ADHD: The Weird and the Wonderful

The Evil of Socks

I dislike all footwear. I was clearly meant to be a Hobbit and run barefoot. Of all the things I am forced to wear on my feet, I hate dress socks the most. Verily, loathe them. There’s something about the texture I cannot abide; that blend of stretchy fibers that catch on things. They also never seem to sit right on your foot.

Just the thought of wearing dress socks is enough to provoke a visceral response. My skin breaks out in goosebumps, the nail beds on my fingers and toes seem to contract. My jaw clenches and it feels like my gums are trying to expel my teeth. Chills sweep over me and I have to take a few steadying breaths to regain my composure. Even writing this is causing that reaction. Imagine the suffering I have undergone just by revising and editing this piece.

I go to great lengths, if I have to dress up, to avoid the sensation that comes with wearing dress socks. I have snipped the toes off of the offending pair. I’ve used (only slightly less evil) athletic socks to cover my sensitive toes. I’ve gone sans socks. Anything goes to make it bearable and to avoid that awful sensation.

Over the years, I have learned to laugh about this odd little quirk. I would share it during ice breakers.

In reality, it’s the worst of an array of sensitivities to textures that have plagued me since childhood.

I’ve always been a little “odd.” Okay, when I was a kid, I was a lot odd. I was clumsy and prone to talking too much and oversharing. I could recite the plot of a movie verbatim, and talk endlessly about Star Trek (or any number of other made-up universes) given the opportunity. I still can. Say “Dune,” “Middle-Earth,” or “Star Wars” in my presence and understand that you have inserted a dime into the jukebox and the song must now play through. At the end of it, you will know more than you wanted to about any one subject. I do try not to prattle on, and I’ve gotten leaps and bounds better than I was at twelve.

I was the video games and comics kid more than the sports and outside kid. In high school, I discovered theater was a wonderful outlet for all my anxious energy. By all definitions and social constructs, I was a nerd.    

The Weird Kid

I worked hard throughout my life to not be the “weird kid”…and let us be clear: I was a weird kid. I was bullied a lot, and once I realized I was a weird kid, I felt I needed to keep my quirks under wraps to try to fit in. I squashed my love of Star Trek for a time because it wasn’t cool. I remember the day I took down the posters in my bedroom and put all my little ships and action figures away in a box. That was a sad day.

Somewhere in my late twenties, as nerd-culture suddenly became cool, I ran my nerd flag up the pole again and flew it high and proud. Things were good, for a little while.

Last year, my friend Rachael told me she had begun to suspect she might be autistic. As she told me why, I felt a deep resonance with a lot of what she was saying. Was I autistic? Out of curiosity, I took a test on my own. I knew it wouldn’t be a formal diagnosis, but the results indicated I should probably talk to someone. I had no idea where to begin. In the end, I let it all sit on the back burner.

Months later, during the life-altering events of the COVID-19 pandemic, I began to see a therapist. Like many people, I had been battling depression and anxiety. I realized I’d been dealing with both for a very long time, but I had so many things that kept me busy, that I used to cope, that I didn’t realize how bad it all was. The isolation of lockdown had stripped away the masking, and I knew I needed help.

In the back of my mind, still simmering on the burner, was the question of whether or not I was autistic. Still, I didn’t ask my therapist. I felt maybe I was just being dramatic. I worried maybe I was just usurping Rachael’s experience because I empathized with her as my friend.

Then, a close family member was diagnosed with ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Everything changed.

I did some research, and I was shocked at how much I identified with what I was reading. Here was a laundry list of symptoms I had never thought of as being tied to ADHD, and I had many of them. A number of the symptoms also overlapped with autism. That explained why I resonated so much with Rachael’s experience. A discussion with my therapist led to a discussion with a psychiatrist, which led to a diagnosis.

At forty years old, I finally had an answer to a lifelong struggle.   

An Explanation

ADHD had honestly never occurred to me. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, ADHD was more of an anomaly. ADHD kids were the ones doing laps around the classroom, the “really weird kids” who talked too much and took Ritalin and Adderall. ADHD was a cop-out for really bad behavior or bad parenting. It wasn’t really that big of a deal…right?

Now, freshly diagnosed, I began to obsessively read up on all things ADHD (such an ADHD thing to do!), and everything clicked.

I began to inventory my life. I wasn’t a hyper child, but I was forgetful and impulsive and often got into trouble for doing something I had just been told not to do. My second-grade teacher was especially and perpetually perturbed with me. Getting into trouble for forgetting NOT to do something was a constant experience in my childhood.

I had also always struggled with intense emotions and anxiety. Social situations where I had to meet new people could be nearly paralyzing. The more variables a situation presented me with, the more stressful I found it. Stress used up my processing power, leading to meltdowns. To make things worse, nearly everything was stressful. Just the steps necessary for getting up in the morning, making breakfast, showering, and getting dressed for school or work were stressful. There were so many variables. A sense of panic until I was actually sitting at my desk each morning was common.

