Did I Tell You I’m 52 Years Old?

I spent the day yesterday doing something I wish I had done in elementary school. I’ve been agonizing over whether or not to get an official diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder for the last year or so, primarily because I was unsure as to what I would do with the information once I had it. It’s been a struggle my entire life that, up until starting my own business in 2017, was due to “laziness, lack of effort, sloppiness, poor follow through…” you name it. My personal favorite is “ she only wants to put effort into fun things! She has a terrible work ethic!” I heard this my freshman year in high school and probably hundreds of times over the years in various school and work settings. Did I tell you I’m 52 years old?

I’m going to let you live in my head for a bit. High school was about the time I started having difficulty in school. I was a smart kid, a very early reader and insatiably curious, I still am! I was a great student pretty much through elementary and middle school, and then, high school changed everything. I couldn’t float through just because I was bright. Things like projects and reports and assignments that required planning and organizing started to get the best of me. To this day if I have a daunting task ahead, I’m paralyzed with how to start, prioritizing, organizing, all of those executive functions that are so natural and satisfying to many people. I’d spend valuable time searching for paper, pens, books and virtually everything in the chaos of my space, often putting down something I just found while searching for something else and losing it all over again. All the while my anxiety would be building as the clock ticked away. And the saddest part? I loved to learn and nine times out of ten I wanted to do the assignment. But the chaos usually won, and I’d give up, anxious, defeated and wondering how everyone else managed to get things done.

Keep in mind that this was the 1970s and 80’s and although ADD and ADHD where well known at the time, it tended to be applied more to boys than girls. I was never a behavior problem as I was incredibly self conscious and shy. The worst thing I could think of at that time was calling attention to myself. Most days if I could crawl into the floor boards I would have! The kids that were getting diagnosed at that time were typically boys that were disruptive and hyperactive. Definitely not me. Many parent/ teacher conferences later, it was confirmed that I was not only lazy and unmotivated, but anxious and depressed. Weird. I ended up failing so much that I ended up getting my GED rather than graduating with my class.

So rather than the Marine Biologist or veterinarian that I had always dreamed of being, I ended up in retail, which I was good at until I got promoted to store manager because…I had to manage stuff…and people. And get payroll in on time… and ORGANIZE A STORE. You get the idea. Again the consensus was I was lazy and unmotivated and again I failed at something that just didn’t seem that hard, right? Maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought.

Somehow I managed to work my way through college, which I look back on as my “Wonder Years” . I did quite well in college, which, knowing what I know now about ADD and stimulants, makes total sense as my diet consisted almost exclusively on coffee and cigarettes. I ended up graduating magna cum laude with a degree in speech and language disorders, a field that , although many of the same difficulties occurred, I was reasonably good at my job and enjoyed it. Of course, I wasn’t the boss, and that helped.

Fast forward 30 years or so ( remember, I’m 52) and I’m sitting in a neurologist’s office feeling a vast array of emotions. Anxiety, anger, fear and strangely, grief. Grief for how my life might have been knowing this 30 years ago. Fear because I’m not sure what will come of it. I also feel pretty stupid not realizing my own diagnosis until fairly recently. I mean, I worked in the field of Special Education for 20 years! I finally made the appointment after struggling the last couple of years of being a small business owner. I have my dream job—- I create artisan soap for a living, and I’m really good at it. I can finally let the good ADD show it’s face. I’m really creative and witty and funny. My ideas keep me up at night sometimes, but it’s ok because this is the type of work I’m supposed to do. That tangential thinking that gets me in trouble in other jobs allows me to shine in this one. People see how good I am at something, finally. But businesses come with paperwork, schedules, bills and deadlines and it’s quite the struggle for me, particularly since my business is growing by the day. I’ve finally admitted I need help focusing. I leave the doctor’s office with my prescription in my hand and if I can overcome my drug anxiety I will start taking it tomorrow. We shall see.

I’m Sue, and I’m finally getting help for my Attention Deficit Disorder. Did I mention I’m 52?

Susan Willens