Ed Note: This is one of those personal posts in which I’m likely to come of as whining or in need of therapy. I’m not doing the former, but I don’t have time for the latter, so this is the only place I have to put this stuff for now.
I’ve written before about how having ADD can make you feel like you’r from another planet when dealing with other people, especially people who don’t have ADD. It’s true even where people who love you are concerned, up to and including your spouse. (And your kids, but I’ll get to that later.) It can mean that even though you share your life with someone, you occupy entirely different world, maybe in a different galazy altogether.
Last night, the hubby and I were chatting after getting home from work. (As much as we could between getting dinner and taking care of the kids.) I was unwrapping the mouthguard I bought on the way home. (My third in the past year, which I bought after realizing I’d bitten through my second one.) I mentioned that I had something mind that I wanted to write, which I described as “a long, thought piece, with way too many links, and probably better suited for magazine writing than for blogging. But, try as I might, I can’t find a gig like that.” (I’ve since abandoned the piece since the time it would take to research and write it almost guarantees it won’t be very timely.)
He said, “Well, you will someday.”
I raised an eyebrow and asked, “You really think so?”
He said, “Yes. You’re a great writer, honey. And if you keep writing it’ll happen.”
Wow. The man believes in me. I’m not so sure myself that anything going to happen along those lines. But we’re looking at it from very different perspectives, I realize.
Actually, I realized it a couple of weeks ago, when we were watching Desperate Housewives. It’s part of our Sunday night ritual, along with folding laundry. I had to stop folding when this scene hit me like a slap in the face.
Ugh. “Midlife crisis”?
For the approximately 10% of middle aged adults who go through an age-related midlife crisis, the condition is most common ranging from the ages of 35-50 (a large study in the 1990s found that the average age at onset of a self-described midlife crisis was 46). Mid life crises last about 3-10 years in men and 2-5 years in women.
A midlife crisis could be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over:
* work or career
* spousal relationships
* maturation of children
* aging or death of parents
* physical changes associated with aging
Midlife crises seem to affect men and women differently. Researchers have proposed that the triggers for mid-life crisis differ between men and women, with male mid-life crisis more likely to be caused by work issues.
I had to look, and it seems like I qualify for one right about now. I’m somewhere between 35 and 50, so I’m old enough. Aging and death of parents? Well, my dad passed away two years ago. Maturation of children? Well, my kids are relatively young, but Parker did just start kindergarten, and I’m the one who puts him on the school bus every morning. And this week I helped him with his homework for the first time. Physical changes? Well, there’s the fact that I get sleepy earlier than I ever did before. (Can’t stay up past 1:00 a.m., where I used to stay up until 2:00 a.m.) And one morning a few months back, I noticed the first gray hair in my mustache. (It’s gotten a few friends since then.)
As much as I hate to amid it, I was nailed by this particular statement in the clip above:
“A man gets to a certain age and he realizes he going to die someday. Really die. And what’s worse is that he’s everything he’s ever gonna be, he’s never gonna be rich, he’s never gonna climb a mountain…
I do lay awake nights wondering “Is this all I’m ever going to be?”
Most of that has to do with the work/career. The one remaining area affected. (I have no regrets whatsoever about my “spousal relationship.”) And that brings me to another video that registered with me in a way it didn’t with the hubby.
We were watching Chris Rock’s Kill the Messenger, when Chis launched into a part of his routine that stuck with me, but didn’t seem to phase the hubby.
That’s mainly because of our different experiences. He’s a doctor. He wanted to be a doctor and he became a doctor, because he was able to do what it took to become a doctor, and during a period in his life when he had fewer responsibilities than he would in later years. My experience was a bit different.
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.
During my sophomore year in college I “hit the wall,” and — overwhelmed with what a “normal” college student would be expected to handle — flunked everything, and sunk in a sea of depression. I later learned that this experience is pretty common for people who make it that far with untreated ADD. Up to that point, throughout high school, I’d been able to compensate through a combination of innate intelligence and personal relationships. (I learned that the more likable you are, the more help, forgiveness, leeway, etc. you’re likely to get.) But upon arriving at college, I found my ability to compensate was no match for the level of self-management and organizing college seemed to require.
My folks wanted me to come back to Augusta, GA, go to school there, and live at home. But I, who had been waiting for the chance to leave home and finally really come out, threatened to drop out rather than return home and go to school. So, instead, I stayed in school, but from that point on only took a “half-load” of classes. It meant a less demanding schedule, more “downtime,” more time to work, and as a student with untreated ADD, it’s probably the only kind of schedule I could’ve handled. Plus, I only rarely took classes during the summer, and instead spent most summers working.
Instead, by the way, I was getting treated for depression, which was appropriate because depression and untreated ADD go hand in hand.
I spent nearly all my teenage years being depressed. Depression consumed a good deal of my college years—causing a complete shutdown in my sophomore year, when it took me hours just to get out of bed in the morning—the rest being concerned with getting treatment for depression. No treatment ever seemed to work entirely, or help fix the other problems I was having. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure that, though I was depressed, that it was a misdiagnosis. ADD in adults is often diagnosed as depression, precisely because there is depression that stems from the results of living with untreated ADD—repeated failures in work, school, relationships, finances, etc. You name it. When you live it, constantly, it’s bound to depress you. But treating the depression in my case, with therapy in medication, only treated part of the problem.
