Around springtime of fifth grade, the truth I had been keeping from my mom made its way into the light. My fifth-grade teacher finally spilled the beans about the state of my classroom desk. “We call it The Black Hole,” she said, smiling a little ruefully when my mom came to pick me up one day. “Her things go in there and they never come back out. She’s been missing a Social Studies workbook for two weeks now, and I think it’s in there, but goodness knows where.”
So, back down the hall to the classroom we marched, and through the stuffed warren of accordioned papers, chewed pencils, and dust bunnies we went. I remember looking at Emily’s desk, the girl who sat beside me, and wondering how she managed it. She had neatly stacked books in her desk, and you could actually feel the spaces between the corners when you plunged your hand in, instead of finding ancient Pop Tart crumbs like there were in mine.
My mom kept exclaiming in embarrassment the further we got into my desk, and I could feel my face getting red and tears beginning to well up in my eyes. Shame pounded a dark rhythm in my belly. Eventually my teacher took pity on us and got us a big black garbage bag, and my mom swept about half of my desk contents into it. We did finally find the workbook, scrunched up way in the back of the desk. But to this day, whenever I think of cleaning, I remember how I felt in that moment: alone, ashamed, and my feet surrounded by so much detritus.
“Her things go in there and they never come back out.”
But we’re not here to talk about cleaning. We’re here to talk about ADHD. And quite frankly, the fact that nobody flagged me for it (to my knowledge) after that day – and so many other days like it – is a little unbelievable to me. During my school years, I was always the absent-minded professor, the smart girl who had so much damn potential, but somehow always chose not to use it. The girl who coasted. Instead, I preferred to construct elaborate fan fiction about my favorite Star Wars characters in my head than read ahead in my history textbook. After all, I read so fast that the next chapter was boring by the time the class caught up three days later.
High school and college were not much better. I found most homework to be dull, except for my creative writing and English classes, and with no one to lecture me during college, it often went undone. Tests and papers were prepared for at the last possible moment. I had a deep and personal friendship with the vending machine on campus which sold Volt, a sort of Mountain Dew-like drink with triple the caffeine. (It stopped being produced shortly after I graduated in 2006, as though it knew its purpose had been fulfilled.)
“How did we miss this? It’s so obvious!”
After college, I bounced around from job to job. Six months here, a year there, ten months someplace else. To me it was simple, I liked what I liked: coffee, talking to customers, being able to sink into one or two long projects a day, books, and writing. This did not seem conducive to most of the jobs I was qualified for, so I didn’t try for more. I was content to keep all the potential and talent I had displayed in my youth on a forgotten, dusty shelf, scrunched up in the back, the way my workbook had been.
Then I started dating someone who has ADHD. One day, he came home and told me that his psychiatrist was of the opinion that I might have ADHD too. I looked up the symptoms and wondered how these people from a random website had crawled into my head, and what else they might know about me. I went to my therapist with this symptom list. There were check marks beside every one of them. “Wow!” she said, eyes going wide. “How did we miss this? It’s so obvious!” And it was. But something can be right in front of our noses without us noticing if we don’t know how to look.
Thankfully, ADHD can be coped with if you have the right tools. I’ve taken advantage of strategies, medications, and self-talk techniques to make it easier to live in my brain and in my life. My house might be messy, but it’s not dirty anymore. My brain might be messy, but I don’t hate myself anymore.
A few words about me
Rachel Ambrose is a queer nonbinary writer and cook living in Connecticut with her husband and their cat Sprocket. You can find her on Twitter @victorywhiskey!