At graduation from elementary school, my sixth grade teacher read a short poem for each of her students in which she made predictions for what we would be when we grew up. It was proclaimed before my entire community that I would become the first female president of the United States.
No pressure there.
I was a strong, though somewhat anxious student in elementary and middle school. As a child I had a significant perfectionist streak, and I would spend hours in the basement of my parents’ home doing my homework. I remember in seventh grade writing a 27 page paper delineating the the constitutional basis for gay marriage.
By high school my ADHD symptoms (and my green, smelly “coping” mechanism) began to catch up with me, but I still managed to do fairly well. I earned As and Bs in mostly honors classes, and even took a few classes at a local university. My solid grades and strong SAT score eventually earned me entrance into a fairly prestigious small women’s college, where I truly thrived. I was passionate about the courses I had the privilege of taking there, and as a result graduated magna cum laude, even winning an award for my senior thesis in Political Economy.
If only you could make a living on grades and standardized test scores.
You see, within the structure and relatively low stress of my high school and college environment, where my rent was paid for me, my meals prepared for me, the common areas of my living accommodations cleaned for me, and where the demands of my social life didn’t extend beyond having to pack the next bowl, I could dedicate 100% of my mental energy to my studies and excel. As soon as I exited the walls of my cocoon of a college, though, it felt as though the floor dropped out from under me.
All of the sudden my responsibilities increased exponentially. Working full time, commuting across the city, paying rent, paying bills, filing taxes, grocery shopping…it all felt (and often continues to feel) nearly impossible, like I was being asked to juggle flaming chainsaws.
And unlike in college, where a professor hands you a syllabus stipulating what you are to read when, and gives you detailed instructions for each of your assignments and how they will be assessed, often even breaking the process down into pieces for you, in the workplace my responsibilities never seemed to be as well defined. I’ve spent an untold amount of hours, in a variety of different jobs, screwing around in one way or another because I lacked the executive functioning skills to figure out what the heck I should be spending my time doing. That’s an uncomfortable feeling for someone who is accustomed to doing well within a proscribed structure.
I recently read an article about a 2009 study entitled “High IQ Is No Help for Those With ADHD, Yale Researchers Find” that described high IQ adults with ADHD as follows:
“[High IQ adults with ADHD] might be compared to a symphony orchestra of very talented musicians who cannot produce adequate symphonic music because the orchestra lacks an effective conductor.”
To be honest, it’s darn frustrating to know you have been bestowed with great gifts, but haven’t quite been able to pull it all together in order to fully express them. And while I suspect that this feeling is a somewhat universal phenomenon, the shame that high IQ adults with ADHD carry within them for failing to achieve what was expected of them is particularly intense.
So I likely won’t be the first female president, though even with my ADHD I’m pretty sure I’m better qualified than the current president of the United States. Instead, I’m in the process of attempting to reassess what it is that “achievement” looks like to me, taking into account all the cards in the hand I’ve been dealt.
What do you think? Do you feel you have underachieved, as a result of your ADHD? Have you lived up to the expectations of teachers, friends, and family members from childhood? How do you define “achievement” for yourself as a woman living with ADHD?