I've been sitting on this post for months, unsure whether I wrote it just for myself, or if it was something I wanted to share. I'm not comfortable talking about myself and my struggles, but I realize we all have challenges and I want friends and family to know a bit more about mine.
Is this the cast of the next "Avengers" movie? The lineup for a charity football game? Maybe a few of the next contestants on "Dancing With the Stars"? Good guesses. If you'd asked me eight months ago, I would've said, "I'm on this list because, like the other guys, I am devastatingly handsome and/or skilled in the musical or acting arts, and/or I am an NFL legend."
But ask me now and I'll tell you that this is a list of famous people with ADHD or ADD. And one not-so-well-known guy.
I've known for a long time that I have executive function disorder, even if I only put a name to put it in recent years, in the course of writing my road trip memoir. I have issues with planning and problem solving; self-motivation; visual imagery; critical analysis; and other things. But it was just recently, as I was working on a specific chapter in my long-in-the-works memoir, that I had the epiphany that I have Attention Deficit Disorder -- no hyperactivity, though, so just ADD.
Last fall I subscribed to the email newsletter for ADDitude magazine after realizing that some of the issues the publication covers relate to executive function challenges. I read the updates casually. I didn't pay much attention to the ADD articles.
Earlier this year I began writing query letters for publishers and agents. I did some research during the process, and was struck by one agent's strong suggestion that memoir writers need to get across to publishers and agents just how their book will connect with readers, and with which readers. It's not enough to tell your story, the agent said. You must have a message that will resonate with people.
I'd already worked into my book -- the tale of a four-month road trip from New England to New Mexico and back with three friends -- discussions of how uncomfortable I was at times during our journey, and how I was disappointed in myself for not breaking out of my shell at age 22. But after reading this agent's words, I realized I needed to dig deeper and devote a sub-chapter to what makes me tick or, more often, not tick.
So I paid a little more attention to ADDitude magazine's newsletter and, in particular, a webinar given by Dr. Thomas E. Brown, about emotions and motivation in people with ADD. When he said, "The reality is, that a lot of folks with ADD report that they have a lot of difficulty in managing" frustrations, irritations, hurts, desires and worries, I felt immediately clearer on who I am, and why. My shroud of self-doubt, confusion about why I sometimes act the way I do, and frustration at my moods and lack of self-motivation lifted so quickly, I was stunned. This is when I realized that I have ADD, and obviously always have.
This led me to search for symptoms of people with ADD. The list I found at ADDitude's web site was another major eye opener:
- I have difficulty getting organized.
- When given a task, I usually procrastinate rather than doing it right away.
- No matter how much I do or how hard I try, I just can’t seem to reach my goals.
- I often get distracted when people are talking; I just tune out or drift off.
- I get frustrated easily and I get impatient when things are going too slowly.
- My self-esteem is not as high as that of others I know.
- I’d rather do things my own way than follow the rules and procedures of others.
I put a check mark next to each one. I knew all of these things about myself, but never realized that when combined, these challenges add up to, well, ADD.
So what has this discovery meant for me? I have a new perspective on my entire life. I realize there are explanations for so many things I've struggled with, and continue to battle: social difficulties beginning in 6th grade and continuing up to the present day; difficulty in asking for help or sharing information with people; contributing to complex conversations; finding satisfying work; and so much more.
Simply becoming aware of the reasons for some of my inner struggles has given me greater peace of mind. Nevertheless, I have work to do. And naturally for a person whose very DNA stamps them with procrastination, difficulty reaching goals and getting easily frustrated, pursuing strategies to manage my challenges isn't always easy.
I make lists and talk to myself to keep on task as much as possible. I set small goals and force myself to meet them, hoping that I can work my way up to larger goals. I try harder to pay attention during conversations, but don't get angry with myself if I do. I try to be more patient, but it's hard.
With my relatively newfound self-diagnosis in hand, I spent quite a bit more time reviewing my memoir, to make sure that I am getting across how I struggled during the road trip, and how those challenges continue today. When I started writing the book in 2011, I approached it as more of a travelogue/advice book for high school and college students about enjoying the freedom of the open road. Over numerous drafts and several years, I turned the book into a soul-searching venture, albeit one with plenty of humor (at least I think it's funny....).
I'm almost ready to contact agents and publishers, although since I'm constantly tweaking the memoir to make it as good, and as real, as possible, I may need a bit more time. I need to write a query letter that encapsulates my struggles, gets across how that story can help a certain readership, and relates the hijinks of the trip itself. It's gonna be a challenge, but I'm ready to take it on again. I'm very proud of the book, and feel that I have an important story to tell.