Could This Be Your Story?

By Samantha Schmidgall

I couldn’t believe ADDA wanted to hear my story! Someone is asking me (chatty Cathy) for my story. There has to be a catch, right? It is odd to think I am allowed to embellish and more and that others with ADHD will read to the end. So here is my story.

I was a very quiet and shy girl growing up. I didn’t make waves even where there was an overabundant supply of water! I sat where I was told, did as I was instructed and kept my mouth shut in school. I was smart and placed in the advanced “math” group. But that only seemed to mean we received extra homework. It was not harder, just much more of the same boring work. I didn’t like it so I asked to leave the group. Since I’m a girl, they didn’t question why.

I had always been near the top of my class, but I saw myself as someone who had to study to achieve. No one thought it odd I would study in the bathroom because it was the only quiet place where folks didn’t interrupt me! I had to read standing up because as soon as I started to read I fell asleep. I would stand behind a recliner and prop a book up on the back of the chair. I don’t know how I managed. Or why I persevered. But, I made good grades and went on to earn my master’s degree in education.

I have always been emotional. Being so “sensitive”, as my grandma put it, I have never been confident. I didn’t feel like people took me seriously. I didn’t act out. But, I don’t communicate well and didn’t realize that not everyone else saw the world as I do. I didn’t like it when people talked loud, made loud noises, or looked at me cross. I was a sensitive little girl! I did not show up on any ADHD radar.

My mother couldn’t reach the misunderstood little diva. She had joined the military at the age of 18 and served for twenty years. She was also married three times. As a preadolescent, I was a victim of sexual abuse by one of my stepfathers. I have never written this down before. I still cannot separate my fears now from what my real fear was during that time. Remember, I was a good girl. I did as I was told. This abuse formed a layer of shame and guilt I still carry with me. I seem to attract people who out of nowhere will plant a big smooch right on my lips or a slap my backside! No previous flirting or exchange of sentiment, wham! I still struggle to find a good response. And I feel guilty!

I got pregnant and married at sixteen. That marriage lasted five years. I remember my ex-husband saying, “I can never keep up with your thinking. You move from subject to subject at lighting speed!” I would respond with, “Keep up!” What was his problem? Ha-ha! I moved on to another relationship that lasted thirteen years. I felt trapped. I surrounded myself with strong, overbearing men who made all the decisions (common with ADHDers). People criticized me because I didn’t enjoy house cleaning, cooking, or waiting on him. They labeled me “selfish.” I wanted to try different things like getting an education, leading Boy Scouts and learning Tae Kwon Do, not baking cookies or roasting a chicken.

I have always been late for everything. I don’t want to be. A black hole vortex consumes me. To some employers it’s not a big deal but those who crack a whip seem to be extra annoyed. Of course, I work for the extra annoyed. More chances to feel guilty and ashamed.

I value my job and when I find a position, I stick with it. But at 48, I found myself feeling overwhelmed. I could not sit at my desk in a shrinking cubicle one more minute. I could not answer one more irritating question about “blah, blah, blah!” Everything sounded like a scratched record repeating the same thing over and over. I could not. Life has to be more than this. I had to escape. I packed a box, grabbed my purse and bag, and walked into my supervisor’s office. I broke down, whispered that I couldn’t do it anymore but asked her to keep me from quitting my job.

At age 48, I found myself in a room crying my eyes out wondering what in the world is wrong with me. Of course, depression was the first diagnosis. Months of counseling made no progress. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD inattentive/non-hyperactivity and anxiety. Who knew it’s common for woman with depression and anxiety, who is often overlooked for promotions, who is never taken seriously (probably because she is late and can’t remember the vice president’s favorite drink), or given credit for good ideas, to be diagnosed with ADHD? I didn’t quit my job that day and haven’t since. I admit I want to quit every single day. Somewhere deep inside of me is someone who can offer so much to my organization, but I’m told, “No.”

