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Hold Onto the Light (Part I - Adaptability)

Sidebar: For those who do not know me, I’m a certified Secondary Education teacher who has taught both middle school and high school so if my post feels slightly bent toward helping that demographic, that’s why. However, I feel adults can take what I learned and apply it to themselves as well. The following are true events of my life.

Okay...onward and forward!

When Gail asked me to be a part of the Hold Onto the Light project I said yes, enthusiastically, because the goal for this project is something I believe in very much, but I’ve struggled about what to write about. I feel a bit out of my depth here as I do not battle with any form of anxiety or depression myself…and thus feel inadequate to discuss either. However, looking back at the two obstacles I did have, I discovered something interesting. I have turned them into positive things. I’ll explain, or try to.

Today’s post, as I’ll have more than one (because I’m wordy and I apologize) will focus on the first of my two issues, something that also can frustrate many kids and adults alike.

Now, my parents and grandparents suffer(ed) from forms of anxiety and manic depression so it runs in my family on both sides. I’ve watched them struggle with it all my life. Genetically speaking, I too should be dealing with these (and someday I very well might) but it appears to have skipped my generation. The doctor told my mother that one of the things that has helped with that is that I have a mild form of ADHD. I joke that it’s hard for me to be depressed about something when I can’t focus on anything long enough to be upset by it. :) Which isn’t true, but it’s funny…and I’ve always used humor to attack serious subjects.

Due to my age, I was never diagnosed when I was in school, as these things weren’t a thing, yet. To be honest, it was when I was in my 6th year of college (yes, I did 7 years and changed majors 2 times. If you are an ADD/ADHD kid who can relate, raise your hand!) taking my education classes when we were taught about these disorders (that I’d never heard of) and went, “Wait a second, this sound familiar! Holy shit!” Honestly…I think I said those two last words aloud to the dismay of teachers, I’m sure.

Why had I fallen through the crack on this? How come no one had ever told me about this stuff until now? I was dumbfounded. I began reading up on it and looking at things and realized why. First and foremost, I’m not an extreme case. Second, I worked my ass off to combat the parts of my eccentricity that made things I wanted, difficult. Third and foremost, I adapted. We all do this in our life, don’t we? I mean we learn what doesn’t work for us and we change it around. Humans are adaptive creatures, like many other on this planet. Just like how someone with no arms can learn to paint and write with their feet, those of us with eccentricities (I prefer this word over disabilities) can learn to make choices around our ability. That’s right…I have special abilities, like a superhero. How? I’ll get to that, but first, I want to address the three items noted above.

For the first one, where I’m not a severe case; simply put, I’m lucky. I’ve met kids who are in great need of help. Some even need medication along with help from a professional and/or their family. No matter which level of ADD or ADHD you fall under, like any other eccentricity, it’s NOT YOUR FAULT. So many kids I’ve worked with have felt like they were a failure, especially by admitting they needed help or if they needed meds to help them. Thing is, that’s not the case. ADD and ADHD can be brain chemical issues as much as anxiety or depression. They can also be caused from not enough help outside of school with things they are having issues with. What’s important is that you find what is best for you and do it, be that working with someone or medication or both.

The second item I mentioned was that I worked my ass off and I did. I carried an A- to B+ average in school (another reason I fell through the cracks) but believe it or not, it wasn’t classwork that made me work on focusing. It was theatre. In my second show (Hansel and Gretel) my mother commented that while I was on stage in a scene where I had no lines and nothing really to do (One of my roles was as a kid in the witch’s cage, with other kids, so I felt like window dressing no one saw…I learned otherwise) I was a distraction because I wasn’t IN the scene. That I was evidently not paying attention and detracted from what was going on.

