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Why I’m scared to come out as ADD on campus

Members of the Warren Wilson College Community,
I’ve recently had two very interesting talks with two different friends about Attention Deficit Disorder. I myself am diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), which is encompassed by the ADD label. This has always been a delicate issue among my friends, family and in my own private thoughts.

I usually like to think of myself as a person who is very comfortable with my own nature. I am indecisive, a smart-ass, and have peculiar mannerisms in speech. It would be easy to dislike such small character flaws in myself. I am not perturbed to reveal that I have only a passing knowledge of music recorded in the past 30 years. I am not ashamed that my room is perceived as drab because I put little effort into its decoration. Call me simplistic, call me dull; I really don’t give a shit.

But when it comes to my ‘diagnosis’ I am quite uncomfortable with the conversation that inevitably ensues among the self-enlightenment and holistic health disciples at this school (of which I am one). That’s probably the only reason for which I have written this letter under a very thin veil of anonymity. I identify myself at this time as an ADD agnostic. That is to say that at this point in my life I would be lying to myself if I were to believe either that ADD does not exist or to believe that it is the monstrous learning impediment as created by the modern media and medical community. I have struggled with both my ability in the academic world and a school system that originates from Prussian military industrialism*. I still have yet to distinguish exactly what impedes me personally.

For these reasons, I have offered opinions on both sides of the ADD debate. I cannot deny that there is a difference between most people diagnosed with ADD, and the rest of the populace. Many people vary and/or form groups. To challenge that statement is to court ignorance. But whether ADD is a productive and fair way to classify my folk, I am still undecided. I most certainly recognize that the prescription that I take is what a close friend calls “a performance enhancing drug”.

Does that statement make me feel judged about my reliance on the drug? Yes. Does that make me feel more ashamed and exacerbate what may be an intellectual inferiority complex that I have had since I was a child? Yes. I don’t care if you think that I shouldn’t have this fear and shame. It is not likely that I will ever truly be rid of it. To tell an arachnophobe not to be afraid of spiders is an insult to that person and their inextricable nature. I don’t aim to let my fears rule me, but they are a part of me. ADHD will always be a part of me, a tender wound that may never stop hurting. This will be true whether my attitude is still agnostic or if I choose to reject or accept belief in ADD.

But it seems that some of these concepts are difficult to understand even among close friends. My friend, lets call her Katie, recently confronted me when I mentioned that I was taking a low dose of ADD medication daily (as conventional as this practice is, I have started to learn that this is a rather unpopular move in this community**). I say that it was a confrontation because it felt like a confrontation. These are the reasons why. Earlier in the week we had a conversation about ADD; whether it exists, the burden of the label, and a trend lately of using the label to be lazy and to accept the title of under-achiever (especially sickening when one of my peers uses ADD as an excuse even though they have probably don’t have it). My friend took away from that conversation that I, a person diagnosed with ADHD, did not believe in any type of Attention Deficit Disorder. She was right to believe that. I said exactly that. I am not sure how much of that discussion was empowering or how much of it was a careful lie to my peer and myself. Again, I am very much conflicted about this subject. Some days I will completely forget about the apparition of ADD, as if it never existed in the first place. Other days will be full of frustration and impediments that have haunted me for a long time.
The other reason that I felt like I was being confronted in the more recent interaction with Katie was because of the abrasive reaction I got from her. During that talk, she was incredulous, her voice was raised, and I was immediately put on the defensive as she recounted the much friendlier conversation we’d shared earlier. She said, more or less, that she felt betrayed. In the previous talk, we had been comfortable, we both smiled to each other afterwards. But this other interaction was spiked by a strange anger. We were both certainly upset with each other. (Let it be known that ‘Katie’ and myself are still close, probably closer than before, and we both now understand and accept each other’s views on ADD.)

I only refer to this argument for the shock and pain that I felt when it ensued. It was a moment of pain comparable in my life only to the first time another human being called me a fag*** (if you have not experienced a name of hate being hurled at you before, please do yourself and humans everywhere a favor; ask a close friend who knows to tell you how it feels. Failing that, just think about the early hurt that we all experienced as we learned about name-calling in early childhood). To describe my emotionally reaction, I would have to say that I felt like less of a human being. I do not exaggerate; I am not trying to wax poetical. I felt exactly that way and that is a dark burden to carry around, even for a short time.

That point being made, I wish to make clear my reason for writing this letter to you, my fellow members of the Wilson community. It is indeed important to cultivate your own ideas, true. To come decisions about subjects of controversy, to debate and argue, that is human and is important to the continued health and intelligence of the campus. However, you must be wary of how you judge your peers. We all have weaknesses, whether of heart, mind or body, that deserve respectful consideration, even if they cannot always be accommodated.

When I reveal to a peer my difficulties with the apparition that we call ADD and my efforts to combat it, it seems that the typical reaction is that of slight disgust and some stock line to the effect of, “You know, ADD doesn’t exist”. The delivery of this line often comes with a holier-than-thou tone that seems to assume that the speaker knows much about ADD that I do. Be assured; I have put more than enough consideration into the subject, certainly more than the average person. Do not underestimate the hurt felt in those addressed and the ignorance that is expressed through such small interactions. As much as we value our ability to speak our minds in this community, it is just as important to value the freedom we have to decide for ourselves and not feel the judgment of others at every turn. For, when the times comes that I can decide for myself whether to identify myself as either a person with ADD or as a person who has no need for that title, I would like to be able to step forward without fear of judgment by my community. Wouldn’t you?

An ADD Agnostic


*See John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education readable for free at the website shown here – http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc2.htm – and also in our very own WWC library.

A good place to start is chapter 5, which in part talks about how we have a public school system that is modeled after the Prussian military in order to contribute to the military industrial complex, but in turn hurting the education of youth.

**Although I wish to focus only on the issue of shame and judgment concerning ADD on campus, I do wish to briefly point out a disturbing tendency of WWC students to reject conventional or mainstream practices out of hand. What does it say about tolerance and open-mindedness on campus if it is difficult for members of our community to accept both alternative culture and mainstream culture? I would be glad to see and hear what you think my fellow Wilson community members. I openly invite and hope for a response to this query.

***If you have a problem with the use of this word, please know that I choose to write the word unadorned and unhidden with careful consideration. And please refer to Louis C.K.’s monologue on the use of the phrase ‘the n-word’ by our modern media. Yes he is a comedian, but trust me on this one; often times comedy can create more honest lines of discourse than those that will take a subject ‘seriously’.


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