I am a mess.
I remember thinking it for the first time when my 2nd grade teacher dumped the contents of my desk out in front of the class.
This was a daily exercise. Up at the front at the end of the day, she would demonstrate what a perfect desk looked like, carefully mapping each step for us up on the board with her ruler. I tried to keep track of her rules, make careful notes about each of her words, but I could never get it right. She’d always find a doodle or a glue ‘sculpture’ I made, tucked away; crumpled up and hidden in the back of my desk. Tiny rebellions- crammed into my small little desk space every. single. day.
The rule was, if you didn’t follow Ms. Ayers exact directions, the next morning you’d arrive to class with your desk, dragged to the front of the room, and dumped. I don’t remember another child receiving this sentence. But, it was my punishment and mine alone for my entire 2nd grade year. My penance to kneel in front of the class, scurrying to shove the contents of my belongings back inside before anyone saw. ME: exposed in tiny mid-day day dream doodles and playground litter finds.I never told a soul outside that classroom. Because I believed whole-heartedly and ashamedly that I was the mess in that room.
More than 25 years later and I am still a mess. Or at least my car, house, purse, bathroom counter, yard, pantry, and laundry room are. For all (almost) 35 years of my life, I have lived with piles of paper, and piles of laundry, and piles of empty food wrappers that never quite make their way into the trash trailing behind me, like I’m Pig-Pen from Peanuts wherever I go. The structures and routines of life that keep other people caught up with their lives have always alluded and escaped me. Even when I’m trying, I can’t get them quite right. The energy required to repeat any given task never eases with the familiarity of routine for me. Instead, the focus it requires to stay on task makes every step of every routine (whether I’ve done it once or a thousand times) feel brand new to me day after day after day after day.
Sometimes, I get so manic with energy that I scrub down my whole house with a toothbrush. Or paint the front door neon. Or cook a whole winter’s worth of soups to stock in my fridge. But I can’t invite that sort of inspiration (that hyper-focus) to come. It strikes when it strikes, consuming and unnerving me as I work; leaving me more harried and haggard than before when it’s left me. Causing me a flurry of fervor that drives me nearly insane.
Most days, a thousand little half finished tasks compete for my attention. And instead of focusing on each one until it’s complete, as I always intend to do- I bounce from task to task- finishing each one in segments as I notice it. Often not completing any of them, or abandoning everything altogether when I’m distracted by something else entirely.
That’s why unfinished business is my middle name…or at least it should be. I often start projects then lose the energy or inspiration to finish right smack dab in the middle of creating them. It’s maddening. It’s defeating. On my darkest days I’m riddled with anxiety and a crushing sense of failure. These quirks of being me are sometimes what I love about myself, but often what I hate about myself.
What on earth is wrong with me? You might be wondering.
It’s not a hard question to answer.
I suspect it’s ADD.
Don’t get me wrong. I have many (effective and not to so effective) strategies for dealing with the challenges of living with (what I believe is undiagnosed) ADD.
There’s the strategy of Love and Logic in my parenting. Which, in essence, is the after-the-fact excuse I shamelessly use with my kids (and anyone else
judging observing my parenting) that I’m using natural consequences as the primary mode of disciplining my children. Forgotten jackets or lunches aren’t something I can swoop up and remind them to take with them. I can never be a helicopter parent. They just have to remember those things themselves because I never will. They say ‘behind every child who forgets is a mom who remembers’ but in my house, the opposite is true. (At least with 3 of the 4…Lord help me with Harper…who my parents say is most like me)
There’s the strategy of endless alarms that sound throughout my day at regular intervals. There’s normal notifications like a wake up calls and doctors appointments. But, there’s less normal ones, too, like ‘practice reading with Harper’ and even one to remind me to go to bed.
There’s the strategy of always attaching myself to people who know what they’re doing. See also: Lucas, my mom, nearly every one of my closest friends. I watch closely and try my hardest to mimic their organized, structured, routine processes in order to get through my days. And when I’m completely lost, admittedly, they each swoop in to remind me what I’m forgetting or overlooking. Lucas, for instance, receives all Girl Scout and Soft Ball details. Then sends me texts that say: practice today, 5:30, don’t forget. I used to feel ashamed to take this help, now I just feel grateful.
Even as I write this I wonder if I’m oversharing. It’s kind of embarrassing, really. Who can’t remember to pick their kids up from school? Who can’t finish the dishes before starting to sort through old spices in her pantry? I’ll tell you: me. I single handedly clothed the nearby Goodwill shoppers as a kid by losing enough clothing to fill the entire Lost & Found bin at school (I’m sorry, Mom.) And every single water bottle forgotten at the gym across the west coast probably belongs to me, too. It.is.the.actual.worst.
Like so many other things I’m deciding to accept about myself, I’ve resolved not to try to hide this aspect of who I am anymore. That doesn’t mean glossing over real ways it exacerbates or challenges the people who love me. But it does mean owning and even celebrating all the positive ways that ADD shapes me, too. Being so out-of-step with the plans and routines of others has given me an unusual (and empathetic) view of the world and other people. And, getting distracted is not an inconvenience for me- it is the constant drumbeat of my life. So if you need me in an emergency I can truly be there for you, unencumbered by today’s to do list (as if I ever had one.) I am your call-at-2am friend every time. There’s also tons and tons of creative inspiration, too- that strikes in shoots and spurts that totally and completely consume me. Meaning that yes, my house is nearly always a mess, but (on the positive side) my kids childhood will be filled with memories of the messes we made while crafting and creating, happily, and without restraint or concern; together. This, I think (or at least hope), is what makes up for the daily life hazards that my family and friends have to deal with in living with and loving me. There is hope and there is health even in the craziness of doing life with me.
Oh, and I finally did make an appointment to see an ADHD specialist to be evaluated. I’m set to see her next week. An alarm on my phone will sound one day before, one hour before, and one half hour before… just to be sure I get there.