The Republic of T.

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

Value Added

I think I’ve discovered something. Not long ago, I wrote this, about what I’ve felt (and still feel) to be the “lost time” in my life due to untreated ADD, and feeling like it was truly lost time because I couldn’t find any value in it or anything that was gained by it.

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.

But I think I just figured something out.

Maybe the “value added” is that I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to be on a completely different wavelength from everybody else, and to even feel like you’re an alien from another planet, because you can’t do what people seem to expect you to do, and don’t even begin to understand how to do it. And, thus, I know what it’s like to try anyway, knowing that you’re going to fail.

Like I said, there was a lot in her essay to identify with, but it was the end that really hit home.

I live with anxiety, because the world can be overwhelming and people have expectations that I always, sooner or later, fail to meet. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been told that I am rude, inaccessible or cold, yet I have never purposely tried to harm anyone, nor do I mean to be, well, mean.

I could tell you so much more, but instead let me share one last insight. Don’t pity me or try to cure or change me. If you could live in my head for just one day, you might weep at how much beauty I perceive in the world with my exquisite senses. I would not trade one small bit of that beauty, as overwhelming and powerful as it can be, for “normalcy.”

That’s the big one, knowing that sooner or later you will fail to meet those expectations. And knowing that they’re perfectly reasonable expectations, for someone with a “neurotypical” brain. Some of us are very good at compensating. We’ve had to be in order to survive. But you can’t keep “dancing as fast as you can” indefinitely. (Even the most hyper of us are not perpetual motion machines.) The part that hurts is that when you disappoint people, they tend not to have noticed that — up until the inevitable failure — you’ve been really trying. You may, in fact, have tried as hard as you could.

It’s just that sooner or later it won’t be enough. You’ll forget something important, miss some important detail, lose something important, forget to pay an important bill, etc. In fact, you’re guaranteed to do so, probably on an almost daily basis. And even if it turns out not to be all that important, the cumulative effect of having done so “umpteen” times can spell the end of a relationship, a job, a career. It’s all stuff that everyone does, from time to time. But most people don’t do it so often that it disrupts their lives completely.

I know what it’s like to be unable to make other people understand you.

I guess it’s a matter of just being very different in our basic approaches to the world. And trying to translate and interpret between those two approaches is sometimes like trying to reach through a two-foot thick wall of gauze. Frustrating and eventually exhausting. And most of the time it seems like I’m the one who has to stretch to understand and translate into the frequency or wavelength of those around me, because the truth is—at least in this culture— I am, and people like me are, out-numbered.

I know how it feels to face a world where people expect a frightening degree of perfection and are quick to punish imperfection, knowing you’re going to fail. I know what it’s like to live with that failure and the memories of failures past.

And so the memories I’d usually rather forget are part of me as well, because each of them has changed me, in someways for the better and in other ways perhaps for the worse. If I “erased” them, would I also erase the ways in which they shaped or molded my character? If I’d never had those humiliations and dismal failures, or could act as though they never happened, would I be more a more confident person? Would I have less doubt about my abilities and what I can accomplish? On the other hand, would I be less compassionate? Would I have less empathy for people who are experiencing their own failures, losses, and humiliations?

Would I be a better person without those experiences? Or am I better person for having had them? Have I grown because of them? Or because of what I learned from them and how I used what I learned?

And because of all the above, I know what it’s like when people give up on you. And I know what it’s like to give up on yourself.

None of that is going to get me my dream job, or even so much as a promotion. Most of it doesn’t have any value to anyone besides me, or someone else who’s going through what I experienced, or something similar.

Which means it’s not valueless. It has value; immense value to someone.

It means that I can see when someone is experiencing the same thing, and I can try to help, or be someone who understands or at least tries to understand, when others don’t and don’t care to.

It means that I can refuse to let what happened to me happen to someone else.

If it makes a life even a little better, I guess that’s value added enough.

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