I wrestled with the shame that I couldn’t seem to control my feelings, and I learned to fear them. My intense emotions were embarrassing and got me into trouble. They were a burden to others who had to deal with my outbursts. So I tried to push them down, which also required a lot of processing power – power I did not have. The cycle was endless.

I come from a boisterous and talkative family, and just trying to get a word in at the dinner table was like climbing Everest.

I was smart, though, and creative. Everyone told me so. I read at an advanced level and zipped through homework at warp speed. I could study for a test five minutes before and ace it. In high school, though, things shifted. My stellar grades suddenly tanked and I flunked the ninth grade. Straight A’s in Art, English, and Drama apparently do not a well-rounded GPA make. Everyone was baffled and I felt stupid. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I zoned out in class and suddenly I couldn’t make up for it at home on my own. I went to a small Christian school with fewer than twenty students in my grade, so there was nowhere to hide from the very public shame of failure.

When it came time to take the SAT, the school principal and my classmates were baffled; I had the highest scores in my class, so why wouldn’t I just do my homework? Why was my GPA always teetering precariously on the edge?

I managed to skip my junior year by piling on classes so I could graduate on time, with the rest of my tiny class. I felt a sense of relief that I could close the book on my disappointing high school years. But the pattern continued. Shifting college majors led to shifting jobs. In my spare time, I had shifting obsessions; hobbies I would pick up for six weeks and then drop, never to be touched again.  I thought it was all the result of my own scatteredness and mistakes, and I struggled with more fear and shame over it all. More emotions, more processing power used up.

I felt aimless more times in my life than I can count. I was weird, unmotivated, wandering through life, struggling to make ends meet despite being so smart. I thought perhaps I wasn’t that smart to begin with; maybe I was really just an imposter, a failure at all things.

When I found myself at the end of that psychiatric appointment, I had so many emotions. I had wanted answers. Now I had them.

I was angry.  

The Grieving

I found myself drowning in grief for all that might have been and for the loss of “normal.” The disruption to my carefully crafted façade was immense. I realized all the tricks and coping mechanisms I had used over the years to cover up my faults and failures were actually covering up things that weren’t flaws or failures at all. It was simply a difference in brain chemistry.

Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Almost immediately, I began looking for Christian perspectives on ADHD and found surprisingly few.

Mostly I found lists of verses about self-control and discipline. God valued order, right?

In the charismatic Christian churches I grew up in, mental health was not something that was openly discussed. Depression, anxiety, and fear were battled through prayer and discipline. The multi-hued chaos that was my mind was evidence of a sinful lack of discipline and self-control. At least that was my perception.

I was a bad Christian, and God was not pleased with me. I lived in near-constant terror of doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, even thinking the wrong thing. I was afraid of my own emotions, afraid of my own creativity, afraid of failing. Negative emotions had to be overcome. If I admitted I was sad, that was failure. The same was true if I admitted I was angry, overwhelmed, hurt, or confused. All the “bad” emotions had to be squashed.

Until the day I learned every emotion has a place.

Singer Amanda Cook once said, “Jesus dignified every human emotion.” That was a profound statement for me. Every emotion is valid, though not necessarily every response. Sometimes even the thing that triggers the emotion is a misperception. But whether the stimulus is true or not, emotions indicate where we’re at. It’s the check engine light for our hearts and mental health.

We’ve all heard the heart is wicked and deceitful. This often seems to be paired with admonitions to ignore your feelings. Of course, we often have to do things we don’t “feel” like doing. We have to go to work, pay the rent, and pay the bills on time or suffer the consequences. But, how often do we take that sense of responsibility and use it to beat ourselves into submission for not measuring up to our own (or others) perceived sense of perfection? How often does it lead us to abuse ourselves with our own tyrannical demands, or find ourselves abused by others?

Yes, we are good at self-deception. However, the Bible tells us to guard our hearts, trust with our hearts. God promises his peace will keep our hearts.

Over the years, I’ve learned to pause and take stock of where my heart is at. Rather than dismissing it, I’ve learned to untangle the often complex things I’m thinking and feeling. Rather than squash the anger or fear, I ask why I’m feeling it, and in that, I find the way through it. Often the thing I am angry about or afraid of is not what I initially thought.

Likewise, as I acknowledged the grief of the diagnosis, I found the path through it, back to hope and joy. Grief is a gift, to help us through the pain.

The Gift

ADHD, autism, dyslexia, giftedness; each of these and more fall under the umbrella of neurodivergence (ND): Brains that operate differently from what is considered normal or neurotypical. The wiring of our brains allows us to see the world in ways others don’t. This can be both blessing and a curse.