I have had successes in my life. But they don’t satisfy my hunger to be accepted. It takes a lot to get others to understand I struggle to be me. I don’t even understand what comes from my ADHD and what comes from my own DNA or personality! I wanted to be “normal” but not one person could show me what normal was. And what society tells us makes one popular or successful, I don’t buy. Kinda like the extra homework in the advanced math group. I didn’t buy it either.

My doctors have not grasped what part ADHD plays in my anxiety and depression. I am glad I have stumbled onto websites such as ADDA where I can learn more about ADHD. I see more of my characteristics in the non-neuro-typical brain. I have a lifetime of habits that allow me to get through the day but not through my life. I have found support reading and visiting here at ADDA.
It would be great to live in a world where we can be who we are (ten minutes late or not) without the nasty emails, looks, or lectures. Or say, “Yes I do understand quantum physics even though I don’t remember your name or forget to put the decimal in the correct spot!”

I’m sharing my story because my ADHD characteristics allow me to view the world differently. What we were told about identifying someone with ADHD did not point the finger at me. Maybe it is not pointed at you. If anyone could have shed the light years ago, I would not have believed I was crazy for so long. I am not sure what each day will bring. But I am learning to pause, take a deep breath and ask myself, “Is this really how things are or is my ADHD the cause of my misunderstanding or confusion? Are there other possible conclusions and solutions? What would help more than beating myself up for my lacking?” I have a lot to learn, to accept and to contribute.

It’s important that adults with ADHD share their stories. We must become our best advocates. We must make the world aware of our challenges and our accomplishments. We have rare and special gifts we only discover as we relax and accept them. We excel when we are joyful in our discoveries, not fearful of our next failure. Make no mistake. We are a handful to corral. Don’t try. Allow us freedom to explore and discover, to learn, and invent. We will work harder, longer and will do more than most if given the freedom to do so.

    • mary.katherine
    • July 14, 2018

    Thanks for sharing, Samantha! My childhood experience was similar insofar as being very quiet and shy but always getting good grades (mercifully, I was spared negative consequences of never doing homework.) I also got a graduate degree, but the overarching theme of my whole life has been “I’m failing to do/be what I should”. At age 58, I’m just starting to realize that that probably comes from my ADD (inattentive type). I look forward to learning and sharing more through this website. I was fortunate to have someone come into my life about 8 years ago who genuinely enjoyed my scatter-brained, spontaneous, constantly-shifting-subjects modus operandi. He felt I was entertaining, and made me feel that those characteristics were one of my charms! What a blessing and healing!

    • Sarah Cummings
    • July 12, 2018

    Thank you so much for sharing such an inspirational story! I don’t have ADHD but I can still relate to the fears and worries you speak about. It shows great strength of character to overcome these obstacles whilst dealing with the stigma of ADHD. You’re an awesome role model!

    • Rachel Woodall
    • July 2, 2018

    Thank you for taking the time to write your story! I could relate to so much of it. I am fortunate that I have jobs that allow for creativity and flexibility. I’m a lawyer and a minister. I’ve never made much money at either but I’ve had an interesting life so far. I still get into those times that I feel trapped. I also had to get out of the marriage and have pretty much given up having a relationship where I will be understood. I’m about to leave the church I’m serving as well because they don’t seem to be allowing the creativity to flow. I discovered the other day that my retirement right now is $300 a month! I will need really need to be creative when I decide to retire.

    • Lex
    • July 1, 2018

    Wow…. I’m a male and I took this story to heart. Since I’ve actually been diagnosed with ADHD just a few weeks ago (after having suspected it for years), I’ve been reading story after story about how ADHD people are perceived and treated and it blows my mind how it all just MAKES SENSE now.

    Thank you. I related to this story very much.

