I’ve been fascinated reading about ADD and Executive Function Disorder and seeing some of my own lifelong struggles mirrored. I don’t like to define things through buzzwords, but it’s been illuminating to recognize patterns that have dogged me all my life. I am trying to find what I can do to shift the balance of power with what I have always thought of as my Demons, or my Opponent. I used to think I was uniquely weird, and finding that others are like me has been a revelation.
Some of this probably began with my mother’s well-intentioned program of breaking my will when I was little. (Child-rearing theory from the early 1940’s is ghastly.) I was adopted as a newborn by a woman who was nearly fifty and had no previous experience with children, but who was certain it was something she should do. Having married later than the norm and not having conceived during her remaining years of possibility, she considered adoption.
They were rejected by a respected agency, probably because of age, and turned to private adoption. They did extensive research and found a good candidate, a young intelligent white Episcopalian college student who found herself unintentionally pregnant. Discreet anonymous overtures were made, money changed hands, and a relocation from the Midwest to Brooklyn was facilitated, avoiding scandal. My mother bore me, named me, and said goodbye. Then I was on my own.
My adoptive mother had to adapt to the primitive needs of an infant without either instinct or guidance, and as I became an actual person, I think I scared the shit out of her. I had a fierce intelligence and a spontaneous creative nature, and she didn’t know what to do with me. At first she trained me like a pet, and I could recite all the state capitals by the time I was two. Like any two-year-old, I also began to assert my right to say no. She followed the prevailing child-rearing theories, set out to tame me, and I quickly learned that it wasn’t safe to do anything but learn instant obedience.
Everything was a test, fear was my tutor, and excellence was the minimum standard. I learned to achieve, but it wasn’t my choice, and I never was allowed pride in it. The words that echo are “What’s the matter with you?” and “You don’t know how to follow through with anything.”
Now I’m eighty-three and still make a list of intentions, don’t follow through, feel lousy, and stew about it. But writing my memoir has confronted me with the fact that I’ve spent decades surviving, making a life and doing impossible things. I need to learn to feel good about what I do, moment by moment.
I’m trying to do at least a couple of things each day that I can finish, look at, smile, and say “Good dog.” Best of all is if I do something that my Opponent has labeled impossible, that’s been shoved into my mind’s black hole and avoided. The silly key is that these are not arcane challenges, they’re simple things that didn’t get done on time and became pockets of black mold.
That little girl learned to live with fear and depend on it for adrenaline. I need to give her the grace of change.
Never too late.
Elizabeth: Thank you for this! Though not adopted, I suspect I may not be alone in reading your words as if they were mine. Everything a test. It’s taken me all my life (75) to love myself just as I am, not for my achievements. ‘Never enough!’, that voice always says….Thank you thank you.