and an education. None of those things has happened. I struggle every day. I take Adderall when I can afford it, and it helps. I use the coping mechanisms that I spent my life unwittingly developing. I ask for understanding and sometimes I get it. The main change is that I go easier on myself now. I’m not stupid; I never was. I know my limitations and how to work around them, and I’m a lot more comfortable asking for help. ADD explains me, but it doesn’t define me.