Mourning the loss of the person I might have been.
This is a followup to I have ADHD 🌧️. There is a strange phenomenon where the discovery of having ADHD late in life is followed by a grieving period.
When I was first told I had ADHD it was surprising to me. I had heard of ADHD and made some assumptions about it. I thought it would be an add-on diagnosis to the problem I really had. But it turns out that ADHD is quite serious by itself. If it is unmanaged, it can ruin lives. And it certainly has caused a lot of problems in mine.
ADHD carries with it significantly higher risk of substance abuse, incarceration, divorce, suicide, bankruptcy, traffic accidents, and many other bad outcomes. More on this in a later post... if I can concentrate long enough.
I was overjoyed to finally know what was wrong and that there are ways to manage it. But the joy was short-lived.
Fundamentally, ADHD leaves you feeling not good enough for the rest of society. Especially for someone like me who was diagnosed as an adult. I spent years trying my hardest and failing at the most basic tenants of modern life: structure, order, consistency... routine. I could not help but feel that I was missing some vital human quality that everyone else has. It not only affected my behavior in the present, but also my outlook on what is possible.
For example, in early childhood I was overly talkative and frequently got in trouble for it at school. Not only that but it tended to annoy other kids, and they unsurprisingly reacted with negative reinforcement. I became very socially reserved and anxious. I knew that I could not get social situations right. So I had to change how I approached it -- now with a lot of caution and fear. I became more isolated and did not have many friends. The ones I did have, I typically did not spend much time with outside of school obligations. Because hanging with me could be exhausting. The high school years were very hard.
I was told I had intelligence. But I did not feel smart. How is it smart to not do your homework or study for tests? I had some classes that interested me so I was easily able to do assignments and excel in those. This was evidence that I could do well "if I tried". But all my other subjects were a cold war, waged internally and externally with my parents and teachers. As much as I wanted to prove I was the intelligent person others believed I could be, eventually I was choosing easier classes to avoid the conflict.
I had dreams of going to MIT, which to me was the pinnacle of technology schools. But I knew there was no way I could get accepted there, much less complete a degree. For all my gifts I could not even manage high school well, graduating with a middling rank in my class. My 4-year college degree took 9 years, off and on. I finished at a local college and really only with the help of my classmates who had formed a study group.
I am thankful for that local college and my classmates or I might never have finished my degree at all! And in the 9 years it took, I ended up with 3 majors.
To top it off I had an addiction to video games. I could not get enough of them since I got my first Nintendo around age 10. Now I see it for what it is, self-medicating that missing dopamine. But at the time I and my parents thought it was the crippling illness that hindered my life goals.
Goals is the wrong word. I never had goals. The act of making goals is just laying a minefield of disappointment for future me. I think the right word here is potential.
So at this point I go from being joyful at the discovery I have ADHD to morbid grief. The person that I was growing up never had a chance. Their own brain was fighting them tooth and nail. And that traditional future where they realized their potential is gone forever. It wounded me deeply, like the loss of a twin brother. I spent a day crying over it.
It would be easy to reach for blame here. I mean it is always the parent's fault right? Shouldn't they have seen it? Or the teachers? Well not really, no. Considering the knowledge of ADHD was not widespread back then and my brain lives to adapt (and trying to appear "normal"), it would have been hard for them to see it. When I look at how bad outcomes can be for unmanaged ADHD, I think my parents did a great job by giving me boundaries and a compass to keep me away from most of them.
The good (?) thing about ADHD is that I lose interest in things, including grief, quickly. (Plus I didn't actually lose someone.) I'm sure it will come back up now and again (like it did while writing this post). But there is no use playing the What If game. Also taking stock of today, I am doing well. Not sure if y'all heard but experienced programmers make a decent living. And I have managed to form meaningful relationships and keep them, by the grace of God.
So the right question is what to do now.
Well you are reading it. I am sharing my story and raising awareness. A lot of people still think ADHD (and mental health in general) is like having brown hair, not a big deal. Or like the Easter Bunny, not real. Or like the opioid crisis, a pharma conspiracy. Or like spoiled kids, a parental problem. It is none of those things. If unmanaged it can devastate lives, not just of those who have it. It is torturous to watch a loved one struggle and self-destruct!
So my call to action is to educate yourself. Not every problem is going to turn out to be ADHD. But if you've done everything you know to do and still just "don't feel right" or "can't do right" talk to someone who has the training and tools to help you figure it out. And if you have kids who are struggling in that way, get them to the right people. Why waste another moment?
I forgot to add this part initially.
From what I have researched many people with managed ADHD (through medication or developing skills or both) are glad to have it. We tend to have certain characteristics that make us really good at specific and rare things that society and businesses need. Even though mine is not managed to the degree I want, I know that I bring a unique x-factor to our team that helps it succeed.
I'm left to wonder whether thinking differently is intrinsically a disorder or whether modern society just hasn't got around to making space for us yet.