I NEVER FORGOT THIS. And I don’t mean as in remembering she told me…I mean I never forgot what this meant. So the next night I worked hard to be in the moment, to focus on what was going on with the actors on stage and reacting in a realistic way. It was hard for a kid who’d just turned thirteen. So I thought of all the stories I told with my Barbie’s (for I told full stories with them and they had backgrounds and so on, which I’m sure you’re not surprised about, but at the time I was an odd duck that way) and I applied it to me. I had not been given squat by the director, so I made decisions about that girl and I used that to make myself focus.

Third and most importantly, I adapted. I used my technique in theatre and applied it to school. When that wasn’t enough, I asked for help. Math was my biggest issue as my head went too fast to do all the steps of complex algebra without special assistance; which I got in 6th grade and 7th, grade, but not in 8th. By 9th grade I was cheating to pass (I’ve never told anyone that) and as the daughter of a teacher and a kid who went to church, I felt worthless. So I asked for help over and over, barely passing. Thankfully, I’d had enough to fill requirements after this and could walk away.

Soon I realized though where I excelled and where I didn’t. So I tailored my classes around that as much as possible. I also pushed myself to learn things I had a hard time with, but on my own time. For example, my mother is sequence dyslexic. I have a touch of this every now and again, which is why Algebra is a bitch for me. You know what else was? Dance. Jeebus, I had two left feet. I sucked at sports too. And video games (hand/eye coordination).

Thing is, if you want to be in theatre in high school, you need to sing/dance/act because they do musicals. So as of 9th grade, after my drama teacher and voice teacher (they were/are still married to one another) told my mom I couldn’t dance, I signed up for classes. It was so difficult. Thinking back on learning those sequences, I can remember how hard of a time I had focusing to learn the steps. I would try and fail and try and fail. But then, something magical happened: it clicked. My brain found a way to process it and I learned how to dance. Was I the best? NO! But wasn’t utter shite anymore either.

And let me tell you, the day I got a paycheck for being the choreographer for the musical Godspell in my mid-20’s, I celebrated! LOL! I was the emergency replacement (I’d been helping with vocal work) and stepped in with 2 weeks to tech and we did it. And if you don’t know, that show has multiple forms of dance in it, including tap, so…yeah. Thank God for my student at the time (Jenny Hart, you are a goddess!) because she helped keep me focused. You see, I asked for help…I do better when I can talk stuff out as I learn it…so she and I made it happen.

I’d adapted. I’d worked my ass off. I’d found a way around my eccentricity to use it to succeed. The key? Finding what you love to do more than anything else…and making it happen no matter the odds. I don’t care if it’s ADD or ADHD or Anxiety or Depression or whatever. YOU CAN KICK ITS ASS! You’re adaptable. You’re stronger than it is. Your resilience is amazing. How do I know that? Cause you’re still standing when others have given up. THAT alone should tell you a lot. Hold onto that.

Oh, and my fellow ADD/ADHD folks...about those superpowers we have...

What happens when you take the quick mind of a young girl with ADHD who spent a lot of alone time telling stories with her Barbie’s, took dance class to learn sequence, and created backstories for characters she played on stage so as to stay focused, and pair all that with a talent for typing?

You get a woman with a very active imagination who:

  • Sees a full story linearly and can keep track of multiple stories in her head at the same time.

  • Builds full and flawed characters with backstory and purpose in her head.

  • Enjoys telling stories on paper vs. on stage or with dolls.

  • Is a bit rule bent for submissions to the point of fretting about it (as she's become a bit OCD).

  • Understands the idea of not just self motivation but the beauty of having help.

  • Can multi-task like it's her job.

  • Can write a 175K story in three months on a computer (or 120K in 5 months on her phone) while working a day job as well.

So thank you, ADHD…you brought me to where I was always meant to be: A writer...a teller of tales...and hopefully, someday, someone who encourages others to turn their eccentricities into superpowers.

Until next time (tomorrow: Part II), write hard, bathe in imagination, and revel in your eccentricities!

P.S. Obviously you can Google this on your own but here are some links about hyperactivity:

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