Note: ADHD plays a big part in my life, and a lot of people have reached out to me because I have been so open about my own diagnosis. I am thinking of a series of posts around ADHD, and what it means to me, and how I ‘cope’ with it, and manage to still live a pretty full and creative life despite (I would say because of) it.
I have ADHD. I was originally diagnosed under the old guidelines, in the 70’s, when it was called ‘hyperkinetic reaction of childhood’, then later just ADD, and it has been my constant companion since the mid 70’s when I was first medicated for it.
School was both awesome and horrible for me. Depending on the year and the set of teachers I had, I would be placed in either the Talented and Gifted Students classes, or the Special Education classes. They did not know exactly what to do with me, but it was clear to them I was not “normal”.
I had something amazing happen to me when I was 14 or so. I had just been placed in a special ed class. When you are 14, that is the worst time ever for that to happen – the social cost of being a special ed kid in rural Mississippi in the mid-eighties was too much to pay.
My neurologist and I were talking about it, and how the kids made fun of me and the teachers were frustrated with me. He then told me something that changed my life forever.
“You are different than they are. Not wrong, different. Like being left handed is different. There are ways that you are smarter than they are, more creative than they are, think faster than they do. And they don’t know what to do with that.
“It won’t always be like this. And it is important to remember that the only reason you are having problems right now is because they are in charge. The world is ran by people like them, and so they make the rules. When you make the rules, you do fine. However, right now, you don’t make the rules, so you take medicine to help you live in their world.’’
My life changed that day. I still struggled, and I still hated special ed classes, of course. But I no longer saw myself as broken or stupid – I was just in the wrong world, like a kid who grew up speaking Cantonese who somehow woke up in Toledo.
So, most of my adult life has been about my trying to get back to my own world. So, I started companies, worked on straight commission, wrote freelance, started nonprofits. It is about world creation, my trying to get back to a world where being me makes sense.
I still occasionally take medication, because I have to live with all of you people. But to the extent that I get to decide what world I live in, I am happier, more creative and all around healthier.
So, if you are struggling with ADHD, please believe me when I tell you it is a gift. You are special – not Special Ed special, but Special, like the good plates we only eat on at Christmas. And it won’t always be this way. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be.