The last time it was a contact from a former coworker about his graduation from law school that got me started thinking about lost time and whether I’m where I thought I’d be career-wise by now.
Long story short, I failed miserably at that job. There were a number of factors, but suffice it to say that undiagnosed and untreated ADD contributed a great deal to the problems I had on that job. He was a terrific worker, and a great organizer. I stayed in the same spot the entire time I was there, while he got promoted. He got a Master’s degree, and left to pursue a career on the West Coast. I finally hit bottom and was asked to leave. People were sorry to see him go when he left. I doubt anyone was truly sorry to see me go, since a lot of problems went with me. Someone else in the department was leaving the same day (for law school), so there was a little going-away party in the department for “both of us,” though it was pretty clear when I attended the after-work party for her that no one seemed to regret my leaving, except perhaps me.
I took a lower paying job when I left, just because I couldn’t bear the thought of being unemployed and I needed to have some sort of income. I took a second job waiting tables. I was pretty miserable. I got a better job, got promoted, fell apart again and eventually got fired. Around that time I was diagnosed with ADD and started getting treatment.
I’m discovering that one of the things that goes along with having been diagnosed with ADD as an adult brings with it, at least for me, a kind of sense of mourning. I can’t help but think that things might have turned out differently on that job if I’d known what my problem was and how to deal with it. But I didn’t, then, and nothing I tried worked. So to me it feels like lost time, that’s just seems to have contained a lot of needless, purposeless suffering. So I find myself mourning not only that lost time, but the possibilities that were lost with it – that might have been realized if, well, I had known something about what the problem was then, or if someone else had known and told me.
Today, I’m working with a lot of younger people doing things that were beyond me at that age, and some of which are still beyond me now; and a lot of them are moving into the next phase of life/career, like grad school, at an age when they don’t have the obligations that come with family. On the other end I’m working with people who are “at the top of their game,” running corporations, organizations, etc.
And I know I’m looking at this through the lens of having lived with untreated ADD into my early 30s,but it feels like on one hand I’m dealing with people who are about to catch the train I missed long ago. And on the other I’m dealing with people who caught that train and reached their destinations. Somehow I missed it and got stuck at the station, just punching everyone else’s ticket. Or at least that’s what it feels like, and it’s a pretty familiar feeling. Last time it was triggered by seeing two law students studying on the Metro, and it launched me into wondering what happened to that time in my life, and what if anything it was for.
I’ve written about this before, but there’s a kind of virtual marker on the timeline of my life that divides everything into before my ADD diagnosis/treatment, and after my ADD diagnosis/treatment. I haven’t thought much about it lately — being more focused my my life now — but it came back to me this morning, brought one by these brief encounters with apparently twentysomething law students.
What was I doing in my twenties? It all seems like a blur now, but what I mostly remember was spending a lot of time and energy trying to keep my head above water, and not always succeeding. I remember watching other people advance in their careers and educations, while I seemed to be working hard just to tread water, and still occasionally went under. Now I look back and I wonder what happened to my twenties. What happened to those years? They happened, but what happened is something I’m still not sure about.
I tend to look at them as “lost years,” because it’s literally as if at or around 32 years a curtain was suddenly pulled away, and there was light where I’d previously been stumbling around in the dark. The obstacles I’d struggled with in the past were still there, but I could see them clearly now, along with paths around some of them. At thirty-six, I’m finally making the progress I felt I should have been making at twenty-six. It becomes obvious to me when I look up and see people around me doing incredible things at an age when I was stumbling around in the dark.
I’m not sure whether or not I wish I had those years back, knowing all I do now, mainly because there’s a lot in my life right now that I wouldn’t trade for anything — mostly my life with my husband and son. Whatever else might have worked out differently had things gone another way in the past, that is something I wouldn’t want to change. As far as I’m concerned these are the good years; very good years, in fact. What I found myself thinking about this morning is just what those years of stumbling in the dark were for.
The funny thing is, even though a bit more light’s been shed on things, I still feel like I’m stumbling around. And that’s part of the reason for the frustration, and exhaustion I’ve been feeling lately. If I do things the way I’m supposed to do them, and meet all my obligations when I’m supposed to meet them, it’s likely I’m going to be blogging less here, or at least spending less time doing the kind of writing I enjoy doing about issues that I’m passionate about. And if I try to keep up the pace, it’s going to mean burning the candle at both ends, or stealing time from some other area of my life (lately, it’s been sleep).
To extend the metaphor a bit, it’s unusual for me to miss the train on my way to work in the mornings. In fact, it’s pretty routine. But it’s no big deal, because I know the next train is coming, approximately when it will arrive, and that it will almost certainly take me to my destination. The difference this time is that I don’t know if or when the next train is coming, or exactly where it’s going.
Maybe because I’ve never had a ticket or an itinerary. And I still don’t, really. Because I’m not exactly sure where I can go. Continuing my education, even in an evenings & weekends type program isn’t something I’m likely to do until our kids are both well into school. That’s already around 10 years from now, and maybe more. In the meantime, I have to figure out where I want to go and if there’s another way of getting there, or whether the reality is just that I missed that train when everyone else was catching it, and the next one I can catch just isn’t going to arrive for a long while.
Oh, and if so, there are questions to consider. What do I do in the meantime? If/when the train does arrive,where do I want it to take me? And, now that I think of it, are the people who caught it before me headed for destinations they didn’t necessarily choose? And what, if anything, was the value of the time I spent going nowhere instead of catching that train? Or was it just wasted time?