Order and Chaos
My mom was one of those women. At one point she had five kids from diapers to a teenager and all of the duties of a pastor’s wife. The house was always at least orderly, if not spotless. She could walk into a room, see something out of place or in need of a little spot cleaning and immediately take care of it without missing a step. With the exception of some of our bedrooms, nothing was ever out of control in our house. And I mean nothing. Not the dishes, not the laundry, not the clutter, not the family schedule, and not the kids. It was impressive. It was also depressing.
She was my model of what a woman and a wife should be. And she was a great one. But she modeled a woman I could never be, and I really wanted to be that woman. It was a source of inadequacy and depression for me. She was a successful woman, wife and mother. I was a failure, and it drove me crazy.
When she told me to clean my room, I would kick as much under the bed as would fit and stuff the rest in the closet. Poof! If you have ADHD, if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. This, of course, drove my mother crazy. Enough so that from time to time she would intervene in my absence and wrestle order from chaos. And this drove me crazy. For people with ADHD, piles are sacred. It may look unorganized to everyone else, but we know exactly what’s in our piles and can find anything in them quickly. She created her version of order in my room and removed my piles and I was frustrated because, now, I couldn’t find anything.
“Look in your drawers,” she would say.
If it’s in a drawer it no longer exists. Why should I look in a drawer?
Drawers are evil black holes that steal my stuff.
Then it was off to college. If someone is ever going to be a slob, they will be a slob in college… even the formerly orderly. And I went to an art college. I was right at home in my chaos there. I knew which pile of clothes was clean and which was dirty. I knew which pile on the desk had projects in progress. I only had a vague ides of how long it had been since the sheets on the bed had been changed. And fortunately for my roommate – who was not ADHD – we went to college before microwaves and most of us didn’t fork over the money to rent a minifrig from the college, so there weren’t piles of dirty dishes and partially eaten junk food debris… until we moved out of the dorm and into an apartment. That was a completely new level of chaos. Use your imagination.
Mom would visit my dorm room and later my apartment, and say nothing… to me. I’m sure she had many “how can she live like that” conversations with my dad on the way back home.
Fast-forward a little.
Now I’m a wife and mother. Things didn’t get better with the addition of kids. Now there were completely new ways to fail domestically.
I would hear all of the nice platitudes about “excuse my mess; I’m raising my children.” And I took temporary solace in that. But it was only temporary. When Randy would come home and open the door into the house and get this look on his face… that one where he’s trying to decide if we’d had a break in and someone ransacked the place, or if an extremely rare tornado had hit… inside the house only, or if there had been some sort of localized explosion… and was trying to decide whether to say anything about it… I didn’t feel solace that I was raising children. I felt defeated. Mom could do this. Why couldn’t I?
When I hit my mid-forties, I found out why.
People with ADHD cannot organize their world the way everyone else does. It’s not possible. The part of the brain that does that has faulty wiring. Without learning to do things a different way than normal people do, we are doomed to live in a more or less controlled chaotic state.
I think I actually cried tears of joy when I learned this. I wasn’t a completely inadequate woman. I was brain-damaged! Ok, not really brain-damaged, but brain-different. For the first time, I could look around at the chaos that was my house, and say, “OH! That makes complete sense now!”
If I stopped to pick up what was out of place as I went through a room like my mom did, I would completely forget why I was going through that room in the first place. Something important wasn’t going to get done. I had adapted to that reality early along in my life. If I opened a drawer to put things away, I would never find those things again until I opened that same drawer months later for a completely different reason. If I put the bills in a filing cabinet, they would never get paid. Again, I had adapted to that really early along, too.
I wasn’t a total failure after all. And maybe… just maybe… if my brain didn’t work like my mom’s did… maybe it was just a matter figuring out how it did work and learning to do things a completely different way than she did things. Maybe it wasn’t a choice between order and chaos. Maybe there were spaces between.
Next post… finding the spaces between.