I was first diagnosed in 3rd grade at the world-renowned Meninger’s Clinic in Topeka, Kansas: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For my physician and nurse parents, this was a huge relief. Finally an answer to their son’s odd and frustrating behavior. For me, it was the day I found out I would never be normal.
There’s nothing like slapping a label “disorder” on someone to make them feel like a freak. And for years it was “did you take your meds?” or “go chill out, you’re hyper” and other dismissive remarks whenever they found me annoying, odd, or difficult. It was never about celebrating and appreciating how these things made me unique–how the intense focus and energy bursts could result in huge bouts of productive creativity. How the racing mind could sort through so many more scenarios and options at a faster rate than anyone around me and keep juggling them all there even while discussing or writing–giving me a lot of info to utilize. It wasn’t about how I could get more done in a focused bout of 45 minutes than most people could do in 2 hours. It was always about the “disability.” No discussion of benefits. (My parents are not altogether bad or unsupportive people, by the way, I am talking about one particular circumstance only).
Now don’t get me wrong. ADHD is a real thing and I always cringe at parents who both over diagnose with it or ignore it because they think it’s overdiagnosed. Let the experts really tell you. Get a second or third opinion if you must. For your child, knowing and helping them learn to cope is really important. I just wish my parents had handled that differently. It wasn’t until I got to be an adult that I discovered adjusting my working habits and lifestyle, diet, etc. would all be things I could use to make the most of my “unique gifts” and live more productively and get along better with others. Before that, I had “disorder” on the brain. It was a curse, some horrible burden God put on me for some unknown reason–why did he hate me?–not something I could overcome and use.
What really brought it home to me was events that started in 2009, when my beloved wife, a Brazilian (who doesn’t like me to use her name about this so I am not) began acting very strangely in ways that were dangerous. When her flight to St. Louis got layed over in Chicago for a long delay, she called me in the middle of the night from downtown Chicago where she was wandering around pulling her suitcase just to “sightsee” alone. Yep. We knew no one in Chicago. She’d never been before. And she just went downtown to see the city alone, at night. With a suitcase. To say I was panicked is an understatement. I woke up a lot of people that night seeking help. And I didn’t hear from her again for several hours, making it worse.
Despite searching, calling her cell and friends, etc., I did not see her again for over 6 hours, until the El Paso PD brought her to my door at 5 a.m. It turns out she’d never made it to the bus and had wandered the city on foot, eventually discarding her shoes–which fell apart–her jewelry, ID (including key immigration documents like green card), and more and was found wandering on Interstate 10, dodging semis (she was actually struck on the shoulder by a semi’s mirror and stayed standing with only a scratch), babbling about trying to get home. The Police thought she was suicidal. The gibberish she was speaking scared the hell out of me.
THAT, my friends, is stress.
Why do I tell you this? I tell you this because my ex’s biggest struggle with her illness was her frustration, fear, and pain of being told she was not “normal” anymore. That really destroyed her self-esteem. She didn’t want meds, she wanted a miracle. She wanted to be the normal person she’d been before, not some mentally ill person. What I had realized with my Ritalin was that sometimes the medicine IS the miracle, but that was a concept she was not ready to accept. Her self-identity was too threatened, her sense of esteem too violated. So she didn’t medicate consistently, she blamed and lashed out at those around her, and various side effects occurred that made things worse, not better.
Now as I watch another family member going through that 6 years later, my heart breaks for them daily. I want to reach out, hug them, impart all this wisdom, and tell them: “It is okay to be you. Normal is relative. You are awesome as you are.” To take away the fear, pain, paranoia, and more so they can just face up to their new reality, take the meds, and live a relatively similar life to what they did before. But they are not ready yet, just as my ex was. Then, as I said, it took me years to accept that I had my own “normal,” and I was fortunately diagnosed as a kid. These two people (my ex and relative) are adults. How much harder must it be for them to adjust to that idea?
What is normal? It is that label that is the “disorder” or “disability” if you allow it to be one. But it is one you can overcome if you have the patience and determination to try, to do it. It takes time, yes. It is hard, yes. But it is accomplishable. It is possible. And realizing and accepting your unique you is a better way to live than under a label of “abnormal” or “disorder” will ever be. Trust me. I’ve learned the hard way and it took me almost 37 years. Hopefully, this post might help a few people get there faster and avoid a lot of heartache. That’s what I hope for, at least.
For what it’s worth…