The depression worsened in college, especially when the consequence of talking a half-load of classes. It took me almost seven years to finish college. As result, for the first time in my life I was being left behind by my peers. Slowly, the people I started out with moved on; some to graduate school or law school, some to start careers, and some to marriages, etc. And then there was me, stuck until I could finish my undergrad.
It was then that I started to feel like I was losing ground, though the reality was that I’d been losing ground all along. I just didn’t realize it until others started moving on, and I didn’t. I was stuck in Athens, working at the science library, for a perfectionist boss who was also a yeller. Not a great combination for someone who’s got undiagnosed, untreated ADD.
Think about. You’ve got someone who can’t tolerate mistakes working with someone who can’t stop making them and doesn’t know why. That was around the time I started endlessly asking “What’s wrong with me?” and never getting an answer that did any good. As far as my boss was concerned, it was because I was “careless” and any other explanation was an “excuse” she didn’t want to hear. What was wrong with me? She didn’t care.
(Back when I was being treated for depression, which was likely related to having untreated ADD, I was having a bit of trouble finding the right medication. I tried one that left me feeling lethargic and zombie-like during the day. When my boss complained about its impact on my work, I confided to her that I was being treated for depression and the anti-depressant was making my foggy. She simply said “Stop taking it.” I explained that I was working with my doctor to get the right mediation, and simply – with a bit more irritation in her voice – “Well, stop taking it.” She wasn’t concerned about my well being. I could fall apart after business hours as long as I did what she needed me to do. I supposed if I’d committed suicide she’d have complained about my lack of notice and the inconvenience of having to hire someone to replace me. I doubt she’d have come to my memorial.)
It wasn’t in her job description, I guess. I’d find later that it would be that way with most employers. I didn’t know what my problem was, and I couldn’t “fix” it. They didn’t know what my problem was, and at some point just wanted it not to be their problem anymore. It wasn’t long before I hated working there and I’m pretty sure she hated me working there. And was probably as glad to see me go as I was to finally leave. Though, like other jobs to follow, I left a few steps ahead of being fired.
Through a fortunate series of events ended up moving to Washington, DC. While in Atlanta for a job interview, I decided to go to an HRC event (a town meeting on ENDA, back in 1994). There I met someone whom I’d come to know while I was co-director for the LGBT student group. She’d come to a meeting every few months, give us legislative updates, and have us write letters to our members of Congress. She’s moved to D.C. and asked what I was doing after graduating. I told her I was looking for a job, and she gave me her card and told me to fax my resume. I did, and two phone interviews later, I was loading up the car and moving to D.C.
Finally! I was getting somewhere.
But I still had untreated ADD, and quickly learned that the demands of work were even greater (and less forgiving) than in school. Landing in D.C., working at a political organization was like landing on another planet.
I remembered my first job when I came to D.C. It was a totally new experience for me, because the people I was around seemed to work under so much pressure, much of which seemed self-generated to me, whereas I just tried to do what was required of me for the job without rushing around and getting tied into knots. Some of the people I worked with seemed to think I was rather strange as a result. At one point, my supervisor called me into her office for a little pep talk and told me she wanted to see me “take more ownership” of things. She asked me if I knew what she meant. I said I did, but I truly had no idea. As far as I was concerned, she was speaking another language.
Now I know what she meant was what I’ve been told often since then; that I’m “too laid-back” or that I could “afford to be a little less laid-back.” If tend to be pretty normally laid back (whatever that means), part of me thinks it might be more of an acquired survival/coping mechanism, though it could also just be my natural state. I’ve never been a particularly ambitious or competitive person, but I think at some point that way of being became a means of protection for me as well as just being part of who I am.
Growing into adulthood with untreated ADD made me well acquainted with failure, and also taught me that ambition has a price; a pretty high and painful one if you’re handicapped in reaching your ambitions, right out of the starting gate.
Out of the starting gate? The whole time I was there, I never made it out of the starting gate. Meanwhile, as in school, I was my peers and co-workers get promoted, go back to school, advance in their careers, etc., while I just stayed where I was, and didn’t get anywhere except older.
I left that job eventually. Well, I was asked to leave, told I was leaving, whatever you want to call it. Appropriately enough, my last day on the job was also the last day for a younger co-worker of mine who was leaving to go to law school. I was leaving to go to a lower paying job I’d taken because I needed a paycheck coming in, and that would require me to get a second job waiting tables (and still come dangerously close to getting evicted), which I quit when I finally got a better paying job from which was ultimately fired. The department threw a going away party for her, and was nice enough to say it was for me too, but I suspected if it hadn’t been my coworker’s last day, I wouldn’t have gotten a party.
It was similar to college, except that this time someone else was moving on and I was actually going backward.
Year’s later, I’d remember that when I heard from another coworker from that job, who went on to grad school, a whole different career on the west coast, and was — when I heard from him — about to graduate a third time. If I was the fuck-up ne’er do well on that job, he was the golden boy.
This evening I got an email from a friend and former co-worker. I hadn’t heard from him for a while, so I didn’t know what he was up to. Turns out, he’s finishing law school. As crazy as it sounds, just hearing that depressed the hell out of me.
I remember that job. It was my first “real” job out of college. The job I moved to DC to take. We started about the same time, him just a little before me, a few years younger, and we were pretty much counterparts in the department.
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.
And after getting treatment, I started really feeling how much time I’d lost.