One of the worst parts of being me–I know, I know, it’s not just all endless glamor and fun–is having ADHD. This is not something that I mention that often just because it requires explanation which most people do not want or care about, and also because I have ADHD and I get bored easily and also forget stuff.
Lots of people think it’s cute or funny to say they have ADHD; I could go on about how annoying and sometimes offensive that is, but I’m sure there’s an article by a really earnest twentysomething on HuffPost that talks about that much more thoughtfully and diplomatically than I can. Suffice it to say: unless a psychiatrist has talked to you at length, and probably a therapist or two has as well, and you’ve done stuff like lose friendships and relationships and jobs–well, you probably don’t have ADHD, so shut up about it. Being able to multitask is not ADHD. Being overcommitted and unable to say no is also not ADHD. Fucking up your life so thoroughly that you move back in with your Olds after age 40–definitely could be ADHD.
Until well into my 30s I really assumed that most people’s brains worked like mine. I assumed that everyone else’s thoughts whirled constantly about everything in the world on about seven different levels all at once, stopping only when they fell asleep, during which they dreamed vividly in color all night, and started whirling again immediately on waking. I could not understand why people were always mad at me for things I said. If someone said one thing, but meant something else entirely, except when obviously using sarcasm to be funny, I had no idea that they didn’t mean what they said. I did not understand why most people do not read five books at a time, or why many people work on one art project until it is finished and only then start a new one. I assumed that the reason that most people’s offices at work were not covered in piles of things like mine was because they did not have any work to do(actually, in many cases, that was true).
Apparently, most people don’t do most of the things listed above. And they certainly don’t do all of them at once, unless they have ADHD. Much of what I’ve just described are ways in which ADHD manifests primarily in women and girls, which is different than it does in males. Typically, girls with ADHD get accused of daydreaming a lot, or being “somewhere else”. And there are other things, like not being able to edit oneself, not picking up on social cues, and being able to work on lots of things or read tons of books at once.
Since I am above average in the smarty pants department, it is not surprising that it took me until my late 30s to be officially diagnosed with ADHD. I had enough coping mechanisms that I was functional, it was just in the self-editing department that I was truly lacking. It was not until I lost my job that one day my psychiatrist said she wanted to give me a quiz to see if I might have symptoms of ADHD. I scored something like 90% on it, and a score of higher than 50% is cause for concern. She gave me a book to read about women with ADHD. I came back the next week and skipped into her office practically shouting “OH MY GOD THIS IS ME THIS IS ME ARE OTHER PEOPLE REALLY NOT LIKE THIS?! OH MY GOD!!” or something.
Reading that book was a revelation in the way that most things people refer to casually as revelations are not. It honestly was the first time that I understood that the way my brain works really isn’t what we call “normal”, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In some ways, I love having ADHD. I love being able to read five books at once, and being able to do at least three things at a time most of the time.
But, there are some ways that ADHD has made my life much, much harder than it needs to be.
My biggest challenge is interpreting social cues. I am terrible at them. And knowing that I am, sometimes makes it even harder. Sometimes I honestly would rather not talk than risk saying something completely inappropriate or wrong. I know that’s hard to believe. But that’s why I spend so much time alone, because sometimes I am not fit for speaking to other humans. Being alone by choice is much better than being alone because you’ve made everyone mad. Which I am really, really good at doing.
Say you are in a work meeting about a controversial issue, and you are in the minority view, which your supervisor and her supervisor are not, and someone asks you, “Wendy, what do YOU think?” When someone asks me that, I always assumed that they wanted to know what I think, because that’s what they SAID. This is not true.
When you are continually offering opinions that are not popular, even though in many cases they are also right, or true, or both–well, sometimes what happens, is that you end up with no job and, as in my case, no career, either. It also means that quite often you have friends one minute and realize two months later that you don’t have them anymore.
When I look back over my life to date, I can see so many examples of what I always just thought was me making people mad because I was a horrible person. I did not try to make people mad or hurt their feelings on purpose. (most of the time. Sometimes, I did, but those people were probably horrible themselves and they deserved it). But I did offend people often, and later I found out that my best friends were apologizing for me behind my back a lot of the time. I only found that out after I was diagnosed and started asking my closest friends painful questions.
