I have been clinically diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder that normally is made fun of. The spoiled post-modern kids’ reason for being brats. I have heard it all; that I need to teach myself time management. That I need to organize myself. INTERNAL MANAGEMENT doesn’t happen with intention or hard work. It’s a chemical reality: my brain does not produce the satisfaction hormone that a normal person’s brain does and I keep looking for another avenue to feel rewarded. No I am not tied to my phone and if you are you don’t have ADHD. I am not addicted to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and if you are you do not have ADHD, you possibly have too much time on your hands or you are stalking someone.
I have a master’s of science in the field of motor control and behavior. I completed my first graduate degree with an innovative project on attentional focus and adult learning. I am a relatively sane PhD student. I do not have any reasons for not [continuing to] want a great [academic]career.
I was admitted to my PhD program with my own research proposal; researching student mobility and Canadian migration policies. I am working with one of the best (if not the best) academic committees of all times. Even naming my professors to anyone familiar with the areas of governance/ sociology/ political Science makes me proud of myself for having been able to convince them of the worthiness of my dissertation project.
Yet, the reality is that despite my all time high of intention and dedication, I recently hit a wall in academic performance. I barely passed my comprehensive exams and I kept finding my committee less than satisfied with my writing. I am not proud of my typos. nor of the scattered paragraphs in my texts. But frankly those represent my insatiable neural waves and activities. I actually produce work in my spare of time, I do stuff that are potentially valuable, in an ideal world where my job is not doing only what my title presumes. That world however, only exists in my brain; I can not earn my degree by drawing, sketching or doodling on my journal articles, I cannot get a job by repeating the experiments of my master’s project for the sake of curiosity (yes I have done that, in 2012 I took my vacation from work and repeated the entire experiment from recruiting participants to the statistical analysis in a matter of a few days).
I am sure* there are many people with ADHD who have been able to employ their pace of work and multi-tasking abilities and excel in their careers without ever feeling a need to tame down their playful brain. I am not there, yet. I cannot communicate with the society around me through the actions of the 5 year-old within me who thinks she is capable of handling everything all at once. The adult me, sits there exhausted of thinking too hard about how to manage putting the world to right. Oh RealiTi!
I was shy of addressing my case of ADHD to my professors as an issue, something I required accommodation for. Because frankly the only thing I can ask for would be extra time for writing my essays. For someone who normally functions at a higher rate than other people this is basically a matter of pride. Yes, now I’m a special student! Ironically, the slower one. Now, my professor today asked me about how I learnt English and how I have been coming along all this way in universities without any significant issues. It was there when bells started ringing one after another.
I grew up being a top student while I barely remember doing any of my assignments/homework. I would read my essays/compositions off blank pages, would make all my classmates fall in love with my writing (which practically existed only in my head) and would get full marks. I enjoyed classes like theology that would get me engaged in intense conversations. In other classes, you would find me sketching, drawing comics of my classmates or teachers or, reading sport news papers (which were banned at my schools). Yet, my absorption of information while passing the time and avoiding boredome was well enough that I could get full marks out of what I learnt in these classes. And writing exams? My favorite! Where can I do better than the times when I am filled with Adrenaline? That’s how I aced through out primary and secondary education. There was an exception – math; the entirely two dimensional world of mathematics or they way It was taught never caught my attention. I do believe that one could define the world in math but I never could understand how a science could be so silent, only written in lines and lines of formulas on blackboards.
I learnt English the same way, mostly through listening to British and North American music. I did take after school courses but again, I aced at speaking and writing exams without almost doing any assignments (my Milad Institute teachers if you are out there, I’m sorry but that’s true. For the most part I used to read off blank pages).
Came the undergraduate phase and I was still fine. I got a bachelor of science in physical Education in a blink of an eye; just attending classes informed me enough for writing exams and being a varsity athlete practically worked as scientific experimentation of my courses! Apparently, when you run 5ks I the morning and 8 X 400 meter drills in the afternoon and lift weights the next morning all your body becomes is aerobic, semi-aerobic and an-aerobic metabolic systems. When you develop "runner's knee" your entire skeletal muscle system talks to you let alone anatomy text books! No wandering time for a brain recovering from one stimulating task to the other; from summersaults on a beam to learning to swim to attending workshops in the National Olympic Academy.
Now, I am 2+2 years in gad school. I am supposed to create my own stimulations. There are no classes. No debates. No hard core exercises. And let’s be honest, all school clubs that might offer stimulating activities are filled with students who are at least a decade younger than me. So stimulation becomes extracurricular projects I need to cultivate. Engaging with a community I do not know, spending time and energy making my work known. Yet, there are days I have to sit at my desk and reflect on what I have been skimming through. And everyday it seemed more and more difficult. For some reason, I was unable to find an overlap between the exciting and inspiring atmosphere of conferences, community events and speech series with silent task of writing, editing and revising texts.
I never was hopeless about continuing my PhD however, had I not formalized this condition and speaking out about it I wouldn't able to attain a certain level of acceptance within myseld.
I could not predict how important this set of information would be for my professors. As if they really started seeing my faults in a new light. As simple as it sounds I no longer feel guilty about getting bored by having to work in solidarity or, for disliking long readings. As if now there must be other ways of working, suitable to me. I explained in the last piece that I wrote, which was the only one out of ten that got satisfactory feedback, I took notes off lecture video(s) of the author(s). I barely had read anything. And there was the 21st century discovery of audio-visual learning for me! Suddenly, the two dimensional world of endless journal papers turned into exciting lecture videos. I do not know anyone who has not used podcasts as a way of learning. But for some reason, may be ADHD itself, I had missed out on how much difference it makes in the entire experience for me. The authors come to life, those silent alphabets on the paper are now telling me the story of how they became the researcher of embodied subjects. And why, they ever aspired to write so much about one out of a million issues that they yearned to resolve.
Bronwyn Davies’ recommendation for finding the possibility of intellectual work* was reflected in our conversation only after I sincerely shared an issue I had taken for granted for long. As it was too close and real for me to put it in a perspective of others. I was given a “doubled gaze”, which I needed to in order to enact the critical responsible citizen, capable of appropriating and contextualizing knowledge. I strive to work creatively, imaginatively, politically and with passion. As if this simple understanding, was like a personal tool I needed to be able to research and (hopefully) generate stable narratives of identity because it can give identity to my way of researching. Aural, visual and 3D.
*I am aware that the way ADHD affects my performance is an individual case and attention disorder can take millions of forms and should be taken care of on individual basis. *[From the Vault] The (im) possibility of intellectual work in neoliberal regimes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPS4J-C-WhY