I am one of those people who was born intuitively creative. I view things around me in terms of color, texture, whether or not it fits in the scheme of things, sound and movement or the lack of any of these things in my immediate environment. When I was in elementary school, a book called Hailstones and Halibut Bones written by Mary O'Neill articulated and stimulated how I viewed my world. What was in my head had been brought to life on the page and I set off to do the same. The book showed me how I too could put down on paper what I saw and how to express it. It was a transforming moment. Later in junior high and high school, reading Sam Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Shakespeare's Hamlet opened up new horizons about writing and performing. I loved performing. When we had to read these plays in English class, it was like pulling teeth to get anyone to play the main character. I always volunteered. I didn't care if the main character was male or female. I wanted the part. I had little in common with my peers and with my skinny body and flaming red hair, I resembled a match stick, a fact which further separated me from those of my own age. I also had more energy than six kids my own age. It drove everyone nuts.
For years I sought answers as to why I had so much trouble academically with tests, math and other subjects. Outside of my gaining some fame in school for my writing and performing puppet plays, one act plays and poetry, I was pretty isolated. The situation confused me because on the one hand, I enjoyed being different than my classmates and yet I didn't like being considered a freakshow. I do not have any happy memories of school other than what I was able to do creatively and read. If I was asked to describe my childhood in three words, it would be "lonely and miserable." What saved me was my being able to draw in and mesmerize my classmates when I read my own short story out loud or performed a puppet play or skit. We connected briefly and I was in the driver's seat. I had something they wanted. When the lights went out and the play was over, I was back to square one.
I went to doctors and therapists throughout my twenties and thirties. No one could really do anything for me. They admitted as much. Finally, I found one out of two specialists in New York City that specialized in diagnosing and treating adults with symptoms of ADHD. Finally, in October of 2001, less than a month after I watched the Twin Towers crash down to the ground and replayed the image in my brain twenty times a day at least, I found the name for my pain.
In 1989 I had been diagnosed with mild bipolar disorder and clinical depression. But there was more "not right" that I could not figure out. Finally - ADHD. It sounded like a brand of bug spray. This dual diagnosis explained many things that had plagued me including not getting more done with my artistic work. The crippling depressions, hyper behavior and learning disabilities (dyslexia) certainly provided enough material to take on the tormented artistic mantle but I refuse to do that. These issues had caused me to make some poor choices and ruin some important relationships but focusing on the past achieves nothing. I was tired of not achieving what I felt I could in my personal and professional life and too stubborn to just quit.
One doctor in reviewing my life history acknowledged the "deep psychic pain" I must have suffered, asked me "Why aren't you dead?" 1 out of 10 people with my symptoms kill themselves, I was told. Or they become drug addicts to kill the pain. I told him "Because I read Hailstones and Halibut Bones." Believe me, that got a look. I explained further. I refuse to stay in that dark basement when I fall down there. I will crawl out and see so many hues of color around me, the light of the day dancing from morning, noon and then the night with its glorious moon or darkness. I see black as a color, not a state of mind. I keep these things in front of me no matter how frustrating life can be. I can go outside on a still black night, look up into the sky and still feel a sense of wonder from that black night sky. I see rain over a cold, barren stretch of land and find beauty in it. That kid's book taught me how to do it.
I can't keep a checkbook because I mix up numbers so badly. So I can't keep a checkbook. Big deal. I can build a basic computer and do a thousand other things well. I can lose something sitting still. I laugh about it now. I went to an ADHD conference and a bunch of us got together and just laughed about things we all did - misplacing things and the rest of it and it turned into a competition who could tell the most hilarious, personal experience of losing something. It took the pain away from being thought of being clueless, careless or dumb - something all of us had experienced being told from families, friends and co-workers. I was home.
I work around my learning disabilities and embrace what makes me different instead of dreading it. There is a marvelous saying that success is finding out what you were born to do and then arranging your life around it. It's still embarrassing at times when I make mistakes others label as being careless but things could be worse. I think someone putting a spear through my eye would be more painful. There are plenty of people who have it much worse than I do. It's all how you choose to look at things. I can remind myself about it by reading a newspaper, looking at the news or do something more joyous such as picking up my old copy of Hailstones and Halibut Bones. I will always be grateful to you, Mary O'Neill.