This ethnopoetic essay performs some of the professional, interpersonal and political challenges presented by ADHD and some of the ways in which non-visible disabilities intersect with other axes of privilege and accessibility.

Open letter to a colleague on occasion of insensitive and inappropriate behavior to which my attention deficit disorder was a significant contributing factor:

I know 
that it is unacceptable for professionals emails 
to have so may missing letters, words 
misplaced apostrophe's,
 unexplained spaces, 
sentence fragments.
The truth is 		"close enough" 
is the same as 		perfect 
my proofreading eye.

If we understand that 	symbols 
don't exist 			as 	symbols 
until there is a 			knower 
prepared to 			know them, 
the typos were 		not, 
strictly speaking, 		there 
when I tried to 			know them  
with a mind 		prone 		to skip 	
					from 	known 
					to 			   known 	
					from 			      known
					to				                 known
						ad							infinitum…
                       				  I know 
					it doesn't matter that I spent hours 
						  reading aloud, 
		     I know 
		the 		proofreading 
		is in the 	pudding 
and mine is 
							"spilt mercury, running and beading" 1  
lack of knowing
is the opposite of my 	problem,
					plagued 	as I am 
			with a 	pathological 			knowingness, 
							more and 	doing less.
I know			too
	that when 	I 	was late 	
					worked harder					in my stead
		to do that which I should've done
		to mask that labor as though t'were none 		
		times a lady
				forgiving, 	with a compulsory smile, 	my soupy head.
I did not 					mean
to be 					late
But the lateness was		not, 
strictly speaking, 			late 
until you 					met it		
so you bore the brunt of its 	meaning
						in my absence 
As some are blind to color, 		
I am blind to time 2 
						This is unavoidably true
In fact,					I was born two months pre-mature

