Suffering the Ups and Downs of Adhd

by Lee Smith

Copyright© 2009 by Lee Smith

True Story: This is the first of a new groupd of my essays and thoughts. The title is pretty self-explanatory. I am positive this will strike a chord in the minds of many of my readers. If so I would be very interested in hearing from you.

Tags: True Story  

Here I am, 65 years old and still dealing with a disorder mistakenly considered to be a childhood malady. I am speaking of an all-too-common condition known as ADHD or Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD is actually a combined condition. Attention Deficit Disorder is a fully separate issue from Hyperactivity. Each has its own problems and attendant difficulties. Combine the two and you have an extremely powerful problem to deal with.

Talk to just about anyone you know and they'll tell you ADHD is a condition which is confined to the young. Adults don't suddenly come down with AD or become Hyperactive. Additionally, the highly uniformed general public will swear children will revert to being normal people when they enter into puberty. To be exact, they're half right. Unless there's been some kind of accident or physical disability caused by an outside source, adults won't suddenly change from their normal personality to some half-crazed, juvenile delinquent. I am also positive, adults who had AD, hyperactivity syndrome or ADHD as a child do not actually outgrow ADHD at puberty. A more accurate statement would be they simple learn how to control and hide the problem. However, I am NOT a doctor. I don't have a medical degree and I don't have any scientific studies nor Single or Double Blind studies to back up what I am saying. What I have is 65 years of personal experience with this disorder.

As a youngster I was what people called an 'active little tyke'. I don't think I spent more than a month or two of my early childhood walking or crawling. About 2 weeks before I possibly could, I was running. I never stopped. If I couldn't run then I rode my bicycle, as fast as I could. I went through as many shoes as I did tires on my bike. My bike always needed to be fixed as the brakes wore out rather quickly. If the brakes wouldn't work then I used the Fred Flintstone braking system; I used my feet. I'm sure every mother out there can sympathize with mine. I went through shoes in a very short order. If the local shoe store had been anywhere near decent, they would have given my mother a volume discount. Frankly, I don't remember, in my younger days, ever outgrowing a pair of shoes. They were always worn out long before they got too tight.

Unfortunately, when I ran head first into puberty my ADHD never even quivered. Hell, to be perfectly truthful it was as bad as it ever was. I did learn to control it a bit and was, unlike many of my contemporaries, able to graduate from High School with a D- grade point average. I graduated in 1961 when the words Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder were just beginning to be heard. The educational wisdom at the time was, "He's just not interested," or "If he would just settle down he could be an exceptional student," or, my personal favorite, "What he needs is some strong discipline. A few swats and he'll straighten right up."

I had a second problem, which I'm finding, most ADHD kids have. Frankly, I have no idea if the two are connected. However, I was a school teacher for about 10 years and it seemed to me ADHD children were also quite intelligent.

Here, I think I need to explain my self just a bit. Rereading the previous paragraph, it sounds like I am saying being intelligent is a problem, and I am. To be specific, I am saying having an above average level of intelligence in conjunction with Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity, or both, does cause more problems.

Have you ever heard someone referred to as 'a late bloomer'? I would be willing to bet money most of those so-called late bloomers had one of the three conditions I am discussing. Having Attention Deficit Disorder makes learning extremely difficult. If you have an above average learning ability it is even worse. The AD student will hear the information and almost immediately understand what is being said. At just about that point the AD kicks in and the brain starts going somewhere else and he/she loses track of what is being taught or, because his/her mind is somewhere else will only get a small portion of what is being taught. Come test time and guess what happens. Yep; a poor grade, guilt, disappointed parents and teachers and fellow students making fun of you. Add to that someone who is also hyperactive and now you have what is commonly known as an 'explosive situation'.

How I envied my fellow students who could sit in a small, confining desk/chair combination for, what was to me, long periods of time and do so without having to fidget, move around, jiggle, or play with pencils or paper. I simply could not understand how anyone could sit quietly for that long a time. For me that ability was something that bordered on the absolute impossible. The fact was, it was physically impossible for me to sit still. I had no choice; I absolutely had to be moving. I tapped my feet, I drummed the desk with my fingers, I twiddled my thumbs, I looked around constantly trying to see what other people were doing, I twitched my muscles, I squinted, etc, etc, etc. I did everything I could think off not to get in trouble except the one thing I was supposed to do but could not.

In general, I was a nice kid. Most of the time I treated people with kindness and a modicum of respect. Unfortunately, ADHD does interfere with a person's social growth. One problem is interrupting. Back to the intelligence concept, most of the time when someone was speaking my mind was about 5 or 20 words ahead of him or her. Throw in the hyper part and I just jumped in before I should. This is not a recipe for making lots of friends and developing good social skills.

So there I was, a highly intelligent child (later in life I tested at the 97th percentile. One point below Mensa material) with a mind I could keep to one subject for only very short periods of time and a body I couldn't control. Needless to say I quickly became quite familiar with the school Principal. Teachers tried. Oh Lordy, did they try but it was just too much.

I my case my parents kept telling me how smart I was. They couldn't understand why I wouldn't apply myself like other kids did. But then, who ever listens to their parents anyway? I know I sure didn't. Not because I thought they were old and wouldn't understand (they were in their early 30's at that time) but, because I didn't understand what was wrong with me or even if there was something wrong with me. I didn't have a clue.

