Where’s the Conductor?

So, I’m pretty certain I have ADHD. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, and if I go off to look, I’ll forget what I’m doing and the idea I’ve had for this post will vanish. Although the forgetfulness might be peri-menopausal, so there’s that too. Or it could be depression. Aint it grand to be alive?

Anyway, I started investigating when I suspected my children of being neuro-divergent. Ironically, thanks to a call to my GP, it appears I might get an assessment before they do, which is just wrong. But the broken NHS, broken mental health systems, broken school system, broken government, they’re all distractions, other posts I won’t write here. But they lead me nicely into what I wanted to write about.

There are lots of ADHD Facebook pages, YouTube Channels, memes. Too many, in a way, as I feel I shouldn’t be adding to that noise, especially as an undiagnosed person. Still. The pages are wonderful, nevertheless. Helpful, supportive, affirming. I’m not lazy, I’m not crazy, I’m not broken or stupid or worthless. I’m just (potentially) wired differently. (I feel like a journalist writing ‘allegedly’ when it was quite clear who the murderer was, but there you go.)

However, enlightening as they are, the various analogies weren’t working for me. Yes, my head feels like a washing machine on spin; yes I’m exhausted; yes I’m out of spoons (a wonderful phrase to describe the depletion caused by neurodiversity), but none helped me explain me to my husband, or gave me a way to help myself or my daughter. After all, if you switch the washing machine off mid-spin, you just get a soggy mess and your clothes are trapped.

The analogy I’ve come up with to describe the feeling is that of an orchestra. I played in the orchestra at school, it was quite a big part of my life then. I was fortunate to have hobbies that kept the manic cats in my head occupied. I wish my daughter did. So, an orchestra is a useful metaphor. Sometimes, the orchestra is tuning up. It’s just noise. A cacophony of nonsense that I block my ears from and run away. Sleep is my friend.

Then, at other times, the different instruments all start playing. This is most common at 5 a.m. They’re playing, but they’re all playing something different. The lead violinist is nailing the twiddly section that opens the second movement of Vivaldi’s Winter, whilst the violinist in the next chair is playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, which is basically a musical panic attack. The cellist is lost in the dramatic opening to Elgar’s concerto in E Minor; it’s so beautiful that I want to listen all day. But the guy on the timpani is crashing out the first bars of Fanfare for the Common Man like he’s auditioning for the ghost scene in Moana. Briefly the brass section joins in, and it sounds like Star Trek, which takes my mind off on a tangent, thinking about why the red shirts didn’t see danger coming. They all pause to listen to the clarinet playing Mozart, and then they’re off again with their solos. Together. Loudly. Each trying to be heard over everyone else.

And it isn’t just noise. I sit in the audience and listen to each beautiful musician and each is worthy of attention. I sit and think, oh I’ll listen to the Four Seasons today, or I haven’t heard Jacqueline du Pre’s rendition of Elgar for ages, or what is it the viola is playing, I must look that up. I might even settle on one thing to do with my day, but by the time I’ve got up, fed kids, made lunches, done the school run, walked the dogs and stacked the dishwasher, I’ve forgotten. Or I realise that I should, metaphorically, be practicing scales, and that’s boring, so I do nothing.

Every. Single. Day.

I’m a crafter, so the house is full of half-finished knitting or crochet or painting or drawing or watercolours. I’m supposed to be doing physio for a bad back so I can start running again. The house is a crazy mess in constant state of flux. I have EHA meetings with the school about the children’s issues, and I want to solve my daughter’s loneliness. I need to lose weight, and eat well, and fix my brain and calm my hormones. It’s suddenly so damn hot, do I have Covid or a hot flush? I need to find a job or a way to earn money, since I quit my invigilator job because the training was so awful. The dog is scratching her ear again and probably should go back to the vet. The car insurance is due. The fridge is empty. The ironing basket is over-flowing. The floors are crusty and there’s dog hair in the bath. The lawn needs mowing if it ever dries out, and I must pick up the dog shit and clean out the hamster. And feed the locusts to feed the gecko. And find the lost shin pad and make sure the football kit is clean. Find the old milk glass stinking up the boy’s bedroom and read the book the girl is studying so I can understand her homework. Oh, look, it’s time for the school run again and all I did was play Alphabetty or sleep. I’ll try again tomorrow.

It’s exhausting. ADHD may be about hyperactivity, but when it’s brain activity, it is draining. Running and karate helped because they created energy and gave focus and a moment of calm. I haven’t done either for a year and it’s awful. But physio exercises? Something boring and difficult that I have to do every day? Not a chance. I need an app to remind me to brush my teeth and then it’s once a day at best. Don’t even ask me how many times I’ve lost my car keys in public. I terrified a woman in the Co-op yesterday because I rang my Tile (best. gift. ever) and the keys were below her till.

Where is the upside? Because there is an upside to (possibly having) ADHD. Occasionally a conductor shows up. Sometimes he’s called ‘Crisis’ or she’s called ‘Urgent Deadline’ or maybe ‘Hyperfocus’ makes an appearance. They tap their baton, clear their throat, and all those little thoughts hush and pay attention. Suddenly there’s a purpose, someone is in charge. The conductor says, ‘Today we’re playing Paint the Kitchen before the Parents come to tea.’ The lead violinist opens with, I’ve got a plan, and the second violinist joins in with make a list. Then the brass section weave in, move the furniture, take down the paintings, don’t forget to put something in the slow cooker for dinner. The percussionist taps out cut in the ceiling, roller the walls, walk the dogs, repeat. And before you know it, it’s all come together into something beautiful, something that can move mountains. Or paint a whole kitchen in two days.

But, I tell you what, those players are EXHAUSTED at the end. They’ve given everything to stay in sync. The conductor disappears off, possibly before the piece is actually finished and, in the audience, I sob at the beauty of it, knowing I won’t see the like for a long time. We all sleep for a week. And then, slowly, one by one, the players start practicing their solos and we’re back at the beginning.

And I’m left, trying to sort my Copland from my Smetana and wandering off on a tangent wondering what happened to my awesome music teacher, and wishing we’d done musical theatre in our GCSE like they do today. And did you see Strictly on Saturday? That Paso?


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