I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. When I was a child, I thought I was just messy and forgetful. I also thought that I was not very smart. I’m glad there is a name for it now. But sometimes I’m sad that my daughter also has to weather ADHD. I know how hard it can be to think through that fog. I also know how lonely, guilty and unsuccessful it can make a kid feel.
I thought there was a special language — a brightness — that the other children in my classes shared with the teachers. They were “in the know.” They got it. I struggled in a fog for reasons I could neither understand nor explain. I wanted to pay attention, but my efforts to do so went like this:
“Okay, children,” my teacher would say, “let’s dive into problem No. 1.”
I’d tell myself, “Eileen, pay attention,” and I would burn brightly with that intention. But I would get tripped up at the first distraction — the words “pay attention.” I’d examine the words to see what they rhyme with: It could be “play attention, stay attention, delay attention.” Then I would start pulling the phrase apart: “Why is it pay? Why not offer, give or share? Why do we say ‘pay’? What is attention? Like an attendant? Like a parking attendant? I get that — a parking attendant stands at attention.”
When I snapped out of my reverie, they would be on No. 3. I was simply more interested in language than in math. Even when I was trying to focus, I didn’t even make it to the first step of the first problem.
Then a thick fog of exhaustion would set in. I didn’t know how to catch up. I had gotten behind, and I could not explain why. I thought I was paying attention. Then I would panic because I felt so lost and thought I had misbehaved. I felt guilty because I meant to focus. I just did not know how to engage with the subject matter.
I was repulsed by math because it challenged me so much. I distracted myself with the subject matter around it, because I was interested in words and could connect with language. This interplay of exhaustion, panic, guilt and defeat is a frightful symphony. In my experience, this is the emotional soundtrack of ADHD.
When I learned that my daughter has ADHD, I tried to be the Type A, organized parent I thought she needed. But I had to accept the fact that I’m not that person, and this condition is long-term. All my Type A intentions burned out within six weeks of her diagnosis.
On my worst days, I feel like the most ill-equipped parent to support a child with ADHD. I fight through the fog that rolls over my eyes when her wonderful teachers, doctors and counselors suggest systems I might implement to teach her to organize her environment. Her teacher suggested that I try to help her stay organized by using labels. Although I deeply appreciate her willingness to help, I laughed a bit, because every box that I have ever labeled holds non-label-related contents. It’s more of a tombstone commemorating past organizational attempts than a functional system for ordering anything.
But on my best days, I remind myself that what I lack in organizational skills, I make up for in emotional understanding. I know what this feels like. I know how kids with ADHD hurt. I know how eager they are to be found and how easy it is for them to get lost, wandering the terrain of their intricate brains.
I also know what a gift it is to have ADHD. I wholeheartedly believe that this is a strength. When I was in high school and could start directing my own studies, I began to realize the dimensions of my intellect. My reveries yield clear and deep thoughts that now fuel my livelihood.
They also make me love living inside my own head — it’s a beautiful vantage point from which to see the world. I attribute that to my big ADHD eyes — they know what they like, and they pull in interesting tidbits from everywhere.
One of my favorite things about it is that I completely enjoy my own company and a spot next to an open window to delight in my reveries. I may not be able to mirror organizational skills for my daughter, but I can show her what it means to relish having eyes like ours. And that matters.
Eileen Hoenigman Meyer is a freelance writer and blogger based in Illinois. She tweets @EileenHMeyer.
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