(A young man shares his hardships and trails with ADHD while being bullied he finds ways to make it through and strive to become the best person he can be! Some language may be inappropriate for children)
From the earliest age I was an intransigent day dreamer. Like most kids from age 4 to 10 years old, I immersed myself in a world of fantasy and make-believe where an empty box was a space ship, Legos became an entire civilization that rose and fell from towering skyscrapers into foot-stabbing fragments scattered to all corners of a bedroom, in less than a day; stuffed animals and action figures had lengthy dialogues on life whilst romping through their daily adventures; and the bedroom in question- that was at turns an ancient kingdom at the bottom of the ocean floor, an alien planet inhabited by life “but not as we know it” or even the gateway to some other dimension unclassifiable- was pretty much never picked up afterwards, much to the consternation of Mom and Dad.
All pretty normal for a young kid, so no real cause for alarm. Kids after all are supposed to be hyperactive and run and around, playing make-believe games, impatiently desiring ice cream before dinner, or turning over their favorite board games, like Candy Land, in frustration when they lost or pleading to stay up passed their bed time for “just one more teeny little hour” to watch a Seasonal/Holiday-related “Special” (this was in the 80s before basic cable when there was all of ten channels to choose from.) Okay, maybe I was MORE impatient and slovenly than a lot of kids even at this age but it could be easily seen as just bad habits that could be corrected with diligent parenting with its system of rewards and punishments. Nothing to worry about nothing at all...
...That is until the day dreaming and lacksadasical discipline did not end when school interrupted the neverending recess in my head. Or I should say tried to interrupt it. In the classroom, I would stare out the window into the aching blue sky, when I should have been focusing on the black board at the assignments that were like a real torture to keep up with or even engage- Math, yuck! My brain just refused to work even though it was more than capable of understanding when it was privately tutored or directly explained or was focusing on something that really interested it.
My brain cells were like unruly Teamsters that would "go on strike" (have episodes of A.D.D.) when they didn't get a “raise” (the dopamine and adrenaline rush that such a brain is chronically lacking in.) So as a result, I would be sent down to the "Resource room" (the “retard” room as the other kids predictably called it) in order to finish these assignments and catch back up with the rest of the class. I was labeled L.D.- Learning Disabled- even though I had a keen interest in books and learning- just in my own time and my own way about things that interested me. First science and later literature and Politics.
(From that earliest age, I spoke of before, I would also pour over the old books that my folks had tucked away in a back room downstairs. My most favorite one was a big clunky Biology text book my Dad had from his one year stint at a community college. Up until Middle school I was bent on becoming a biologist for this reason- and not just any Biologist but the first Biologist to successfully clone a Human being! But after years of already struggling with understanding Math that only became worse now in Middle school, it dawned on me that I was more interested in Science Fiction than actually being a Scientist.)
I know that for my gender I am supposed to be hyperactive, the kind of A.D.H.D. where I am bouncing off the walls- and I guess I did feel like I was bouncing off the walls of my skull most of the time- however I was always the mild mannered, day dreaming type. Languorously lost in my own imagination and thoughts- the inattentive variety- that was poorly understood in the 80s when I was growing up.
When I was on the playground at recess or afterschool with friends, I would try to lead games that were imagination-based rather than around typical games or sports like tag or Mother May I, or even this delightful little favorite game among the kind of boys I tried to avoid- “smear the queer.” Rather, I would lead other kinds of games like when I played “Wonder Woman”- a favorite show on T.V. in the late 70s starring Linda Carter with her piercing blue eyes and jet black hair, along with the Incredible Hulk and Spider Man- with the girls in my second grade class, and I would be the bad guy trying to thwart Wonder Women and her Amazonian Sisters as we ran around the playground actimg out the scenes from the t.v. series.
My flare for controversy inadvertantly made an entrance during one of these games at the tender age of eight as it lead to a humorous freak-out by my Second Grade teacher- who already didnt like me because of my inattention- when I cut out a card board gun to use in this imaginary game.
No, it wasnt that I made a facsimile of a gun that caused her to lose her shit, rather what I drew on the gun in black magic marker: A Swastika. You see in this series Wonder Woman's arch enemies were the Nazis. Believe me you don't want to be likened to a Nazi and have to listen to some sanctimonious speech from the teacher on their evils that are incomprehensible to most adults let alone a kid who watched too much of the boobtube for his own good!
A much more innocuous instance of such fantastical pursuits happened on rainy days when I would walk up this small hill from the bus stop on the way back home from school with my friend Meagan. We would gaze upon the rivulets of rain water pouring down the corners of the road next to the wooded lots in my neighborhood and I would imagine that the “Little People” would emerge from the soil to drink and fish from this river, explaining all this to Meagan who had no idea that such magical happenings were occuring right in our own neighborhood!
