I had this conversation with my Dad the other day about ADHD. I told him I had been diagnosed by a psychiatrist at age 34 and didn’t think much of it at the time. This was likely some sort of ADHD response as well. I explained to him what ADHD was and how I have the inattentive variety. I also told him that inattentive ADHD was probably not even a diagnosis when I was in grade school, in the mid to late 1970’s. This is how I kept it under the radar and wasn’t diagnosed until much later.
This is significant because as I got older my Dad would help me with my homework, usually math homework. This led to a lot of strife and conflict because I typically struggled with math, which I believe is fairly common among kids with ADHD. We argued a lot because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t understand. I knew I needed help with my math homework, but I also dreaded the after-dinner review of my homework because my recollection was I usually got it wrong.
These scenarios continued until high school. In high school I got extra help from either the teacher or a tutor. However, the constant strife impacted my relationship with my Dad for some time to come. It became one more thing to be angry about. The anger became my armor and I used that to protect myself from the fact that my approach to school was a bit flawed.
I’ll explain my process and how this evolved from junior high into high school. Out of the seven or eight classes we had in a day, I would pick which ones I could actually focus on, the ones I felt I had a chance of getting good grades in. These were usually English, social studies, writing, history, anything verbally oriented where I could write. I understand why I had so much difficulty with math. I’m not sure what happened with science, I always found it uninteresting. Typically, I would fall behind and stay behind. And physics? Nope. During my senior year in high school, I viewed physics as a combination of math and science which was like my two most despised enemies trying to double team me in a Texas cage match.
The obstacle is the world is not set up for us; we use our initiative to find ways to navigate it. Some of us are lucky enough to have jobs where we can do things our own way and we can incorporate ADHD into our work life. Some of us have to manage in positions where our gifts are not featured and our deficits are exposed on a daily basis. These are not the jobs for us.
While being constantly behind was stressful, it was also routine. It became another point of contention at home. There were plenty of other things to fight about at home, but that was a perennial that could always be counted on. I went into every school year at a deficit, knowing I was only going to apply myself to maybe 60% of the classes I was taking. My SAT’s were so imbalanced I had to do a summer school session before the college I wound up going to would fully accept me. Metaphor for life?
I explained this to my Dad so he could better understand me. I’m 51 and he’s 90 and neither of us are getting any younger. I wanted him to understand there were genuine scientific and psychological reasons for my behavior. This gave him pause because he didn’t know what ADHD was. He wondered what he could have done differently to help the situation, even allowing his job back then didn’t help. We were a military family and moved every two to three years. This in turn gave me pause because I didn’t know what to expect from this conversation.
Side Note: My brilliant partner of 13 years mentioned more than once this could be a very useful and healing conversation for both of us (I mention her more and more often in these blog posts, we should probably collaborate at some point…)
I explained it to him and he thanked me several times for doing so. He was completely receptive and appreciative I told him. I think this helped us both considerably. It helped me because I was heard and understood, which was really all I wanted. I had been sitting on this for a long time and I have only very recently started to truly recognize the impact of ADHD in my life. Strange thing, including my family in my situation was genuinely helpful.
I suppose part of the reason I told my Dad was also to let him know I was not a maladjusted child miscreant who just refused to listen. There is always a reason for oppositional behavior in kids, particularly if it is ongoing. The thing about ADHD is we either blame ourselves for our deficits or we blame others. I thought I chose the latter, but it was actually a somewhat destructive combination of the two. This would make progress difficult for me in my early adult years. The lopsided imbalances continued, just as they did throughout school.
One of the many takeaways here is most employers aren’t looking for employees who are focused on sixty or seventy percent of their assigned duties. I spent my twenties trying to fool people into hiring me. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Where things really went sideways is when we both realized we weren’t getting what we wanted. What followed was a series of jobs I hated right up until I went to graduate school in 2001. That is 10 years of hating my professional life, yet not knowing why I just couldn’t find my niche.
My goal was to make some peace with my Dad and we were able to do so. My observation is ADHD can be so completely underground for a great number of people. It was important to me to explain this to my Dad in order to further shed light on some difficult times. Unrecognized or undiagnosed ADHD can wreak havoc in both personal and professional settings. If you or those close to you suspect you may have ADHD, make the effort and look into it. Knowing and awareness are the beginnings of managing ADHD. You can’t fix the issue until you identify the issue.