I have a dear friend who challenged me to “paint ADD.” It took me about 2 years, because I would start painting and get frustrated and hide it away. Then I would take it out and paint some more feelings onto the canvas and then set it aside again.
Let me introduce a brief history of my experience with ADD. As a child I lived in my head a lot and could tell that although I was imaginative enough, adults often scolded me for not accomplishing tasks. When I was in elementary school, I noticed that I was placed in the “lowest” reading and math groups. I didn’t feel dumb, but didn’t understand what I was doing wrong, or what I could do differently to be rewarded with being moved into a “higher” group. When I was in middle school, it became more noticeable that I was falling behind academically. I couldn’t fully grasp what was expected of me, although I could understand that I didn’t seem to be measuring up and it filled me with shame. As I took tests to see what could be the problem and searched for learning disabilities, there didn’t seem to be any answers. Luckily the IQ test reassured me that I wasn’t a complete failure, but it did add to the confusion of why I wasn’t performing to my potential. I built up walls and hid behind them. I pretended that I didn’t care. I became disruptive in class. If I was asked to perform with kids who loved memorizing and recalling names and dates and numbers, I stepped aside and put my feet up on the table, my face a study of indifference and boredom. If I knew I would fail, then why even try?
When I was in college, we started hearing about this thing called ADD and when I took my first pill for it, I swore it didn’t do anything. But then I realized that I had willingly sat at the front of the classroom and raised my hand during the discussion. I had participated without thinking about it and I sat thunderstruck.
There have been times in my life when I have taken medication and times when I haven’t. Both have been necessary for me to thrive.
So many of my weaknesses and shortcomings have been blamed on ADD by myself and other people. I believed that as truth, and blamed ADD, becoming bitter toward my wonky brain. Believing you’re broken and that the only thing that can fix you is a pill is a sad place to be, especially when the pill produces it’s own set of problems. But the problem isn’t the label of ADD or the pill, but the believing you are broken.
Now, as a mother I meet with my children’s teachers and gain a new perspective. It is excruciating to relive my challenges by watching my children struggle. Just because I lived my own version, doesn’t mean that I know how to solve anything for my children. They are their own people. Their history is as individual as mine and the strength they need to overcome can only be built from within. Yes, I can help and will always try to build them up and strengthen them in any way I know how, but they must do the work themselves, as with all of us.
Neurodiversity is something we should be paying attention to. The numbers are steadily rising. How different brains work should be valued, demystified and talked about openly so we can find the strengths that come with that diversity, rather than focusing on the problems that it poses in structured environments. As I have journeyed through life, I have learned that there is not one right way to learn and that the food we eat has a profound effect on our brain health, as does the environment we choose to live in.
Don’t we all ache with vulnerability and then put up walls when we are hurt? It doesn’t matter whether it was at school or at home or at church or the grocery store. We all have shortcomings and feel like failures. It is a human condition. We are hurt by strangers and loved ones alike. We hurt strangers and loved ones alike. It isn’t because we are monsters, but because being human is so complex and we are trying to navigate it while striving for growth and progression.
Sometimes I think that the way my brain works is a burden. Other times I am ever so grateful for the perspective and wisdom that I own, and know it is only because my brain works the way it does that I am given these glimpses. There are moments when understanding opens up a portal to loving my fellow humans so greatly that my whole body aches with it. All of us have our strengths and all of us bear our weaknesses, but make no mistake, those weaknesses are there to help us grow. They only spur our potential upward, especially if we are willing to see them and work on them. Especially if we are willing to recognize that we are all alike in our fumbling. Especially if we are willing to forgive ourselves and those around us who need our forgiveness. Let’s take a deep breath and start fresh. I bet there’s a way I can make the world a little better today. I bet you can too.