    • Michel
    • June 30, 2018

    You are very brave Samantha. Kudos for stating exactly how you have always BEEN MADE to feel. I think this is the key. I can relate to a lot. I have observed that things have actually got worse as I get older. I am systematically (a little) late, surely not because I don’t care but because I just cannot track time. My mind wanders all the time, I catch myself procrastinating on petty tasks, music plays in my head, it is exhausting! In school I couldn’t structure my thinking (but today I’m very good at it, having been a strategy consultant), stay focused, it was like standing on a lifeboat in a storm. Everybody – family included – thought (and atill do!) I was lazy, careless, unmotivated, inattentive (precisely!), late (always), absent minded, lacking in formal logic etc. My siblings constantly made fun of my difficulties at school. Some of my teachers asked me what was wrong with me. I had no idea! Everyone seemed to be normal, I felt like like the odd out. My self estime went all the way down. The rest of the way has been all about making huge efforts to graduate (I need to be super interested to learn fast), earn two masters (I completed 100% of the work on the first one in one third of the alloted time) and start my own company. I also learned four languges along the way (still at it) and yet I feel like I have accomplished nothing, since every single day is another epic battle with myself. However when it comes to thinking, I am so lateral some people can be baffled. Some consolation I guess but some days I tell myself I’d have rather been born wthout ADD (I am self diagnosed and only take natural extracts).

    Very good not to be alone in this daily struggle! Keep up the fight!

    • Robin
    • June 27, 2018

    Samantha, I know exactly what you mean about having so much to do you just don’t have it in your heart to “waste” your time making cookies. You already feel overwhelmed–so much inner turmoil! But those horrible feelings are just “false guilt.”

    As the years have passed, I have learned a little about setting boundaries. Instead of swallowing my pain and giving in, I am now more likely to say, “Honey, I am really busy tonight, but if you’ll start the cookies, I will squeeze in a little time to help you.” Or “I am just too busy tonight to make cookies, but we would all enjoy it if you would make them for us.”

    This may be a rude awakening for him. He may growl about it, but you can kindly suggest, “Well, if you would help our son with his homework (or pick up the groceries, or fold and put away the clothes) I would have time to make some cookies.” Reframe the debate so “time” is his obstacle, not you. Every time he puts the focus back on you, you put it back on time.

    Sometimes I feel my marriage and family commitments are confining, but I have found that often I just need to push back. It’s really better for everyone. I get my life back, and they learn not to be so selfish. Growth happens and family roles move back into balance.

    The way to talk back to those negative “false guilt” voices is to state the truth, which is that every member of this family needs to help with the work (even children), and every member of this family needs time to play (even parents). When balance is achieved your load is lightened, and the trapped feelings should begin to dissolve away. Good luck, Samantha, and thank you for sharing your heart!

      • Samantha
      • June 28, 2018

      Thank you for your helpfulness! Uh, I don’t exactly have to worry about those cookies anymore! Haha, to be serious, the relationship I had allowed to form wasn’t a healthy one to start. Most of our issues steamed from the expectations that he had created that involved what I termed “domesticated”. They were etched in stone and not amendable. As I might have mentioned, he was the strong decision making kind, which allowed me to not worry about “indecision” (another ADD trait-linked to disorganized thoughts?) I just “learned” the behavior that I must be wrong because I thought differently. I had already been through a lot and no one said, “HEY, he is a bully!” 🙂 BUT I will keep in mind your suggestions when the real Mr. Right comes along!

        • robin.plank
        • June 30, 2018

        You are right. “Bullies” are pretty rigid. Standing up to them is one way to find out if they are open to change or not.

        I have a friend counselor friend who works with people with personality disorders. I asked him, “How do you even get them in your office?” He said, “They come when the adverse consequences of their behavior causes them enough pain.” The $64, 000 question then is, are they willing to do the hard work that it takes to change?

        If not, there’s nothing you can really do to change them. You just have to protect yourself and your children the best you can. And sometimes that means leaving, if you have the resources to do it. Sadly, it’s not as easy as a lot of people think.

  1. Reply

    Loved your story. As a lawyer and graduate level trained in psych, who also feels trapped by the marriage commitment. I can relate to everything you write. Please continue to share your stories!