While nerd culture has become somewhat chic these days, the reality for many nerds is we once felt incredibly awkward and out of place. We often still do. We seek the soothing cocoon of video games. We escape to other dimensions through the portal of books and television shows. We embark on quests through fantastic landscapes from the kitchen table. We obsessively hunt for lost toys from childhood now that we have adult money to buy what our allowance wouldn’t cover. Within the fold of nerd-dom is a safe space for many NDs. The intersection of neurodivergence and nerd culture is enormous, with multiple lanes and questionably functioning traffic lights.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Deep conversations on Middle Earth, Star Wars, or whether Kirk or Picard is the best captain (it’s Picard, just so we’re clear) are like being wrapped in a warm blanket. We can be unmasked and fully ourselves – liked, loved, and accepted.

As I walked out of my diagnosis, I realized I was surrounded by people who were neurodivergent. There were friends, family, and coworkers. All bright, sparkling people, who were kind, compassionate, generous, empathetic, and just a little off-center, like me. Full of quirks, like me. Obsessing over everything from music to history to board games to dollhouses. The signs had always been there, mirrored back to me by some of the people I cherished the most. I just hadn’t been able to see them. Even though everyone else had.

The Grace

I realize now I have a lifetime of tools that are helping me cope with this paradigm shift.

As I untangle my thoughts and emotions now, I realize a powerful thread in the knot is ADHD. That makes it a little easier to avoid beating myself up for mistakes. I can have some grace for myself for forgetting to pay a bill, or for feeling overwhelmed by mundane things like emptying the dishwasher.

I also see the hand of God in it all and I am reminded how deeply he cares for me.

There were the friends and mentors who came into my life at just the right time, saw me right where I was, and walked with me through grief and dark places.  I learned to sit before the Lord and be comfortable with a lack of answers and resolutions. I learned to ask simple questions to cut through the confusion and bring clarity. I can see now how God gave me the grace for forty years to carry on.

Sheila Walsh, who left working for the Christian Broadcasting Network to deal with severe, crippling depression said, “It’s not a lack of faith, it’s a lack of chemicals.” 

My brain is lacking in some key neurotransmitters, like dopamine. That means I perceive the world differently than most people. It’s hard for me to focus on things I find dull (like sports), hard for me to think through my morning and be on time, hard for me to do a thousand things every day that should come fairly easily to most people. It means I overthink and can be overly sensitive to rejection. It means, for some unknown reason, that dress socks and their abominable texture are the bane of my existence. It also means I know far more about fictional futures than I do about some basic life skills.

My doctor told me I had been finding ways to cope my entire life. I’d learned to overcome some of the symptoms, like the stuttering, and to mask others. Others still were incredibly crippling.

A lot of the Christian perspectives I read on ADHD seemed to imply that while ADHD folks deserved compassion, they also needed to be held accountable, to work hard at being “normal” so they can serve in the church. How reductive.

I have to pay my bills on time and show up to work – I’m not debating that. But, perhaps “normal” isn’t what we think it is. I’m not alone, and I suspect, if we talked about it more, especially in the church, more people just like me would realize they’re struggling with something that has a medical root and can be helped. There’s nothing “wrong”; we’re not lazy, just different.

God sees each of us right where we are, and neurodivergent believers have a place and profound purpose in the work of the kingdom.

My chaotic creativity allows me to see alternative solutions to problems. It also allows me to express thoughts and ideas in unique ways like painting or sculpture that can “speak” into spaces that regular words cannot. My hyperawareness of my own emotions means I’m also hyperaware of those around me. I often find I can articulate the emotions of others when they don’t have the words themselves. It’s a form of discernment.

As a society, it seems we are just beginning to lift the veil and stigma on mental health struggles. What a beautiful opportunity the church has to walk alongside a hurting world trying to step into the light. I’ve been guilty of judging people for their struggles because it was inconvenient for me, or I felt I wouldn’t be in the same state if I were in their shoes. 

How humbling to realize I am in their shoes. I’m a weird kid…but weird is wonderful.

Timothy Taylor

Timothy Taylor is a lifelong creative, nerd and story teller. He spent more time reading and drawing as a kid than being outside. He is an artist, a teacher and a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and the occasional play. He continues to devour books, plays tabletop games and video games, and obsesses over the minutiae of made up worlds, including his own.

4 Comments

  1. Rachael on January 11, 2022 at 10:03 pm

    Beautifully put my dear friend! ❤️

  2. Cathi on January 11, 2022 at 6:43 am

    As a neurotypical I relate so much to this, despite not having similar interests. I am a 55-year-old female that has struggled all of my life with these issues. There are MANY more of us than you know! We are often hiding in the shadows, fearful of outing ourselves and risking further judgment and censure from the normies. Thank you for writing this article!

    • Timothy Taylor on January 11, 2022 at 10:46 am

      Thanks Cathi. I think the key is unmasking and destigmatizing. That requires vulnerability, so here we are 🙂

      • Jonathan on January 11, 2022 at 8:25 pm

        Thanks, Timothy, what a great, thoughtful read. I’ve had a similar background, yet remained undiagnosed.

Leave a Reply