Attentional lapses, forgotten appointments and constant damage control

Attentional lapses, forgotten appointments and constant damage control: My long wait for a diagnosis

"Apparently, there’s a diagnosis for what I might have and it’s not being vague or absent-minded."
ADHD diagnosis

As a child I dreamt so much of flying that I wondered if I was a bird in a past life.

Flying in my dreams felt soothing. I never felt more adept, more at one with my inner flow, than when looping and dipping expertly in and around the buildings dotting the urban landscape of my dreams. When I flew on a plane for the first time as a little person, I watched wistfully out the oval-shaped window and felt some of the magic I might feel if only I were able to dive and roll out into the soft white clouds.

I had a fascination with sparrows and, desperate for one as a pet, I would spring up out of swimming pools trying to catch them as they loitered around the edges. My siblings and I would construct wings out of large swathes of material and jump from the lower branches of the tall pine trees in our backyard. We were dreamers, not engineers, but my belief in the possibility of flying was almost enough to give us some lift. The force of gravity and the bruises I sustained hadn’t yet dulled my optimism that anything was possible.

Finding my creative flow in adulthood has not been so easy. Every time I forget to go to an appointment, forget to cancel an appointment, run late for no justifiable reason, can’t provide an obvious answer to a question, or completely zone out while someone is talking to me, any self-esteem that I had built up over the past day/week/month evaporates in an instant. I have become adept at damage control, mentally checking off; Who else has noticed my lapse? Can I pretend it didn’t happen? Can I come up with a post-hoc, legitimate-seeming excuse? All whilst maintaining the outward appearance of someone who is in control, calm even. Hiding my attentional transgressions is like sneezing, a simple reflex that has always been there. 

As a child; when I failed to absorb instructions, when I spoke when meant to be quiet, when I was not ordered enough, adults reacted disapprovingly enough times for me to know that my transgressions were a personal failure. Enough times to develop a healthy sense of distrust in authority and power. I was once sent to the principal’s office because I could not repeat an answer the teacher had just provided the class with. It was an honest mistake but it didn’t help that I hung out with the class clowns. Humour was my love language. My school report cards could be summed up by the following three statements: “Not reaching her potential, talks too much, easily distracted by others.”

As a young person I gravitated towards recklessness, even danger. I didn’t want to die but I got into cars with speeding drivers, misguidedly trying to find my way back to my love of flying. I went through a phase of stealing things. I was often a bundle of nerves with jumbled thoughts but set me the challenge of stealing something and I was overcome by the clarity I craved. In a recreational drugs phase, I vividly remember the first time I took speed. My thoughts went from having multiple intersections, roundabouts and 180-degree slip roads to flowing easily in the one direction along a cruisy highway on a breezy summer’s day.

“I have become adept at damage control, mentally checking off: Who else has noticed my lapse? Can I pretend it didn’t happen? Can I come up with a post-hoc, legitimate-seeming excuse?”

As an adult I am still talkative, vague, distracted, absent-minded, creative, a dreamer, sometimes baffling or disappointing to others. A deep-thinker who might leave the frypan on a lit gas stove all day before heading off to work, remembering sometime in the afternoon with horror and calculating that the neighbour probably would have texted me by now if the house had burnt down. I’ve booked incorrect flight dates and provided the wrong arrival dates to others countless times. The novelty of far-away places has been a way to tap into my attentional flow. I remember being swept up in a thrum of humans in New York City and feeling at one with the aggressive pace with which we were all expected to negotiate the side-walks and the stairs of the subway stations. When I returned to Melbourne after living in London for years I found the quietness of Lygon St, which allowed for a sparrow’s chirps to be heard, deeply disturbing.  

Back in the humdrum of the real world I can disintegrate. When I first read David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech This Is Water, made to graduating college students, I was struck by his quote that “there happens to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration.” Prior to this I had always felt quite alone with my moral outrage at the inescapability of menial daily tasks. I like big questions. Small ones leave me agitated.

To escape boredom I have gravitated towards story-telling, I love the rhythm and flow of a good story, much like I love flying. I am happy to have the boundaries of reality pushed when it comes to the fiction I read. Steve Toltz’s book A Fraction of the Whole is for me, like a dream about flying, the outrageous plot and rapid pace are a magic balm to my soul. Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip and Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe are also stories which have captured my attention effortlessly and with the threads of magic that allow me to flow at one with the world.

In my working life I have always attempted to cover up my attentional lapses. They feel like awkward sink holes that appear spontaneously and for which I am responsible. I do my best to apologise for them by working harder and more intensely. But it has never mattered how hard I work. I cannot outwit the appearance of these sinkholes. It has been a slow dawning of realisation that others do not live like this. I’ve gotten curious.

Apparently, there’s a diagnosis for what I might have and it’s not being vague or absent-minded. It’s called Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and I am on a waitlist for a formal assessment. At the time of writing, I have another five months of waiting to consider all the myriad ways I might begin to be myself in this neurotypical world. Still, if I were to listen to my body and believe in its muscle memories from my childhood dreams I would say, I’m definitely a bird and probably a sparrow.

The author is known to Women’s Agenda but wishes to remain anonymous.

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