Thus time-blindness:		one of the very first things that was true of me.
				One of, 
					but not the very
Lest we forget the blurry picture through which I was decreed 	male 
												with all the privileges 
												and (ir)responsibility 
												heretofore pertaining.
In the most easily verifiable version of the story,
doctors gave my mother IV alcohol 
								   to mask her labor
								   to keep me from emerging inopportunely 3 
The booze failed and the fetus emerged, 4  
							just north of 7 months
							just south of 5 pounds. 
		Hyland membrane: 
			structural immaturity of the lungs; 
			not enough oxygen in the brain. 5 
					the former perpetually gasping for air
					the latter for knowledge
					both in short, 
"If he lives,"
		 	the doctors said 		(and they had good cause for that "if," 
								a brother, born but a year before, had not)
"he will likely have severe brain damage."
								Lungs might heal
								but brain will gasp, 
										both knower 
											and known
												ad nauseum
In mother's version of the tale, 
					the one I've heard most often,
The church ladies 
					prayed me back to heath
						it was clear, 		
											had big plans 
						for the little man
and look 					how well the baby's gasping brain worked
and look					how the guardian angel protected him 
						when he ran away from home 
						at the age of 3 	
						because he was too bored to take a nap.
and look 					how curious
and look					how adventurous
and look					how charming
and look 					how every report card proves those doctors wrong.
In the story behind that story, 
		narrative threads untangled 
			by therapists 
			and theorists alike,
							The truth is that 	"close enough" 
							was the same as 	perfect 
							to the professors' 	proofing eyes.
If we understand that 	symbols 
don't exist 			as symbols 
until there is a 			knower 
prepared to 			know them, 
the diagnosis was 		not, 
strictly speaking, 		there 
when they tried to 		know it  
with minds prone 		to skip the errors of the privileged 
					The now clear signs
					were masked 
					by then clearer signs:
								Plus the constant fear 
								of being hit across hand
								by a teacher's ruler, 
								dragged by an ear 
								out in the hallway, 
								shamed for an outburst
								spanked by a father who claimed, 
								always in anger,
								to act only out of love.
Privilege, 				however great, 		is not lack of any problems, 
									only of those caused by oppression 	
									on the axis of advantage in question.  
Problems,			however severe,	are not an excuse 
									for ignoring those axes
									rendered most invisible by privilege.
Stellar transcripts don't show: 
		classes dropped in a panic because of unfinished papers,
		spelling mistakes hiding behind barely legible handwriting
			the in class, closed book final exam
			turned in three days late 
			covered in macaroni and cheese and peach juice 
			because I simply forgot
				the substitution of self-loathing 
				and anxiety endured adrenaline 
				for executive function
					how many times I missed out on things I wanted 
					because of something so trivial 
					that it would only have taken a moment to correct 
					but for which I never found the correct moment:
							how often I wished for death
							while learning how to live.
In another version of the story				I was to be a 
but was born early and became a 	soupy, 
The woman									 
(not at all interested in church even less interested in being called a lady) 
												who read my chart said,
	"You have two water grand trines 
	and one fire grand trine. 
	No earth 
	or air 
	to speak of"
								I asked her what that meant and she said,
	"Oh honey, 
	I'm so sorry"
												And recommended
					 							I spend an hour a day 
											in complete physical privacy, 
												preferably in water.
											and wished me better luck
				 							on my next karmic go-round.
													And repeated 
	"I am, 
				And I hear her hollow— though doubtlessly sincere— apology 
				echo in mine to you 
				and I know another sorry 
				will only exacerbate the problem
				even as I hear it come out of my mouth
				even as I see, 
				(late again)
				the exhaustion on your face
										a needle pulling thread
					   pricking, 		mending, 		pricking, 		mending
					   addendum, 	addendum, 	addendum	addendum.
		know, further still, that 
		desire to know you, to ally our struggles, had a moment of promise before 
		pushed analogy past utility, before 
		care crossed, through sheer volume if nothing else,
		from supportive to intrusive and back again so many times 
		as to blur with the barrage of micro aggressions 
		that make up too many of your days
	I     	am left in the last place either of us wanted me to be
		In the center of things.
		As you retreat,
		from the well-meaning but dangerous dance of
	my 	persistent, privileged presence.
Another version of the story haunts me most every time I read a newspaper,
I shoplifted for a few years.
Not sometimes, 
but almost anytime there was something to steal.
At first: An impulse I didn't regulate well. An unforced error.
But soon: An obsession.
not just the stuff
not just the thrill
but the focus
that came with 
the adrenaline
a moment in 
which there 
A period. 
Not, for once, an ellipsis.
Caveat emptor,
Only stolen goods offered 
this only-one-ness
thus they were discarded immediately after acquisition, 
like so man other prosthetic executives before and after.
When I finally got caught, I blubbered away my Miranda rights,
hazel-green eyes dropped buckets of tears down rosy red cheeks
and white cops took pity 
and called white parents
and did not, 
as for so many counterparts of color, 
consider me 
or monster.
My ill-thought-out indiscretion was cause for mockery, but not 
I am not in the least bit blind to how my color 
(or, in the inaccurate popular imagination, lack thereof) 
is an ADHD comorbidity 
a compensating commodity
or to how many of neurological kin 
made other through racial injustice 
overpopulate our prisons 6 
or to how quickly any 
could have become a life sentence
in a different syntactical context. 
The sheer volume of mistakes though which I have been able to gain 
what little mastery I have over my soupy mind
is itself profound privilege.
According to another story, 
one I hope to share more widely,
					An estimated 5% of the population has ADHD
					The disorder is approximately as heritable as height, 
					indisputably neuro-chemical 
					(though environmental factors make it worse
					and these are spread unequally)
					It manifests differently in different people, 	
					but its chief characteristics are 
									poor attention span, 
									poor impulse control, 
									poor organizational skills,
									poor follow through
									poor handwriting
									poor tact
						interrupting others
					excessive talking
				losing things
			doing dangerous things without considering consequences
		intense courtship followed by painful break-ups
	inability to stay on topic
missing deadlines
		bad financial decision making
			inappropriate generosity
						difficulty remaining seated
							general dissatisfaction with life and a sense
								that one could be doing better if only
								       one could put one's mind to it 										
								             but that one's mind 												
								                    will never stay 												
								                            	it is 													
								                            	put. 7 
Things from which most people suffer from time to time but from which we suffer
An estimated 60% of those of us who have the disorder, 
					which is to say an estimated 2.4% of the entire population, 
					have debilitating symptoms well into adulthood 8 
	Even when 	we learn that we really can do math when we put our minds to it
	Even when 	we stop fidgeting and pacing
	Even when      the hyperactive H gets internalized as self-hatred and anxiety.
	Even when	we remain undiagnosed and untreated (as do about half of us).
	Even when      we remain misunderstood (as do almost all of us).
In your version of the story, 
the one that brought me to write this letter,
one that I've been telling myself versions of for years
						Even a modicum of decorum would have told me 
						to not speak without thinking,
						to not interrupt,
						to not be so easily familiar,
						to not be so aggressively self-disclosing.