When I was about 15 years old, I decided I needed a job. I looked around and finally got a job working at a local restaurant. I did what most everyone who starts working in food service did; I bussed tables and washed dishes. After high school, I tried college; that was a total bust so I went back to working in restaurants. At 19 years of age, I married my one and only wife and got serious about making better money than $1.25 an hour, which was the state minimum wage at the time. I got a job working for the City of Beaverton Street Crew. Somewhere in the first few years working for them, my lack of social skills and consequent inability to work well with other people got the best of me. It took a really professional butt chewing and some very direct and honest opinions about my personality and work skills to get my head back on straight. It did wonders for me. Friends and family always treated me with kindness and patience. This time I got it right between my eyes with no holds barred. Eventually I was promoted to work in the city's Sewage Treatment Plant. After a few years I applied and got the same job with the City of Tigard. Later I was promoted to Sewage Plant Manager. The problem is I never outgrew my ADHD and that was about the time it caught up to me. I began to lose interest in the job. I don't know about other people but when I start to lose interest I begin making stupid, little mistakes. This was no exception. Finally, my boss, the City Engineer, sat me down and told me the City Manager wanted him (the City Engineer) to find a way to get rid of me. I took the conversation to mean I had worn out my welcome. I had spent about 10 years working for the two cities. I didn't notice it but a pattern was starting to show.

My wife and I decided I, at the age of 28, should go back to school, get a degree and become an Elementary School Teacher. So, that's what I did. I was able to do 4 years of college in 3 ½ by going to summer school plus taking some ridiculous class loads. It was tough but we did it. I graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove with the highest graduating GPA of the graduating class, a 3.96. In three plus years of higher education I had earned one B and the rest A's. I had matured enough to keep myself under control and actually apply myself. Looking back, I think I was in a perpetual fog because I really don't remember much of those 3+ years.

My first job was teaching second grade and I was OK but I wasn't an outstanding teacher. Luckily, my Principal felt I would relate much better to older students. The following year he moved me to the 6th grade. I was home. For the next 10 years I was a happy camper but, at the end of those 10 years or so I began to get restless. I started to get bored with my job. Consequently, I made the biggest mistake of my life; I became an Elementary School Principal.

I was terrible. I learned, in that one, single year, I was a fair to middlin' leader, at best, and an even worse administrator. I refused to renew the contract when it was offered. I packed up, moved back home to Beaverton and sat in a chair for the next three months. It was never diagnosed, but I am of the opinion I had a nervous breakdown or a case of severe burnout. Either way, for 3 months of my life I was totally worthless to myself or anyone else. Finally, I woke up.

I decided I wanted to become self-employed.

We bought a small Deli restaurant. We did well for a time but the economy caught up with us and it ultimately failed.

I opened a one-man advertising company. Failed.

Finally, I bought a sharpening business from a man we bowled with. Although, that business had a fairly steep and difficult learning curve, it was something I could do and do well. I absolutely loved it. We had the shop in our garage and I had zero employees. I had decided, from past experience, I didn't lead people well so I didn't want any employees. If I needed to get more work done I would buy better machinery rather than hiring someone.

For the next 10 years or so I was the happiest I had ever been in my working life. Please, don't get me wrong; I loved being a teacher but being a teacher requires relating to, and getting along with other people. Being alone in a classroom was fine; it was outside of the classroom where I had difficulties. The art of politics is a big part of being a successful teacher and politics wasn't and isn't something I do very well.

Although I didn't understand, at that time, the sharpening shop fit perfectly with ADHD. Sharpening is a physical business. Everything you do is pretty much working with your hands. In addition, sharpening is a highly varied business. In the course of a day I could very well sharpen 20 to 30 different tools. The variety helped me continue to pay attention.

I was in my early 50's when I bought and ran that business. I still did not understand and had not identified I had ADHD. Looking back, I am of the opinion buying that particular business was the best thing I could have ever done. The sharpening business and ADHD were a perfect fit. I couldn't have chosen better if I had known what I was doing. And, yes, the ADHD kicked in at about 10 years. We sold the business, house and everything else and became full-time RVers. Our plan was to ultimately find a new place to live about 10 years or so from when we began.

I know what has driven my life now and I'm much more comfortable. For years I was stressed because I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't understand why I couldn't settle down and stay with one job like some I knew. Now, after working a lifetime and always feeling there was something wrong I have learned maybe I was actually quite normal.

Statistically, the vast majority of working people change jobs, on average, every five years. As always, statistics never tell the full story. For instance, of those job changers, how many also change professions? How do the numbers come out when you compare men and women? How many people in the world have some form of ADHD and just don't know it? How many people go through their working lives being continually dissatisfied because the never feel they belong there? I am quite sure these are questions that will never be answered.

I have, over the years, learned I am a terrible leader and, strangely, have become a better leader because of that realization. More importantly, I have also learned I cannot multi-task. I absolutely and positively cannot multi-task. Multi-tasking is a total and complete impossibility for me and that is a direct result of my having ADHD.

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