Transparent Thursday: Diagnosis

In History class during my junior year, Ms. Ross walked the aisles checking homework. I sat with an open book on my desk, and the realization that I didn’t do my homework again, she stopped and said out loud “Are you boycotting homework?” I looked around and saw some of my friends laughing, and looked to her and saw her irritation. I was embarrassed, agitated, and like many teenagers, I decided to not do the work out of defiance going forward but that’s not what happened at first. Every day, I would write down the assignment in my notebook and put it in my bookbag. Then I would go home and forget that the notebook, the homework, and even school existed as I threw myself into a writing frenzy at my computer.

This was a common occurrence in all of my classes. My teachers were mystified, as they were left wondering how I was so smart but never did the work. They cycled through assuming that the work was too easy, that I wasn’t engaged, that I was lazy and as a result, they put me in classes with higher achieving children. The consistent thought was if I was rubbing elbows with kids who consistently did their work then I would be forced to do the same. With each experiment, they watched only to be disappointed when their hypothesis proved to be false. 

My grades in school didn’t match what anyone expected of me, but no one at home was aware because I was driven by anxiety and would rush to the mailbox to pick out and trash any progress reports. This was a different time, there were no emails sent home, there was no website to check my grades, and teachers didn’t call home to see what was going on. I slipped through the cracks, and so did my problem. It wasn’t until I failed a class and had to go to summer school that my Mom found out what was happening. When she asked why I didn’t have the words.

It was these struggles that lead me to take years off of school after graduation before going to community college and later Temple University. I figured the problem was maturity. Once I got older, once I had to pay for school, I would take things more serious. What I found was an inability to focus and sit down to work. A yearning to look at another screen or scroll on a social media site before I wrote a paragraph or read a section of a book. The obsession to write a daily music blog when I had video projects, scripts, and papers to write. 

These problems persisted after school and into married life and parenthood. I would consistently forget about things, or others wouldn’t occur to me and my ex would have to step up frustratingly. She assumed I didn’t care, which wasn’t true, but I couldn’t prove her assertion to be wrong. I found myself able to do tasks such as cooking, cleaning, the daily care of the child, but I was completely incapable of handling the abstract thought processing that comes with adulting. It was then when I felt like a complete failure but this wasn’t a failure of a grade. It was a failure of life, and I stood as the world fell apart beneath my feet.

It didn’t occur to me that there might be something going on with me until one day she came back from therapy. She said her therapist asked her, “what if something was ‘wrong’ in Tim’s brain, would you stay with him to work on it?” Her answer was negative, but that possibility shone a light in my head.

Last Spring, I took a Professional Development class on working with children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). I went in with the intention of learning on how to work with students who learned and processed information differently but instead I saw myself. I was in awe and captivated because it made everything make sense. It was too late to save a marriage I didn’t want to salvage, but it wasn’t too late to save myself. It wasn’t too late to get help. It wasn’t too late to have a direction to move forward.

It was a year before I got an appointment with a neurologist for testing. Four three and a half hours, I sat in a chair going through a battery of tests. Each judging how I process and retain information. A week later, I came back for the follow-up. As I sat down the neurologist went through my information before finally revealing that my results were consistent with that of someone who has AD/HD. I went in feeling ready to be labeled, but as her words washed over me I felt a tinge of emotion hit. It wasn’t a feeling of triumph, but a feeling of what now?

There is a weight that comes with being labeled. It can either be vindicating, it can be limiting, diminishing or any combination of the three. At that moment, I felt all three. When I got up to leave, I thought of the people I talked to when I assumed I was undiagnosed. They often asked how much it really impacts my life, or they said I didn’t need to get help and that it’s a superpower. Yet, I pushed forward and at that moment I decided the label was just what it was and wasn’t going to define me in any way. With the diagnosis in hand and a plan to treat it, it felt like it was a smaller part of my story than when it went unchecked.

Fast forward to today, and I am on my second week of taking Strattera and I have no complaints. I am able to plan, get more things done, focus on the task at hand instead of consistently looking for stimulation (even while driving), and being on time (except for one thing that I’ll talk about another time). I’ve noticed an improvement in my quality of life, but it doesn’t fix everything but no one thing ever does.

