The ADHD/ADD Trade-off

When I was in 2nd grade (yes, I can remember back that far in detail… even further if you really want to know), I began to have trouble keeping up with my schoolwork. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand it or that I was just lazy. Finishing it was the problem.

Lucky for me, I had Mrs. Brinkman – one of the nicest and most dedicated teachers I ever had. She was a born teacher and very, very, very good at understanding a child’s mind. If you were lucky to get her as your teacher, you got to be a part of “The Brinkman Bunch” complete with T-shirts and all. It was very special.

Anyway, she recognized that I was one of those strange kids that ends up finishing (if I finished) before everyone else and would help the other students finish their work as well. She taught me how to help someone without giving away the answers and explained to me that I would be giving that student a gift when they got the right answer on their own… but with my help.

I’d always been very organized with my desk in Kindergarten and First grade, but, sometime in second… I began just stuffing my half-finished assignments into my desk in favor of grabbing a book. Again, it wasn’t that it was hard assignments. They were just boring as all Hell to me.

Mrs. Brinkman never penalized or shamed me for doing this, but she would point out that we were all a team, and the rest of the team was working – so, I needed to work, too. I did OK with this idea until third grade.

I got Mrs. Veach. My parents called her Veach the Beetch. She labeled me as a behavior problem. I began to really dislike school. Also, I didn’t like English class, either. That teacher was decent and nice, but the work… well, it was repetitive and mind-numbing. I’d either not finish it or just not do it all. There were so many more interesting things going on around me other than this Xeroxed sheet in front of me that I had to mark all over with the correct answer. YAWN!

My parents remained on my side, but I think they knew something was going on with me. They would get discouraged and talk to me about daydreaming and not to do it when I should be doing school work.

By the time I made it to middle school, I’d checked out. I was a sensitive kid and had been bullied by a teacher. I mean… I was ridiculed and humiliated in front of the other students by this teacher in fifth grade in Pasadena at Burnett Elementary.

Mrs. Johnston.

I didn’t understand why she disliked me so much or why she went out of her way to hurt my feelings. I was crumbling inside. My refuge was ice skating. It was positive in so many ways.

So, my parents pulled me out of public school and put me in a private school. My test scores landed me in the gifted class, and whoo boy, did the fireworks FLY! I drove my sixth grade teacher NUTS. I hardly EVER did my work. By this point, I couldn’t concentrate to save my life. I wanted to make everyone happy so badly, but I just couldn’t figure out how to make my mind focus.

Finally, I sat down with the vice-principal who talked with me at length. She didn’t criticize. She just showed me some flash cards and asked me a bunch of questions. It was official. Attention Deficit Disorder. No one told me. No one labeled me, but things did change a little bit.

I was given more grace time to finish work as well as having to step outside with another group of kids every 20 minutes “to get some fresh air”. None of us knew the truth. I don’t even know if my parents knew!

I began to excel at Trafton and had the number two score in our eighth grade exit exam.

Then, it flipped on me again.

We moved to Deer Park, and I was back in public school.

I hated it. I somehow managed to make friends – some of which I’m still friends with till this very day and hope we will always be so.

But ADD (sometimes ADHD) reared it’s ugly head, AGAIN. Skating was becoming more and more challenging, and school was mind-numbing. I’d already learned most of the stuff at Trafton being that it was an accelerated learning curriculum. My exit exam scores showed 12+ which meant I’d scored as well as a high school graduate. I had great teachers and my parents to thank for that.

So, here I was… full of hormones… in an unfamiliar world… a different culture… confused… and without the ability to concentrate.

High School, other than the friends I made, was awful from a learning standpoint. I was so distracted that when the bell rang… I would have only 1/8 of an idea of what went down in that classroom other than watching the other students behavior which I found fascinating.

And, skating? I was lucky to accomplish ANYTHING other than skating laps and running through my programs when my music was up in the queue. My mind felt like oatmeal if oatmeal had feelings. Mushy, lumpy, sorta just there congealing with out being exceptional – depressed.

It wasn’t until I started TEACHING skating that things changed. As it turned out, ADHD had given me a unique approach to coaching. I assumed everyone got bored in a nanosecond with repetition and taught that way. I tried to do no one skill for more than two minutes at a time for skaters age 8 and up. For Tots, 20 seconds and that was it. AND IT WORKED.

When college rolled around, I knew I had a problem and would go to my TA, Instructor, or Professor and explain that I wanted to do well in their class and be respectful, but I had trouble sitting still for too long and concentrating. All but one allowed me to sit near the door and step out to do jumping jacks or stretches 10 to 20 minutes into the class and come back and repeat if necessary.

Please, keep in mind, I still had no official diagnosis and had no idea why I was so f**king weird about sitting still and listening to some very interesting stuff.

Also, within two semesters, I started asking if I could forgo tests in favor of papers and essays. The boredom and spacing out had real damaging potential to my GPA which I was quite tied up in. And, again, all but one said, “Sure.” They knew. They figured it out, and not a single one that let me do the alternative gave me hell about it. It’s college. They expect you to be able to write, and most were at the top of their game and appreciated my insight into my issue even though I never said ADD or ADHD.

In the end, I graduated Cum Laude with a B.S. of Psychology (yes, I know… it’s funny… go ahead and laugh… I laugh at it, too). Psychology was the perfect program for me. Despite the pretentious few profs I had to deal with… I did very well and loved it.

So, how about now, Bonnie? Did the label ever get applied? MMmmm… sort of.

I was visiting with my totally awesome therapist, Mike, and started talking about how I thought that I could have ADD/ADHD and needed to know. He’s “Mr. Easy Street”. If it bugged me that much not knowing yea or nay, I could take the test.

I scored in the moderate range (I think). Mike explained that even though, yes, I am definitely one of the people that lives with ADD/ADHD, I am by no means handicapped by it.

By having to go through life with this THING… I learned differently… I empathized and sympathized more… I was more observant… and I had adapted and created fail-safes (which aren’t always foolproof). An interjection: the invention of the smartphone has made my life so much easier. Back to the context at hand, I had managed to achieve many things that a lot of people that deal with this crap would not have had I been labeled. Humans… we love to label stuff… what can ya’ do?

My point to all of this is… my house is a mess. I still get distracted easily, but, most of the time I realize what’s happening and come back. I developed tools with help and some on my own because there was a demand for them.

If you deal with ADD/ADHD yourself or with one of your children or a co-worker or just anyone you know in general, I’d like for you to know this. It doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. It doesn’t mean life will be exceptionally harder… some things like grade school will be because it’s formulaic and full of labeling and assigning and other crap. What it does mean is that you learn differently and have a higher demand for mental stimulation.

Hell, ask my husband, Jason. There was a time when ADD was being particularly annoying to the point we couldn’t even go to the movies because I couldn’t sit through the whole thing. I would be lucky to make it through the previews before the need to move and do stuff struck.

For me, it’s cyclic. It comes and goes, but I know it’s there, and I deal with it.

Parents: if your child has been diagnosed, it’s OK. They could grow up to fantastic things and contribute to humanity in such a way that changes us all for the better just because the way they think helped them out in the end.

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