Thursday, March 01, 2007

What is WRONG with You?

(cc) Douglas CooteyAh, the quintessential question of your life. "What is WRONG with you?" You've spent your life hearing it from one knucklehead or another, usually knuckleheads with authority. There's just something about you that doesn't sync with the people around you. You think differently. You work differently. You are different. And in a world where conformity is not only a job skill but a way of life, you, my friend, are too different. And that's bad. At least that's what they tell me anyway.

My favorite part of that question is when you try to answer it. Any attempt to explain AD/HD, Depression, Insomnia, or Chronic Motor Tic Disorder (the disorders I have) is often met with contempt as if I'm trying to make excuses for being a loser. "Everyone can be absentminded," they say in a patient and sagacious tone. They also say things like "Anybody can feel down from time to time. So you have a sleep problem; take a pill," and my favorite, "There's no such thing as ADD." I don't get much flak about the tic disorder. People just back away uncomfortably or smile at me awkwardly during those times. It really is quite funny. Their smile has a rigor mortis feel to it as they nod their head in understanding, but the eyes tell all. Pain squints at the edges and they look like they're warring with the eyebrows to keep from arching too noticeably.

The fact is that our disabilities are inconvenient for these people. They can't be bothered to care about you. They have work to do and deadlines to meet. Sometimes even allowing you to have disabilities somehow makes them unimportant. Yes, some of them will get strangely jealous of your "excuse" and try to level the playing field by diminishing your problems.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by the ubiquitous rejections of these invisible disorders. Everyone really does experience depression, absentmindedness, and poor sleep at one point in their lives. Heck, they've even had a muscle twitch on them involuntarily from time to time. Most people cannot relate, however, with the magnitude at which these problems can manifest themselves in me. It is simply beyond their experience.

If you've spent weeks with your sleep schedule upside down despite all your efforts to the contrary, if you've ever lost a job due to AD/HD, if you've lost weeks of your life curled up in a black ball wishing you were dead due to Depression, or if you've missed out on favorite activities because your body violently spasms about your home instead, then you know I'm not exaggerating. Some people's problems are truly worse than others.

For example, I know plenty of people who are worse off than I am. My youngest daughter has mild Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy. My mother has Post Polio Syndrome. My wife's check account has Chronic Depression. I'm doing well comparatively. I try to keep things in perspective. And still, just because people are born without sight somewhere in the world doesn't mean I don't have any problems.

Unfortunately, when asked "What is wrong with you?" the situation cannot be fixed readily with a hasty explanation. The person asking such a question is really saying, "Why are you such a pain in my butt?" There's no helping them. They don't want to understand. They just want results. I've left many a job because I knew my boss was about to go postal on my job status. I used to tell myself I left with my pride intact, except that we know that really wasn't true. Over time I learned how to avoid those situations and extend my employability. It took fifteen years, but now I can work for at least four days without sending my employer into fits of apoplexy. Perhaps by the time I'm 55 I'll be able to work a whole week at the same job. I'm giddy just thinking about it.

In all seriousness, you don't have to work or be where you are not understood. Hanging onto jobs or friends who lose patience with you will only damage your self-esteem in the end and cause you to spiral more out of control due to resultant anxiety, depression, etc. It is important instead to seek out people who are understanding. This might mean making some hard decisions. I once terminated friendship with friends from High School simply because they took my AD/HD personally. The more absentminded I was the more offended they were. I walked away from that situation and I recommend you do the same. Now I am surrounded by friends who not only understand me but find my freakish quirks charming and even entertaining. Ah, to grow up to be a clown. My mother must be so proud.

Darn, I'm not being serious again.

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