It is 11p.m. on a school night and a spry spider monkey named Rikki staring me down. Daring to defy the incarnation of ADHD my fingers begin to type. As words form the imaginary creature throws a fit howling for attention. Hopping on the bed he is impossible to ignore. This is his way of telling me I am doing something wrong.
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or “ADHD” stepped into my life the day I told a push puppet toy to drop dead in the first grade. The CDC states that 3-7% of children within the United States will or already have been diagnosed with this disorder. Hallmark symptoms include impulsiveness, talkativeness, trouble concentrating or following basic commands, forgetfulness and extreme hyperactivity. In short it is like having a caffeinated monkey run laps inside your head.
I cannot honestly say I was happy to hear the doctor’s diagnosis. Nobody is excited when their physician tells them that the chemicals in their brain are imbalanced. Unlike an ailment or blemish this could not be subtracted from my anatomy. It was then that the imaginary hairball appeared to me.
Sweet in the face but unmanageable, the spider monkey was a nightmare to live with in the beginning. When the teacher called for silence he compelled me to fidget until I was forced to leave the room. The mini primate distracted me during tests, threw fits at orchestra rehearsal, and deprived me of sleep. Without medication or proper counseling the teachers had to place me in the resource program.
Repackaged with a warning label I was suddenly the laughing stalk of my school. From elementary to junior high the curse of ADHD loomed like a dark ominous cloud. I became angry—depressed even because it did not make sense to me. Why did I have to be dysfunctional? Why were my wires crossed? Desperate and at my wits end I finally agreed to see a professional.
Enter Doctor Pollack, a kind red-haired woman with a jovial chuckle and maple brown eyes hidden behind glasses. Physically she was a complete departure from the other specialists I had seen. Moreover, she was the first person to suggest that my ADHD was working against me because I was rejecting it rather than accepting it. This was a bold statement seeing as how that wicked monkey had ruined everything short of my health. But I listened to her advice. Staring my other half in the eyes I gave him a name, Rikki; it means powerful ruler. Suddenly the gears shifted turning clockwise for the first time. Now instead of fighting me that monkey would be my beloved partner in crime.
Despite the difficulties, ADHD has a superhero flipside. Creativity and unconventional thinking are a god send when taking geometry. Numbers and their formulas fly through my head falling into perfect alignment. Fueling the hurricane is the beastly force: hyperfocus. Comparable to Thor’s hammer and Zeus’s master bolt this symptom channels the excess of energy. It is like receiving 10,000 volts of raw power straight to the brain.
When hyperfocus hits, that wimpy monkey magically transforms into the Rambo of all study aides. In this state Rikki becomes a master of whatever I am reviewing. He wears a red beret when the subject of the day is conversational French. On weekends he will swap the hat out for an audio recorder when I am conducting interviews for journalism. However, there are days when the mind rebels.
Sneaky as ever, procrastination will wrap its slimy arms around me choking out all and any creativity. There is no telling how long this will last. For two semesters I could not bring myself to focus even with the assistance of medication. My grades dropped to unacceptable standards meriting a letter of academic suspension. As my world spiraled out of control Rikki sulked on my shoulder sighing dismally. Yet when all hope seemed lost the tides shifted.
With the boot camp tactics adopted from Miriam Gottlieb of Pierce’s Special Services things began to turn around. She explained—in words I could manage—that because the brain is a muscle it can burn out just like legs when running or arms when swimming. It was a relief to hear that this would pass. I felt bad for working poor Rikki to the bone. There was only so much the pipsqueak could handle. But now that he had recuperated from a yearlong battle it was time to hit the gym.
Work began with short yet frequent study sessions. For the first few months it felt as though nothing had changed. Trudging through mental sludge while training my mind to work the way it should was painstaking. Wrestling with oneself ought to be an Olympic sport when you take into consideration all those with ADHD have working against them. It was when that seven month marker came that everything fell into place.
The revival of my academic life was possibly the greatest comeback since Lazarus. Instead of coping with ADHD I am thriving off of its unsung benefits. Working on the same wavelength at last, Rikki knows when to buckle down for business. For that matter he also knows when to call for a timeout. One of his favorite methods for grabbing my attention combines screaming at the top of his tiny lungs then, after wailing for a bit, daring me to a win or lose game.
Raising his little fist Rikki challenges me to a game of rock paper scissors. If he wins, the computer turns off and I go to bed. If he loses we stay up. Throwing him a curveball I bunch my hand into a fist for “rock.” Unfortunately the little guy used “paper” winning the duel fair and square. Clapping victoriously he vanishes without a trace. I will have to wait until tomorrow for a rematch when the hyperactive monkey inside my head returns.