Let me clear: having ADHD doesn’t make it okay to offend people, because it doesn’t. But when you know you have it, you can (sometimes) figure out why you’re being annoying and you can (most of the time) try to change your behavior.
Keeping my mouth shut is something that I work on a lot. And, although it is hard to believe, I am much better. It’s just that when you consider how far I had to go just to get to where I am–well, then you can probably see that the only way I am ever going to get to “socially acceptable” in that case is to have my tongue and vocal chords removed.
I can also be literal to a fault, and I do not understand subtlety in many human interactions. When I saw the movie Mean Girls I was completely confused, because I do not know how to “fight like a girl”. I realized, I would have no idea if someone was doing that to me. I had to call in some girly girls to consult, like my sister. I was shocked to find that EVERYONE knew how to do this fighting like a girl thing, and that everyone for the most part could also recognize it when they saw it.
Another problem I have, is that I do not care what most people think of me. I might have figured all of this out a lot sooner if I cared about impressing people in general. It would have helped if I’d realized that maybe I honestly couldn’t help being an asshole, and that if I understood why I was and how to deal with it, I could at least lessen my assholity.
Usually, I have a small selection of people whose opinions are important to me. Sadly, I am usually no better at interpreting social cues from them than I am from movies starring Lindsay Lohan. This can lead to situations like several of my relationships, where, because someone said that they loved me, I ignored all of their actions that said that they most certainly did not love me, because in my literal little head, I took those words at face value without considering what was behind them. Or, where I paid attention only to their actions and refused to hear what they were clearly saying. Apparently, you are supposed to look at both of those. And, you are supposed to be able to tell when one is true if they don’t match up. This is terribly confusing for me. Why can’t people just have little post it notes attached to them with that info on it?
For instance: If someone says he loves you, but will not tell you where he has hidden his sock of money in the house [because he’s a paranoid idiot who won’t open a bank account] because, as he said: “Then you wouldn’t be able to tell a thief where it was even if he tortured you”–Fact: that is not someone who loves you. That is a sociopath who does not love anyone and who you should kick out of your house and then move somewhere that he can’t find you, like an apartment where you need good credit to get a lease. Do not live with him for 5 more years and allow him to get away without paying for utilities or food. Still–he said he loved me, and I was too busy hearing that to notice what he was actually doing. Which, btw, was mostly sitting on the couch watching TV and asking me when I returned from a long workday what was for dinner.
Then, there was the person whose actions said that she was as in love as a person could be—but who denied it. Stop a moment and remember how bad I am at social cues. I know. It’s cringeworthy. So when I say that someone was clearly in love with me–that I, of all people, noticed it—can you even start to understand the level of lovesickness we are talking about here? Thank you. Finally, I did get an admission that “just because someone HAS certain feelings, doesn’t mean that they have to act on them.” My response to that was, “You mean like they say in gay conversion therapy?” That was just as well. There was no newsstand large enough to contain all of her issues.
But my social issues aren’t just limited to romance. No, I like to be well rounded, so they also happen with friends too. Sometimes, there are people who are nice to me, and who seem friendly. Maybe we hang out a few times or something, or maybe we are really good friends. People get busy, time goes by, I don’t hear from them for a while. I know that I am wont to make assumptions that are quite often wrong, so I try not to take it personally. But what sometimes happens is that I find myself in a situation where I keep trying to be friends with someone who has no interest in being friends with me. Because I am going from the assumption that we are friends, I will just cut them slack when they don’t contact me for a while. Oddly, I am not most people’s –actually, anyone’s–first priority, and to most people I come pretty far down the list. That’s ok, because I often do that on purpose. I am too good at screwing things up to want to be too important to anyone. But for that reason as well, I often don’t realize that someone has done everything but change their name, email, phone number, and send me a registered letter saying “FUCK OFF NOW” to tell me to go away until they actually do one of those things. I am trying to be better about this, but I have already pretty much given up on relationships, and I don’t want to give up on friendships as well.
Oh no. I’m being called to the door. I have to sign for something. Probably that registered letter.