Friday, July 29, 2011

Day Three - Sins of the Father

As excited, happy, and hopeful that I am now that I'm on the road to a more centered, productive, and healthy me, it's a little bittersweet. I have a lot of regret for what could have been had I only known earlier in my life that I had this problem. I regret having been so hard on myself, and for many of the choices that I made as a result of my shaky self-esteem.  I regret that I didn't get nearly as much out of my Cadillac education that I could have if only I had been able to keep my ass in a chair long enough to study.  I regret spending so much time regretting things.

ADHD affects the way your brain works and hence how you function in the most mundane ways. The symptoms of ADHD impact whether or not you can ever be a "morning person;" how much you talk; your level of motivation to complete little tasks and big projects; your ability to absorb, retain, and process information; whether or not you can ever make it to work on time.  In other words, it effectively shapes who you are in the world, or. . .who you seem to be.

What I now realize, about myself at least, is that you don't have any frame of reference to evaluate how your brain functions. If you happen to be someone who suffers from the effects of ADHD, and have been that way for as long as you can remember from childhood, you have no reason to know that there is something amiss that is beyond your control. You may be very well aware of your "shortcomings." But you attribute them to boredom, laziness, impatience, etc. - in other words, situational emotional states or your "personality." 

Very likely, you've been told throughout your life by people who love you (and people who don't) that you just need try harder, pay attention better, worry less, study more, stop arguing, quit being so lazy or self-centered, buy a day planner, settle down, get a clue. . . .  You've been told to do a lot of things that most people take for granted are within their control.  But you're not most people.  And you haven't figured that out yet.  You just know that you try as hard as you can to do all these things, and you can't.  To the extent that you can, it takes Herculean effort and drains you emotionally and even physically.  Without meaning to, you disappoint, hurt, irritate, and anger people, especially yourself.  And you might just decide that it's because you're a "bad" person.

Admittedly, I can only speak for myself - based on my own experience - but I'm of the opinion that if you don't know you have ADD/ADHD, there is no way to know you have ADD/ADHD. Unless, that is, you are a reasonably self-reflective person and happen upon revealing information that offers that elusive frame of reference for self-evaluation.

For me, that information came in the form of my beloved child.  I'm the proud mom of two amazing boys.  My kids are nearly six years apart in age, so I had a lot of time to get to know and bond with my eldest as an "only child."  "Joshua" takes after both of his parents in various ways, as all kids do.  But if one of my kids can be considered my "mini-me," it's Josh.  Josh has always been an engaging, smart, funny, and social child.  Ever since he was an infant, I could relate to him and empathize with him.  I "got" him and all his quirks.  Like any proud parent, I delighted in watching him, over his early years, develop positive traits that reminded me of myself. 

But, of course, we all have faults and shortcomings, and though I saw my boy growing up into who I would consider a wonderful little person, I also saw other things.  Things that pained me.  Josh was impatient, pushy.  He had no respect for boundaries.  He was easily bored and couldn't stay on task.  He was overly emotionally sensitive and quick to anger and frustration.  Yes, it pained me immensely.  Not because I judged him.  I love him with all my heart and will always think he's the bees knees, no matter what.  No, it hurt me to see these traits develop in him because they mirrored me.  And I suffered because of these traits.  I don't want my children to suffer.  I desperately wanted Josh to be better than me.

Shortly after Josh started school, he began suffering from anxiety and some other issues that his dad I and weren't really equipped to deal with effectively.  Josh's pediatrician recommended that I take him to see a psychologist.  Long story short, Josh was diagnosed with a rather prounounced case of ADHD. 

I was skeptical at first.  I had believed, like many people do I think, that ADHD - while a legitimate diagnosis for some - was overused as an excuse to sedate perfectly normal children who were too much of a handful for their inept parents.  I didn't get it.  But I was willing to listen.  Something inside me was telling me that I needed to keep an open mind for Josh's sake.

Over the next several months, I spent a lot of time researching ADHD, and grew satisfied that this was an appropriate diagnosis for my son.  I spent a lot of time thinking about my little boy - who he was, what he was like.  He reminded me so much of my dad.  My wonderful, funny, brilliant, cute, interesting, engaging dad.  God, I miss my dad

My dad died unexpectedly when Josh was a baby, probably the single most painful thing in my life to date.  My dad so looked forward to grandchildren, and he and Josh would have been two peas in a pod. 

As I thought about my dad in those days, I remembered things about him, lots of frustrating things, actually.  He was constantly talking to himself.  From childhood through adulthood, I would have to yell at him to get his attention when I tried to tell him something because he was conversing silently with someone in his own head.  I'd know this because his lips were moving. 

Dad never came to school functions.  He couldn't sit through them.  He couldn't sit through anything that wasn't completely interesting to him.  Although he was a generous and compassionate man, he could be horribly self-centered and oblivious to the needs of others.

My dad had an amazing mind.  My dad - an immigrant - was a factory worker with only an 8th-grade education.  Yet, he was one of the most intellectually gifted people I have ever known, though I never saw him read a book.  He could have easily matched wits with any of  my hoity-toity college professors any day of the week.  But he didn't know that about himself.

As I thought about my dad and my son, I remembered how fragile my dad's self-esteem was.  I remember him saying to me one day when I was an undergrad, "Daughter, work hard.  Study hard.  Don't be lazy like your old dad.  You pay attention to your teachers.  I could never pay attention to my teachers.  I was too impatient.  You know, your old man didn't want to be a factory worker.  But I never had the motivation to do anything else.  But you can be anything. . ."

At some point in the course of my research, I learned that ADHD is hereditary.  I recalled a conversation that I had with my mom once when I was a young adult.  My mom told me how she had watched a news show where they talked about this thing called, "ADD."  My mom, who was not particularly educated or worldly, had never heard of it.  But what she learned on this program struck a chord with her.  "I think your dad has that ADD thing."  At that time in my life, I had certainly heard about ADD/ADHD, but I didn't know anything about it.  "Naw," I said to her dismissively, "Dad doesn't have that.  That's something that kids get.  Dad's just impatient and bored."

That conversation came back to haunt me, more than a half-a-decade after my dad's death, as I reflected on my son, the similiarities between grandfather and grandson, and my growing knowledge about this insidious disorder.  A light bulb went off.  You were absolutely right, Mom.  Dad had ADHD. 

Though Dad had never been diagnosed, and never would be, I now knew the truth about him.  Dad, you were wonderful and brilliant and gifted.  I'm so sorry you never got to be the person you wanted to be.  I forgive you for not listening to me and for being annoying.  I understand that you did the best you could.  It wasn't your fault. . . .

Eventually, as I continued to think about these two guys, my "mini-me" and my "maxi-me," the light bulb finally went off.  (ADHD sometimes makes it hard to see what's right in front of your face.)  My son's struggles, my dad's struggles. . . were my struggles.  I was the middle-link in this genetic chain. 

After all these years, I now know that I'm not an inherently defective, bad person.  There is hope for me.


  1. Most wonderful post - I love the part about how you're the link between you dad and your son!

  2. Thanks, KG :D. I like it too. The three of us in a room together would have made the Stooges look like a team of neurosurgeons. lol