All children have to be deceived if they are to grow up without trauma.
I don’t think there exists a truly ‘healthy’ and ‘sane’ person in this world. Let’s start there. We have all been hurt by a friend or a loved one. No matter how loving, open-minded and well-meaning our parents or guardians are, they will make mistakes. And once we grow up and become adults ourselves, we will correct those mistakes and proceed to make our own. That’s simply how it works; we are imperfect beings who long for what we never had.
Inevitably, such longings turn into trauma. When we feel misunderstood or misrepresented, when we feel unfairly and unjustly treated, it leaves marks on us. In us. It doesn’t matter who did it or what the intention was, fact is that misunderstandings are painful.
A few years ago, I came to a very… interesting realization: I can’t remember most of my childhood. Of course, there are things I do remember; playing with my friends on the playground, birthday parties, ripping a chunk out of Katy’s hair because she called my little brother stupid, that one blond guy I had a crush on, and the time he told me he didn’t like me back… Of course I remember things. When I say I don’t remember my childhood, what I mean is that it feels like I never lived it. That kid who went to Katy’s birthday with an extra present as an apology for her missing hair? The kid who had her heart broken when the blond guy told her he was in love with Katy of all people? I don’t remember her (me, that is, not Katy. I remember her too well).
What I remember from my childhood is constantly fighting to keep up, constantly trying to express the right emotion at the right time, writing notes on my hands to remember that thing my teacher said to do, crying at night because a kid at school called me “loud and weird”, desperately clinging to the hope that this year, I would have the confidence to make friends… What I remember most is the struggle, and the subsequent withdrawal: I spent a lot of time in my room, watching TV and, as any child of the digital age, building para-social relationships with random attractive people on YouTube to replace the friendships that I lacked in real life. I think that’s a big part of why I don’t remember much. Because I didn’t do much. If 70% of your time is spent sitting in your room dealing with chronic overstimulation, it seems to sort of just become the main thing you remember.
When I was 24, I was sent to a psychiatrist who, after talking to me for about 5 minutes, very kindly sat me down and said: “let me introduce you to your secret friend: undiagnosed ADHD”.
Turns out, there was an explanation for my madness. Unlike what I had always assumed, the explanation was more than just me being weird; in fact, it was my brain that was weird. By that I mean, my brain likes to make life hard for me, which causes me to be easily distracted, rather forgetful, and easily overstimulated.
My first reaction was relief. Not in a “Yes! I’m so glad I have ADHD” way, but instead in a “finally, an explanation… I’m not alone!” kind of way.
I’ve been told my next realization is quite normal: why was this not discovered sooner? How much hurt and trauma could have been avoided if someone had only questioned my behavior as a child? A teacher? A counsellor? The therapist I was talking to?! My family?
I was told by a psychologist that it’s normal for neurodivergents (people with mental disorders such as ADHD, autism, OCD, and BPD) to mature late mentally. Especially those who receive late diagnosis may feel as though they are still 18, even if they are 24. I was ensured that I didn’t have to feel bad about this. But how could I not? I allowed myself to grieve my lost years for a while; the struggle I went through my entire academic career, never failing an assignment and even passing with top grades most of the time despite the fact that exams literally made me want to vomit and run. I had never been through an exam without breaking down at some point; either before, during or after. I would always call my mom, who would always tell me “you always get good grades, don’t worry about it”, and I would always wipe away the tears, return to my computer and fight through the mental block that always told me to do literally anything else.
Taking my medicine for the first time was a surreal experience. I remember telling my grandparents “I can’t hear the guy behind us” as we sat by the beach, eating lunch. They’d come with me to pick up the medicine and take it upon themselves to watch over me as I took these “dangerous drugs.”
My grandfather looked at me, confused, and asked “what do you mean? What guy?”.
For about an hour, a guy had been talking on the phone behind us, and, as usual, my attention was divided between what my grandparents were telling me, what the guy was telling his wife, the sound of the waves, and the rushing of the wind in my ears. But suddenly, about 30 minutes after I took the first pill, I realized that the guy had gone silent. I looked behind me – he was still there, and when I looked at him and focused, I could still hear him telling his wife about the girl at work who had messed up the shipment labels. Then I turned back to my grandparents, and all I heard was my grandfather explaining how not all mandarins are clementines, but all clementines are mandarins. My dear grandparents laughed when I explained this to them and said “maybe now, you’ll be able to stay on topic when we talk”.
It was quiet. I could think of anything I wanted without having to think of 100 things at once. I could look at the ocean and just listen to the waves. It was quiet. It was amazing. It was sobering.
It was something I didn’t have as a kid.
As a child, I was punished many times for things that I now know were due to my ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Little things even, like not being able to sit still. Teachers would call me a “disturbance to the class” when I bounced my leg up and down in an attempt to keep my mind focused, and my mom would sigh at me for losing my keys for the 10th time in a week. I’m not saying these things weren’t annoying to other people, I’m sure they were, but imagine how I felt.
Imagine how much easier it could have been for everyone if I had been diagnosed back then. Like that guy in 2nd grade who had his own desk and fidget toys that he was allowed to use if he felt restless. I once had my pencil case confiscated because “she plays with it instead of listening in class”. In reality, I was stimming to keep my mind focused, just like the guy did when he sat at his desk and squeezed his stress ball. But they didn’t know that and neither did I.
It’s not fair. And it’s not fair that this – late diagnosis – happens so often to neurodivergent women. Most research on these disorders is done on boys and men, and as a result, when a girl comes for an ADHD assessment and she isn’t bouncing off the walls, many GPs will simply put her issues down to anxiety.
The first thing my teary-eyed mother said when I told her about my diagnosis was “I never realized. I thought ADHD meant you had to be physically hyperactive” followed by “I’m so sorry I didn’t know”.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that my life had been so unnecessarily difficult; that the solution could have been so very simple. It took a while, but I had to get there.
Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.
While I may disagree with Oprah in that you have to accept that it simply couldn’t have been different, I believe you have to accept that it just wasn’t. Could my parents and teachers have done research? Yes. But the fact that they didn’t is worth being mad about forever. I can’t do anything about it, and neither can they. The fact that they didn’t have the knowledge that I needed them to have back then isn’t fair, but that’s why it’s so important to talk about it now.
Because, what I can do, and what I have seen happen especially through social media like TikTok, is spread awareness. I’ve heard people say that “everyone is neurodivergent these days, it’s like a trend”, and I think that might just be one of the most ignorant things I’ve ever heard. People don’t want ADHD and autism, people want help. People want the diagnosis that unlocks all the tools and accommodations that some people have had since childhood. The difference between now and back when I was a child is simply that more people now know and understand the symptoms, and thus are able to identify them within themselves.
Everything’s a mess
I don’t think there exists a truly ‘healthy’ and ‘sane’ person in this world. We all carry things we wish we didn’t, but that’s how the world works. That does not mean that we can’t help to make it a little better.
Living for years with an undiagnosed mental disorder has an immense impact on your life; there’s no reason to pretend that it doesn’t. While I might accept and forgive my own circumstances, there is no reason that everyone should need to.
I am forgetful, I am distracted and I am traumatized.
If you think you might have ADHD, I encourage you to contact your GP. It might be scary, but the relief of receiving help and most of all just an explanation cannot be compared.