There’s something a little wrong with me. These days, I don’t often call it by name. If I must, I often describe it like this: my mind is a balloon, coated in slippery, soapy water. It’s very difficult to keep ahold of. I can hang on for a few seconds at a time, but then it’ll pop from my grasp, and I have to go chasing after the damn thing before I can make another attempt to buckle down and focus on the task at hand. It’s time consuming. It’s tiresome. It eats up my free time, and keeps me from doing things I know I’d be capable of otherwise.
For the longest time, it didn’t occur to me that this might be strange. I just assumed that this was how everyone else’s mind worked as well, and they’d all just figured out how to correct for it. I had missed that memo. It didn’t affect my life much in the early days: I was smart enough and the problem was quiet enough. I was spacey and fidgety, rather than flashily hyperactive. You all knew someone like me: shy, with a bit of an overactive imagination. Maybe more than a bit.
I was accustomed to spending a lot of time alone reading, or lost in my own head. I was used to talking to people my friends didn’t see, wandering through places that looked different to me than to my parents. Too many fantasy books and movies had warped my concept of reality a little: the fact that I was the only person seeing the ghostly orange lights along the New Jersey Turnpike didn’t mean they weren’t there. Wasn’t that just a sign that I was some type of chosen one? That I had a sixth sense of some type? Why are you laughing at me, mom? Adults found me amusingly precocious, and my peers were only a little bit wary. I made the best of it. Bring me a pretty rock at recess, and I’ll tell you a ghost story.
I would tell my father about the sea serpent that liked to coil itself at the bottom of our local pool, and he’d laugh. It became a sort of inside joke. He creatively christened it “Serpie” when I told him it didn’t have a name, and asked me for updates on its welfare on our drives back from swim practice. Happy to have someone listen to me, I’d make up stories about a friendlier, more active version of the monster. It would be boring to tell him the truth, how “Serpie” lurked in the deep end, dark body coiled and twisted, white eyes set in a head like a Chinese dragon, following me back and forth as I swam laps.
Trying to prove things like this to adults was never an option. History had taught me that they weren’t likely to take me seriously when I tried to talk about my more abstract thoughts, especially the semi-invisible things. Something completely invisible, such as my short attention span, didn’t have a chance. It was easier to let my parents and teachers think that I was lazy, that I was forgetful, that my head was in the clouds.
Then I got older. My letter for Hogwarts never came, and I was never swept onto a dragon’s back to save an alternate dimension from evil. My fantasy obsession subsided, and was eventually eclipsed by fixations with pop culture and history. At some point, I stopped seeing elves in the shrubbery. My grades dropped. That was what landed me in a psychiatrist’s office, being told that, among other things, I had Attention Deficit Disorder. I was given all the normal prescriptions, and it was a bit like someone had tied my soapy balloon to my wrist with a ribbon. It still slipped away from me, but recovering it was faster and easier.
In the beginning, this was a relief. To know that I wasn’t normal. To know that I wasn’t just lazy. I wasn’t shy about telling teachers. It wasn’t an excuse, in my mind, though it might have sounded that way sometimes. I felt I was just explaining. Giving a perfectly plausible reason as to why I couldn’t focus on a conversation, or finish a chapter of my textbook. But this was not something that the average high school teacher wants to hear. “Doesn’t everybody have that these days?” one math teacher asked me. The scenario felt familiar: Hillary talks about her view of the world, adult shrugs. Hillary keeps her mouth shut, wrestles with doubt, even though she knows something is a bit off. I’m aware that having ADD is a bit more plausible than seeing a cryptid in an indoor swimming pool, but the habit of doubt is just a little too well ingrained in me. Maybe there’s still a part of me that thinks my mind does work normally, and that my ADD diagnosis has more to do with whiny oversharing than genuine chemical imbalance. So no matter the great things I’ve heard about the office for students with disabilities – the workshops, the test services, the advocacy – I haven’t managed to stop by yet, because I’m not quite sure if there’s actually something wrong with me, or if I’m just imagining it.