This is the first in a series of blog posts about my recent ADHD diagnosis. I wrote most of it in one sitting, and kind of reached a natural pause (more like screeching to a halt), but here I am concentrating on school.
When you don’t fit in, other people’s social norms become layered on top of you. By reacting to their behaviour towards you, you stop doing (or curtail) what makes you, you. As Oh says in Home, “The true is, among Boov, I do not fit in, I fit out.”
Becoming homogenised into ‘acceptable’ is hard work. It is draining, soul destroying, and it breaks you. The moment you either blurt out something that you want to share; or if your outside of school / work / social group hobbies are a bit different to everyone else – life gets harder again. The layers of pain, shame and bewilderment take ages to scour off, if you can.
I didn’t want Barbies, I wanted the electronic Battleship. I didn’t really know what to do with the dolls, but I changed their clothes along with everyone else. At home, I loved building houses from Lego, would fully furnish them with itty bitty furniture. I also oved reading, but they were the wrong books.
I lived inside Swallows & Amazons, being handed the first one to read when I was 7 years old and had exhausted all the books at my grandparents. We lived there for nearly a year while our house was being renovated, as I moved up to Junior School. Over that year, my reading increased from ‘Oooooh!’ to voracious.
Instead of playing in the playground all the books other children had read, or recreated from what was watched on TV the night before, I wanted to be Captain Nancy Blackett. I tried to explain the plots of the books to my friends at school but was met with blank faces. Excluded from the group while they played keeping house. I tried to play Swallows & Amazons with my younger brother, but he’d not read them, and wasn’t interested in boats.
From memory, I only managed to persuade him to play this with me once, we were on holiday in Great Gransden, an old tree had fallen down at the back of one of the fields on the campsite. In my head it was my boat, I borrowed three of the poles from the windbreak and rowed all over the lake. Our Dad took a photo of us, my brother sat before one of the poles stuffed into the tree as a mast, I’m wielding the other two poles like oars, my face split from ear to ear in a grin.
(I’d still love to learn to sail. I’ll put that on the list for next year, I’ve got enough on my list for this year).
I was happy enough though, because I had John, Susan, Titty, Roger, the Swallows, and Peggy and Nancy from the Amazon to keep me company. In my mind I sailed from one side of the lake to the other, built campfires, boiled a kettle for tea, and had picnics of bread and marmalade.
This sailing knowledge came in useful one day, when we had an incursion with actors putting on a play, when one of them asked what the zig-zagging against the wind to sail was called, I blurted out ‘Tacking’ before anyone else.
Excluded from the group, know-it-all.
The girls played different games, guessing our favourite colours, what colour our bedrooms were painted, our middle names. By calling letters out, we’d move forward on a paving stone until we got to the other side of a courtyard to win. I didn’t have many letters in my name, and they were surprisingly easy to not be called out. Over and over again, I’d be last, laughed at. So I started adding in middle names to move forward.
‘That’s not right, you’re a liar!’
Excluded from the group.
Or when Uptown Girl was massive, friends of mine sang the song in the playground. Excitedly, having grown up on Billy Joel, I asked them to sing other songs of his. They were all right there in my head, my parents had them on LP, with cassettes for the car, then days of days, slowly brought all his albums on CDs to play. But I was met with blank faces again, because why would they want to sing anything from The Stranger or Glass Houses? They only knew a couple of songs from An Innocent Man.
Excluded from the group again, weirdo.
To this day, I hold swathes of song lyrics in my head. I can sing musicals from memory, It would drive my brother mad when I’d listen to songs on the radio, taping the top 40 onto cassette to listen to through the week, by Tuesday I’d have all the songs ready to sing along to. ‘How do you learn them so quickly?’ Particularly in the days of the Music Factory of Stock, Aitken, and Waterman, sometimes I’d only need to hear the song once or twice and it was there.
I also used to be able to hear a song and play it back on the recorder and sight-read music and play it accurately and consistently. Now, I don’t think I can even read music off the page. One day we had a performance at school, I wore a pink jumpsuit, (Hey, it was the 80s! I loved it though, it buttoned up like a shirt), not knowing I needed to be in uniform. Instead, I was shoved into the changing rooms and told to swapped clothes with Joelle. I stood in her school dress, crimson with embarrassment and tried to concentrate on playing.
When I got to Senior school, my recorder playing, (both the normal or descant, and the larger tenor version), was expected to be converted to clarinet. I was excited to learn this new instrument, but when it arrived, I hated the feel of the reed against my lip. I wanted to carry on noodling around with the recorder, but there wasn’t a place for that either in lessons or in the orchestra. So, I stopped playing altogether. Poor Mum and Dad, they would have heard all sorts of music from my bedroom, for it to stop completely.
