Yesterday, I saw a woman at the grocery store. She was in a wheelchair and was struggling to manoeuvre around and between other shoppers but, with a smile on her face, she got on with her shopping. Every now and then, she would ask for assistance from a fellow shopper when something was out of reach. I observed her matter-of-fact manner and noticed that even though she was a little slower and less efficient than everyone else, she was getting it done all the same.
As I watched, another woman boldly approached her and began to ask her a whole lot of questions about her wheelchair. She asked why she was in the wheelchair, for starters. She just couldn’t seem to comprehend that the wheelchair-bound woman was unable to walk. She seemed, in fact, rather irritated that this bulky wheelchair was taking up space in the aisle and interrupting the other shoppers.
She then asked, bluntly, what it felt like to be unable to get up and walk. The woman in the wheelchair calmly and patiently explained that she had always been in a wheelchair and that she did the best she could to manage and that she felt she was doing just fine, thankyouverymuch. With that, the other woman sighed dramatically and said, “I could never live like that. No way could I ever be in a wheelchair…”
Of course, the woman in the wheelchair was taken aback and didn’t reply, so shocked was she at this blatantly insensitive statement. Before she could catch her breath or formulate a response, the other woman went on to say, “How does your husband cope with you being in a wheelchair? It must be so hard for him to be married to you!”
Okay, I lied. I’m sorry. That didn’t happen at all.
There was no woman in a wheelchair.
There was just me. With my invisible ADHD.
The conversation was the same, though. Someone asked me to explain what ADHD feels like and after I explained my memory lapses, my time-distortion issues, my struggles with organisational anything, she replied, “Oh, I could never live like that…” and shook her head.
As if my ADHD is a choice.
As if I have the power to just ‘grow up get over’ all the symptoms with a little elbow grease and discipline.
As though the physical make-up of my brain (the fact that my frontal lobe is smaller than a neurotypical one and is also under-stimulated) is somehow a character flaw.
She then continued, “How does your husband cope with your ADHD? It must be so hard for him to be married to you!”
I didn’t answer her because, frankly, I was stunned speechless.
After crying onto my husband’s shoulder for the better part of an evening at the realisation that this may well be how the world at large views me and receiving nothing but love and the assurance from him in return, I now want to say here what I wish I had the wherewithal to say that day.
Let me be clear about this: I don’t choose to be disorganised, unfocused and forgetful. Yes, it’s hard to be married to me. Extremely.
Know what’s harder? Being me.
Having ADHD means suddenly realising, with gut-wrenching panic, that I’ve missed a lunch date with a friend because four hours went by and my brain only registered a half an hour. It means that the three alarms I set to alert me that time was passing went unheard because I was hyper focused on the task at hand. It means being frustrated that yet another organisational system failed to work.
It means being asked if I remembered to fetch the dry cleaning/pay the bills/go to an appointment and my stomach clenching because not only did I forget but I have no recollection at all of the entire conversation where I was asked because it fell into a memory hole. It means often feeling like I am losing my mind.
It means setting alarms, making notes and writing lists and still forgetting to do something I promised. It means sinking into a Depression and wanting to never speak to anyone again for fear that I will disappoint them.
It means waking up with fear burning in the pit of my stomach that I might let someone down today. It means profound guilt as I realise, at the end of the day, that despite my massive efforts, I still did let someone down.
It means constantly losing track of conversations mid-way and filling in blanks. It means lying awake all night with insomnia borne from worried thoughts that swirl aimlessly around my head, demanding attention. It means constant self-flagellation. It means developing a thick skin because people regularly lose patience with me and cross me off their ‘friends’ list.
Do you know what else it means?
It also means I’ve had a lifetime of practice in seeing the silver lining around dark clouds. It means I have outstanding problem-solving skills and the ability to think on my feet. It means I’ll find any reason to smile and I’ll grab it energetically with both hands.It means that if you’re my friend and you accept me, warts and all, I’ll take a bullet for you. Without so much as a passing thought. It means that, as horrendous as I am at spreadsheets and calendars, I’m fabulous at painting and writing and free-thinking.It means I’m spontaneous. It means I’m generous.It means I am willing to fall down a hundred times and still get up and try again.It means I have an infinite capacity for love and forgiveness. Because I know only too well what it’s like to be shut out, judged and found lacking.
I would like nothing more than to have the magical powers to ‘snap out of it’. My life would be exponentially easier, I can assure you.
That’s not going to happen.
My ADHD may not be physically visible to you, but it is a physical difference in my brain. It is not going to go away. No matter how irritated you are as you tell me to try harder, to write a list or to set an alarm.
It isn’t a choice.
If you wouldn’t tell someone in a wheelchair to just try harder to walk, to use discipline and willpower because her ‘paralysis’ is not really a ‘thing’, why do you think it’s it okay to say these things to me?
My friend, it’s not okay.
Invisible illnesses are far from invisible from those who live with them. Just because you can’t see ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Myofascial Pain or Colitis (just to name a few invisible conditions) doesn’t mean they are imagined. Please show compassion, love and forgiveness for the inconvenience they cause you. I can assure you, the carriers of these conditions are not having a party at your expense.
I know you remember everything with ease and are incredibly organised. For this, I applaud you loudly. Really. I can’t even fathom those superhuman skills. I, on the other hand don’t remember what’s in my diary from day to day, what’s on my to-do list or where my car keys are hiding (I swear, I put them over there!) and I know this is frustrating for you. I’m sorry for that, truly I am.
On the bright side, I also never remember to put my bitch pants on.
If you liked this post, please don’t be shy (comments make me do a happy dance).
If you would like to have They Call Me Mummy delivered to your inbox,
]fill in your email address below. (I never share email addresses and I promise to never *gasp* SPAM you.)