That is to say, I would conjure up such creatures when I wasn't running in mortal terror from Michael, the neighborhood bully and his lacky, Ryan. Now of course a bully needs no reason at all to mess with you, but playing imaginary games with a girl was an egregious infraction of boy code even for non-bullies. Add to the mix that I was, and always have been, extremely scrawny for a guy my age- not good in sports at all- these cards being dealt to me in life meant that made me a shit magnet for all kinds of abuse.
Just to make it clear when a boy exhibits a day dreamy disposition and a general social awkwardness, this isn't met with the benign condescension as when a girl exhibits those traits. It isn't considered whimsical, cute or endearing. Rather it invites all the most sadistic tendencies in both teachers and fellow students- especially other boys- to come down on him without respite. At least that was my experience- I was a veritable lightning rod for everyone's ire and pent up cruelest urges to be unleashed upon from Kindergarten up until the end of 8th grade.
There were some redeeming moments though. As I alluded to earlier about being more into science fiction than actual science as this occurred around the time I entered Middle School, in 5th grade through 8th where I slowly but surely became fascinated by literature and writing over the years.
I will never forget how in the Middle school library- where I would spend many a recess avoiding the ubiquitous beatings that seemed to rain down out of nowhere at just about any given moment except here in the heavily policed silence of the library- I read Paradise Lost by John Milton, because I was interested in all things mythological and supernatural. (Also this interest stemmed from the fact that I was raised in a very Christian household as well.) Satan's grand pronouncement in that book would prove to be almost oracular for the way my brain worked: “The mind is its own place in itself, and can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven”.
But three things turned me toward literature and writing at that time, that I can say were the absolute high points of those dark and troubled years and were the first glimpses into how this curse of being possessed of a wayward mind could also be a blessing and even appreciated if given half a chance.
The first was during “Authors and Artists week” at our school, where authors and artists came to speak to students about being, well authors and artists. There was a writing workshop that I so wanted to be apart of. I don't even remember why I wanted to be apart of it just that I was fixated on it and severely let down when I found out I didnt make it in. That is I almost didnt make it in since my 5th grade teacher was a complete bitch but my Mom- who is an even bigger bitch- did not want to see me miss out on this program and, to her credit this time, actually went in and balled out my teacher.
It was bitch vs bitch and Momma Bear won out. So, I got into the program and I learned the technique of “personification” in which you imbue a nonliving or nonhuman thing with human thoughts and actions. That was our asignment- write a monologue of a personified thing. I, of course, chose the Human Imagination to personify; it was the only natural choice since the Imagination was my most constant, faithful and sometimes only companion in those years.
The second high point was my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Michaels. She was the loveliest and sweetest English teacher ever for a 13 year old boy to lay his eyes upon as all the tween boys had crushes on her as well. She may also have been the first teacher that wasnt some degree of asshole too and so I dedicated most of my newly dicovered masturbatory fantasies to her. She had my full erec- I, uh, mean- attention when discoursing on works of literature like Animal Farm and Flowers for Algernon.
The third and last example of a high point in Middle School where, for a change, my cerebral peregrinations worked in my favor rather than to my detriment, is a deeply ironic one. You see the year was 1987- the bicentenial of the U.S. constitution. There was a nationwide essay writing contest for all 7th and 8th graders and the theme was “What the Constitution Means To Me”. I say it is ironic because I would never have made it to the state level, if I wasnt put in a remedial reading class- quite laughable in retrospect considering my love of reading. However it turned out to be one of the best classes I had ever taken and was really more like an advanced reading class since the three teachers- one of whom was young and plucky like Mrs Michaels- were all pretty liberal-minded and creative. We read many interesting short stories that were often mixed with instances of other mediums like music and videos to reinforce the themes and ideas in them.
One book we read that stood out in particular was called The Wave, by Todd Strasser. It was based on a true story about a teacher in California who wanted to teach his incredulous History class students how Nazi Germany could have happened by having them form a cult-like group based around discipline and militant in-group cohesion. To this end he gave them all armbands with a wave insignia on it to symbolically seal their group unity and a simple code of conduct to live by- Strength through Discipline! Strength through Community! Strength through Action!
Well, of course the experiment got out of hand and soon the Wave spread out of his classroom to the lunchroom and the hallways, and then other classrooms, until the whole school was in this group and at the end the book the History teacher gathered the whole student body- who were all cytpto-Nazis at this point- into the auditorium to show them who their leader would have been if he was alive today-
aaaand...yep, you guessed it- from the projector onto the big screen appeared before the mind-blown, jaw-dropped students, the face of Adolf Hitler.