Sweet Valley High books were all the rage by the time I got to Senior school. I didn’t particularly like them, but needing to fit in, I read them. I could read a book in a day and retain the basic, formulaic plots. Being able to talk about them meant I did fit in, but the waiting list at the library was long and we didn’t have much money to buy them. So, I stole them. Walking out of WH Smiths with bags of them. In a fit of overwhelm one day, I threw my entire bedroom contents over the banister and down the stairs.
I can remember Dad asking, ‘Where did she get the money to buy these?’ None of us wanting to address the elephant in the room. I didn’t have the money. But what I wanted or needed to fit in, I would take.
I hate this about myself.
I know now after doing more research into ADHD, impulse control is a massive indicator. The list of things I stole in my teens and early twenties is wide, varied and long. I’m not excusing my behaviour. I’m trying to understand it.
I’d be asked to do something, by the time I’d got to where I needed to do the thing, I’d have forgotten about the thing.
If I have no interest in something, I’d rather not do it. At all.
See barefoot bowls, no thank you. I don’t know if this is a legacy of being bullied because of my feet, or a legacy of being an absolute klutz with any type of ball.
Or going to see Cats when I wanted to see Starlight Express? I’m not going on the excursion at all, even though I respect democracy and we all voted on it; I know would make it miserable for everyone else.
This was really hard to manage at school. I wanted to study the period of history from the Tudors to Victorians, instead of Modern World History at GCSE, because I’d done the 20th Century to death and was bored of it. But as there were only 8 of us who wanted to study it, the school couldn’t put it on as an elective exam.
Simple solution. I didn’t study, at all. I relied on my prior knowledge to scrape a C when I was predicted an A, pissing the teacher off good and proper.
I would question teachers, ask them things over and over to explain something that didn’t make sense. Trigonometry and percentages are a closed book. I can do percentages only if I look up on google how to do them, every time. My maths teacher would explain things the same way over and over, I didn’t understand how he explained it. But he wouldn’t change the lesson so I could understand it. Instead, he shouted and humiliated me for not getting it, when everyone else did.
When I was taught how to teach swimming, I was taught that I would need to show some people how to do the strokes, I would have to describe how to do the strokes and I would have to assist some people to do the strokes. Some people need a mixture of all three to learn something new.
I was in trouble a lot for being disruptive and talkative in class, I’d do the work set for an hour in 15 minutes, ask for more to do but not be given anything. I would make a lesson last an hour, my speed and ability to absorb information slowing down. There’s nothing like a once-labelled gifted child being struck into inaction with perfection paralysis, or unable to start something altogether, because as we progressed through school we couldn’t learn at our own speed.
At times, I would be put on ‘report’ where I’d have to carry a card around with me. The teachers would initial the card, but only if I’d behaved, in their lesson. If I handed my homework in, I’d get another initial, but I’d forget to do my homework.
Sometimes I’d also forget the card, and the length of being on report would be extended out. Or I’d leave the card in a pocket in my uniform, it would get washed, and it would be extended out again. I’d go into detention to do my homework, then lie to my parents to say I’d missed the bus home.
I struggled to fit in. I’d work out the current trend, hop on it, it would change, I’d be excluded again. I was bullied for my height, my feet, my hair being short. For swimming, for not dancing; for laughing too loud; for being too loud; for when I was having fun playing; it was the wrong kind of fun. I liked the wrong kind of music.
I was bullied for having zero spatial awareness with any ball sports at school. Be that field events from athletics, tennis, hockey or netball. In netball, I was parked at Goal Defence as I was so tall, I would just stand there and block everything. One game I mishandled the ball, dislocated and broke a finger. The teacher watched me pull it back into place (not recommended) but didn’t send me to the medical room. Particularly frustrating as two minutes after it happened, someone got the ball bounced off the ground into their tummy, burst into tears and was despatched to the medical room. Maybe it’s because I didn’t cry, I just looked down and thought ‘That’s an interesting angle.’ After hours at emergency waiting for an x-ray, I had it taped to another finger for weeks. Going into school with it swollen and purple the next day. Dad was furious.
I was a preternaturally gifted swimmer, there’s more on that coming in another blog post, but because I was so good, the teachers expected it to cross over to other sports. Not for me it doesn’t. I’m so clumsy I’m still covered in bruises, and it was at the GP suggestion to assist with my brother and I’s coordination issues, we went swimming in the first place.
I have no poker face to hide my emotions, my face will tell you what I’m thinking, even if my mouth doesn’t. There is nothing like the look of disdain across my fizzog for something I do not want to do. I can’t fake it for politeness. Let it be known, I do try, but then I spiral into anxiety. Which presents as a short temper, which if I can’t wind down, ramps up to aggression, or paralysis. Fight, flight, freeze – or disruption, disenchantment, disconnect and defiance.