Coffee helps. Chocolate does, too. The occasional run is always good. Yoga. Nine hours of sleep. Therapy, reading, writing, practice. Sugar makes it worse. I’ve gauged temperatures, seasons, foods, other intakes; measured the results. All in attempt to figure out how to control this mind. But the equation always changes. I’ve chased myself into madness countless times trying to exhaust what seems to be inexhaustible.
“Finish the task,” my aunt said the first time I told her I wanted to quit teaching. She was referring to the two-year commitment I’d made to the NYC Teaching Fellows. I was rounding the end of my first year. I don’t think she or I knew just then how difficult it was for me to actually finish anything. My bookshelf was filled with novels I’d put down and forgotten, forgotten I’d forgotten, had been in the middle of and abandoned. I blamed it on the writing, boring characters, predicable plots. Perhaps that was the case, at least some of the time.
I started therapy in the Fall of my first year teaching in the hope to have access to medication if I chose to try it. Which I did, eventually. I swore, however, that it took off my creative edge and would elect to go on bitchy hiatus periods of withdrawal to experience the impact of my anxiety and WRITE.
The doctors never administered any tests; they gave me varying doses of whatever I wanted to try. My therapist admitted that he wasn’t so sure I had ADHD as much as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which could cause me to lose focus.
It didn’t matter to me much what I had, so long as he was willing to help me tame it.
I recently got rid of a bag of Adderall a college kid during finals week would’ve punched me in the back of the head for. At least three hundred pills, blue and orange, both capsules and chalk form. All at the bottom of a landfill in Kingston somewhere.
I’ve written about this before. Every Spring I am tempted to try the meds again, believing they will help me get through whatever annual lack of attention I am experiencing this time. Maybe it’s allergies, seasonal depression, or some trauma within me making it’s cyclical appearance.
Always, this time of year. I crave focus, energy, direction.
But then something else always happens, too. It starts to work, makes me anxious, and I don’t want it anymore. I don’t like having to need it, don’t enjoy the feeling when it wears off or I skip it for a day. It’s like a demon ripping it’s way through my veins, possessing my limbs, wanting to escape. I don’t trust it.
I found a note scribbled in one of my journals from last Spring:
“when the Adderall wears off, I can begin to feel again.”
So, off to the dumpster went my reserve of prescription drugs.
I’m on fish oil and ginkgo biloba extract now. The local apothecary told me that would help.
But already, I’ve lost you. And the point.
It wasn’t called that, you know, ADHD, when I was a kid. I was just a “problem child” who spent more time in the principal’s office than my second grade classroom. Which ended up proving beneficial that time my school bus got caught in a snow bank. I was the last kid en route left to be dropped off and the principal herself came to rescue me in her forest green Jeep Cherokee.
I remember feeling like a superstar.
Eventually, my teachers and mother teamed up to create incentive charts for me. One teacher rallied the others to fill out charts with smiley or sad faces. She herself printed out outlines of balloons that I could color in one at a time as I did well. This was a task of great restraint, for once I colored one in I wanted to color in them all. I was a good colorer.
My mother kept a separate chart for me at home that filled with tiny foil starts towards a trip to Carvel. I always picked out coffee ice cream. I loved that flavor so. Connections between caffeine and ADHD had not been made yet.
There have been times when this malady has served me very well, and other times when it more painfully has not. To begin with, I’ve the insane and unpredictable ability to focus on things I’m innately interested in. Mostly things of fantasies while wandering in my backyard, can distract me for hours. If you interrupt such sessions, it’s like hitting a scratch on a vinyl record. I don’t care much for being being yanked out of my element for inane things like...dinner.
It can take me either a very short or extremely long time to finish tasks. For instance, it took me three years to get around to finishing this peyote stitch bracelet I started, and little more than two days to bang out my fifty-page thesis paper at the end of grad school.
I’ve stopped trying to predict which way anything will go.
It occurred to me while I was in grad school for teaching that I had had an IEP - an Individualized Education Plan - a document used to classify children as needing Special Education.
I phoned my mother right away.
“Mom, do you remember me having an IEP?”
“An IEP, like...a document with goals personal to my education that I had to meet in order to move onto the next grade...that you had to sign off on?”
“That was an IEP! For Special Ed.”
“Oh my god...that’s what that was?”
I guess it was kind of funny, that neither of us had known. Perhaps it wasn’t considered that then, but it certainly was now. I wondered how much I would have been affected, felt stigmatized, had I known.
Most of the kids I taught didn’t know they were the Special Ed ones. They knew something was up. They had two teachers, everyone else had one. The ones who did know pretended they didn’t, deflected the labels on others. They had their own brand of denial that I admired in a way. I never had that kind of forceful awareness as a child.
I ended up alright, a really good student in fact, in spite of everything. At one point, in the beginning of my short teaching career, I believed my own experience would help me to connect to the kids. I knew how to make nonsensical things come to order, to arrange new information in digestible ways. To teach myself how to learn. Most of all, I knew how their brains worked. At least I thought I did.
“I am an advocate for these kids!” I said, pressing forward. I really believed that then - even with insurmountable societal structures working against me - that I could make a difference because I had been just like them, once upon a time.