Hi, I’m Neurodivergent

Hi, I’m Neurodivergent

Matthew Ballard July 18, 2021

Prior to this year, I would spend the better part of my week writing ‘short’ pieces for the local newspaper focusing on historical people and events. Although it was tiring at the time, churning out 500-750 word articles each week was a rewarding exercise on many levels. As I look for opportunities to engage with the profession, I thought it might be best to commit myself to write a weekly reflective piece, at least for my own benefit. So here it goes.

This past year was challenging for so many and as I reflect back on the events of 2020/21, I find myself filled with existential dread as the world continues to implode. Perhaps the downward spiral of society is not a new experience, but one that I am becoming increasingly aware of. If that’s the case, it is attributable to a shift in focus from internal to external. Self-absorbing is a theme that surfaces throughout my life, less so over the last few years…or so I would prefer to tell myself.

Anyways, the last year has left me feeling like a bit of a professional shapeshifter of sorts. The way I have come to understand myself is not the way others understand me. The projection of my professional ability seldom matches the way I feel about my own competency. Yet as I think about the past six months, all of this makes more sense than ever before.

So, I guess my story is that of a “neurodivergent librarian.” A story that remained hidden beneath the surface, often attributed to other seemingly unrelated and simplified explanations, and ignored by everyone around me as a child. I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder six months ago. After several years of working with physicians who downplayed my struggles, experimenting with medication to treat some surface-level symptoms, and battling it out with insurance companies, I finally received an answer to what caused a mix of issues that others attributed to unrelated illnesses.

Despite the long, drawn-out assessment process, I found solace in sessions that dug into my childhood. An opportunity to think about those childhood experiences that should have raised red flags but were downplayed as the habits of a typical “energetic” young boy. When the psychologist who conducted the assessment suggested that there could be indicators of ADHD in grade school report cards, I quickly dragged out the box of old papers, grade cards, and assignments. There it was…4th Grade…my teacher included notes about my reading ability. My parents wrote a note to the school, telling the teacher that they were trying their best to get me to read, but “…he’s just not interested.”

So here I am, 25 years later and I’m working in a library. The old “You work in a library? You must love to read!” hits hard and it has for some time. I actually “hate” reading…perhaps hate is too strong…not because I dislike learning, but because the act of reading is nearly impossible. My non-linear thought process, inability to pay attention for more than a few moments, and incessant fidgeting all make for a painful experience. It is why college was so challenging for me…even though I decided to try it three times (a story for a different time).

I have spent the better part of my life convincing myself that I am adaptive and I love change, yet when the change hits, I panic. What I have come to realize is that it is not the ability and desire to go with the flow that drives me, it is that adaptation is how I have come to cope with untreated ADHD. Changing directions when a plan goes awry becomes quite easy for someone who often forgets to perform the most basic tasks in their daily life. If I don’t write something down, those profound ideas become fleeting thoughts. If I don’t carefully organize those written notes into a system that is easily retrievable, they disappear forever. So, I often hear about how well organized I am. It’s not a natural disposition, it’s simply survival.

So what attracted me to librarianship? When I took those silly tests that assess which careers are best suited for you, librarian was at the bottom of the list. I guess it’s the continual tension between what I aspire to do and what my mind allows me to do. Thinking back to graduate school, it was the cataloging and archival management courses that attracted my attention. If for no other reason, the structure and rules provided a sense of stability and purpose. Now, when it comes to following those rules…that’s a different story. As with my self-proclaimed adaptability, my proclivity to stray from the rules is not the result of an inherent disposition to rule-breaking. I just forget.

So I guess the coming year is an opportunity for me to further explore what neurodivergent means and how that relates to my personal and professional identities.