Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD is like performing in a symphony. You struggle for years to keep up with the other musicians, but something’s always wrong. It’s like you are playing in 3/4 time when everyone else is playing in 4/4. Sometimes, when things get face and intense, and everyone is shifting into a harried double time, you can throw pull out some triplets and make it fit. But most of the time, you are just a little off step.
There should be no reason why you can’t figure it out. Everyone else has having no problems with the music. The only possible explanation is that you simply aren’t as good of musician. And so you struggle and you try to minimize your obvious blunders so that no one else realizes just how inferior your playing is.
Then, one day, you learn the truth: you’ve been given a different set of music. The problem isn’t that you are a worse musician. You simply don’t have the same sheet music as everyone else. Your tempo, your meter, your key is different.
Of course, knowing this doesn’t fix it. You don’t magically get the correct sheet music. You are still playing a different song. But at least you know. And, knowing, you do what you can to fit your song into the symphony that everyone else is playing.
Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD is like playing baseball. For as long as you’ve been playing, your batting has been… eratic. Sometimes you hit the ball with a satisfying crack and watch it sail over the far fence. More often, you slice the ball and it spins afoul. Then there are times when you swing the bat and it throws you off balance so that you miss the ball completely.
Everyone else is a much better batter than you are. Some of them can hit the ball right where they want it, but even the less skilled seem to be able to hit the ball consistantly. You… just can’t figure it out.
Then comes the day when someone tells you that your bat is improperly weighted. One side of your bat is weighted heavier along the length than the other side, so that it isn’t balanced. You are offered a different bat, a balanced one. Maybe the bat is called Aderall, or Ritalin, or Vyvanse. But it helps. You are finally able to hit the ball.
Except. The bat is expensive. You have to pay, often hundreds of dollars a month, just to be able to use the bat for several hours a day. When you go back to your old bat, you find it even harder to use, and your swings are wild and even more unpredictable than they used to be, because you spent the last several hours using the properly balanced bat.
And now you have a choice to make. Do you learn to play with your unbalanced bat, or do you pay to use the balanced bat for a few hours a day? Either way, it’s nice to know that there’s a reason you are struggling at baseball, and you aren’t just a bad player, but that doesn’t change the fact that you will always struggle at baseball.
Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD is like reading a book. You are reading the same book as everyone else. It’s the book of our culture, our society, our communal existence. But your book… it’s got some words and phrases blurred out, as if censored. From the very beginning of the book, you have to infer what is supposed to go in those missing spaces. Much of what you have to infer involves the social expectations in your society. How to interact with your peers, what is accepted and expected, and what is not. As a young kid, you don’t even have enough words in your book to understand when you aren’t understanding something. Every interaction with your peers is a page in your book where you can’t read half the lines, you can’t recognize the cues.
If you are lucky, you may have someone who recognizes when you don’t understand, and will explain what should go in those blank spaces. Maybe it’s a father who explains to you how to be sure you aren’t talking too much, or a mother who teaches you to look someone in the eyes when they are talking to you. Maybe you are lucky. But even so, people notice. You don’t understand the book that is society’s norms. At best, you are an amusement, at worst, you are laughed at or avoided because you aren’t following the unspoken rules.
Eventually, you are diagnosed. And you learn the reason why you haven’t quiet understood the society dance that everyone else has been going through all your years. In time, you can learn to write in the missing words and phrases, but it will take longer for you to replace the inner dialogue in your mind that tells you that you are weird and awkward and ambarrassing.
There’s something else that comes from reading from a book with missing phrases, however. When you read the world and have to fill in the blanks, you learn to infern with what you do know. You see patterns that others don’t get to see, and you make connections that others wouldn’t draw because they see extra the extra dots.
Historically, people assume that if you have ADHD, you are clueless, impulsive, and unaware. Others, people who are more familiar with ADHD, argue that those with the learning difference are often smart, creative, sensitive (often over-sensitive) and genuine. They aren’t wrong, and it’s all because we’ve grown up making connections that neurotypicals can’t see. It’s not easy. But every once in a while, it becomes our super power.