I know that it is not fair
I know it is too much to ask
					but the truth is that I needed others 	
							not to help me think
—as though we could fairly call what this mind makes when others aren’t there 
							but to think at all.
When I have occasion to feel that I know any one thing in particular it is because 
you—or someone who shares your gift for being present even in uncomfortable
situations (and there are not many)— have made a momentary stream
consciousness out of my swamp-mind.
I know 
that stream 
often comes at you
like a firehose
and you feel trapped
at the very moment I feel most free.
I know 
it is not right 
that I made an only-oneness of you, 
a flesh and blood human with your own complex needs and desires.
I know 
depending on how exhausted you are when we meet
I either often or always annoy the shit out of you
I know 
it doesn't really help to tell you that I annoy the shit out of me too. 
											But I do. 

I know 
that the charms on which I rely 
to climb out of the holes I'm always digging 
are not available to everyone.
I know 
that, from anyone,
but especially from someone who
						looks like I do,
						talks like I do, 
						moves like I do, 
						benefits from the status quo like I do. 
						You are wise to sometimes understand my immaturity
											as calculating, 
Although it breaks my heart, 
you are not wrong to protect yourself from me at times.
I know 
that you, too, have a story 
(and competing versions thereof) 
to tell. 
			I will sit on my hands
			I will turn off my cellphone
			I will snap the rubber band against my wrist
			I will doodle
			I will ask questions of clarification
			I will take my medication 
			(as long as my insurance covers it and my afternoon routine was not
disturbed so I remembered to get it refilled and my morning routine
was not disturbed so I remembered to take it at the right time) I will have a few beers (but not too many) I will only give you advice that you ask for I will trust your good will when you tell me I've screwed up It's not my strong suit, but I will listen. Most especially when you tell me that you are too tired to labor, yet again, on my behalf or when you do not mask the fact that labor is labor behind a smile to spare my feelings, to protect yourself from judgment.
When I fail,
and I fail I will,
please tell me that I have. 
If you have to choose, 
err on the side of neat and direct 
over nice and discrete.
I've got muddy, soupy, slippery half-thoughts to spare.
I crave clarity
even when the clearest truth is simply this:
my privilege is showing.
									I do, 
									want to know and be known by you 
									in whatever way is most appropriate 
									and least appropriative.  
									Although I am not, 
									and will never be, 
									an expert on either
									appropriateness or appropriation, 
									I can, with your help, 
									at least do less harm. 
I bring one strength to the sticky, thorny
work of coalition building:
I am accustomed to operating in messy situations.


  1. Edward M Hallowell and John Ratey, Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood (New York: Anchor Books, 2011), 275
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  2. On ADHD and "time blindness" see Russel Barkley, "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Self-Regulation, and Time: Toward a More Comprehensive Theory," Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 18, no. 4 (1997): 271-9.
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  3. On links between ADHD and prenatal alcohol exposure see Jim Henry, Mark Sloane, and Connie Black-Pond, "Neurobiology and Neurodevelopmental Impact of Childhood Traumatic Stress and Prenatal Alcohol Exposure," Language, Speech & Hearing Services In Schools 38, no. 2 (2007): 99-108.
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  4. "At 34 weeks gestation, the overall weight of the brain is only 65% of what it weighs at 40 weeks gestation. Therefore, many researchers speculate that premature birth results in disruption to the maturational processes of the brain." Dina O'Brien, "The Relationship Between Prematurity and ADHD," Hand to Hold: Fragile Babies. Strong Support. http://handtohold.org/resources/helpful-articles/the-relationship-between-prematurity-and-adhd/
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  5. Zappitelli, Michael, Teresa Pinto, and Natalie Grizenko, "Pre-, Peri-, and Postnatal Trauma in Subjects With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry 46, no. 6 (2001): 542-549.
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  6. People with ADHD make up approximately 5% of the overall population but approximately 25% of the prison population. They also show significantly higher than average rates of recidivism. RF Eme, "Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and correctional health care." J Correctional Health Care 15, no 5 (2009): 5-18.
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  7. Hollowell, 245
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  8. Susan Young, and Jessica Bramham. ADHD in Adults : A Psychological Guide to Practice. (Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, 2007): xiii.
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