The Long and Winding Road of ADHD
Guest Contributor: Michael Gorrell
It may not be so much so today, but in the past men have been subliminally encouraged to live up to what society considers to be the norm, eg “be a man, strong silent type,” etc.
Fair enough, but what if you are one of the world’s 5% of the population who has a neurological disorder?
This can seriously hamper your ability to fit into the cookie cutter image of masculinity, as well as society in general.
After years of struggling with wondering why I was “different”, I was diagnosed at age 45 with Inattentive ADHD; I’m now 67 years and still coming to terms with this condition.
Symptoms of ADHD usually arise by the age of seven, and I was certainly no exception. Looking back in reflecting upon my life some of the first signs of my ADHD showed up in 1st grade.
If you think back to grade school, you will remember an area on the report card with several traits the teacher would check off as to whether you were satisfactory or unsatisfactory in that area. In my case, there were three areas that were always marked unsatisfactory. Those areas were:
Starts projects in a timely fashion
Finishes projects on time
Listens to instructions
These issues pretty much continued all the way through grade school which was first grade through 8th grade, and I remember being sent to the Principal’s office and paddled with the board as we called it, three times for not listening to instructions.
My first two years of high school were peppered with less than ideal grades: B's and C's mostly, with an occasional D if I was totally uninterested in the subject, or just did not get the concept at all. I’m not sure why I was still getting paddled in the Principal’s office!
The last two years of high school I spent at a vocational school, where one could learn a trade. I received A's and B's during those last two years, probably because I was actually interested in the subject matter and I understood the concepts.
Obviously my condition didn't have an adverse effect on my ability to converse with the ladies, as I met my sweetheart at a high school homecoming dance and married her two years later; that was the beginning of an adventure in and of itself.
My blushing bride didn't know what she would be getting into for the next 48 years, as my ADHD caused more arguments than I could ever count. After I was diagnosed and she learned that my idiosyncrasies were just that, and not evil plots to drive her insane, we started to devise strategies to simplify daily life and avoid unnecessary conflict.
She swears that I would forget my head if it weren’t nailed on, and sometimes I think she’s right; keys, billfold, phone, where I’ve put something, you name it! Fortunately we’ve worked out a whiteboard checklist system for various household categories, and this seems to keep the verbal sparring at bay (as long as I remember to use it!)
I do confess that I almost lost this wonderful lady due to my propensity to keep “Every. Little. Thing.” because “it might come in handy one day”. If you can relate to this, you know the horrifying mess that can accumulate. I’m very fortunate that she loves me enough to support me in my quest in seeking help to get it under control.
ADHD can make my workdays challenging sometimes. I work in a busy manufacturing plant, and almost any noise, smell or visual movements distract me unless I’m in my hyperfocus mode of operation. I’ve also always had difficulty with verbal communications, and at work I sometimes feel like I am speaking a totally different language when I am talking to other people, especially non-ADHD persons.
Despite all this, I’ve learned that being an adult male with ADHD can be a major advantage, both at home and on the job. Our natural abilities to be able to hyperfocus and problem-solve can really come in handy in a crunch situation.
For example, since I’ve started working diligently with a life coach who specializes in clutter issues and the different things that contribute to it, my wife has said, “Michael, you’re really getting it together!” I believe my success in this area is because I see this decluttering project as being highly worthwhile, so I can apply my hyperfocusing skills along with what I’ve learned to getting it done, with no procrastinating: watch out, “Energizer Bunny”!
Throughout my working career, I seem to have been the one who’s called upon to solve a problem or “fix things”; I seem to be blessed with the ability to think outside the box and see solutions that “linear thinkers” do not see. My current employer has now stopped calling the maintenance department to fix a large pallet wrapper, as I can usually have it working before they can send a repairman out. I’m starting to think that it's now an unwritten part of my job description, but, funny enough, the payroll department doesn’t seem to have been informed...
As I’m about to face the sunset of my working life, I’ve been encouraged by my coach to think about how I want to spend my days in future. Having been mentally and physically active all my life, I know that sitting in front of the boob tube with caramel corn and Landshark lager at the ready is not an appealing prospect.
To this end, I’ve decided to put my talent for fixing things to good use. After I finish decluttering my garage this summer, I will turn it into a shop where I can repair things for others and myself that would normally be sent to the landfill. The win-win of helping Gertrude get some extra life out of her favorite vacuum combined with knowing that I can help save the planet gives me the motivation to finish the garage (which will make my wife happy as well, double win-win!)
I wish I had realized years ago that, with ADHD, it’s not what you’ve got but how you use it; I’m feeling very good about finally realizing my dreams of helping others and feeling good about myself at the same time. What I know for sure is that it’s never too late to be the productive and contributing person you want to be!