by Patricia Allen
It was back in 1974 that I first became familiar with the term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Prior to that “diagnosis,” I believed ADHD was simply the “way” I was and we as a family were, and I attributed it to coming from a large family, where if you had some- thing to say at the dinner table, you had to respond or say words quickly in order to have your voice heard. That made sense to me, because the dinner table was the forum for conversation, the gathering of family, and the only platform from which to convey a point of interest, whether it be related to the events of the day or what we referred to it in school as current events.
I failed to see ADHD as an impairment or mental disease. Speaking fast was a necessity, comparable to being able to “think on one’s feet” in a lively debate. And I was admit- tedly very adept at speaking fast and thinking on my feet. In a family where the boys far outnumbered the girls, as well as a time period – the ‘60s to ‘70s – it was, to me, a successful tool to join in on conversations and be assured my opinion was heard. We children were all informally well-versed in rapid speech, and I have little doubt that it was borne out of necessity in order to be actively involved in any of the topics of conversation that took place at the table.
As the fifth child and the first daughter to follow four sons, perhaps for the sake of competition and proving my self-worth in not only a male dominant family, but male dominant society, as well, I adapted in order to commu- nicate my thoughts and join in on conversation. And I was very good at it. I was so good at it that I intimidated my brothers, and to this day continue to intimidate oth- ers who insist I “talk too much,” when I, in actuality, sim- ply am a quick thinker and quite articulate.
As I wrote in my previous article, I was no stranger to smoking pot, and in fact, had been doing so consistently since the age of eleven, albeit a secret my parents were clueless to, credit being given to my discretionary use.
Of major importance regarding this rapid speed speech dinnertime scenario is
the fact that I personally benefited from the “high,” particularly when it came to voicing
my opinions succinctly at the infamous
rectangular round- table. What was purely
experimental at first – getting
high before dinner – served me quite well; it allowed me
to be more rational and less emotional when the words became heated and the competition was both on and in my face. Although my mother was indeed educated, her voice was rarely a factor in these lively conversations, nor was my grandmother’s or my sister’s, simply because they chose to let the opposite sex dominate the dinner table podium.
Rebellious since youth, I had an uncontrollable desire to be heard because I believed my opinion mattered. I still do. I suppose, in retrospect, I was never running a popu- larity contest, because these discussions were more akin to debates than simple conversations and the sharing of ideas. I wanted in, and regardless of the open criticism, I found strength in speaking my mind, particularly fueled by the era-based notion that women were to remain silent, while intelligent conversation was left to the boys and men.
To this day, I can still recall the firm supportive grip of my grandmother’s hand, out of sight, beneath the cover of the linen tablecloth at the dining room table. My grand- mother was a woman far ahead of her time, a suffragette, a self-employed businesswoman who boldly opted out of an arranged marriage in the 1930s and privately encour- aged me to express myself whether it was considered acceptable or not. She, herself, was rarely outspoken at the dinner table, but those bony yet soft fingers held tight to my hand in support. I recently had the pleasure of viewing the film “The Help,” and the one line that stands out the most in my mind to this day was “…sometimes courage skips a generation.” I believe if my grandmother were alive, she would agree. I believe she remained silent out of respect for my father, her son-in-law whom she had great respect for, as I did. Interestingly, I do not recall a time when my father did not welcome my voice, although my brothers certainly did object and did so with insults and mockery, imitating my voice to initiate a melt- down and quick exit from the table. But by my early teens, I was far past the teasing that led to my tradition- al retreat to my room upstairs. I was gaining strength by being my own voice of reason.
When the diagnosis
and suggestion of treatment for ADHD first emerged I was a teenager and under the scrutiny of my educators,
who insisted I suffered from what is now considered a learning disability. Even worse, that diagnosis, first identified by
theory, not fact, in the mid-‘70s was
the cue for the pharmaceutical industry to
produce a cure, as well as turn
over a profit by producing a drug by the name of Ritalin, the first of many to follow to “cure” my quick thinking and
rapid responses. And after being literally
dragged out of classrooms by
my hair and into the vice principal’s office for disciplinary
meas- ures, I actually began to
believe I did have a problem.
My friends were not supportive, and
told me I spoke too fast, and worse, accused me of failing to listen, when in actu-
ality I was and still am quite capable of listening, retain- ing AND speaking at the same time with incredible accu- racy. My question now is, and I smile as I write this: Is that NOT what a lawyer, an esteemed and educated pro- fessional, practices on a daily basis?
Leaping forward to the years that followed, while being mindful of the years passed, it is now obvious to me why I chose to write instead of speak with my voice, rather than risk constant reprimanding and the condemnation of my family and my peers for “talking too much,” of which I am still accused to this day. My usual response was of no help, but I did commonly respond with the words “no, it’s not me; it’s that you can’t listen fast enough.”
