Trina, 1964 or 1965

I was that girl who hid behind my mother when people tried to talk with me. Yet, I wasn’t a quiet kid—just very selective about sharing my words. I only let those in my inner circle know the real me.

Little girls with ADD can be chatterboxes or eerily silent—or both, as I was and am. What doesn’t come naturally to many of us is the give and take of conversation—which alternately leaves us staying away from social interactions or taking over the interactions. And, what we learn from an early age is that since we can’t quite trust ourselves to chime in at the right time, then we need to choose our social situations very carefully.

In school I felt very frightened about standing up in front of my classmates, even though I was at the top of my class. Just because I knew something didn’t mean it was going to come of my head in the way I knew it.

However, I had so many thoughts exploding in that head that I had a hard time keeping them in while in the classroom. I wanted to share them—not take over the conversation—but I didn’t always wait. If the teacher talked about something, I wanted to be discussing it. Those side comments I made weren’t to distract from the teacher but because what she said reminded me of something else.

But, I do know that I was distracting other people by keeping them from hearing the teacher. That shame was a constant companion throughout my school years. Sometimes it led to my silence, but other times it wasn’t enough to help me keep my thoughts in. Lucky me—I either got in trouble for not saying enough or for saying too much.

I didn’t know I had ADD back then. All I knew was that as one of the best students I was expected to know when to speak and when to keep silent—and I didn’t.

A lot of people with ADD just choose to live lives that allow them to avoid their areas of weakness. They don’t sit in church on Sunday where they’re expected to sit still and keep quiet—they do things, such as go hiking, where their movements and noise are expected and accepted. They especially don’t join group activities where they have a hard time listening and not talking—many will call such events too boring, but I bet some, like me, just don’t want to repeat their childhood shame.

Me, I just try to find places and groups where I can control my ADD enough not to get in trouble. See how juvenile that sounds? But we with ADD know that our weaknesses are often considered immature and inconsiderate—things we should have outgrown.

These times in which we live are full of constant noise, which makes everyone seem to have ADD. I find that more and more of the groups I’m in sound like Babel—we’re all talking at once. Half the time I can’t get a word in and the other half of the time I don’t let someone else get in that word. It’s not just me who doesn’t know how to interact anymore.

In each situation I keep trying to find that balance, but if I don’t, I can’t stay there—some situations just intensify my lifelong feelings of shame. Because I have to work so hard on knowing when to speak, I need to spend time with people who will allow me to be myself even if they have to remind me gently that I still have to let others speak. However, if I am considered disruptive for being myself, then I’m in the wrong place—I can’t afford feeling like that bad child again.

There’s a reason I like my keyboard so much—my internal editor knows not to speak impulsively through my fingers. I don’t send every message I’ve written nor publish everything else I’ve written. If I’m enthusiastic about what someone else is saying, I can share my thoughts without shutting out someone else’s thoughts.

Look, I’m all grown up, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be completely free from socially-awkward moments. Although I want to hear what others have to say, I’m pretty sure I’m still going talk when I’m not supposed to do so. The best I can do is to spend my time with those who will forgive me for the occasional gaffe just as I will forgive them. Otherwise, my retreat into silence will be no different than when that little girl hid behind her mother.

What I know now, though, is that I don’t really deserve to feel that small, no matter if I do make occasional mistakes.