Emily’s Story

I am about to start the process of being diagnosed with ADD. Here in the UK the condition is not readily dealt with by our health care system so, based on what I have read on UK sites, it’s going to be a long haul.

I’m 40 and about 15 years ago had one of those light bulb moments when reading an article in the back of a magazine about how Adult ADD/ADHD may exist and may even effect women no less, written in a ‘Wow, who’d have thought it!’ kind of way. Everything listed in the ADD section was me, blindingly, fantastically and shamefully me. I remember waving the magazine around at a few female co-workers going ‘Look, it’s me isn’t it, it’s me’ but all they seemed to see was the bit about procrastination, which is everyone’s favourite guilt spot so we all had it apparently.

They didn’t see the depth of accuracy in the rest of the list and more importantly how it related to me, because by that point I’d honed a few skills to mask the chaos and tail chasing and day-dreaming and all they saw me as was some whirlwind multi-tasking chatter box who did a good job. The only thing odd about me, in their eyes, was that I’d undersold myself job-wise. Clearly bright, I repeatedly backed away from any offers of being promoted to a junior account handler for five years and stayed resolutely on the switchboard. Because I KNEW. Because I knew how wrong it could all go.

Because on the switchbord I knew I’d found somewhere safe where I could multi-task to my hearts content in a flurry of phone-calls and visitors and couriers, no task lasting longer than a few minutes at a time. And in that role no one told me I was under-achieving, could do better, needs to apply herself, needs to concentrate etc etc etc.

In time I moved on to a office manger job where the owners of the company were so chaotic and conflicted that my own failings were easily disguised and as I was working alone I could put in as much extra time as I wanted to keep on top of things. To catch up. I would periodically go in for a whole Saturday just to clear out the piles of stuff that had built up under my desk or to attack the monsters lurking in that bottom tray. The mosaic of randomly labelled files and folders on my desk-top scared people when they came near my computer, I kept the key to my filing cabinet on my key ring so no one would even venture in there and find the piles and piles of notebooks full of randomly started lists. And I mentally beat myself up every day and still do.

To try and combat the chaos of myself in general I started keeping a list of things to do at home, a system which has saved me from myself to certain extent. It’s an lined A4 notepad with four columns of things to do (that should say ‘things that need doing’ I suppose). I eagerly cross things off all week and then every Monday morning (well, nearly) I copy all the things I haven’t done on to the next page and fill up the remaining space with new things to do. There are things in the first column which I’ve been copying over each week for over five years. Some may sound familiar……..learn to play the guitar (yes, that guitar, the one I bought six years ago), varnish the shed door, clear out the cupboard under the stairs, finish writing book, finish writing other book, plan overland trip to South America, learn to drive (the world may be a better place if I don’t), give up smoking, get new office keys cut (we’ve actually moved offices in the last five years but I’ve lost the spare set of office keys to the new place so there didn’t seem much point crossing that off). The next column along, remnants of far more recent times, is more worrying, it’s peppered with items of the abandoned dry cleaning and tax return variety

. But I’ll get there in the end, something which won’t be based on logic, time or skill will propel me into the firing line of those tasks that need doing and (hopefully) they’ll get done. Without the list, instead of being at work or meeting a friend as promised I would be running late for my tap dancing lessons sticking drawing pins in the soles of my trainers because I couldn’t find my tap shoes before I left the house most probably because my house was in complete darkness because I hadn’t paid the electricity bill or hadn’t changed the blown light bulbs or possibly because a fuse had gone but I wouldn’t have checked that because history has repeatedly shown it’s bound to be because of something I haven’t done, chance comes in second. And that’s before we even get to the bit about how I was actually planning on signing up for Spanish classes (for that South America trip obviously) but got side tracked and now I’d missed the first three tap lessons anyway and in all honesty I couldn’t afford it and should have been using the time to actually do something to earn me more money or prevent me from paying it all to the tax man by default in the first place. Or meeting my friend as promised.

I seem to have spent my whole life in a constant state of awe, in awe of everyone else and how they just DO stuff, how they know the right order, where they’re meant to be and what they’re meant to have done and how they haven’t spilt coffee on their shoes before they get there, or while they’re there. My school years until 16 were controlled enough for me muddle through and just have chattering or daydreaming on my reports (surely I couldn’t have been doing both at the same time!) and a constant stream of complaints about lack of homework and concentration. But fortunately the school spotted that come exam time I went into overdrive. Despite apparently not having listened to or written about anything during the school year I was somehow capable of regurgitating the syllabus on an exam paper. Oh when I need to, I can focus, I can stay up night after night with little to no sleep.

So because of the high exam grades they let me be. Kind, but possibly misguided. The last two years of school, the important ones, this system fell apart, the additional responsibilities we were given over researching subjects and the longer form assignments, more free periods, longer lessons, a locker instead of a desk, what were they thinking?! I never knew what or where or when so the how (open book, pen to paper etc) seemed completely futile and I managed to acquire two lockers by the end of the second term full of god only knows what. I spent the first half of the revision time for my final exams copying up as much of the last two years work as I could, the second half trying to remember it. I scraped by. University was a blur, I never engaged, I dropped out after 18 months, ironically it was a Psychology degree. I tell people it was because I was bored, but then it is boring sitting in a fog isn’t it.

I have very good friends, some of them have been in my life for over 30 years. They know I can a bit (pick any of the following) forgetful, disorganised, late, tactless and messy. Those who spend the most time with me also know that very occasionally I can get stuck on a negative point, I can panic, I can snap, I can take things too far and I have no self esteem. They all think I’m independent, funny, strong, creative, loyal, generous and clever. They blame the negative on my crap family (they are and would have been even if I was ‘perfect’) and my early self sufficiency and because I work too hard. Very occasionally I have overstepped a mark with a friend, usually with a badly timed or wrongly worded sentence. I only know this in hindsight, when the damage is done and am devastated, mortified, they don’t know how much.

To upset or anger a friend, to hear them criticize me for anything is unbearable, because I would never ever mean it. It’s like having osteoporosis of the soul. A simple trip becomes a devastating blow and I cannot imagine how the thread of friendship can ever be mended. Generally it has been, touch wood.

I won’t bother to touch on the subject of boyfriends, that’s clearly a work in progress.

Over the years I’ve dipped in and out of the subject of adult ADD, it took the internet and few stumbles of my own to make me look further into the subject and each time the ever-increasing information I have found has made me still have that euphoric ‘Look, it’s me’ moment but then I retreat. Now at 40, y’know, a grown up and everything, I feel my ‘failings’ more acutely, I can’t hide behind the all my life in front of me 20’s or half grown up but we’re still having fun 30’s. I’m staring to see the differences between myself and my contemporaries in a harsher light and I’m not sure I can keep plastering the cracks on my own.

I haven’t written about any of this before and the reason I have is because of all the other stories on here, so thank you, thank you very much.