Reading the article in The New Yorker about Josh Thomas last week (the article was published in the April 12, 2021 edition of the magazine) I came to the sudden and unexpected realisation that I have ADHD. I am not entirely certain what made it happen, what brought this realisation about, what created the conditions for what key to fit what lock, but there it was; the overwhelming feeling found me article in hand, staring at a wall, focused on the rush of tears streaming down my face.
It’s been 13 weeks to the day from when I received my diagnosis when I found myself overwhelmed, crying reading The New Yorker article about Josh Thomas. That week, week 13, wasn’t an easy week. Almost every day found me losing my mind over my incapacity to understand what it was that I wasn’t getting right. I was taking my meds, I kept my todo list in check, I was learning from the mistakes I made the week before and the week before that, I hydrated, I slept okay, I didn’t skip a meal. I even found time to exercise. So why did I lose track? Again? More importantly, how did I lose track? How did I lose track, knowing that I did everything, everything I could do to prevent the losing of the track from happening? What was wrong with me, I though to myself angrily, and
Writing my thought process out like that, it feels like the space between the last question and the one before requires bridging more than a single space character. This is to say that asking a specific example-oriented question doesn’t quite justify–and I know I’m thinking logically here–the asking of a not-just-existential, but an existential-evaluative question. One doesn’t obviously lead to the next. One obviously doesn’t lead to the next. Which begs the question, why? Why does my thought process jump or skip from one question to the next as it does, as if the space between the two questions isn’t large? As if the relation between the one question and the next isn’t illogical?
“I would like you to understand that ADHD is not a disease,” I remember my doctor telling me. “ADHD isn’t something you ‘get’ nor is it something you can change. Like, heal; if you see what I mean. ADHD is also not a personality trait. That’s very important for me to communicate.” She paused. “Does any of that make sense to you right now?”
“Yes. Of course it does,” I responded exitedly. But it wasn’t until my eyes filled with tears three months later that something of what made sense to me at 9AM on a cold February morning transformed into something that I could feel. Know, in other words, not because I understood what I was told, but because I had empirical evidence of my own experience at hand.
I understand today that no matter how many notes I take, no matter how many alarms I set, no matter how much I medicate, no matter how much I study in the attempt to understand, I will remain frustrated by my continued failing for as long as I continue to try to outsmart my ADHD.
This is not to say that note taking, alarm setting, medicating, etc. does not help. Quite the contrary. Engaging with the practice of note taking, alarm setting, medicating, etc. makes an important and empowering distinction between an unexamined and an examined life. What engaging in all these activities doesn’t do, however, is change the fact that ADHD is, was, and will remain my life’s condition, the source of my greatest strength, my most frustrating weakness. ADHD, in other words, is nothing more or less than the specific way in which my nervous system will continue to process stimli.
Coming to terms with a received diagnosis of ADHD, I am beginning to realise, is perhaps most challenging in the sense that coming to terms with a received diagnosis isn’t a matter of adding to or retracting from existing experience in the effort to resolve a conflict or complete a challenge. Coming to terms with a received diagnosis of ADHD is a matter of recognising what is and giving it a name.
What’s so confusing, and so difficult to articulate, is the sour feeling that comes from the fact that getting a diagnosis that comes without a promise of things changing “for the better” doesn’t make for a satisfying experience in the context of neoliberal capitalism, where linear progress is the measure of all things.