There is an imaginary friend that all ADD and ADHD sufferers have, but never asked for. He sits just out of your periphery, taps you on the shoulder, and jumps to your other side, waiting to do it again as you look around at nothing in particular. I’m going to name him Calvin, because that seems like the kind of name that a kid who does that would have.
I didn’t know Calvin was there for a very long time. I wasn’t a problem child in school, but I had my hang-ups. I was always a good student, but I got headaches every time math came up in Mrs. Ketchum’s 5th grade classroom. The headaches weren’t real, but the boredom was. I understood math just fine, but I couldn’t concentrate on it. Pretty common stuff for an ADD sufferer.
I had a stint of bad grades in Junior High, but only because I forgot to turn in about a month’s worth of essays, stuffing them haphazardly into my locker after I got to school. My father didn’t believe me at first, but when he walked me to my locker and had me open it up, evidence in the form of a monstrous blob of processed wood pulp and graphite smudges came tumbling out of the metal, wall-mounted box.
Eventually, I got close to managing my concentration— mind you, without ever abusing or knowing about Adderall. I was rocking Calculus by high school, but 7 years of doing art has erased any skill or need for high level math.
For a long time, after the spike in media coverage of Adderall abuse, as well as increased awareness and diagnosis of ADD and ADHD, I wondered silently whether I might have it. I didn’t think so, for a long time. I was naturally creative, and spent a lot of time in my own head. I was an honors student, I did a lot of extracurriculars, got good grades, and didn’t even go to parties. I hadn’t even been drunk yet. How could I have ADD?
But then, I thought, I have so much trouble taking notes. But I figured that out— just doodle in class. Doodling saved more than a few of my grades, giving my hands something to do, freeing up my mind to listen to the professor fully and intently. I stopped taking notes my sophomore year, although some professors didn’t seem to enjoy my doodling habit. Of course, there was the undeniable fact that I started projects like wildfire and finished very few of them, often overwhelmed by the amount of obligations I had made for myself. The same with video games— I could barely play a single game without starting a new one, except on rare occasions. Calvin would always be there, tapping me on the shoulder, whispering in my ear as loudly as possible, “hey, lookit that!”
Even worse, I, a lifelong reader, had trouble even keeping focus on reading for my literature classes. I would find myself thinking of five other things before realizing that I had buzzed through four pages without comprehending anything. And it only got worse with stress. I spent more than a few long nights fueled by the kind of focus that only a 2 liter of caffeine and an impending deadline can create.
But I couldn’t have ADD. The people I heard about in school using and abusing Adderall were cheaters. I wasn’t a cheater. I could do it all by myself. And in the end, I did. I graduated college without so much as seeing an illicit “performance enhancer.”
But what suffered most were my creative projects, things I was on fire to do but couldn’t seem to start. I blamed it on the time constraints of school most of the time, but I just couldn’t seem to force myself to do the things I loved outside of school—not near as much as when I was a child. Writing. Drawing. Creating. I had found ways to force myself to work in school, to get rid of Calvin once and for all, relegating him and his popped collar (at least that’s how I imagine him) to the past. But I had just pushed him into another part of my life. I locked him up during the school and work, except for the occasional day trip. But he had merely wiggled his way into my free time, rested from a day off, ready to bother me while I tried to put myself into my passions.
I denied it for years longer. I pretended he didn’t exist. It wasn’t until my last semester of graduate school that I decided to man up and go to the doctor. The pills helped, but I kept it secret for longer than I should have because of the stigma, the lack of understanding that having ADD carries. Seeing the hateful comments directed at Chris Davis, first baseman on my favorite baseball team, gives me those same feelings of terror at letting someone know that I have ADD. Chris Davis, for the uninitiated, is a baseball player who was recently suspended 25 games for using Adderall without permission from the MLB. He had been diagnosed with ADHD before, and had an exemption to use the drug, but the MLB cracked down on it’s use, and he lost his exemption. He had a good year without the drug last year (although some contest this despite that he never tested positive last year). But this year, he’s been in a slump, started having more and more trouble concentrating on the ball, and started using the drug again without permission. A bad decision? To be sure. But this doesn’t change his condition. It’s comments like these—
“He’s just lazy.”
“In historical terms this is just another cure-all drug fad.”
“How about you donate 40% of your base pay (to a MLB charity) for one-and-a-half years if you’re busted doping for the sport, since you are taking away jobs from others deserving a chance?”
“Wife beaters, child abusers, rapists, murderers, and druggies.”
“…he wouldn’t bring up his wife having a baby this year as an excuse for taking the drugs.”
—that show me that so many people misunderstand and still stigmatize those with ADD and ADHD. His increased stress due to being in a slump and having a new child at home (while working a job that requires long stints away from home) surely isn’t a factor, because ADD/ADHD in the minds of the public is consistent inability to focus all the time. They don’t understand how stress can affect it. And the drug that has helped so many, myself included (despite it’s abuse), is just a fad.
And now, he’s equivalent to domestic abusers, rapists, and pedophiles.
Don’t get me wrong— I’m mad at Chris Davis as a fan and as a person with ADD. This hasn’t done anything to help understanding of the condition, or our chances in the post-season. But I can understand where he’s coming from. I understand the feeling of losing grip on what’s happening right in front of you, even in mid conversation.
And yet, there is another side to it. Despite the stigma, despite the lack of concentration, I am glad I have ADD. There is another imaginary friend, I’ll call him Hobbes, who sits on the other my other shoulder. He whispers me secrets. He tells me stories. And, although sometimes it feels like I have a billion stories buzzing around in my head like bees, I’m glad he’s there. He’s there when my mind wanders, a companion who helps me see the world and make connections I would never have made. Calvin is a condition, something to be reined in. A problematic child with no sense of direction.
Hobbes is an adventurer, who likes to explore and stretch and fly. But they’re just parts of the same person. I think I’ll take the good with the bad.