Summer is waning. I start school a week from tomorrow. Charming goes back to DC in less than two weeks. Gardening, house projects, and lazy beach days will be replaced by lesson planning, leadership meetings, and eighty new youth in my charge. Like grains of sand in my palm, I’m grabbing all I can of summer freedom but feeling it slip through my fingers anyway.
This has been a truly good summer. Shutterfly emailed today that my Italy Scrapbook is on its way: fifty-two pages of painstakingly arranged photos with carefully crafted text narration, the product of a month of stolen moments. I feel in love with the motherland, came to accept parts of myself there, and strengthened bonds with my seven student travelers. They’re graduating in June, and the blue-tiled halls of Kecoughtan will change for me; they were freshmen when I moved to Hampton three years ago.
This summer has been a time to experiment for two months with Charming and everyday life after a year and a half of long distance, weekend dating. I love Sundays mornings at church, catching a Pokémon Go raid battle after, and making him watch baseball while I cook something with sauce and garlic and cheese. Now that we’ve established some comfortable routines, he’ll wrap up his class and lead us both back to that familiar commute up I-95 N. Or maybe just leaving, since we said after this summer, we would know… one way or the other.
And I still don’t. How can I? The “Laura Joy” we all knew three months ago was a thousand percent committed to marriage and a family with Charming. On paper, he is the ideal mate for me, and our dating adventures only further endeared him to me. He met every requirement on my Uncompromisable Qualities list except being ready for marriage. Until May, I was just waiting for him to clear that last hurdle.
But then we started doing couple’s counseling. Dr. Huff’s rather archaic, photocopied marital exercises have been highly effective in getting us to know and understand each other better, in part by evaluating our own needs and preferences. I didn’t realize until one of those questionnaires that if my needs adoration and affection are left unmet, the result is not dissatisfaction with him, but with myself. Consequently, by directing his loving attention in these ways, Charming actually boosts my confidence in our relationship and myself, double return on investment.
These are just the gears we’ve been working as it pertains to our potential union. The reality is that our sessions with Dr. Huff led to the psychological testing which produced an ADHD diagnosis. It’s only been two weeks, and Charming and I are both just getting to know this version of me. Having ADHD doesn’t change who I am, not intrinsically, but it certainly alters my perception of myself and how I engage with the world around me.
In fact, armed with a little medication and an arsenal of coping strategies, I’m able to recognize when my attention is drifting sometimes, and I tell myself, “Be here, in this moment.” I’m accepting more sullied qualities, like despite being an excellent communicator, I’m a poor conversationalist. That wasn’t on my radar until Charming mentioned it in counseling this weekend, and I flat-out suggested he find himself a girlfriend without a hyperactive attention disorder.
Looking down to avoid eye contact with him or Dr. Huff, what I was really trying to evade was the sting of the truth and its implications. One of Charming’s top three emotional needs is for deep, quality conversation. His dissatisfaction with me was cited through enumerated examples that struck a chord, albeit with a Thundershock charged attack that wrecked my defenses, triggering an offensive attack of my own.
I could see myself doing all the things Dr. Huff read aloud from Charming’s exercise and more: interrupting, talking too much, being distracted by other things, not asking clarifying or leading questions, prioritizing my own ideas. As he read, I wanted to interrupt and say, “I have to say things before I forget them,” but that would have been too ironic for the session theme. Instead, I wrote it in my journal, hit mute on it, and turned my attention back to him. That was another good strategy.
I saw myself, too, in front of the class at the end of the year practically losing my sanity with all the interruptions about yearbook distribution while I was trying to teach. I have ADHD. I’m easily distracted. One of the best ways I’ve found to cope is through order and structure that minimizes distractions so I’m juggling less. One of my girls hung a huge poster over my door for kids to read the signs and not interrupt. As silly as it looked, it worked. I didn’t know that she was discerning the best solution for her teacher’s undiagnosed attention deficit disorder.
Every day, there’s a new strategy. In a blog I found last week, a guy shared he turns an imaginary key in his pocket that locks his lips to keep him from speaking impulsively. I wear a charm bracelet that I picked out at James Avery on my thirtieth birthday as my husband’s gift to me. I left him within weeks, and I left the bracelet charm-less as a sterling silver symbol of unfulfilled potential. Within ten minutes of that blog post and a few days of eBay’s Buy It Now option, the first charm for my bracelet arrived: a tiny, heart-engraved key that might symbolically help me control my temper by imitation, touching it when I need to set a guard over the door to my mouth.
There will be inevitably more strategies. It hadn’t occurred to me until my diagnosis that my Summer Productivity organization projects were among the best ways to manage the associated undertones of anxiety by minimizing distractions and maximizing efficiency. My entire immediate world is in order. Every possession inside my house has a place, and it’s in it. I threw away, gave away, put away, and then I breathed easier. When the house was finished, I did my car. Driving to my brother’s house for dinner tonight, I felt lighter. The work was worth the missed time at the beach. The peace, auto and home, will bolster me for the ADHD battle that is secondary education in the next three seasons.
In a sense, what I’m doing outwardly with my physical possessions, I’ve been doing inwardly with qualities and characteristics. I’m constantly thinking about what I’m thinking during conversations, a good intention-ed distraction from the person across from me, trying to assess the ways in which ADHD has shaped me unknowingly over the last three decades. I remember the Laura Joy who was a thousand percent sure Charming was the one, but as I drove in my Piña Colada-scented car paradise, I was just contented to have my world in order for whatever comes next.
It’s back to school in a week, then a few more days or forever with Charming. Maybe after all I’ve learned about myself this summer, after all he’s learned about me, I need him to be a thousand percent sure that I am the woman he wants to build a life and legacy as much as he’s needed that certainty himself. He needs to be heard, and he needs to be known. There are strategies I can use to help assuage its impact, but a quick Google search of the most common ADHD manifestations sets me at a conversational disadvantage to meet Charming’s emotional needs. It seems somehow more daunting than Charming remembering to put his arm around me in church or praise my lasagna.
Like grains of sand in my palm, like the last days of summer freedom, I’m grabbing all I can of this time with Charming, afraid it too will slip through my fingers anyway.