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This is not easy. As little as two years ago it would have been impossible. Men have a major problem with expressing feelings. It is not masculine. When is the last time you heard an adult male say I feel insecure, afraid, vulnerable, sad, depressed, rejected, humiliated, heck even, happy. Some men nearly choke telling their wives/girlfriends “I love you.” They do. Just can’t say it. Anger is the only feeling allowed. This has nothing to do with ADHD but everything to do with culture. For a man to express those feelings can cost him a job. To cry is to be a wimp. I learned well. Not only did I not express feelings, I would not even acknowledge them in myself. I was so good at it I could not attach the feeling's name with the sensation itself.

Another reason this is not easy is the Internet is a very public place. My computer has an address, a telephone number so to speak, that is easily traced. The rule is never post anything on the net or email you don’t want read in a court of law. I know I am not as anonymous as I feel and that makes me nervous.

I read a proverb once to the effect: “The teacher arrives when the student is ready.” I have had a lot of medical help in the past two years with mixed feelings and results. My wife and I have a dear friend. She is a semi-retired RN that has worked mostly in rehab. She is also the product of an alcoholic mother and abusive father. Somehow, this dear woman turned all those negatives into positives. This RN is the teacher that arrived when I, the student, was ready. Because of her I can tell you how I felt as a child and an adolescent. But feelings outside of the context of experience make no sense. So my experiences come with the package.

I come from a blue-collar background. I was raised in New Jersey not many miles from NYC. I remember my early childhood as being very happy. We lived in suburbia in a nice well-kept neighborhood of older homes. We were not rich but I did not know it. I had everything a little boy wanted, especially the creek not to far away where I spent many days building dams and playing with my friends. It is funny how seemingly insignificant memories stick. I remember feeling total absolute joy when summer break began when I was 7 or 8. The eternal summer of 2 months had begun. Two months an eternity? Wow, does our perception of time change.

Who I was began manifesting itself early on. I played in little league but my heart was not in sports. Mickey Mantel and Roger Maris were the top sluggers of the day but my scrapbook had Alan Shepherd, Chuck Yeager and John Glenn along with numerous pictures of the Mercury rocket series but no sport stars. I worshipped John Glenn. I discovered a short wave radio in the cellar and went bonkers. Wasn’t too long before I had a ham radio station. Chemistry and rocket sets were my toys of choice. I remember clearly the dread over the Cuban missile crisis. Me? I was amazed at the power that could be extracted from the atom. Funny how kids parse things.

My ADD symptoms began in first grade. My earliest recollection was I could not do my homework. That is, I could not concentrate on it. Then, later, in class I would daydream endlessly. I love my parents. My mother has passed away, Dad is still living. Their parenting skills were not the best. I do not hold that against them in any way shape or form. It is just a fact. Dad’s idea of being a father was bringing home the bacon. My mother was under the influence of Dr. Spock. Neither parent intervened even when the reports started coming in that something was wrong. Under my psychological hood I was failing to develop healthy self-esteem. (Quick sidebar: Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself. The most profound psychological truth I’ve ever realized is we cannot love anyone until we love ourselves first.) The lack of self-esteem was coming from an inability to perform in school up to my capabilities. I really wanted to be a good student. The first manifestation of my poor self-esteem was lying to my friends about my supposed accomplishments. I remember telling my Cub Scout troop that I had made nitro-glycerin. There were many such fanciful fibs told. I’m laughing now thinking about it because if it were true I would have blown myself to high heaven. My mother was a pack mom, my peers told her I made nitro, and she laughed and I felt devastated since my lie had been exposed.

So how did I feel as a 10 year old child: Like a failure. I did not like myself. And, in retrospect, I was on my own. None of my real issues were being addressed by my parents. I was a ship on the sea with a busted rudder – driven by the wind but without directional control. Lost, unlovable. That is how I felt but I did not know it at the time.

