I halted all medical treatments for Attention Deficit Disorder in the year 2000 when I was sixteen years old. My grades had never shown any improvement, and each drug seemed to come with a worse side effect than the last. When I was on Luvox, I couldn’t sleep or have an orgasm for weeks at a time. When I was on Desipramine, I started hating all my friends, hating my favorite foods, and hating the movies I knew I loved. Both my mother and my psychiatrist tried to convince me that this new, miserable version of myself was the real one; that I was seeing the world more clearly as it is and should continue. I was sleeping 16 hours a day. I ended up having to leave home and go live with my dad in order to escape that situation.
I finished up high school at an alternative school, graduated just barely on time, and limped through a few semesters of community college. After a while, I picked up and went to crash with a friend in Seattle, waiting tables, giving Tarot card readings, and reading copious Richard Matheson books. It could have been an OK life, and it was for a while. I got into an abusive relationship, and then got out of it. I got into another abusive relationship. I quit waiting tables and went to work in a hipster cinema, the kind where the building is a hundred years old and everyone does their homework on the clock. I slowly allowed myself the idea of going back to school.
As an older and more mature person, I did better this time. I turned in more assignments. I found classes I was really talented in. I actually got a few As, and I didn’t feel tempted to try any medications. I took fewer classes at a time and gave myself enough fun while still pulling in good grades.
But when I came to San Francisco to finish up my undergrad degree, I wasn’t in the safe, comfortable situation I was back in Seattle. The cinema location I transferred to closed unexpectedly within weeks of my arrival. The cost of housing was high and rising, and I bounced from job to job between bouncing from apartment to apartment. During a particularly bad bout of homelessness, I went to see a counselor at the student services office at my university, and as part of my intake paperwork, checked yes on a box indicating that I had a learning disorder.
I had to admit to the nice lady that I had no idea what she was talking about when she asked me about accommodations. When I was growing up, ADD treatments meant drugs, or witch-doctory homeopathic shit, or nothing. Most of my teachers didn’t even believe ADD was a real medical condition, so the idea of actually asking a teacher for accommodations was pretty foreign. A nice lady about ten years my junior showed me how to use a smartpen, which uses a digital recording device to sync your notes with audio of your classes. She noticed an excited look on my face when she showed me the Kurtzweil 3000, which is a reading support device that highlights the words on the page while reading the text out loud to you. Sure wish I’d had that the semester I took Fossil Humans Practicum.
It took me over a year to get access to a mental health professional who would sign the appropriate documents giving me the right to use the technological accommodations. When I was using them I started to wonder if this is closer to what a normal person feels like when they attend a class or study something difficult. I can take care of my responsibilities within a reasonable period of time now. It doesn’t take me six hours to finish reading a single medical study or chapter of a math textbook. I don’t have to just write off 30 percent of every lecture I attend knowing I will never remember it all. I slowly edged my GPA up above 3.0, and then higher.
The big scary socialist state pays for my disability accommodations. I get provided with software downloads, document files, recording hardware paired with special notebooks that make it work. This is what the Americans with Disabilities Act means to me. I get the support and accommodations I need to work my ass off efficiently and produce intelligent writing and research. I can actually take a full load of classes without crashing and burning, and I don’t need 30 lbs of junk food to occupy myself and sit still well enough to finish all my work in a timely manner. I can go to work and go to school and don’t have to worry that I will run out of time for everything.
This is what it means to be an engaged citizen of society. I do really good work at my job, and I produce really good knowledge at school. We all live in a web of interdependence. I hope my representatives—especially Congresswoman Jackie Speier—will consider this when crafting legislation regarding disabilities in the future. I’m referring not just to “The ADA Education and Reform Act” at the moment, but to every issue that comes up over the next three to seven years while we face the current presidency. I have strong political involvement and I will support candidates who support me.