Every single day I have the wonderful opportunity to experience and endure all of the joys, challenges, and frustrations that come with A.D.D. This condition has been my partner-in-crime since 1989–officially, speaking; because that’s when we figured out what was making me drive my teachers mad. If you know what it’s like to have this opportunity, you’ll know what I mean. If you have no idea what it’s like, it’s something like this:
Now, imagine trying to sort through that world of weird all day long while at the same time keeping up with real life stuff, or trying to perform a task that requires focused attention. Like listening to a lecture. Or having a conversation. Or spending time with friends. Or reading. Or writing. The difficulties with paying attention are magnified when I’m in a crowded room, especially when there are multiple conversations going on in that room. Without wanting to, I wind up hearing anywhere between two and four conversations at once on top of the one I’m having with someone else. It is struggle to tune out all of the other noise so that I can focus my attention on the conversation that matters. Suffice it to say: it can be exhausting.
But the exhaustion is not always the difficult part. One of the hardest challenges, at least for me, is trying not to let on to someone else that this is happening and/or that I’m having difficulty focusing. More specifically, it’s extremely challenging for me not to send the wrong “non-verbal” message(s) or have them interpreted in a way that I would never intend. I say that because my non-verbal communication breaks all the rules–if one were to apply the rules to me on the assumption that I have no underlying condition.
For example: I have trouble standing still or even sitting still. To help prevent this from becoming visibly obvious, I will often cross my arms or put my hands in my pockets (if standing) or cross my arms and/or legs (if sitting), and will usually be touching or gently rubbing a part of my face. If I’m not touching or gently rubbing my face, I will have something in my hand (e.g. a pen, chapstick, a coin) and will fidget with it. None of this is a sign of boredom or disengagement; it is simply the way in which I can distract the part of my brain that produces the world of weird so that I can focus on what matters.
Probably the most annoying–at least for the other person, I’m sure–is that I have trouble maintaining eye-contact. This trouble is never personal, nor is it meant to signal a lack of conversational connectivity. It is simply, at least for me, a result of my A.D.D. recognizing new things in the room or immediate environment and processing that newness. It is not that the newness is more interesting or appealing than the conversation I’m in; it is simply something new. That newness hardly ever trumps my desire to talk with you or hear what you have to say.¹ Thus, I can assure you (if/whenever we ever meet) that while I might be seeing other things, I am listening to everything you say. And as strange as it may sound: my taking in the things I see is a way for me to focus on what I hear.
¹ The only trump card in this case is if someone is having a serious problem or what I see is about to turn ugly.