My parents wanted me to have what they did not – a college education. Somehow I got good grades in grammar school and got accepted into a private college prep high. I was put into the B class. “A” class was reserved for gifted students. They also had C and D classes. I can’t imagine a worse environment for me. First, most of the students were from wealthy families – I immediately felt like an outsider. Second, the academic standards were much higher than public schools. It would have been difficult enough in a public high. My freshman year was a successful nightmare. I made it but the reports were flowing in. He doesn’t apply himself. His head is in a cloud. He is lazy. Blah, blah, blah. And, birds of a feather flock together. My flock is nerds. Acceptance into the nerd group is based on academic success. I was being rejected by my peers – the group I wanted to be part of.

The school guidance counselor thought I might have been misplaced so sent me for an evaluation. No, the placement was right, IQ came back at 119.5 – does not belong in the gifted class but is rock-solid B. I was so disappointed with 119.5. Why could it not have been 120? Figures, I thought, always one short of getting it. Of course, now I realize that IQ test results vary from day-to-day. Maybe the next day it would have been 120 or horrors to think maybe 115. There is a margin of error. The range is what matters. That is why I say “high side of average” rather than give a specific number. The value of the IQ test in my case was to rule out a possibility, namely, I did not have the potential to academically succeed. OK, I had the potential, what then is the problem? ADHD was not heard of in the school I attended when I attended – very unfortunate for me because I was labeled lazy.

How did I feel? More and more alienated and unlovable.

Somewhere between grammar school and high I began noticing the opposite sex. Of course, that is what is supposed to happen. Damn, them girls looked good. But I lacked the confidence to ask for a date. How can any one like me? I did not develop the necessary social skills. I’d say and do stupid things. That was a combination of ADD and low self-esteem. The only dating I did was when girls showed interest in me. How did I feel? Nervous, insecure, longed for the date to end. Part of that is normal but my insecurity was exacerbated greatly by my mental problems.

Sophomore year: Things went from bad to worse. Some students were fooling around with grass and LSD. I remember warning them of the dangers and swearing I’d never do it. I slept over a friend’s house. He started smoking grass in his bedroom. Asked me to join him and I said NO. But I couldn’t help but notice that he did not drop over dead but seemed to be enjoying himself. I was very curious. And then made the biggest mistake of my life. I started smoking it too.

Illegal street drugs have two properties that make them appealing. 1. They kill pain – I had plenty of that. 2. They induce euphoria – I had no happiness in my life. There was no turning back. I went very quickly from grass to LSD, to methamphetamine, occasionally Valium, sleeping pills, a few rounds of heroin but always back to the speed. I loved it. Plus, there was a bonus, acceptance into the “hippie” crowd did not require academic success. This group’s acceptance policy was drug use and alienation. I was in!

The sad part is, Mom thought it was a stage I’d grow out of and Dad was oblivious. There was no parental intervention. I was expelled in my junior year for low performance and attended public school for my last year. I graduated. I have no idea how. But did it.

Fast forward: A few years later I got really sick of what I had became and signed in to rehab. After rehab, I was extremely motivated to succeed and did – in spite of ADHD. I married a lovely girl and we built a relatively happy life together. But there were always unexplained problems. I discovered that I could concentrate on one thing at a time. I later learned it is called hyperfocus and is not at all uncommon to ADHD sufferers. But it nearly wreaked my marriage. My wife would complain that I loved computers more than her. I recognized the validity of her complaint but had a terrible time giving both her and my work attention. I knew if I didn’t invest in the relationship, it would come to an end. It was just extremely difficult to multi-task my attention. Focus multi-tasking is the primary benefit I receive from stimulant meds.

Hope my experience helps you understand your son’s feelings. Keep in mind we are not the same person. He has an enormous advantage, parental intervention. Ask him how he feels. I know you know this, nevertheless, may I say there is no right and wrong to feelings. How we feel is how we feel. As soon as a parent innocently says, “you shouldn’t feel that way” the door of communication shuts tight.



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