I’ve always felt different — and it wasn’t a good feeling. I didn’t know exactly how I was different, so I couldn’t change myself to fit the mold. I wasn’t a social misfit, as I had friends and participated in activities, but I rarely felt relaxed or at ease in the company of others.
In junior high, a group of the most popular girls called each other every night to hash over the school day and gossip. My best friend was in this group, and while I was comfortable talking with her, I felt awkward talking on the phone with anyone else. For example, the first and only time I talked on the phone with “Judy” I knew I was expected to talk to her for one hour or more. I ran out of topics after a few minutes, but continued having an awkward and strained conversation for the remaining 50 minutes before hanging up, and sadly concluded, “I’m different. I don’t fit in.”
In high school, I played on the girls’ softball team. I remember standing on third base yawning and yawning, trying to stay awake. It seemed strange to me as I wasn’t tired. Who yawns while playing a sport? I do, I reasoned, because I am different. Now I know I yawned from boredom and was struggling to keep myself awake.
Even as an adult, my apparent differences were questioned and observed.
When my five-year-old son injured his finger and came to me for comfort, I responded by putting a bandage on his finger. He asked, “Why are you different from other moms?”
When I took ballroom dance lessons years later, the same son, then a teenager, asked, “Why can’t you remember the dance steps?”
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Another son asked, “Why were you so mean to that bank teller?”
Was I? I answered, “I don’t thing I said anything wrong.”
A neighbor once told me, “You’re different.” When I worked at a retirement community, a resident said, “You’re different.” I was keeping count.
Was I sensitive to being told I was “different?” You bet!
At the age of 49, I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. After being told and believing for so many years that I was different, I finally learned why: My ADHD made me different.
I didn’t want to be different! I felt ashamed and sad. Being different, I believed, meant I was less than others.
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But five years after receiving my ADHD diagnosis, those feelings subsided. I came to identify my ADHD strengths — creativity, problem-solving, flexibility, and compassion — and to value my differences.
Yes, I am different. But different doesn’t mean less than. Different just means different, like mustard and ketchup, or tulips and daffodils.
Cynthia Hammer, MSW is the Executive Director on the non-profit organization, the Inattentive ADHD Coalition with a website at www.iadhd.org
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