One of my guilty pleasures, about which I feel zero guilt, and immense pleasure, is that I am not a music snob. Especially not a religious music snob. Give me cheesy contemporary Christian pop any day. I work in an Anglican church, a cathedral no less, so there is a certain pressure to be too refined musically and theologically for such things.
So I was listening to an a capella group singing a song called, “We All Need Saving.”
We all need help. We are all imperfect. We are all broken.
This sort of low-anthropology is unpopular in progressive spheres, but I find great comfort in it. Because I do not see myself as a perfect creation of God. I see in myself a broken, imperfect person doing, at his best, his best. And knowing that everyone else is broken, though often differently, is a comfort. There is a solidarity in that.
And my Christian faith affirms that in this need for saving, God has provided a Saviour. A comfort that is profound indeed.
One of the ways in which I am broken is that I have ADHD. That is officially diagnosed by numerous professionals. My anecdotal suspicion is that it is rather serious. At least, I am a 35-year-old man exhibiting symptoms popularly associated with the seven-year-old boys, and that is serious business.
There is much concern, and I think there is some legitimacy to a wary eye if not the full alarmism, that ADHD is overdiagnosed. Perhaps. But I wonder, too, if some of that alarmism comes from an insistence to not call ourselves or our loved ones broken. (Again, here’s where I find a low anthropology “every is broken” attitude is helpful. Everyone is broken somehow. Let’s stop arguing about who is more or less broken and start healing each other.) So instead of admitting there is something real, something challenging, something that is inflicting suffering within ourselves, we say the system is broken! But this is a false dichotomy. This is not an either/or. I am broken. And so is the world I live in. And dealing with my ADHD, for me, requires confronting both of those realities.
In the last year of my life I have worked hard–not alone, but still hard–to get certain extreme challenges of my ADHD under control. And I have made imperfect but observable progress. Out of passions for both de-stigmatising and mutual support, I have been fairly open about this process.
All my life I have dealt with judgemental and powerful people building a world–including schools and workplaces and even houses of worship–that implicitly exclude or marginalise me and the millions with similar brains as mine. I have had the teachers who think their pedagogical incompetence ought to be solved by my taking medication. I have seen the clergy whose narrow view of God requires a narrow kind of very still, very quiet adoration. The system is indeed broken.
But in the last year, usually from a place of intended encouragement and affirmation, I have seen many deny that I have anything in myself to manage at all. To try to make me feel better by denying the reality of ADHD as a “thing.” To try to make me feel better by saying if the world just changed to include me better, all would be well. But, no, that does not make me feel better at all. I don’t want support that says I am not struggling. I want the support that admits I am struggling and still loves me.
Either extreme, treating my any particular neuro-diverse learning or mental health condition, including my ADHD, as a complete blessing and strength or as a curse to be cured denies me my agency.
I want the right to define myself. And that right includes acknowledging that the ways I am neuro-atypical are sources of richness and strength in my life. And that right also includes being allowed to acknowledge the ways in which my neuro-atypicality hurts me, hurts others through me, and I want help.
I very strongly feel that it is an absolute absurdity of our culture that if I am fidgeting and someone nearby says, “Please sit still, I can’t concentrate,” that I am the one accused of having attention deficits. Focus your dang selves, neurotypicals, and stop blaming ADHD people for distracting you if you’re so good at concentrating.
Seriously, though, this is a case where the wider world ought to adjust to the needs of others. To make some people conform their behaviour to how you best focus may be a compromise necessary in a civil society, but if nearly every classroom and work meeting and church service on earth has been shaped in the image of the way you best concentrate, stop pretending to be smarter or more focused than those of us for whom they have not been.
ADHD is a great strength in my vocation. Having the attention span of an average eight-year-old can make me a more empathetic children’s minister and church camp chaplain, for sure. Insofar as some of my friends and family see me as very “smart,” as someone prone to know random and specific facts that they don’t know, I know those because of ADHD. I know those because I compulsively didn’t only listen to what was in the curriculum, because I followed the Wikipedia rabbit hole late into the night, as long ago I did the Encarta rabbit holes of my youth. And I acknowledge that as far as I have managed to get the world to change for my needs, I have coped better. I am better at jobs that define tasks and let me work strange, flexible hours, for example, and am very blessed to now be in that sort of work life. I am better at jobs when I have been allowed to create a physical space that enforces focus and organisation on me.
But, in the meanwhile, the entire world is not made for adults with ADHD. And in the meanwhile, I have to live in the world in which I live. I have to get up, I have to pay bills, I have to answer emails, I have to prepare sermons, I have to do all of these things as if other people depend on me. Because they do. And there are life-and-death extremes of these. Someone with severe ADHD can make a darn fun puppet show, but we’re also far more likely to kill you while driving without getting help.
The most ADHD, unchecked, untreated, version of me is also unhinged. And I do not owe it to other people’s positive attitudes to like that version of myself entirely. I do not owe it to anyone to accept that someone who is perpetually messy, perpetually tired, perpetually unreliable is the real me.
I want to stay silly and fun. I want to remain the pastor at the Anglican cathedral who wears animal socks and has a puppet of Mary and a giant rainbow in his office. I want to keep bouncing and dancing with the kids in children’s church. I want to be the guy who majored in religion but can explain wind turbines to a friend on a drive because when I am curious about something, I research it. Even if I am in a meeting about something else. I like a lot about my ADHD.
But I also want my children to grow up in a clean home where they can find things. I want to remember appointments and meetings and due dates. I want to be able to drive safely. I want to be able to occasionally channel all the creative thoughts bouncing into my head into actual output to share with others. I want to finish my gosh darn PhD dissertation. And I want to do it now, in this real world, which is not made for me. So I can become the Rev’d Dr. Jean-Daniel Williams, a published and well-respected children’s ministry consultant who can help make children’s experiences, including ADHD children, in church better than anything I ever knew as a child.
And to do that, for that to be who I am, I need help. I need to accept that ADHD is real. I need others to accept that is real. I need some therapy, some medicine, a clean space, phone reminders, and a lot of colour-coding. I need my friends and loved ones to support my efforts, not to tell me that I don’t have anything to worry about it.
As my cheesy inspirational song of the day says, being immobilised by distraction “isn’t real, It’s just all you can feel … Cause we all need saving.”