The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Missing the Train

I don’t write much about being an adult with ADD anymore.It’s something I’ve written about before, though it’s been a long time, and it’s something that seems to be a recurring theme in my life; one that’s cropping up again. Maybe it’s because I’m getting a head start on something. I’m going to be 38 in February. And while 38 isn’t 40, I can see it from there. That combined with other factors in my life, including the reality that my life will soon change again with the growth of our family, has me re-evaluating some things. Old feelings that haven’t come up in a while are bubbling to the surface.

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?


  1. I can empathize. For me, it was undiagnosed clinical depression that wiped out my momentum in my twenties and on into my thirties, and even contributed to a disastrous first marriage. After I was diagnosed and put on anti-depressants, the profound relief from newfound stability competed with deep regret for all the time that had been wasted.

    One thing that has helped me is to refuse to dwell on the past. I plan for the future and I pay attention to today. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but I’m trying to summarize something that took me years to learn. Although having a destination in mind is important, what I’m most focused on is the journey itself.

    If you want to discuss this in depth with someone who has sort of been there, feel free to email me.

  2. I’m sitting in a data entry cubicle at the moment, and my brain won’t shut up about the upcoming holidays, where I get to go home and explain to my extended family members why I’m still not using my graduate degree (OMG brain, shut up!) My life is still in flux from my move in late September, which, of course, threw off ALL my routines (I found myself driving the wrong way home last night). I had a planner, was starting to use it, and I lost it in the move.

    I don’t have a doctor’s note with ADD stamped on it in big letters, but I’ve got enough Educational Psychology units to allow me to diagnose myself. It’s getting to the point now, however, where I think I may need to find professional help in coping, ’cause I’m not doing too hot on my own.

    Basically, I’m in the same boat you were at about the same time in my life. And I am looking back at my 20s from the tail end going, “What the HELL have I been doing these last seven years?”

    It’s not fun.

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  4. i think the train analogy might be leading you in the wrong direction. it sounds as if you’re waiting for the right opportunity to come along, and then planning on sitting and watching the scenery until you arrive at Your Destination. i myself am relatively very young and i have already spent a lot of time waiting for trains, but i think i’m starting now to understand that there aren’t any tracks laid and it’s just a long fucking hike. the question turns from: ‘where are you going’, to simply: ‘do you have your boots on’.

  5. Been there, T. Feel your pain. Not much more I can say than that.