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.

#transparentTuesday: On Wednesday, Confidence, Compassion, and Fatherhood

I’m horrible at basketball.

My handle is extra loose, my jump shot is broken, but I still love playing. It’s one of the few things in life that I can think of that I enjoy despite being bad (only other thing I could think of is bowling). I remember asking someone how I could improve my shot and they said I just needed to have confidence in the shot. Confidence and consistency in my form. The advice sounded simple, but I had to stop and ask “what’s confidence?”

The question on the surface may sound ridiculous, but I was a teenager who spent most of his free time at a computer screen. Who set himself apart from his peers because of a confluence of depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder (all undiagnosed at the time). I knew what the definition of confidence was, but I didn’t know what it felt like. I was a teenager asking for basketball advice from a guy I knew through fantasy wrestling, and I didn’t have a clue and I wasn’t afraid (for once) to show it.

Questions that are perceived as ridiculous often are never considered by the target of the question. The reason being that person takes whatever the subject of the question is for granted. For example, blue is blue, right? How would you explain to someone who never saw the color what it looks like without showing it to them? The question goes into deeper meanings of the world around us… but long story short, I never got confidence in my jump shot. My jumper is still trash, and I haven’t played much basketball since I asked this question.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I did feel confidence, and that confidence was in my writing. I didn’t give myself room to doubt. Instead, I was plugging away at my computer. Writing more for writing groups online than I ever wrote for school. It was a passion that drove me, and eventually, I got good and I knew it. I just didn’t know how to translate this confidence elsewhere and then eventually I hit a wall and it all stopped.

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I started working at the National Basketball Association in November of 2016, and by September of 2017, I was leaving for a new job. It would be the fourth switch between full-time jobs I would make since the Fall of 2014. While each prior change was an attempt to make more money, and advance in my career this one was different. By this point, my marriage was in shambles, and I was disillusioned by the world of working for a large corporation. I had a slight hope to save the marriage, but I felt like my days working in video full-time might be over. Now I was set to work in a high school.

I’d be lying if I said working in education was my first choice. I applied to any place that looked viable. I applied for a job at NFL Films, for a video editing/social media job at a lacrosse equipment company, and plenty of dead-end jobs. The job search was stressful because I knew I had to find something before the season started, and the new NBA season was set to start earlier than ever before. It was then that my ex’s friend suggested I apply for teacher’s assistant jobs. The selling point was the benefits package, a daytime schedule, summer’s off, and a decent wage. I went on to have my worst interview since graduating high school but I still got the job.

After I found out I was hired there was a change inside me. I stopped thinking of it as a stopgap job, a bridge to another profession, and I started thinking of it as a transition into a new field. I scrolled upon videos that explained the importance of black male teachers, but more than that I saw the damage Betsy DeVos was doing to public education in America. It was at that moment that I saw this as my being part of the resistance. I was never going to be the one to march, or protest, but I don’t think people have to make their stand in the same way. It was almost as if this was a calling.

This year was the first year since I graduated that I hadn’t switched jobs. Every day I work with kids with special needs. I talk with them, I encourage them, I make jokes about myself and them, but most of all I find myself caring about these children and wanting them to succeed. I see kids with anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavioral issues, poor upbringings, and I see kids who want to see someone who cares. It is in these spaces where I don’t think about confidence at all because I realize it is not about me at all. As an assistant, I don’t carry even half the workload a teacher does but working beside them I see where I want to be. It’s no longer working for a major corporation in video production but teaching a classroom and hopefully helping them develop into greater versions of themselves as they age.

I relate to these children because in many ways I was one of them. I still am. I still lose track of chunks of time because I’m doing something irrelevant in the morning. I still find myself avoiding things (sometimes as simple as shaving), and sometimes I find myself unable to leave the house. But as I’m living I’m learning how important self-compassion is and how you have to forgive yourself. How to be kind to yourself even if you’re mad about a misstep.

It’s definitely been a process.

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There was one moment this past summer that broke my heart.

My ex sent a text saying how my son cried about coming to my place. She said he told her that I told him to stop kissing me. The context of why I told him that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was denying him, because what he was doing annoyed me. My son is a touchy, feely, and affectionate child. Denying his kissing wasn’t a small thing. It was denying who he was. Cameron was only three at the time, but that didn’t make his feelings any less real.

There’s this weird moment with kids where you realize they aren’t just living breathing creatures, but creatures who are capable of making connections, forming conclusions, and communicating it. This change becomes painfully obvious when they move from two to three (and even more so when they turn four). And here I had a three-year-old who wasn’t made to feel welcome in my home. That hurt me because I remembered times I didn’t feel accepted in my home growing up. So it was at that moment I made a change and became more affectionate.

I’m not a perfect father, but I strive to be better every day. With this, I began to hug him, kiss him, encourage him, and tell him how much I love him. Where I used to channel my Dad and yell when I was frustrated now I work to communicate more, and if I do yell I apologize after the fact. When I see my son I see all the possibilities in the universe, and I want him to feel comfortable with me in a way I never was with my father. I want Cameron to be able to come to me with the questions that might seem ridiculous, and if I don’t have the answer? I want to tell him that I don’t know and encourage him to find out.

#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.