It was then that I learned the term “Totalitarian” which I incorporated into my essay on the Constitution and so impressed the teachers that even the principal called me down to her office to remark on how much she loved my essay and that it would be sent onto the state level, where it eventually was indeed selected to go onto the national level but unfortunately was shot down there. Oh well at least I got that far and even got to represent New York state before the nation and on top of all that I also got recognition from this local Elk's lodge who presented me with a savings bond at one of their dinners for something like a $100, if I remember correctly. I finally got recognized for something I was good at and lauded for my pensive inclinations rather than scorned or worse. It was the last and best experience in Middle School before I left behind that long, brutal traumatic experience for High School and beyond.
High School got significantly better as the bullying subsided til it was an anomalous occurrence. But up until that point it was all just a living hell as I well described. I wasn't athletic so I didn't fit in with the jocks and I was labeled L.D. so the nerds and preppies snobbishly wrote me off. Just some of the worst years of my existence on this planet. High School was almost like a very small prelude to college in the sense of freedom that it afforded me in following my own path and with friends and compatriots who were on a similar “wavelength”. I had teachers along the way through the High School years who stoked my interests and talents rather than trying their best to dismiss or discourage them. And of course there was always the solace of the School Library that had all the same literature as before except with a new category that caught my wavering attention span with great relish and fascination: Philosophy. From that point on I got caught up in the fervor and music of ideas so, philosophy and politics, eventually became primary interests when college rolled around. I majored in English and minored in Anthropology, until I made my scholastic pursuits even more impossibly impractical by minoring in Philosophy.
And as always with A.D.H.D. there were the ironies too as I finally got into an A.P. English class with the nerds- a bunch of smarmy, Reagan-era hipsters that sneered cynically at just about anything that smacked of idealism- but in 12th grade, only when I was on the verge of leaving the whole nasty, Public School system altogether! Somehow it took til my last year of High school to be even seen officially as smart enough to be briefly and marginally allowed access to the Nerd caste's inner circle.
I especially loved reading Shakespeare's Hamlet and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment in that class because I could so utterly identify with their brooding anti-heroes- Hamlet in the first case and Raskolnikov in the second. They were both driven by dedication to lofty ideals that they couldn't seem to realize because of their own mood swings, guilt and tendencies to get diverted from their course by contemplating all the possibilites rather than sticking to and acting upon the original plan. And when they finally did act upon those plans it was either too late or in the worst sort of way and therefore self-defeating in the end.
Having A.D.H.D., if it does nothing else, affords you a sense of irony and ironic consciousness. The disparity between the ideal and the real is constant and concrete, the opposition between fantasy and reality is always painfully present and sharply manifest in one's life when you have it. And the irony there is that the surplus thoughts that your brain is constantly generating and preoccupied with- to the point of insomnia on so many a nights- is the very barrier to closing this fateful gap. You are “sicl'ied over with the pale cast of thought” as Hamlet was in his own Shakespearean version of A.D.D. Your Conscious mind is your best friend and your worst enemy- your frienemy.
The Conscious mind is like a sly, cruel and mercurial Wizard King in some fairy tale that jealously holds the keys to his royal vault in his castle where all the answers to anything worthwhile in life lies and yet doesn't give you any time to do so much as take a fleeting glance into this vault where the Imagination- a captivating and captivated ravishing, magical maiden- his Sorceress Step-Daughter- sits atop a mountain of loot- glittering Gold, and Silver coins and Jewels by the millions all dazzling before your eyes as you watch in rapt awe before he slams the giant iron doors shut leaving you outside the gates of the castle to deal with the wild animals of the “real world” that as life goes on no longer take the form of the fearsome bully or condescending Pedant, but rather the banal bureaucrat or disinterested clerk who lives at ease in a civilized jungle of paper work and legalese.
All the while you patiently await the day that Tyrant deigns to open those gates again so you can be ready to grab a handful of this loot in a Robin Hood bid to redistribute the wealth to the commoners. The ultimate goal is to liberate that Magical Maiden of Imagination and make her your spiritual bride in the Royal wedding of the century so the Inner Kingdom can be freed of tyranny and the reign of a new, benevolent order can be initiated that in Pop Psychological terms is called “Self-Realization.”
But still you remain a Day Dream Believer, through it all. To do otherwise would court despair and the world outstide of school- public and collegic- which in true A.D.H.D. fashion, I never finished- would provide enough of its own reasons to answer Hamlet's over-quoted question: To be or not to be- firmly on the side of the latter as the answer.
Whether it was failure in school, marriage, jobs, sobriety etc. somehow I have always kept that burning vision bright in my recollection and now at age 41, I take on the very arduous task of growing up in Middle Age, armed with Adderall, and the knowledge of how A.D.H.D. works so I can storm that vault one day and take all the treasure I can and take that Maiden's hand in marriage and perhaps the Little People will emerge and return on some rainy day and we can sink to the bottom of the sea of memory where that underwater kingdom still lies in my old childhood bedroom and we can toast our good fortune at last!
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