queer adulting with ADHD, part one: the diagnosis

note to the reader: when the writing gets complicated, i am probably excited and cannot see beyond my own excitement. reading out loud helps, in my experience.

I was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) days before my 32nd birthday. The screening process took almost a year to complete, most of which I spent waiting for a phone call labeled “NO CALLER ID” that would schedule my next interview and the next. Since I keep my phone on silent at all times because of how stressed I get from it sounding whenever it wants, I missed a fair amount of calls even though I spent so much of my time staring worryingly at the screen in fear of missing my cue. I have since found a way around this conundrum… but let that be another tale for another time. ADHD brains, as you might be familiar with, like to digress. And I have a story to tell.

Getting the screening process started took so much, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually speaking, that I spent most of the “screening year” attending interview after interview in a sort of a surprised stupor. I hadn’t gotten over the fact that someone finally took my plea seriously before I was sitting in front of a person, then the next person, then the next, who asked question after question––so many questions––each and every one a prime example of the the kind of question I was dismissed for asking for 31 years straight. Which is to say: my whole life.

I turn to writing today in acknowledgement of my desire to unravel my story in the attempt to explain to myself why is it, and how was it, that I got to become a single 32 year-old non-binary queer polyamorist, experimental dance artist, writer, and educator who loves to read and knit, lives 2117 kilometres from where they were born in a country that doesn’t exist, and is coming to terms with being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult after surviving a severe burnout at 31 just before the onset of the global pandemic.

I turn to publishing today because of the fact that, as a queer and an immigrant, I am particularly sensitive to the many ways in which the Western socio-economic and perhaps the global political contexts make growing up challenging for all those who don’t grow easily, who don’t mirror effortlessly, and who don’t comply intuitively. All those becoming adults, in other words, who have questions and no trustworthy authority to turn to.

Which brings me to the story of how I got my diagnosis.

This is a story about the courage it takes to ask for help, about the wonder that is the experience of being acknowledged in discomfort, and about the challenge that is coming to terms with the fact that as a beneficiary of “help” the one thing you do not get to do is define the meaning of the term. This condition under which I was finally able to get help brought up the question of authority, of who I trust and why, and whether I could and perhaps should become able to trust myself in ways I am required to trust others in order to receive help. Because how else, except by trusting oneself, is one going to be able to sustain oneself after help has been given?

iPad drawing, 2021 © pavleheidler

I was reading about ADHD––I think I was doing research on a friend’s behalf––when ever-so-unexpectedly I became overwhelmed by a familiar feeling: the feeling a queer child or youth “raised right” in, let’s say, a tight-knit community of likeminded people gets the first time they find––often by accident––that there’s at least one other person out there who knows something of what they know, who feels something of what they feel.

Queerness often surfaces as a lack. The lack of “masculinity” in children assigned male at birth, for example. I knew I wasn’t “masculine enough” long before I ever understood what “not being masculine enough” actually meant or––and this I am still struggling with––why anyone would ever be concerned about anyone else in that particular way. The lack of my understanding notwithstanding, I knew early on that the effect I had on adults wasn’t the effect most of my peers had. Most of my peers didn’t inspire concern on a daily basis in most mundane contexts. Their behaviour didn’t elicit stares, was never interesting enough to warrant becoming a topic of discussion. And most obviously, it wasn’t ever stylistically corrected to be something that it wasn’t quite, and something that it wasn’t already.

An uncanny feeling follows the moment you see yourself reflected in another’s language, be that language spoken or written or drawn. The more uncanny the experience of feeling this feeling is, the older you are when you’ve experienced it and––and this I cannot stress enough––the more uncanny the experience is the more times you’ve experienced it before. Possibly because one wouldn’t expect to feel this feeling as an informed adult, one already familiar with “the human experience.” Because, after a certain age––the age of exploration is what I imagine it being called in old but not ancient textbooks––one must have experienced enough to know there’s nowhere else one could possibly go, nowhere else one could belong. At thirty, in other words, I must have experienced enough to know there’s no other community of people who might know me intimately without ever having met me. Especially because I’ve already had that experience, I’ve already found that I belonged to a some such community. Alternatively, I cannot help but think, an adult––especially an adult who’s felt this uncanny feeling before––will know how precious and rare this feeling is. So precious, in fact, that just the thought of feeling it (again!) could simply overwhelm. To actually feel it then could only ever be unbelievable. Literally, that is, impossible to believe.

I couldn’t believe that of all feelings one could feel, I was feeling this feeling the time I first read up on ADHD. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe I was recognising myself in the descriptions of the condition like I once saw myself in the description of another… condition. And because I couldn’t believe, I later realised, I couldn’t trust. Not my thought, not my gut. Not the desire to consulting my doctor.

Months turned into years. I’d forgotten about that feeling and continued coping the way I always had. When something was challenging, I’d work harder because “hard work pays off.” When conflict arose, I’d step back and wait because “good thing comes to those who wait.” In all and on every occasion my instinct was to help, to disappear from the landscape as one of the subjects and reenter as a service-oriented function. I now know my strategies weren’t perfect, but at least and for the longest time they didn’t cause harm. And they were familiar, which means a lot to a frightened youth.

And then, almost simultaneously, my partner and I experienced burnouts.

They left whilst I enjoyed a series of panic attacks. I would have stopped working were it not for the global pandemic, which closed the doors on all of us providing me with a much needed paid time off.

This is how I found myself suddnely alone, no one else to help but myself. And in that, everything that was ever familiar about the world suddenly wasn’t.

end of part one.




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