CJ Bernstein

CJ Bernstein

My Diagnosis

Much to the surprise of nearly no one as it turns out, I was officially diagnosed two weeks ago with ADHD. It’s been tough to hear, but also liberating and freeing as well. Turns out, I’m not just lazy, socially inept, unfocused, scatterbrained, or temperamental. There’s an actual root cause of many of the issues I’ve tried so hard to overcome with varying degrees of success over the years.

My assessment’s impetus was telling my therapist what I later learned is a sort of battle cry for many people with ADHD, “If I’m interested in something, I will learn everything about it, obsess over it, and master it. If I’m not interested, no force in the world will make me care.” Combined with the fact that I have Kindergarten report cards where my teacher wrote, “He has so much potential if he could only stop disrupting other students if he finishes first, applies himself even if he’s not interested in the subject, and keep his hands to himself.” and I’m surprised no one recognized it sooner. Unfortunately, I grew up before kids were really being diagnosed with ADHD. I missed the window, and by high school, when ADHD had become “mainstream,” I’d gotten much better at hiding and avoiding and compensating for my issues.

There is a powerful undercurrent of sadness and loss that’s come with my diagnosis, and I’m only now beginning to understand it. I think I’m grieving for the boy who was told repeatedly that he was smart and imaginative and had so much potential if he’d just apply himself. If he’d just concentrate. If he’d just be quiet. If he’d keep his hands to himself. If he’d stop being so sensitive. If he’d just care about important things the same way that he cares about nonsense. If he’d just stop being so lazy. 

Once, a family member came to visit when I was a kid, I must have been nine or ten, and my mom had just found out I hadn’t been finishing or turning in my homework. So this person stood over me to force me to complete a math worksheet. She stood there for probably thirty minutes, silently watching me while the page’s contents turned to unintelligible mush in front of my eyes. They didn’t know what my “problem” was. So I was just called lazy. Weird. Irresponsible.

I’ve been so hard on myself for so long because I had internalized all of those things said to me. Those voices became my inner voice, telling me all the same things. I became convinced I was just lazy and unwilling to work harder. I became the person looming over me, judging me, condemning me. And that’s what I’m working on now. First. I’m realizing and accepting that the voice isn’t mine. And it isn’t telling the truth. It never was.

I wish I’d been diagnosed sooner. I know these decades weren’t wasted, not really, but I can’t help but wonder what “might have been” if I’d known why I was the way I was sooner, and that there were many ways to support the uniqueness of my brain. I’m still wandering around the woods of what could’ve been and what I could’ve accomplished, but I’m slowly coming to some pretty significant realizations. Everything I’ve done in adulthood, especially this, Ackerly Green, required 10 times the effort that it would’ve taken a creative but neurotypical person to accomplish. And I’m pretty proud of that. And I fundamentally believe it took a uniquely-wired brain to think all this up. The attention to detail, my ability to hyper-focus on the big things, the sensitivity to the story’s broader emotional impact, and all of the interesting minutiae. I’m not there yet, but maybe someday I’ll be able to accept that ADHD is my superpower, and I just discovered it later in life.

I’m taking the time to deal with my new understanding of myself and my brain. There are other big and ultimately good changes going on in my personal life as well, but I wanted to share this with all of you, because I know I’m not the only one with a special brain in this community, and I want you to know you’re not alone, and you are so much more than the voice in your head.