Nothing can ever prepare you for it—that moment when you realize you’ve become your mother or father, or both. I had one of those moments a few weeks ago, driving with my husband and daughter. I commented on another car I saw (technically I called out a “slug bug”…yes, we still do that). Then not more than a couple of minutes later, I made the same comment…with absolutely no recollection of having already made it.
“You just said that,” they said to me, to which I responded, “No, I didn’t.” It took some convincing, and even after I cajoled myself into believing them, I still didn’t remember those words coming out of my mouth.
Then the ribbing started: “It’s bad enough you don’t listen to us when we talk to you. Now you’re not even listening to yourself.”
As I began to apologize (for the millionth time for this very transgression), I had a flashback to conversations I had with my mom when she was about my age.
They usually went something like this:
Her: “When do you work this week?”
Me: [telling her the days and times.]
Her [just minutes later]: “When do you work this week?”
Me: “You already asked me that. God, Mom, don’t you ever listen to me? It’s like you don’t care about what I have to say…”
I’ve experienced a version of that amnesiac round-robin with my husband and daughter more times than I can remember (literally). It was during the one in the car that my brain made what could be one of the most sanity-saving connections of my life.
When my mom was about the same age as I am now (mid-forties), she was diagnosed with ADHD. I still remember the day she got the news: She cried with relief because, as she told me, “My whole life I thought I was stupid. Now I know what it really was.”
And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s the same with me.
During those conversations with my mom, she’d get this look in her eyes, like she had mentally stepped out as soon as she’d asked me a question. The same thing happens to me. My vision even changes…a gauzy curtain blurs the edges of the person’s face and my eyeballs stick to their sockets.
It seems my hearing is affected, too. As soon as I’ve finished asking the question, my ears shut down, the only sounds remaining are the hundreds of thoughts that hurtle through my head simultaneously.
That’s the hardest to cope with: the inability to shut my brain off as it moves from one unfinished thought to the next. Most days it feels as if I’m being mentally pummeled by powerful jets of water from hundreds of fire hoses, each stream a separate idea, plan, or directive, with a single collective goal of trying to drown me. When I try to focus on just one, I have to fight the compulsion to turn my attention from one unfinished task to the next, leaving partial memory-prints on everything I see or hear or touch. I fail every time.
Multi-tasking used to be my mantra. Now it’s my unmooring.
Recently, when my husband and I were sitting in the living room, I looked over at him staring off into space while simultaneously picking at a hangnail. I recognized that look and its paired unconscious action—I’m usually rolling the hem of a shirt or a hoodie string, or folding the tassels on my purse, like a Catholic fingering her rosary. I asked him what he was thinking about. He said, “I’m thinking that’s a bad hangnail. I should pick it.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Yeah. That’s it.”
I can’t even…
I have other ADHD symptoms, too, some more pronounced than others. There are only two symptoms on this entire list that I don’t have: poor organizational skills and chronic lateness, but only because I use four different calendars/planners and check them twenty times per day. Everything else is me to a ‘t.’
Collectively these symptoms affect me in another way that is so ironic it’s laughable: I’m a writer who has trouble reading. “Trouble” really isn’t the right word—it’s the equivalent of adults calling overweight children “chubby” because calling them fat is too cruel. The “trouble” is that I skip over about every other paragraph. While I’m scanning the words and sentences on the page, those fire hoses start dowsing my brain, and I’m flooded with the words and sentences in my head. I can’t fathom how many punchlines, how much context, how many exquisite turns of phrase I’ve missed in the nearly forty years I’ve been reading.
What’s most painful is that whatever is going on with me is causing my family to doubt how much I care about them and what they have to say; that I can’t give them even a moment of my undivided attention. I know how that feels—like you’re being emotionally shunned, like there’s something else more important than you and it’s all inside the other person’s head.
And so in two weeks I have an appointment with a psychiatrist. I don’t know what I fear the most—that I have ADHD or I don’t. If I do, there’s a strong likelihood that a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy can help me. If I don’t, then…who knows.
I know it’s not cancer. It’s not fatal. So, yeah, I’m trying to get over myself already.
But it still eats at you. It still alters your life and the lives of those around you. It robs you of your potential and the sweet ability to be in the moment for more than just a moment. It foils the quieting of your mind.
And it’s never just about a hangnail.
I wrote an update here.