“Instructions” is a word that has always given me trouble. It seems innocent – the beginning, really, of everything, even those first steps. With most every leg of life, there are instructions on learning how to learn, learning life skills, taking classes or courses, learning a new job, etc.  

Instructions given by parents, teacher, coach, employer, speaker, friend would often frustrate them, especially since they all wanted the one thing from me that I could not give them: my attention! 

Getting instructed without paying attention is useless and dangerous. I frequently headed out in the wrong direction and unintentionally made bad decisions based on my interpretation of the instructions. I do understand all this more now in my late 50s, but when I was a young, undiagnosed child, I did not. 

In order to survive, I created a lot of workarounds for my lack of attention and, as a result, have been told I am charming and have a great personality. I think I am also a good advocate for myself and very persistent. These are coping mechanisms developed for survival in a not-so-gentle world. I’ve also always had a joke in my pocket for those times when I needed to deflect attention from my inattention. 

I share this now not for empathy but to encourage readers who may have decided that we all have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to think again.

I am not medicated and still have issues but have learned to use humor to help manage those tough, spirally days. I missed a lot of instruction in my life when I drifted off or chased squirrels in my head. I remember being in a required circle at school and the teacher explaining what the next exercise was. I missed it all and then asked around, “What are we doing? … Wait! … What? … Lost!” This very thing starts the cycle of self-doubt, low self-esteem and depression.

Essentially, once you missed that important information through an innocent distraction, it’s like a car crash in slow motion. This experience occurred regularly and, unfortunately, during those days, there was no guidance to help those with ADHD. I know now that I should sit in front of the class and not in the back, where I could give chase to those daydreams and distractions. 

I remember my frustrated mother and father saying, “What is wrong with you? Why are you cutting holes in your new pajamas, and why are you lying in the street?” I have no real answers for those questions, but I do remember thinking I was not worthy and stupid. I am not, of course, but I thought I was for a very long time, which did chip away each day at my fragile self-esteem.  

There is an upside to the story!  Luckily, I was a great saver of money (thank you, Mom), managed to graduate from college with a bachelor of science, became a CPA and retired early. I have worked and had good jobs in my life, but I can’t help wonder what I might have accomplished with attentive instruction.

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