I swear, I’m almost done with this.
So, a wee while ago, I got me a new & shiny adult ADHD diagnosis. It’s been utterly awesome. Seriously, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.
First and foremost, it has given me a clue as to WHY almost everyone seems to zig when I zag. They’re not being weird at me: their brains are literally wired differently. They are not better actors than me, better able to fall into an inexplicably difficult (and often crushingly boring) part for the sake of having a quiet life; they are being themselves. They don’t have to act. Incredible as it may sound, the factory-standard “normal” is their natural setting.
They can’t help that, anymore than I can help being me, and that explains a hell of a lot. When I try to explain to them that I don’t feel X, that I don’t wanna do Y, or that Z doesn’t really work for me and they don’t believe me, it’s not a reflection of the value they place on my words. They have only one point of view on the world, same as I do. Unlike me, though, they believe that point of view to be universal. I’m not better than them, better able to empathise, more perceptive. I simply live with constant, daily reminders that other points of view exist. They live surrounded by people broadly like them, so they don’t. It’s an exposure issue. When they assume that “everyone does/is/feels/thinks X”, their are often almost right. It really depends on the acceptable margin of error one is willing to assign to that word, “everyone”. The impact of their conviction on our connection depends both on their willingness to have it shaken, on how far removed it is from my reality, and on how much of a barrier it builds around me, or between us.
For instance, I have had months-long “conversations” with people about the purpose and future of this blog. What that has generally boiled down to was them lecturing me at length about why I should do things I would hate in order to achieve goals that are not in fact my goals. When I’ve tried to explain that fact to them, the vast majority of them insisted that I was wrong. I want what they want, and if I state otherwise then I’m lying, to myself or to them. I found that annoying, excruciatingly disrespectful, and, eventually, a deal breaker – I cannot be friends with people who believe me to be other than I am, to be pretending, no matter how often I tell them otherwise. I don’t have a solid definition of “friendship,” but I’m sure it isn’t an endless fight to have your reality recognised.
I wonder now if they ADHD diagnosis would have helped me be more tolerant, or helped them understand. I doubt it. Chances are that the same people would have seen it as a flaw in me, a problem I can learn to overcome if I only work hard enough. I could be just like them, if only I tried!
Problem is, I don’t want to. I fucking love my brain, even when it hurts. I love the speed at which it operates. I love the way it can spot patterns and connections, however tenuous, and lead me on wild, exciting tangents. I love its ability to immerse itself into an activity, erasing the passage of time into an all-consuming now; yes, it may make me late for dinner, but now is when life happens and my brain naturally lives there. I got me a factory-issued Zen brain: how cool is that? And – not very Zen, I know – I absofuckingluely love the fact that my inner life is so vivid; I’d take my inside-of-the-pinball-machine emotional landscape over anyone’s Monet-inspired watercolour, thankyouverymuch.
I don’t love the fact that my memory is shite, that I lose things all the time, that making myself do chores is a little slice of hell, that my ability to focus and energy levels oscillate wildly. I don’t like the Achille’s heel of my rejection-sensitive dysphoria. But I can live with all that as a more than acceptable trade-off for having the most fun brain ever. Without the diagnosis, I would have never known how lucky I am.
I would also have never known how much of a giant pain in the ass I can be to those who don’t operate like me. I now have a list of basic human traits I don’t have and functions I can’t perform, or that I perform so wildly differently that it can still be an issue. That’s a problem when dealing with neurotypical people, particularly if an environment is not accepting, but it can become even more of an issue when dealing with people whose neurodivergence doesn’t match mine. In particular, some of my favourite people are on the autistic spectrum. We like each other a lot, but our brains are quite simply not designed to play well together. Knowing that fact has enabled us to have open and honest discussions about our needs, so we can try and meet in the middle instead of driving each other up the wall.
This is important: we sat down, brought out our baskets of needs and issues, spread them on the table, and talked about how we can meet as many of them as much as we can, together, so we’re all as happy as we can be, both with ourselves and with each other. The final result may look something like us masking our neurodivergence in order to function, but it isn’t: it is an entirely different process that embraces who we are. Its goal is to help us be ourselves and work together. We are creating a space in which we can both be and do. I’m 44, and I’ve never had that before. I’ve always had to choose, and sometimes the choice has been fucking expensive. What I have here and now is comfortable and comforting in a way that I can’t even begin to explain to people who’ve never had to act like someone else just in order to be. It’s home. I’m home.
A few months ago, I sat and listened to a self-defence instructor lecture us on “othering.” What she said was: “I can teach those people how not to be othered.” It hit me like a brick to the face at the time, but I wasn’t quite sure why. I knew I was one of “those people”, and I also knew that her cis/het/mono/white/anglo/upper-middle-class solution wasn’t going to work for me. I know how to pretend that I am what I’m not; that’s how I survived my childhood. I know how to “fit in,” more or less. I know how to “function”. I also know how much that hurts, the barrier it builds between you and the world, you and your loved ones, and you and yourself. Instead of being othered by others, you’re othering yourself; it may help you survive, but it won’t help you thrive. Where there is no acceptance, there can be no love. All there is is the endless grind of performing, performing, performing, while the person you really are lies not just unloved, but literally unlived.