ADHD is the constant desire to escape.
If anyone had ever put it that way, I might’ve fought for a diagnosis, gotten treatment much sooner. So many seemingly unrelated moments coalesce under a single word.
escape focusing on the teacher
escape organizing mandatory school notebooks
escape regular schedules
escape awkward social situations if at all possible to
escape possible failure scenarios
escape boredom with impulse shopping, learning a 7,428th hobby…
I don’t know what I’m running from.
But sometimes I feel like I can’t stop running.
When I got a sleep study, they found “severe jerking of the limbs.” I could’ve told them that. I run away even in my sleep.
At thirty-six I got the diagnosis, got the meds, and for a moment dared to hope that I’d finally found an escape hatch for ADHD itself.
What I really needed was an escape hatch for capitalism.
A non-comprehensive list of traits associated with ADHD:
- inability to focus
- inability to sit still
- hyperfixation, often stimulated by engaging in a passion project
- difficulty following through on assigned tasks
- difficulty prioritizing
- a tendency to form and pursue unusual associations
An ADHD brain is a non-linear thinker, bouncing from thought to thought and holding multiple scopes at once. Staying in one lane is an insurmountable challenge, while seeing possibilities is a gift you can’t turn off. Constantly craving dopamine, my brain seeks out stimulation by always making things bigger and grander, by considering past and future and alternative modes and critical viewpoints.
A few words in a book I’m attempting to read conjure a memory, which turns into an idea for a memoir, which I start to write down when I realize I could maybe teach a course on excavating themes from ancestral memories… huh, I wonder if I should conduct a survey of my audience to see how they feel about online courses? But wait! My audience needs to be bigger to successfully sell a course, so maybe that comes first, and what about that marketing book I meant to read? Or shit, I wonder if I’d find any themes around writing and memory if I did a deep dive into all of my ancestors’ astrological charts and cross-referenced them…
In other words: I have no shortage of ideas, of connections, of possible pathways, of dreams…
…but I am very, very bad at producing widgets.
When I read from the horoscope section of Seventeen magazine I learn that a Pisces is meant to be dreamy and sensitive, a psychic mind floating aimlessly through the clouds. I am not sensitive, I scoff to myself, rolling my eyes.
Eye rolls have become my favorite bit of body language as a teenager, matching the sarcasm that covers up my soft squishy insides. I recast sensitivity as a trait of childishness, raw joyful enthusiasm and hope as immature qualities I have outgrown. I see myself as cool, dark, and aloof and wear nothing but black for three years. Clearly I should’ve been a Scorpio.
(If I try hard enough, maybe my self-image will become reality. I try very, very hard.)
A therapist brings up the possibility of Attention Deficit Disorder at 16 and my mother hands him a thick folder of every academic accomplishment to my name since the age of four, because I am too smart to be disordered. The heavyset middle-aged white man in grey suit, who possesses the authority to determine what a “normal” brain looks like, demurs.
I spend twenty years trying to meet neurotypical standards.
As it turns out, I am highly intuitive.
As it turns out, I am what they now call a “burnt-out gifted kid.”
As it turns out, ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence.
As it turns out, everything about me is Piscean waves, including my attention span.
Sometimes my insights feel magical, but sustaining a pace is nigh impossible. I can’t remember what I meant to do, but there’s a gift inside that fact. My brain has so much trouble running the show that something else must. The lure of my attention drives me to what’s intuitively sparkly, to the place where passion wants to engage.
As it turns out, ADHD is genetically linked to nomadic tendencies. Go fucking figure.
The career aspiration I held onto the longest would have involved constant international travel, but after the 2008 crash and decades of US imperialism it seemed more advisable to stay in one place and work towards human rights at home. And by the time I finished my higher education I was exhausted by solo moves without help or financial resources. An 18-hour drive in one day, packing and unpacking at either end, really takes the shine out of a nomadic lifestyle. I joked about how others in their 20s had the urge to marry and make babies but I, the childfree queer solo polyamorist, dreamed simply of a 5-year lease.
It took eleven years of living in a metro area to realize that the feeling of home is about more than simply “settling.”
In 2020 I moved across the country.
In 2021 I abandoned my career.
In 2022 I finally gave up on “consistency.”
I am not always nomadic in traditional ways. Travel anxiety is real in this brave new world of variant upon variant, and I find myself simultaneously drawn to the land in a hyperlocal way. What does it mean to exist in a particular place? What in our own backyard do we miss when we’re busy ticking off far-away locations on our bucket list?
As a new resident of the Pacific Northwest, I expected to spend tons of time in amazing lush locations like the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, to become One Who Hikes, to spend time rafting down rivers and scrambling up rock formations, to learn about ethical foraging. And yet here we are, over two years into lockdown, and I’m still not keen to spend time on crowded trails. So instead of turning into some sort of “outdoorsy type,” I find myself engaging in simpler ways with what is present within walking distance of my home.
I have a favorite tree in my neighborhood, a big old cedar (maybe—I’m not that great at plant identification) with a divided trunk. I miss my last apartment and how my window let me observe the changing seasons’ affects on a wildlife refuge, the phases of the moon when the sky was clear. Sometimes it feels a little like I’m regressing as I spend most of my time in a basement apartment, barely able to tell whether it’s day or night let alone see the moon. But I also have the Pacific Northwest Tarot out on my low reading table, and I’ve developed a ritual of putting my butt on the ground, having a conversation with the land, and pulling cards. When we remember to do it, my partners and I go on walks around the neighborhood, and I point excitedly and shout “pink!” at half the flowering bushes and trees, and delight in the moss clinging to the trunks.
Being present is what slows me down, what helps me to attune. To tend and attend.
Attention is a prickly word, something I feel incapable of at times. But attending, intending, witnessing, tending to my needs and my heart… those are all practices I’ve found through relaxing my grip on time and achievement and settling into what my intuition tells me.
Perhaps I really can’t stop running. But when I direct that movement inward, when I turn a line into a spiral, I can turn it into dancing.
ps – if you enjoyed this reflection, I recommend the book A Thousand Ways to Pay Attention by Rebecca Schiller. You can read my review here.
Are you struggling with ADHD or just being a bit overwhelmed? As you can see from this post, boy have I been there! I’d love to work with you. As a change doula, I’m all about helping folks reconnect with a sense of presence and stillness even in the midst of tumultuous change. We can work with your neurodivergent, anxious, and/or overwhelmed brain, rather than against it. Want to know more? Book a free 30-minute session over on the Work With Me page to connect. No pressure, just a getting-to-know you, and you’ll leave with some questions and ideas to reflect on whether or not you book!