Student: Beth, what did you say you have again? OCD?
Beth: Nope! Though I understand your confusion. I have AD/HD.
Student: Huh? But you’re not all, “Blaaaah!!!”
[flaps arms, runs in a small circle with tongue wagging]
Beth: That’s not what hyperactivity looks like in everyone.
[student accurately senses a lecture, flees to his next class]
That isn’t what AD/HD looks like in everyone, especially grown women. I confess sometimes I feel that way inside, a sensation I’ve deemed “swirly”. It’s when everything that’s happening around me and inside of me has a party, and I can’t figure out which attendee to chat with first. I have several techniques for addressing this sensation:
- Lay flat on the floor like a starfish and close my eyes.
- Sit in a chair with my palms on my thighs and take several deep breaths..
- Walk in aimless paths trying to figure out what to do first, announce to everyone that I feel swirly, then go to my office and do #1.
When I was in the classroom, it was easier to manage this, believe it or not. I didn’t have to consciously prioritize my way out of the swirly feeling. Being in a room with 12 adolescents with varying degrees of the same disorder typically made it super easy to choose where to start…wherever they were. I never had to think about me. After transitioning to administration, I have a lot more time to myself, and with myself.
I feel swirly much more easily and way more often.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s list of symptoms, “swirly” is defined as: often feeling restless, being constantly on the go, talking nonstop, blurting out answers/finishing someone’s sentence/speaking without waiting one’s turn, having trouble waiting, and/or interrupting or intruding on others’ activities. Notice most of this is verbal and it’s fast. What is a quick-thinking, hyper-verbal girl to do when suddenly her innate programming doesn’t a positive outlet? (ie. teaching) She spends a lot of time laying on the floor like a starfish, thinking about it. Like collective HOURS. It’s been a professional dark period, to say the least.
Do I miss the kids? Sometimes. But if I miss them, I just go be with them. They’re right there, on the other side of the door. And sometimes on this side of the door…suddenly, without warning…in need of a pencil, aromatherapy, quiet place to work, or a proverbial swift kick. Do I miss teaching? Yes. I miss sparking curiosity and the journey of figuring things out. I miss supporting people in becoming their best selves. Do I miss the traditional act of “educating”? No. I do not miss being told exactly what every citizen needs to learn and shoving it down that citizen’s throat whether they need it or not. I’ve never been very good at standardized anything.
So, what do I do when I’m lost? I read.
I’ve always been grateful to only have AD/HD because the kids I work with often have a learning disability like dyslexia along with their AD/HD. They cannot just read about something unless they get the kind of support their particular disability requires. (And too many of them do not get support, but that’s for another time.) I translate all this confusing labeling for them in a compassionate and practical way, “Here is what the latest information we have says what’s going on for you and here’s what we’re going to do about it together.” I can’t bear the thought of a lost soul not being able to get the answers they sometimes desperately want.
In my case, I desperately wanted to know what I was supposed to do next. I read and I read. I read books. I read job postings. I read horoscopes. And there wasn’t an answer.
But one thing has become very clear to me: I need to honor my wiring. I need to be engaged in a craft that values hyper-verbal, quick-thinking sometimes socially-inappropriate behavior. It’s too hard to fight how I was born to be.
I have to use it because I can’t lose it. And I don’t want to.
After 16 years in a school setting, I’m setting out on my own. I’m going to educate in a different way. I’m not sure what it looks like yet. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to get there, but I know it involves my giving a TED talk someday. I know it’s going to channel all this energy into something beautiful.
This decision was not impulsive, despite my AD/HD label. This decision was made in honor of my AD/HD, and all the parts of myself I’ve been too afraid to embrace until now. As far as I’m concerned, I have to do this: children are watching. What do I want them to learn?