Denial, Empathy, & Acceptance: A Brief Journey on a Sunday Afternoon

I’ve got another confession to make
I’m your fool
Everyone’s got their chains to break
— Foo Fighters

I’ve got a confession to make. I have a real hard time with accepting things that are out of my control. Especially when it comes to my family. Especially, when it comes to my son.

My son can be challenging. He has a strong will and is very smart. He knows when something is bullshit and he usually calls it out. He’s also easily distracted. Homework, especially project work, is difficult for us. And it drives me batshit crazy to watch him take hours to do something that I think shouldn’t be a big deal.

My wife has told me for years that perhaps, just maybe, there’s some ADD/ADHD going on. And I’ve fought it. Fought it tooth and nail.

Not MY son
It’s just a phase
He’s not fucked up
He’s not weak
He doesn’t need help

I’ve had a hard time accepting that my son, my amazingly gifted and talented son, might have something wrong with him. See, I don’t understand this ADD/ADHD stuff. I have it in my head that it’s over diagnosed. I have it in my head that boys being boys is often misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD.

I also have it in my head that we like to label things in this country. Because if we can label it then we can do something about it.I’m not the first to think of this. Charles Schulz articulated it well in 1965 in the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas when Lucy Van Pelt counsels Charlie Brown, “I think we’d better pinpoint your fears. If we can find out what you’re afraid of, we can label it.”

These are the feelings I have about this. They eat me up inside. It’s especially frustrating when I actually verbalize them and recognize that these feelings are the same feelings I had about my addiction to alcohol. These are the familiar feelings of denial.

For a long time, I buried these feelings. I put them in the bottom of a glass, covered them with bourbon and ice, and drank them down, hoping that they’d flush out of my system when nature took its course. But they never did. They were always there at 3:00 AM — nagging, clawing, circling: the same irritating thoughts looping like an animated gif in my brain.

Yesterday, I wanted to go for a hike. I wanted to get the family out and go to take a walk on the NCR Trail. The idea of getting outside and walking on the trail near the Gunpowder river was all consuming. Within a half hour of waking, I’d planned my fantastical day around this idea.

I imagined us getting bundled up, in coats, hats and gloves. I imagined driving to Monkton where I planned to start our walk, listening to good music on the stereo. I imagined the sound of the gravel beneath our feet and the gurgle of the river next to the path. I saw us seeing other families out for a similar walk. I saw people on mountain bikes riding in their winter tights. I imagined us coming home, after a good walk in the cold, to a nice warm house as the sun set and the winter sky turned orange for a bowl of chili that had magically made itself all afternoon in the slow cooker.

But first, first, my son needed to complete a project for school, which of course hadn’t been started yet. “No matter,” I thought, “its only 9:30 we’ll get it done and be on the trail shortly after lunch. We can eat lunch in the car.” And we started the chore of writing a pamphlet about different community types in our state.

It was to be a six panel pamphlet, so a single sheet of paper folded in thirds. In my mind this was a simple project and shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes to an hour. No problem.

Except that this was my perception of reality. And my perception, well it’s a little skewed.

So we got to the task and time seemed to at once accelerate and crawl to the pace of a giant sloth. It felt like we were loosing time so quickly that we wouldn’t get to go to Monkton, and that was true. It also felt like it was taking exponentially longer than it should to get such a simple project done.

Now, my wife tells me that this is hard for our son. She tells me that he needs help with these things. That he can’t break down the task on his own. She tells me that he’s not, as I so eloquently put it, fucked up. She tells me that even though we haven’t gotten a diagnosis, this is a disorder that affects roughly 20 percent of the population and that it doesn’t mean that he’s not smart or capable — just that his brain works differently.

The hours slipped by and it was time for lunch. He wasn’t even half way done with the project. But we had lunch and I conceded that perhaps we might have to look for a different place to go for a hike. We wouldn’t fit it all in.

My fantasy day was unraveling before my eyes.

And I started to stew in my own self pity. Things weren’t going my way. I became quiet, except for the frequent long winded sighs. I went from pillar to post as I tried to find a way to keep myself sane, all the while my blood slowly boiling inside me. I tried to read. No good. I surfed the web. No good. I surfed Instagram — bad idea, I follow to many hiking and outdoor accounts.

Around 1:30, I’d given up completely on the idea of going to Monkton. At 2:15, my wife told our son to take a break and that we needed to talk. She reminded me that she’d told me several times that I could (and should) go do what I wanted to do. I should go for that walk. But I wasn’t hearing it now. Now I was angry and I was going to let her know. I voiced all my feelings about this ADD/ADHD thing. I told her that he wouldn’t get accommodations in real life. That he’d get his ass fired if he missed his deadlines when he was working. I’d gone from 3rd grade to my son loosing his job in less than five minutes.

I got in the car and took a drive, but I didn’t go for the walk. Oh, now, that would be too simple an answer. Instead, 14 days before Christmas, I went to REI for some retail therapy. I looked at all kinds of things, but the line for the registers was too long — my higher power intervening now doubt — and I put everything back and left the store, still irritable. And then it struck me, call your sponsor dumbass.

