On a drizzly morning in Seattle, I watched a woman lifting weights from across the parking lot. In sharp, prescript motions, she lifted 40 pounds over her head, reaching towards the ceiling before swinging the weight back down. She decided five sets was enough and reached towards her water bottle.
“Do you have trouble paying attention to things like a TV show or movie?” I snapped my head back to my therapist.
“Sorry, could you repeat that?”
He smiled and jotted something down.
“Do you have trouble paying attention to things like a TV show or movie?”
It’s a routine self-report question, answered along the rating scale of 'Never’ to ‘Very Often.' I’ve taken variations of this assessment for 20 years. My personal favorites are “Do you have trouble sitting still?” (Often) and “Are you often distracted by activity or noise around you?” (Very Often). Instead of answering “Often,” I cried.
"I'm a designer," I said to my therapist, in the same air as "My family is German and Irish." One of the biggest assets designers have, according to teachers and professionals, is our attention to detail. We ooh and ahh, list it on job applications, cite it as the cornerstone in books and dedicate blogs to it. I was failing at the fundamental. After months of working on a new design, I forgot a major element. I read and re-read all the documents, made countless sticky notes and to-do lists, and yet I forgot. My manager sighed.
"Let's just be more thorough next time," he said. Tears welled up but didn't release. It's the fourth time he's told me this month.
We played Candyland. Or rather, I imaged being Queen Frostine–ruling a kingdom, surrounded by candy, the life of a queen. The psychologist told my parents it wasn't my eyes and I was fine, therapy and medication help with managing attention deficit disorder. I was the inattentive type. I didn't care; it didn't make me Queen Frostine.
On the floor, next to my bookcase are two boxes containing a mishmash of sweet maple candies and strong Seattle coffee. They're Christmas gifts for parents, and it's January 27th. On the other side of the bookcase are two large photos. I meant to hang them on my wall in the summer. And next to that is a lone, dusty sock. When did that show up?
Every year, a friend sends me an adorable card featuring her and her dog.
Every year, I forget to send a card back.
Charcoal, check. Pencils, check. Assignment print-out, check. I had become a pseudo-nomad, hopping from dorm room to computer lab, struggling to complete my work. 400 miles away from home, out of my comfort zone, and no longer on medication. It will stifle my creativity, I thought.
In my second year, I was struggling. I tried combinations of doses and brands, but my doctor was too far away, the restrictions on narcotics tightened. An acquaintance asked to buy my remaining pills; I said no.
“Not even for $20 a pill? I have a project I need to finish,” she pleaded.
I said no again. She found a different supplier.
The televisions in the cafeteria looped on news stories about college drug rings and overdoses. The students shovel food in their face and chat about the concoctions for tonight’s dinner.
“If I have a final to cram for, I just take an Adderall and stay up all night,” the teen says to the reporter. He shrugs his shoulders and smiles at the camera.
It was 6:45 and I panicked. The comprehensive document, the one I spent all day checking and re-checking, is missing a very critical piece of information. I ask the developer if he knew, maybe I'm in a panic for nothing, he knew all along. He didn’t. I scramble to correct it before my therapy appointment, imagining my manager's sighs.
I open up to a coworker. I'm almost certain he's hyperactive-impulsive.
"That's interesting because—oh look, something shiny!" He laughs at his joke; he enjoys his unoriginality and idiocy. I do not.
It's all basic. So basic. I blubber to my therapist about my misfortunes of the hour, day, month, and year. He nods and shares wisdom, but reminds me not to be so hard on myself. Mistakes are human, he says. We shake hands, and in the elevator, I add three calendar reminders for our next appointment.
I'm my worst enemy and sick of it.
(Whoops, I have to be nice to myself.)
I’m my worst enemy, but it’ll be okay, I’ll work through it.