This fall, it will be officially two years since I was separated. I’ve been more connected to my family, I’ve been a better father, working on being a better friend, and I’ve been a better me. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I stand here and look to where I want to be. I am no longer standing at the bottom, and my mind is clear enough that I can see the steps that can lead to where I want to go.

#transparentTuesdays

Years ago, my psychologist asked what I thought my life would be like if I didn’t suffer from social anxiety.

The question was a chance to picture a world where I was free to do what I wanted, be who I wanted, and live relatively free of limits. It was a question that was set to tap into the inner optimist. The problem was the question filled me with fear.

Why? Why would thinking about a life without this severe limitation make me uneasy? It is because my entire life was defined by the very limitation. To lose it would be to unsettle everything and set it into uncertainty. I didn’t see a freedom being gained, I saw a definition being lost. I found an unhealthy comfort in social anxiety but I knew it. Whatever existed in the world beyond those limitations was strange and to be feared.

Over the years since I have worked on myself in fits of stops and starts. Through this journey, I have, hopefully, been trekking closer to the person I want to be. Who is that person? I don’t know, but I hope I recognize him when I see him.

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In November of 2016, I got a job at the NBA office in Secaucus. My official title was Assistant Video Coordinator. My duty was to transcode files and review files sent up from Turner. Basically, I just watched basketball, talked shit with coworkers, and waited for something to go wrong (they often did).

One way things went wrong was at home. My marriage was on the ropes, but it wasn’t any different than it ever was. We coexisted, but we worked together to manage raising a child. It wasn’t romantic, by any means, but we were a team. The job at the NBA was a night job. It was also an hour away. We went from being together every day to seeing each other for an hour at night, and a half hour in the morning. We merely passed Cameron back and forth like a baton.

I went to the NBA thinking it was the next step in my career in video. What it was instead, was the first step to a huge change in my life. But change, even necessary change, has been the bane of my existence. Sometimes the idea of changing will cause anxiety that will freeze me in paralysis. With the paralysis comes a feeling of helplessness comes… you guessed it… depression.

I spent the next nine months trying to half-heartedly save the marriage. In truth, there was nothing to save. Milk doesn’t salvage stale cereal, but I thought there’d be hope. I went back to therapy and began to change how I was. I would go in on Thursday afternoons and feel like I was making monumental changes only for any adjustment to be seen as minute. There was a wide gulf between us and my reach wasn’t long enough.

If I was honest, I didn’t want to be married any longer. I said as much to my therapist once, I said it to my ex once, I spoke on frustrations of the situation to friends at other times. Yet, I found myself clinging on and attempting to resist the inevitable.

Why did I do that? I was afraid of change. I wasn’t happy. The relationship was cold, but I didn’t want to move on. I held on not tightly, not convincingly, but I refused to let go.

Out of all the people who were married in my family, only my brother Rich, my Aunt Janis, and my sister Polly never divorced. So it wasn’t foreign, but I didn’t want to fail the same way. So I held on as she looked for a house. I held on hoping that things would miraculously get better even as we made a pact that we’d separate were things not to get better.

In October of 2017, we both moved. She moved ten minutes away in the same town. I moved 45 minutes down I-295. Even with almost an hour of distance, I held on. I held on to hope that one day we’d all be under one roof again. That we would be the family we weren’t the first go round.

By this time I was no longer working at the NBA. Instead, I reversed course and took on a teacher’s assistant job in a high school. Which became something that fulfilled me and gave me the direction I thought I was getting when I began working in Secaucus.

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Almost a year later, and I’ve had time to grown in my skin and to reflect. I’ve given myself space, and I’ve finally let go. Not only did I let go, but I fought off the urge to shove someone else in the opening my life.

I’ve worked too much and struggled a lot, but the change wasn’t scary. Not once I let it settle in. Instead, the change let me realize what I wanted and who I wanted to be. What I wanted to get back.

I no longer look at divorce as a failure. To quote Dan Savage: “every relationship ends except for the one that doesn’t.”

When I wake up in the morning I don’t see the person I want to be. I don’t come home to see a place that I strive to live in forever. What I see are things that I’m happy with now, things that I live with now but ultimately things I don’t have to be stuck with for the rest of my life. Why?

I don’t know, maybe change isn’t so bad after all.