I talked with my sponsor and he helped me see a lot of things. There were no perfect answers, but it was clear that I was not making it better. It was clear that I was caught in a trap of my own making — denial, judgment, expectation, lack of acceptance — all these played into my situation. And I let them control me, rather than controlling myself.

As we discussed the situation it dawned on me that the biggest challenge I was having with this was a complete lack of empathy for my son. I suddenly made the connection that if he does indeed have ADD/ADHD that it’s a real disorder that may intact require understanding and treatment. Just like addiction it is a brain disease.

And suddenly, it made more sense. My son has no control over this. He’s not trying to make things difficult. It just is. We can learn how to cope with it. We can help him to learn how to cope with it. We can find ways to deal with it, just as I have found ways to deal with life without drinking.

I came home and we went to the store as a family to buy a new basketball. I was immediately tested. My son couldn’t make up his mind about which ball to buy. He got distracted by a youth sized ball that was way too small for him. He bounced it around the store. It nearly crashed into a display. It was exactly the kind of situation that I’d normally lose my shit.

Except I didn’t, I somehow kept my cool.

25 responses to “Denial, Empathy, & Acceptance: A Brief Journey on a Sunday Afternoon”

      • Wonderful post. I will be linking here from one of three articles sharing a couple of personal stories that, hopefully, will inspire empathy in a great many situations, so watch for pings in the weeks to come. (I write ahead, so it won’t be immediate).

        Meanwhile, please use my site as a resource as you educate yourself about ADD/ADHD. And GOOD FOR YOU for realizing that it’s important to your son’s well-being that you do so.
        (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
        ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
        “It takes a village to educate a world!”


  1. It sounds like you’re in a much better place now. Good luck with getting your son the treatment he needs! There are a lot of things that can be done for ADD these days.

    And thank you for sharing this post on the Monday blogs hashtag.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Lydia. I am in a better place today. I even got out for a walk this afternoon. With some effort and some education, I’m confident that we will get our son what he needs and I’ll be at peace with it too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I sometimes worry that I am too honest here, but I know that it’s important to my continued growth. I know that we all have our warts and that we’re all fundamentally flawed because we’re human. I also know that people like to read stories about things that they fear are exclusive to themselves (i.e., “no one every felt this way before”). So I write these things down and I push the “publish” button. Sometimes I don’t even edit them for spelling and grammar (until I read them and find the mistakes later).

      It’s cathartic.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My oldest daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in third grade. Her teacher suggested it (this was not a surprise) and we took her to her pediatrician and he asked questions and confirmed it. It was very anticlimactic. He told us 80% of the parents who medicate their children are glad they did, but we opted not to and that was ok too. She got some special concessions in elementary and middle schools, like she could go to a special room for standardized testing and for awhile she had backpack checks to make sure she had everything she needed for homework. She’s now in 10th grade and gets honor roll and doesn’t need the testing room or extras. Sorry this was long, but my point was to say I fretted and agonized over the label. I still don’t like or necessarily agree with it. My daughter still has a lot of enthusiasm and spirit. She got support when she needed it and it didn’t take away from who she was. I don’t even think she thought much of it at the time. As you said, it’s a popular label.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. This is definitely something I needed to hear, even if I already knew it. Sometimes I need people to tell me what I already know so that I will believe it. I know that’s crazy and I know that most of my readers can relate.

      Thanks again.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I sure understand and have empathy for you and your son.
    I don’t have my own child, but I was a teacher for many years, and I saw parents and teachers struggle with these labels and decisions.
    It is a real thing, and it makes it very hard for some children in school and life without learning some strategies to help them.
    There are many great resources out there.
    You are on the right path, because even if he isn’t “labeled”, if these kinds of work are hard for him, then he needs support…breaking things down into smaller tasks, taking breaks, even how to take notes.
    And they can be fully functioning, happy adults!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Damien-
    I work with many children with attention difficulties. You are correct that it is over diagnosed for many reasons, including certain environmental factors in modern life in which our children often don’t get enough sensory motor experiences with increased testing in schools, less recess etc., and too much screen time. Whether that is in fact the diagnosis, there are so many strategies that can be used to facilitate success (including sensory motor breaks like a hike outdoors), so speaking with a professional can help you and school educators with that. It’s often a minor difference in processing and as you can see has nothing nothing nothing to do with intelligence.
    As for your comments on empathy, well you know how I feel about its importance, and I love this connection you made with your son.
    Thanks for this share.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Marahu. Screen time is definitely an issue in our house. I’m working on it, but it is very challenging. On the upside, he’s very interested in basketball, and he likes going camping with me – so he’s starting to opt for other activities, which I can only imagine will help. Hope you are well.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Actually, Marahu, it is “incorrectly” diagnosed most often. We have credible studies that show that, for those who most deserve the diagnosis, it is UNDER diagnosed (and under-medicated, btw – thanks to the sound-bite press) .

