1985. I’m five years old, and my family keeps remarking that I have “no zitsfleisch” (literally, “sitting flesh”) – I simply can’t sit still. My teacher remarks to my mother that I’m paying attention… to everything except the lesson. My mother asks the teacher to ask me a few questions about the material. Turns out I’ve heard it all. Mum figures I was bored.
1990. I’m becoming more out-of-sync with my peers, socially speaking. I don’t have many friends. It often feels like the other kids are being rude or mean to me. At least I’m excelling academically. I’ve learned to sit still, but something is always moving – usually my toes, tapping out a pattern inside my shoes.
1997. I have friends now. I’m still a good student, except in math and chemistry. As equations get longer, I can’t seem to do them properly. I understand how it works, I understand what I need to do… but somehow I get derailed and end up with the wrong solution. The only time I can succeed at math is when my dad sits next to me and keeps me focusing on the next step. In the end, I drop math. I’m still tapping my toes.
2001. I’ve done a couple of really cool things in the last few years: I wrote and produced an album of original songs; I ran a half-triathlon (and came second in my age class). The album never got anywhere – I didn’t really bother promoting it at all. The triathlon was a one-off: fun to do once, but I felt no need to repeat it. I’m bursting with creative ideas and often can’t wait in meetings – by the time my turn to talk comes I’ll surely have forgotten what I was going to say because of the twenty new ideas that have flashed through my brain in the intervening minutes. My apartment is littered with half-drunk glasses of water and cups of tea – every time I put my drink down and do something else, I forget where I left it… so I go to get a new one… several times a day.
2005. Despite my amazing memory for names, numbers, and trivia, I tend to forget a lot of things. Leaving the house involves a few false starts: Oops, no keys. Oh, my sunglasses. Where is that cheque I had to mail? I’m great at organizing systems, but not so good at keeping them organized. I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I have lots of good ideas – it’s the follow-through that I’m terrible at. I joke that I’d rather build a new table than clean the one I have.
2015. I have four children and am now responsible for organizing 5 (sometimes six) lives and schedules. I miss a lot of things. Double-booking myself is a frequent occurrence and I usually just hope that someone else will cancel and it will magically work out (it often does.) I’m often late. I forget to do things that need to be done. I’m terrible at imposing (and maintaining) structure and routines for my kids. My husband is frustrated with my constant failure to remember and follow through. I’m frustrated with myself. What is wrong with me? While reading a book about how to help my child who has been diagnosed with ADHD, the penny drops. I speak to my psychiatrist who assesses me and says, “well, looks like you have ADHD.” What a relief – it’s not my fault. I can work with this.
2017. Things have improved tremendously. I’ve stopped berating myself for being inconsistent and careless. My husband understands now and helps me develop better systems so I can remember and get things done. I’m still terrible at implementing routines at home, but I don’t beat myself up over it anymore. My toes are still tapping and I still have abandoned water glasses everywhere. I still find it extremely difficult to maintain focus on things that are hard for me, and I still get distracted by minutiae – but now I can see it happening and get myself back on track much more quickly. I’m still bursting with ideas. Nothing has really changed. Everything has changed.
I’ve heard it said that “labels are for clothing, not people”; but I disagree. Labels come with care instructions – and I definitely needed some of those.