      • samantha
      • June 27, 2018

      Renee, thank you so much for your encouragement. I heard a therapist tell me that ADHD is only about being “inattentive” and not able to organize thoughts, etc. (implying that it should not have any bearing on my relationships, ha!) But, I think “inattentive” means so much more than anything ever written in a diagnosis manual. “Inattentive” is a stronger physiological response in wanting to be free because thoughts are constantly buzzing around in that “bubble” above our heads. Commitment feels like confinement. In that confinement, I don’t think we can let our thoughts run around. I think this because we constantly have to stay “in check” with the linear thinkers. It’s exhausting! In my thinking (not necessarily correct!) but I think we want to let loose and not restrict or confine and for me, the relationships I have always been in, have always restricted and confined my “thinking” concerning the things in life I want. I couldn’t give two cents about baking cookies if I had to get my son’s homework done (also an ADHDer), go get groceries for a dinner I hadn’t planned yet, catch up on the laundry I didn’t take out of the dryer from two days ago, and somewhere along in the (15 minutes I had to do all of this); I decide, wham, I need to clean out that dang box in the closet that is hiding the shoes I have wanted to wear for last six months! ((And he wants those friggin cookies!!!)) Trapped. I have yet to learn how to get those linear folks to understand, “I just want to be free!” Wrong, right, or indifferent. I don’t want to feel guilty anymore. I want to learn compromise not submission or omission.. Thank you again! Samantha

  2. Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. It made me cry, especially the part were you say that success doesn’t satisfy your hunger to be accepted. It made me feel like there is someone who understands what I’m going through.

      • samantha
      • June 27, 2018

      Jimena, thank you! You must be sensitive too? (: (said lovingly) I don’t want anyone- to cry. But reading you write, “you feel there is someone who understands”, is support for me in return. It’s a bigger boat than we thought!

    • Deleyne Wentz
    • June 27, 2018

    Thanks for sharing your story. It resonated with me. We have some things in common. My husband, a psychologist, being around me all day when we retired, said, “You’re like a butterfly flitting about.” Yeah, lack of focus, that’s me. I can’t turn off my busy mind or urge to do lots of things at once. I’m starting to accept myself, I’m over 70, and just realize I’m different, and have unique things to contribute.

      • samantha
      • June 27, 2018

      Deleyne, (I like that unique spelling!) Thank you for your kind words! Hmmm can we change the world’s thinking about “focus”? I focus just fine on the things that interest me! I understand that it is hard to accept the features about us that have long been termed or implied as “wrong”. They are not and couldn’t be further from the truth. Oh what a boring world it must be to NOT be able to move from flower to flower at hummingbird speed! You have many wonderful gifts that you contribute and your husband is attracted to them already!

    • Becky
    • June 27, 2018

    WOW! This is really well written. I can really relate to the many struggles in this article and I’m sure many others will also. Your very brave to do this and I’m sure you will make great improvements in your journey through life. I only wish I was half as brave.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

      • samantha
      • June 27, 2018

      Becky, thank you for reading my story and stating it was “well written”! I love it! (you just can’t see how many times I rewrote, deleted, moved around, pondered, then to put everything back the way I started!)

      Brave? I can’t really say brave. I felt it gave me a bit of relief to share because I really want to know more and be more. I can’t do that if I am closed up. Folks can’t share if they feel the same way or had the same struggles or same successes, if I didn’t share on my part. You are braver than you probably know. You might try writing down the thoughts you have in a journal (or locked diary). You don’t have to publish them but somehow it gets “the stuff” off your mind.

      I am just learning this stuff too! It is incredible to think (remember I really can’t believe others DO NOT think the way I do!) that somehow (because we think or organize differently) we are reminded we are different; therefore, we are guilty of “linear-thinking treason” (or the infamous labels: lazy, insubordinate, indifferent, non-committal and list goes on) and subjected to a life of shame. I personally cannot function any longer in that world where all of my life, I was dictated “who I Should be” and made to feel guilty because I couldn’t “do” the same things others do without some challenges. Alas, through forums such as ADDA, we are now discovering many others just like us! Thank you for your kind words.

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