- When one word changes everything
For the past few months, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion I was slowly but surely going mad. Events blew up around me, I blew up around me, and everything – everything in my life seems poised on the verge of some massive sea change I could sense but not quite see.
It wasn’t me, it couldn’t be – but if it were, maybe I was…going crazy? Or had I been a basket case all along and no one had the nerve to tell me?
They say that so long as you’re able to question your own sanity, you’re sane. Somehow, that didn’t ring entirely true.
So I went through my own mental checklist. Hormones. Ladies of A Certain Age. Maybe HRT was what I needed, but that didn’t answer any questions of how I’d managed to be my own Mad Hatter for so many years before All This Shite Happened.
It didn’t explain…why I’ve only recently become even a very modestly renowned success – although in a fairly narrow sphere of influence and for one particular talent. It didn’t explain my low boredom threshold for events, people or situations I felt were somehow unworthy of my interest. To be fair…I had (and still have!) very many interests.
But whenever I felt bored, or restless, unmotivated or unappreciated, a relation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Imp of the Perverse would pop up like a jack-in-the-box to stir up trouble. Trouble that would cost me, trouble that would reverberate for years, trouble that would have my family and likely a few friends shaking their heads in despair or exasperation and sometimes both.
“How could you be so irresponsible?”
“Why are you so impulsive? Why didn’t/don’t you think?”
“How could you do that?”
“How dare you? How could you?”
I didn’t know what to tell them. I didn’t know why. I just…did. And paid the price tag. For years.
My fairly short fuse I attributed to my Fire Sign-accented personality, my mood swings were, well…if not extreme, just a bit… random. I burn white-hot. I’m passionate about anything – or anyone - I care about. And tend to stay that way, because I’m that much of a stubborn Bull, too.
Never the most organized of people, I had a hard time keeping track of bills, paperwork, paper trails. I used to joke that in an ideal world, I’d hire someone to take care of “all that” – all I couldn’t be bothered with. It wasn’t so much I forgot, it was simply…I’d make a reminder for myself, promptly park that reminder on a mental shelf – and forget all about it. Parenthood cured me of most of my slob housewife tendencies, but let’s face it…I’ll never give the Martha Stewarts of this world any inferiority complexes.
Most of my classmates from high school and friends from my twenties now juggle successful careers, marriages, teenagers, cars and real estate. As of today, I own five moving boxes of clothes and books, four pairs of shoes, two suitcases (one full of testaments to that Very Modest Success), two handbags, two cats and my laptop. Within the next two weeks, I can look forward to moving into a freshly renovated pied-à-terre apartment with not one stick of furniture. This is my life – now. I’m almost fifty years old. This is what I have to show for it.
On the other hand, I had a few things going for me. I’ve never, ever lacked at least ten creative ideas at any given moment. Visual ideas (I have a background in graphic design), verbal ideas or madcap ideas. Ideas for stories, ideas for blog posts, ideas for all sorts of things. I have an ear for languages, a smidge of musical ability, verbal acuity, an ease with hard-to-grasp intellectual concepts and a quicksilver mind to grab them in seconds. And just for the record, zip talent for mathematics. I never understood why everyone I knew couldn’t do the same. It came as easily as breathing, and to me it was and still is – easy.
I have a low tolerance for ambient noise – it stresses me out. Metal music on the other hand calms me down. Valium speeds me up. Another telltale sign.
Non-conformity is my middle name – at least as soon as I open my mouth. I’ve very rarely fit into any social context, unless it were an environment of like-minded crazies/compulsive creatives as ‘out there’ as myself.
I have a unique ability to ‘fall down the rabbit hole’ – and stay there. In that little understood space of concentration and creative effort, I have no problems at all forgetting all the appeal of the real world in favor of the world I create through that Very Modestly Successful talent. Absolute concentration – absolutely. In that Ideal world, minions would make sure the bills were paid, the fridge stocked and the floor clean while I got on with the Really Important Stuff. The rest of the world – unless they were my self-selected family of friends – could just eff the hell off, for all I cared.
People gave me strange looks when I declared: “I’m an artist. I create. That’s what I do.”
Even with all of that, I still thought I was going crazy. The day before yesterday, I told my doctor the same. She granted me sick leave, although not before I promised her I wouldn’t kill myself before our next appointment. So I did. Whereupon she gave me a stern look and said – “Promise!” “I won’t. I promise.” That got me a hug. She’s that kind of doctor.
Since I’m living with a friend (of a kind who doesn’t happen often, although we’re vastly different people), I came home and told her the news. There was a long pause. She swallowed, and then she said those words that made my own head explode:
“Have you ever considered you might have ADHD?”
Only a brave soul and a true friend would dare to say such a thing and live to get away with it. Instead of blowing up at her, I Googled “Adult ADHD”.
And in one fell stroke, forty-nine years of chaotic, hand-to-mouth existence fell into place. My short attention span for what bored me, that Imp of the Perverse, my mood swings and temper flares, my impulsive urge to sabotage myself, my addiction to that Rabbit Hole of My Making, my 101 Bright Ideas a minute, my zoning out when boredom threatened me – everything, everything made sense in a way it never once had before.
All this time, I thought the problem was me, you see. I was lazy, I was unfocused, I was stupid, I was weird, I was…well, pretty much worthless, unless you needed 101 alternative uses for lightbulbs/turkey carcasses/dirty laundry. How often do you need those?
I’ve wanted to fit in and conform since childhood, and never did no matter how I tried. Not until now, thanks to that Very Modest Talent and a flypaper mind of information overload to go with it I was never afraid to share.
Smart-alecks are not appreciated. I learned to Shut The Fuck Up in elementary school, or else.
Can you imagine how I felt when my friend was brave enough to pipe up?
I had an explanation for everything crazy, impulsive or insane I had done for all my adult life. Or was it just a handy excuse for being completely off my rocker? I don’t know. But when two of the people who know me best – my former husband and great friend and my much-beleaguered sister – said it made perfect sense when I asked them for an honest answer, this told me it could very well be true.
If it is, then it makes me happy to say the world needs creatives – even creatives with ADHD. We can be incredibly productive. We can give the world all those bright ideas it needs so badly, thanks to faulty brain wiring. If that’s not a beneficial side effect, what is?
I intend to find out for certain. At least, it beats the heck out of jumping off a bridge. Then again, I promised not to!
With my eternal gratitude to the truly exceptional (and true-blue) Mette Jensen. Her name – the DK equivalent of Jane Doe – is the only ordinary thing about her.
Image: Keith Haring, “Exploding Head”