My Double-Edged Sword

October is both LBGT History month and ADHD Awareness month, which means I’m basically at my peak power for the next couple of weeks. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of eight. I’d always been a baffling, rambunctious, problematic child — I remember breaking things and frustrating my mom when she’d ask why and I could never tell her. I genuinely didn’t know. I’d had the impulse to act, so I acted on it. That’s the thing with ADHD. I got put on medication, but eventually came off it my senior year of high school. Not because I wanted to or because of any of the scaremongering tactics that people try to push about ADHD medication, but because we couldn’t afford it anymore. I could probably afford it now that Matt and I are living the dual-income-no-kids life, but I’ve since learned to cope decently well without it, and with prescription drug prices in the United States being what they are, if I can manage to cope, why shouldn’t I?

There are a lot of misconceptions about ADHD. The popular consciousness sees it as just a lack of attention, the “ooh, shiny” thing. The popular consciousness can be forgiven, given that the acronym stands for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But it’s much more than that. My ADHD is a part of me, it pervades my entire life, how I interact with and perceive the world. It’s not something I’ve grown out of, or that I ever will.

It’s also a surprisingly double-edged disorder. On the one hand, if I’m uninterested in an activity, or I’m getting too much sensory input from elsewhere, or not enough, then focusing on that activity becomes the most impossible thing in the world. On the other hand, ADHD also comes with the ability to hyperfocus, which is to say that when lightning strikes, neither man nor gods could tear my attention away from what I’m doing. Of course, it’s not a state that I know how to purposefully induce, and when broken, it proves incredibly fragile and hard to get back. It’s like being Superman except for you spend most of the time surrounded by kryptonite, and the moments when you aren’t come seemingly at random.

“It’s like being Superman except for you spend most of the time surrounded by kryptonite…”

I’m also quite impulsive. This can be a great thing — it makes me a lot of fun and I think it’s the reason for a lot of the creativity I have. I also have trouble persisting in things, precisely because I’m so impulsive. Why finish this chapter of the novel I keep telling myself I’m writing when the idea for a symphony that I also won’t finish has just popped into my head? But when I do finish something, I’m usually quite pleased with it, it’s just getting to that point which is hard. It’s like my brain is being driven by a motor, or sometimes it’s more like a swarm of bees is in there. Random things flick in and out and I try to grab onto something but if I wait to evaluate it and its consequences, it’ll be gone. Over the years I’ve gotten much, much better at exerting control, but especially when I was younger, I would just do things without even being able to say why.

ADHD is pernicious. Fundamentally, my brain finds itself improperly stimulated by its own mechanisms and so seeks out external stimulation to fill the void. Sometimes that means that I desperately need to be tapping or humming or flapping my hands (this is called “stimming” and is one of a few behaviors that many people with ADHD share with people who are on the autism spectrum) or listening to music, and doing so is enough to keep calm. Other times, though, it’s like my brain is so receptive to external stimulus that it becomes totally overwhelming. Crowd situations, especially when I’m tired, can often become too much to deal with, because my brain can’t handle dealing with all the things going on around me and functioning like a normal person, so I shut down and clam up. ADHD can make me both very gregarious (once I get over my initial discomfort around new people) and incredibly introverted at the same time. It’s my double-edged sword.

I live with ADHD every day. I wouldn’t say I’ve found success in spite of it, because that ignores what a core part of me it is — I could easily say that I’ve found success because of it, especially in the political sphere. As much as I can lack discipline and focus at times, can I say that I would be as good as I am at knocking doors for candidates if I weren’t impulsive enough to be able to just knock on a stranger’s door? It’s who I am, just like being gay is who I am. And there are more like me, each with our own double-edged swords.

You can learn more about ADHD and ADHD Awareness Month at adhdawarenessmonth.org.

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