The words you are reading are a reflection my voice, of speech. The writer within me is the product of my ability to communicate on different levels, albeit now in writing it is without interruption and criticism for speaking, rather than the topic I chose to address, and the conse- quences of voicing my opinion. Writing is merely a tool for communication, pared down to words on paper, instead of spouting from a face “too cute” to be taken seriously and from a female amongst vocally dominant males. An interesting point here is how I adapted my speech to the written word, coincidentally at the same time I began smoking pot. I think of my writing as a direct reflection of my voice, and find humor in that it is more acceptable for me to write than to speak to this day.
By my junior year in high school, after having been criti- cized for so long, particularly by teachers, whom I some- how managed to intimidate, as well, that I questioned their ability to teach me and set out to prove that I was quite capable of doing it myself.
I concocted a plan to discredit my teachers for attempting to silence me. Quite simply, I did not attend class. I spent my days riding my bicycle through the countryside, stop- ping occasionally to take a few puffs off a joint. My thoughts as I pedaled up hills and through valleys were coherent and flowed without interruption. It was the finest form of mental and physical freedom I had ever experienced. With the assistance of a few classmates, I was able to complete and turn in homework assignments, as well as ace tests, all without attending class, aside from the hours that the tests took place.
brilliant concept, however, backfired miserably. I was unaware
of a school rule stating that if
more than seven classes were missed, the teacher
was entitled to give me
a failing grade, regardless of my test scores, which were indeed as high as I was most of the time. My French teacher,
in particular, began a crusade
to have me expelled, and this is where
the issue regarding pharma- ceutical
treatment first was addressed.
When my parents learned that I was about to be expelled from high school, despite my excellent grades, because of my lack of attendance only, they were called into a meet- ing with the principal of the school, also attended by var- ious educators and psychiatric professionals. The out- come of this meeting was sad indeed, yet to this day is an example of how the term ADHD and the pharmaceutical industry stood for profit, as well as the medical profes- sion, and at my expense.
I was indeed removed, but as they stated, it was in order to assure that no other students would take on the same challenge, I was not formally expelled, but was isolated from the only public school for secondary education in my small, yet affluent hometown. I was required to see a psychiatrist, as was required to avoid the high school and my peers altogether. A private tutor was hired at the expense of the town’s taxpayers, and the plan was for stu- dent and tutor to meet at the elementary school, in the music room in the basement, to complete the necessary credits in order for me to receive my diploma. At 16, I was prescribed Ritalin and warned to stop smoking pot. I did not stop smoking pot, however.
my reaction to Ritalin and change
in demeanor was bizarre enough for my father to insist that I discontinue
taking it. I recall feeling “up,” but
more scatterbrained than ever before. I
simply could not focus, that is, unless I smoked pot while taking it, which I believed at the time negated its effect on me.
As for my continuing education, and my desire to graduate from high school and move onto the college level, well, that dream was stunted as was my social life. But being resourceful by nature, yet another asset of those often diagnosed with ADHD, I did succeed in convincing Springfield College to allow me to take a junior level sociology class, without the two year pre- requisite courses. This “in their face” move proved to my advantage, as after closing grades, the college sent a letter to my high school praising my successful efforts despite the obstacles, and requesting more stu- dents like me take on the college challenge.
Recently, it was suggested to me that my diagnosis of ADHD was one of a learning disability. My immediate response reflects what I believe we need to seriously- consider today during what I believe is the peak of the pharmaceutical age and rage. I suggest we throw out the notions of additives and genetic predispositions to this bogus diagnosis, as well as the even more ridicu- lous notion that smoking pot literally fries your brain. In my life, it is a staple, no different than food for nourishment or water for hydration. It is my brain food.
Please give consideration to a theory I read that made absolute sense to me when my own son was diagnosed ADHD at the age of seven. As written by authors Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D. in the book Driven to Distraction, there are simply dif- ferent personality types in society, and they are all part of the diversity that contributes to society itself. This one book validated a theory I had yet to identify, let alone consider, but a gift of an analogy that I have cherished and believe to this day. Basically, this book explains that there are both “hunters” and “farmers.” each of whom combine and benefit society as a whole. Had I actually conformed I would have betrayed my own unique role in society. I am a huntress. I am high- ly cognizant of my surroundings, adept at noting indis- crepancy, and a decidedly content nonconformist. I am not suggesting that every child or adult would benefit from Cannabis as I have, but I do believe it, in consideration of my previous article, is of benefit to me and my voice, whether it be written or spoken aloud. From a strictly anthropological, historical point of view, I have to question whether some of history’s greatest minds would have stunted and blunted by the side effects of pharmaceutical treatment for what I now refer to as a learning ability, not a learning dis- ability. And I have to question how many of these great minds secretly used Cannabis as I did and still do in order to maintain a healthy focus amidst a continu- ously expanding and diverse range of distractions in what we know call the age of both misinformation and information at the same time.