ADHD and Frustration

Painting “Anger and Frustration” by Warren Miller

I’ll admit this is really a bit of a rip-off. It was inspired by Hugh Hollowell’s piece on the shame that accompanies living with ADHD. In fact, the title is a slight reworking of the one he chose for his article. I’m stealing from him for two reasons: 1) he lets me and 2) while his post is very good and addresses a serious issue everyone with ADHD has to deal with, it’s doesn’t really touch on the problem I’m having lately: the intense frustration that comes with living in a world that isn’t set up for how my brain works.

Saying the world isn’t set up for how the ADHD brain operates is an understatement on par with saying that Adolf Hitler didn’t like Jews. From school to work to everyday life, people who live with ADHD encounter difficulties that aren’t even on most “normal” people’s radar. Most of us have highly developed coping skills to deal with these problems. One of the most common is not putting yourself in situations where your condition can bite you in the ass. For example, I struggle mightily with math and it caused me no end of trouble in school. So my coping mechanism for this particular issue has been to avoid situations that required any arithmetic that went beyond balancing a checkbook (something I still struggle with. Thank God for online banking) or making change. But, no matter how hard you try, life always seems to find a way to upset the delicate balance required for these mechanisms to be effective.

For over a year, I’ve been contemplating a return to school with the goal of earning a degree in English and possibly going on to earn an MDiv. Last month, I took the first step on that path by enrolling at Guilford Technical Community College in their Associate in Arts program. Considering my mediocre grades in high school and how long it’s been since I spent any significant time in an academic setting, it’s where I need to be. Unfortunately, my anemic math skills mean that I have to take a “developmental math” class. In case you don’t know, “developmental” is how they say “remedial” these days. And “remedial” is just a nice way of saying “You’re too stupid/broken/lazy to be in class with the normal people, so go over here and get up to speed”. Not the best start to my new academic undertakings.

It gets worse. Remember how I said I struggle with math? Yeah, this course isn’t going all that well. I understand the concepts just fine: I have decent handle on the distributive property, I get integers and fractions well enough and I can understand and read graphs. So, what’s the problem? Tests, that’s what. In math, precision is key and, with my ADHD and other learning issues, that kind of precision escapes me. I’ve taken the same quiz twice so far and flunked both times because I transposed numbers or forgot signs (+ or -). Do you have any idea how maddening it is to know what you’re doing, yet be shot down for something as minor as forgetting a fucking minus sign?

In reality, the shame Hugh talks about is at the root of my anger and frustration. I’m ashamed because I’m a grown man who was not so long ago responsible for people’s lives and property; who raised two children and has maintained a household for more than 20 years; who has something to say that I think matters. And it’s all in danger of being derailed by my inability to master skills a middle schooler can handle. In my case, that shame manifests itself in shouting, throwing books across the room, cursing every mathematician who ever lived and repeatedly wondering when I’ll have to solve something for “y” in a god-damned English class.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking the world to change to suit me; I’m not that vain (not quite, anyway). Mostly, I’m venting the rage and frustration brought on because a few numbers on page have made me feel like an utter moron. In the last line of his article Hugh says, “So, we struggle on. We struggle on.” Struggle is right, because this is one of the hardest things I’ve tried to do in a long time and it’s kicking my ass. But, I’m not giving up. I’ll be damned if these idiotic rules and numbers will keep me from getting where I want to go. I’m too damn stubborn for that.