      Most people remain unaware of the many risks of NOT medicating a child who needs it: substance abuse, teen pregnancies, multiple education, job and relationship failures throughout life, higher likelihood of car accidents and incarcerations, MUCH lower average income — and more. ALL are seen to a statistically significant degree higher than the overall neurotypical population. When appropriately medicated, those statistics drop right back in line with the general population, btw.

      Even if there were NO studies, the number of adults I have seen in my 25+ years in the field would underscore this reality for me, most only finding out why they have struggled throughout most of their life after diagnosis as adults. ALL of them wish they had been diagnosed as children, btw. – and most see dramatic improvements once appropriate medication is on board (even those who were initially opposed are amazed when they finally become “desperate” enough to give them a try).

      The rest of your comment is super, and RIGHT ON! There are certainly many ways to help beyond medication, and many who can benefit when they are employed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome. Thanks for reading.

        It’s important to note that not everyone is a medication responder – and medication is not always appropriate due to other conditions, etc. – but for those who need them and can take them, they truly can be godsends. It’s important to work with a FULLY ADD-literate specialist, however, since far too many doctors really only know what they read in the papers – rarely accurate.

        Teens & college students who go after “fake diagnoses” to get the pills to study on or to sell bias the news and create problems for those who need and deserve treatment, and are taking a risk with their own health. It is NEVER a good idea to take medication you don’t need.

        However, appropriately prescribed and taken as directed, stimulants have been shown to be among the safest medications in the Mental Health field, in use for almost 100 years now, with multiple longevity studies, and can truly change lives. My own life and any success I have achieved since would have remained literally impossible without diagnosis and medication at 38 – over 20 ago years now.

        As to habituation, that is misunderstood as well. When life changes dramatically, sometime medication must be increased – because it’s not enough to do its former job in current circumstances, not because the user’s body has “gotten used to it and needs more.” I had to take twice my dose for a few years during menopause, but now that I am beyond it, I no longer need the additional medication and no longer take it. That’s what we see. Habituation does not reverse itself like that.

        As to the addiction argument – the biggest problem doctors see is what they call “compliance.” ADDers forget to take it — even the long-acting forms don’t stay in the system for more than 12 hours (fewer for many). Their former problems return when it wears off. How many addicts FORGET to take their substance?

        If there is an addiction to anything, it is an “addiction” to being able to function. Final point: most people properly treated stop “self-medicating” – so it actually seems to have a positive effect on substance abuse statistics. I wish the papers and the bloggers would report THESE stories – and credible studies.

        If you are interested in a backup to much of what I have said here, I have a Consensus Statement signed by 75 life-long expert doctors, researchers, geneticists, etc. in the ADD/ADHD field, always available from the sidebar of my site. It is also included in an article (with formatting for easier readability – search for it at the top right of my site). It was Journal published in 2000, and got very little press – despite the fact that EACH of these doctors included credentials and full contacts in the document.

        Unfortunately, whatever we do to get the truth to the public seems to be outshouted, and inaccuracies abound.

        Sorry for the length, but I believe this is vital information for parents, their children, and SO many ADDults who are living what I call “limp-along lives” for lack of accurate information about what I assure you personally is NOT the trivial affliction often reported.

        Were you aware, for example, that suicides in children have been shown to be statistically higher with ADD/ADHD than even depression?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am a speech therapist who works with children with communication deficits that also have ADD and do not trivialize it by any means. It is a complex issue I know, including medication. It is not my place to recommend meds, I have seen the positive effects for many children. I also understand the difficulty with co occurring diagnoses and that each child is different and unique.
        Great info thank you.

        Liked by 2 people

      • That’s great to read. I have a good friend who worked in speech path for years, so I am familiar with many of the challenges through her stories. You are absolutely right. Each child is unique – there is no “one size” solution.

        I don’t “recommend” medication either, although I do know a great deal about psychopharmacology – but I do strongly urge researching the option, and taking the research to a doctor. That is why I feel compelled to add information any time I come across anything that might even slightly discourage anyone who needs medication and could benefit from trying it.

        After 25 years of working with ADDers to help them put their lives back together, I have heard a lot of reasons why they didn’t get help sooner – but fear of diagnosis and medication is chief among them – primarily because of what they read in public media and come across on the internet.

        We all do what we can, right?

        Liked by 2 people

      • I agree, unfortunately there is a stigma that comes with diagnosis and meds sometimes which does not benefit the patient. Also I think getting the meds and dosage right is important and not all doctors give families the support they need which can be hard on them. Yes research options, stay informed, and advocate really important when seeking care whether behavioral or pharmaceutical.

        Liked by 1 person

      • We are clearly on the same page here – esp. re: docs and getting the right medication at the right dosage (and time – and diet, etc.) on board.

        In my experience FEW are able to do so – whether through insufficient understanding of the need, insufficient dx-specific training, or lack of time in an increasingly insurance-driven industry.

        Good thing there are professions like ours, huh?

        Liked by 1 person

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