You’re Supposed to Listen to the Teacher?! My ADD Story
Diagnosed with ADD at 41
I was officially diagnosed with ADD—attention deficit disorder, when I was 42. It was about the time I abruptly went from being a therapist, only responsible for myself, to being chief of the clinic. I told the developmental pediatrician that I worked with “I have ADD. I’m absolutely sure of it, and my life has become unmanageable.” That was perhaps a rare moment clarity and decisiveness. He stoically replied, “I’ll put in a consult.” No argument. This was around 2002, and I guess even psychiatrists were not used to dealing with adults with ADD, at least in the Air Force. So, off I went to the child psychiatrist.
My First ADD Memory
One day when I was in the first grade, the teacher said she wanted us all to make a page full of soldiers. I felt panicked, thinking that could take all day! We had recently drawn family portraits. I remember I drew everyone’s arms out to the side and hanging at the elbows like scarecrows. My portrait was only four people. Now I needed to draw a whole page full of soldiers, and I’m thinking arms, legs, faces, uniforms. Holy smokes! Well, as it turned out, “soldiers” were lowercase letter “L”s! I guess I must have been day dreaming and missed that point. Whew! This is my earliest recollection of an ADD moment.
You’re Supposed to Listen to the Teacher?!
I didn’t realize until 5th grade that I was actually supposed to be listening to the teacher as she droned on all day long. In first grade I was frequently called out for talking. By 5th grade, I was done with Cs in “deportment”, and just quietly entertained myself in my head. This is pretty common in ADD, inattentive type. Unlike the hyperactives, we’re only disruptive to ourselves, in our own heads. I always made good grades, so I flew under the radar.
I guess I must have found much of school to be boring. That, and I’ve never been a morning person. I think I would have done much better in “second shift” school, had that been an option. I thought school was like church. Blah, blah, blah, blah blah. Boring. Entertain yourself as best you can, but just keep quiet and don’t draw attention to yourself. I sincerely didn’t realize I was supposed to be listening to the pastor or the teacher.
It’s Church’s Fault
I seriously think the whole church experience indoctrinated me into a mindset not conducive to knowing I needed to listen in school. I had been dutifully taken to church most every Sunday by my parents, from the time I was an infant. It was a very small Lutheran church. Sunday School was the hour before the main service. Back then, there was no arrangement for having supervision and keeping very young children down in the basement Sunday School classrooms. That came much later, but during my childhood, babies and all children sat with their families for the main service. No one would expect young children to listen to a sermon. When you start going to church services as an infant, I guess as you turn into a toddler and beyond, you learn that you have to keep quiet. If you didn’t keep quiet, you got taken outside. You could tell which kids were going to get a spanking by whether or not they cried louder on the walk toward the door.
I guess it never occurred to my parents to let me know by a certain age that it was time to start listening to the service. Likewise, I suppose they thought it went without saying that when you go to school, you’re supposed to listen to the teacher.
I Have a Diagnosis, Now What?
When I went to the child psychiatrist, he asked me questions about history of course. I recounted the first-grade soldier story, and that it didn’t occur to me until 5th grade that I was supposed to listen to the teacher. He declared me to have “no brainer” ADD, mostly inattentive type.
Over the next six years until I retired from the Air Force, and a few years after, I continued to be followed by psychiatrists, psychologists, or psychiatric nurses. After the first year, I was seen by providers for adults. I saw lots of psychiatry residents, as I was always assigned to a “teaching hospital”. One of my residents had ADD also, so he had great insight. He’s the one that told me that some experts believe there is always a co-morbidity of either anxiety or depression in adults with ADD.
I tried a couple ADD medications over the years, but never had the ‘OMG, I didn’t know life could be so good’ response that some people report. The insights into myself and my behaviors were more important. I was in a support group with other adults with ADD for a while. Most of us were active duty military. Insights from others was extremely valuable, hearing them put into words experiences and perspectives that most of us had experienced. One amongst us spoke of being distracted by ‘bright and shiny trains of thought’.
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