I just listened to Vickie Winans's gospel song, "Long as I got King Jesus." It's a toe tapper, whether you're a believer or not. It's just good music. I play the song frequently, especially when I need to know I'm okay. The stress lately has been unbounded and my ADHD has kept pace with it and surpassed it at times. I look around at restful people, people who seem relaxed and at peace, and wonder what that must feel like.
When I was growing up, my hyperactivity produced many unpleasant experiences, especially in school. I would bring home straight A’s, or S+’s for those of you as old as I am, accompanied by a column of U’s for unsatisfactory conduct. The comments usually said something like, “Talkative,” “Unable to sit still,” “Have a hard time keeping her busy.” It made no difference to my parents that I was making top of the line grades and testing well above my grade average on standardized tests. If I couldn’t behave well, none of that mattered. My father was a teacher and my mother worked in the school system. I did not stand a chance. The punishments were severe and I absolutely dreaded report card day, every time.
Things changed for me in fifth grade. Diane Ransom happened to me, and thank God she did. Mrs. Ransom recognized the symptoms, way back in the seventies. I don’t know if she had a name for it or even knew I had a definable problem, but she instinctively knew how to handle me. She saw a kid with an unquenched thirst for knowledge and fed me what I craved. I was the kid who flew through assignments, so Mrs. Ransom always had something else to keep me busy. If I was interested in a particular subject, she supplied me with books to read, and asked me questions when I was done. If I finished math early, she gave me harder questions, and it felt like a reward. Spelling words completed, I would be handed a list of “Advanced” words to define. Again, it was a bonus to be given these special words. It wasn’t busy work, it was knowledge. I learned more in fifth grade than I had in the four previous years. Mrs. Ransom stopped trying to tame me and directed my energy down the learned path. She took the time to know all of us, what we needed to succeed, and provided the fuel for the fire. For that, I will always be grateful.
There were other teachers along the way that knew how to focus me. I gradually learned to focus myself. Sometimes though, the ADHD got the best of me and I would find myself spinning out of control. At the time, no one knew what to call it. No one knew it was even a thing with a name. My parents were frustrated and so was I. Later, in adulthood, I began to read about ADHD and finally knew what was happening to me. The nervousness, inability to concentrate, projects started and left unfinished because of distractions, following conversations without becoming lost in thought, stopping in the middle of sentences – unable to finish a thought because another one had taken its place –all symptoms I have to deal with. It’s not all the time, but in times of stress, it can be debilitating. If you suffer from ADHD, then you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then count yourself lucky.
I followed a doctor’s advice and took medication for eleven years. Yes, it helped, but the time came when I wanted off all medication. I was weaned off the meds, (You must be weaned off. Stopping abruptly is dangerous,) about sixteen months ago. I did very well handling the ADHD for a while. Recent stresses have caused it to intensify with gusto. I met some new people this weekend and they commented on my hyperactivity. I thought I was masking it very well. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of seeing ourselves as others see us, and rarely can the ones around us know what’s going on inside our heads. For me, it is an every day struggle to stay focused and calm.
I passed this disorder on to my son. Fortunately, for him, many of his teachers understood his problem and worked with him. Sometimes I would have to go to school to explain to a new teacher what it was like to be my son. He was lucky to be admitted to a performing arts school in sixth grade, where he remained until he graduated from high school. There, his energies were focused on his first love, music. Recognition that he was going to color outside the lines and the focusing of that creative spark, by some very intuitive teachers, helped him succeed. The proud momma will add here that he is an incredibly talented musician and a successful businessman today. We deal with stressful times together, supporting each other, and understanding what it’s like to feel anxious most of the time.
So, yes, I look at relaxed, roll with the punches kind of folks, and am envious. I don’t know what it’s like to have everything done, on time, and according to plan. I don’t know what it’s like to sit through a movie without missing parts, where I have drifted off the topic and became lost in my own thoughts. It’s like that realization, when you’ve been driving for a while and suddenly have no memory of the last few miles you just passed. When ADHD is raging, it’s impossible to focus on everything that’s going through my mind. It all becomes a jumble of random thoughts and ideas. My wife has learned to make me look at her, when she needs me to listen. She also writes things down and posts sticky notes in places she knows I’ll look. It’s not just me dealing with my ADHD. Those around me are challenged, as well.
I announced a book release today. That’s what prompted this post. Immediately after the announcement, I was asked when the next book would be out. I actually panicked a bit. The stress and anxiousness doubled in seconds. My mind started flying through questions. The biggest questions were, “When will it be enough? When can I take a break and relax, calm in the assurance that I’ve done all that I need to do?” Thoughts racing, I drank some coffee. Yes, caffeine, in my case, helps calm me down. I made a list of things that needed to be done. I prioritized the list, taped it above my desk, and promised myself to complete each task before beginning a new one.
That’s the reality of life with ADHD. I’m not complaining. I could have far worse things to deal with. I simply have to remind myself to take a breath, slow everything down, and try to focus on one thing. I think that’s why I love to write fiction. I can lose myself for hours, never losing focus, remaining on topic and in control. In that world, for some unknown reason, I am absolutely calm and relaxed. It is a safe place, where stress is only felt when a character is feeling it. Someone asked me how I was able to write so many books so fast. I said I didn’t know. The truth is I need to write. Writing is my medication. I gulp it down without hesitation. It is the place I go to be calm, to be free of racing thoughts and hypertension. Maybe ADHD was a gift in that way, forcing me to seek a place of serenity. I find it in the pages I write and that is a blessing.