Let me tell you a story. I built a sand castle, a grand castle. I spent hours paving roads, building bridges, and digging sand to make way for tunnels. I dug so deep…until I reached water. Are you listening? I’m telling my story. I forgot where I was. I’m sorry. Let me run back to that beach. I can’t find the castle. And I can’t remember the way over the bridges or the way the roads turn. No. I can’t remember where I dug the tunnel. All I see is water. Waves crashing, one on top of another.
Sometimes this happens to me. My memory plays tricks on me. Most days I don’t remember which direction the sun rises or sets. And I don’t remember the years during which WWII happened. I haven’t forgotten everything though. I remember holding my sister’s hand while she laid in a coma in a hospital bed. And I remember the feeling of being heartbroken. And I remember going into 5th grade and needing extended time on exams because I couldn’t focus. The sound of the kid behind me tapping his foot drove me crazy. Tap. Tap. Tap. It became the melody to a song I played in my head. Oh and the sound of the clock ticking mesmerized me. I’d plug my ears, but it didn’t help. It just added percussion to the song. And I remember my teachers checking my planner after each class to make sure I wrote down my assignments. Meanwhile I watched my friends run out to recess. I remember my friends asking why I needed longer on exams. I remember not knowing the reason or why I was even explaining. Yeah, I remember.
It was around 5th grade that I started taking a yellow pill. The doctors said it would make me focus in school. I remember 27 mg in that little yellow pill. 27 mg made the sound of the ticking clock quieter. 27 mg made the tapping shoes fade. It made my head feel weird. It made me speechless and lose my personality. 27mg took away more than the distracting sounds. The little pill made me less creative and depleted of my spunk. I remember one day I accidentally took 36 mg. I never finished my homework as fast as I did that day. Then I remember going out to play with my sisters, but I had no interest in playing. Keep working. Keep working. Keep working. That’s what my brain told me.
I remember one night going to my room and throwing everything around. Screaming. Tears burning my cheeks. I was a little girl who wanted to be herself – chaotic, loud, distracted – without explanation. Her frustration was real and valid. But she wasn’t aware that there is so much beauty and chaos to a mind that races. That her creativity could be endless. She didn’t know that the sand castle is here and then washed away by water. She didn’t know that the tunnels wind and turn in ways that are magical.
As I grew up I would learn those lessons through allowing that little girl the space to learn. The space to be creative, in spite of all challenges that came with learning. It was when I decided to study Chinese in high school that I had a major awakening. Chinese is a hard language. It is all about memorization. The strokes of the characters and the tones can only be learned through rote memorization. Strokes and tones often slipped from my memory. To compensate for my forgetfulness, I spent sunrises and sunsets going over the strokes of each character until my hand cramped.
My first year of learning Chinese was emotionally challenging. Teacher Tao made me question my ability and potential as a student. She said that I always looked nervous in class. She told me to stop overthinking. She said because I was nervous and overthinking, I was always forgetting the words we learned. During our daily quizzes, the strokes of the characters drifted from my mind. I was frustrated. Teacher Tao always tried to rip the quizzes out of my hands before my extended time was up. A few more ticks of the clock was all I needed. Time kept moving. Teacher Tao didn’t think it was fair that I got extended time. I wanted to give up Chinese. I didn’t though. No. I had a passion for foreign languages. I was not going to let go of the spirit of the curious little girl in me. She wanted to be free.
During Chinese class each day all I could think was don’t look nervous and don’t forget a word. I didn’t do so well on my first midterm. Teacher Tao said: “I know that you have a problem (yes, she used the word problem), but if you weren’t so nervous, you would have remembered the words.” Then she added, “Other teachers who don’t know you have this problem will think, why doesn’t Wei Wei (my chinese name) know this, maybe she’s not working hard.”
That night I went back to my room and couldn’t stop thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Not stopping thinking. I was annoyed. But I was thinking I needed to study more. Yes, study more. Memorize all of the words that night. Memorize the entire Chinese language that week. That’s too much. Maybe that month. My thoughts would spiral. Remember the year that WWII started. Remember where the sun sets. No just go to the sunset tonight, bring a compass. Find it. Just find it. Where does it set? Walk North, South. It’s not North. It’s not South. East or West? West. It’s West. Yes, it’s West. I’m walking and I think the sun may have already set because it’s dark now and I’m crying, alone, and I’m lost.
There are places I’ve been, experiences I’ve had, people I’ve loved that I cannot remember and cannot forget. My brain is full of juxtaposition. But it is full of so so much love and passion. I ultimately conquered the Chinese language. And sure I’ve forgotten some of it now, but I still conquered it. The storm has been gusty. It has knocked my castle down more times than I can count. Move in a new direction, go to a new beach, and build your castle.
A creative and chaotic mind is beautiful.
I am not my ADHD.