“By the power of Grayskull”

I failed grade 1. Now there’s a confession for you. Grade 1 French immersion to be exact, but nobody but me really cares about that distinction. When this comes up with my kids, who are smugly satisfied when reminded of my failure, partly because it justifies any past, current or future failure on their part, I get deadly serious, “Grade 1 is when they separate the wheat from the chaff.” That only heightens their satisfaction, and they come away from that conversation feeling pretty damn successful for all—they crushed grade 1!

Why did I fail? Like any of life’s great mysteries, there are many JFK-like theories floating around and it’s likely related to a summation of a few: couldn’t hear the teacher (went on to get two sets of tubes implanted in my eardrums), didn’t want to hear the teacher (daydreams and my make-believe realities where He-Man deferred to me for muscle were far more interesting), or heard the teacher but my brain simply didn’t process what she was trying to peddle. 

Various teachers throughout the years wanted my mom to get me assessed to see if I had ADD, or ADHD, which was more likely. I’m sure they thought medication was the answer. To quote Eminem, “To help your ass from bouncing off the walls…” I always had a ton of energy, waking at 5:00am for as long as I can remember, restless, anxious for my day to get started in a meaningful, active way. It’s no wonder I was drawn to sports, an easy excuse to give my body, and in turn my mind, what it needed. And of the sports I was drawn to, tennis and soccer were at the top. Easy to see why the constant action and running required within those sports held my focus, whereas baseball, as great as a game as it is, gave me too much space and time to forget my role within the game.

It was around high school I realized I learned differently, which meant I had to study differently. Classroom instruction and reading meaty, hardcover textbooks didn’t quite land, my mind easily drifting like a jellyfish in the current of tangental fantasies, and in order to focus in on what I was learning I had to either write out what I was trying to learn or design my own tests that forced me to come up with the right answers. It was around this time I realized I could use music, but the right music (Blue Rodeo, Garth Brooks, Norah Jones, Counting Crows), to help me block out distractions, focus.

In my late twenties, my job requiring me to be at a desk for eight hours a day, I realized it was much like fly tape. Too static, too sticky. Each day I would fight the urge to get up and be active because the expectation, by bosses who came before me and who will come after, is that we all fit into a tidy box. We all learn the same, work the same, think the same, eat the same, sleep the same. It was only when I started running in the mornings or at lunch that I felt, having burned off 500 calories, that I could settle into my chair, that I wasn’t “bouncing off the walls.” Running during a workday is a not a choice for me. I am a better, more settled person, when I do. I equate it to taking a pill, only the onset of action is immediate. My head is clearer. My focus comes easier. My heart beats easier. It also provides my brain with a much-needed break, the action of running for me was has always been meditative.

Why didn’t my mother ever get me tested for ADHD? She was afraid of the label. She didn’t think I needed it. She didn’t want me to be medicated. I am so grateful now she gave me the space to figure “me” out on my own, and learn what works and doesn’t work for my brain. Because I didn’t grow up with a diagnosis, burned by any stigmas that came with It or the limitations we are taught, I find myself, most days (unless I lost my keys, or wallet, or both), thinking mainly about the benefits of (undiagnosed) ADHD.

  1. I have the ability, as do many with ADHD, to hyperfocus on things I am truly passionate about. I must be choosy how I spend my time, but when I find my thing (or things) I need to be given room to deep dive into them.
  2. I have a lot of interests, too many interests, so there will never be enough days in my life for me to do all the things I want to do.
  3. I have so much energy that when I harness it, on my best days, I can accomplish more than the average human, even He-Man.
  4. My mind veers towards impulsivity, which, from a creativity perspective, can help me push beyond the literal, or what is logical. In art, and life, I see so many choices and pathways for expression and happiness.

I recently attended a talk on neurodiversity. That was a new term for me, and truthfully I didn’t know much about it prior. It always amazes me how names can shape our impressions of things (smallpox=good, Mosquito Creek Road=bad), and neurodiversity is no exception. A wonderful word sandwich. The definition alone, according to Harvard Health, is inspiring: Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits. When you read it, do you not think that is the point of individuality, that we all have different reactions to the world, and there is no single right way of thinking and learning? Is it not empowering, rather than limiting?

It took me 44 years to fully embrace my differences, to quit apologizing for them, to be easier on my distracted, slightly dyslexic self. I will spend the next 44 years, or until I am 88 and have no choice but to finally sit still, raising my He-Man power sword, embracing neurodiversity, using it to bring out the best in myself and others.

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