I never did well in school. I fact, when I applied to colleges my senior year, I didn’t get into a single one. It stung. I felt incredibly stupid/crazy. But I had always felt that way because while the rest of the kids would learn one way and totally keep up, I just couldn’t understand the material without getting my hands dirty. I needed to do things, touch things, find out how they worked. But in school, you often never get that chance.
So senior year in high school I met Natalie, my future wife. She went to the top private school in DC where the Obama girls go. All her friends talked about how they were going to Ivy League schools and stuff I had never heard of. I was intimidated as hell. No one I knew even considered applying to schools outside the VA public school system and here were girls who weren’t just going out of state- they were going to places like Yale or Harvard. I felt like vomiting every time one of them asked where I was going to college because I didn’t know.
But Natalie…she was the first person in my life who actually made me feel smart. She saw my strengths and nurtured them. She pushed me to get something I had never even heard of- learning disability testing. I started looking into it and one of the things you have to do is pour over your school records, teachers comments, etc. And there it was…popping up almost everywhere. “This student should be evaluated for learning disabilities.” It was like a punch in the gut. I had to get tested. And I did. I went in thinking I would 100% have a math disability-that’s it. I walked out learning so much about myself and for the first time was told I had several learning disabilities (math included) including ADHD.
WTH? How could I have ADHD? Isn’t that for hyperactive little boys? Do adults really have that? I started reading every single book I could get my hands on and it was like a knob was turned. I just kept crying reading these books. This is me I thought! Literally one book was called “So I’m not crazy, stupid or lazy” and I just felt this whole release. Because that’s what I always felt. Someone had actually said it and then wrote a whole book on it. I literally half-sobbed through the stories of other ADHD adults.
And that’s when my world turned. That one label empowered me to look at everything differently. I could accomplish the same goals, but I had permission to go about them differently. I knew doing things the same way everyone else did just wouldn’t work. Period. And that mind-set allowed me to crack open everything in my life. I don’t have to do it like everyone else. I can go to art school. I can have my own photo studio. I can get married to my wife even if it isn’t legal. Because I can’t go down that beaten path, the world is open.
Being diagnosed with ADHD was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It made me realize I couldn’t just be like everyone else. And that allowed me to be me. Everyone was nervous- even Natalie – when I started my photography studio. How would I cope with so much responsibility and only me to keep myself on track? But something happened: I loooove running a business. I love talking with my clients and helping them. I get a total high, no joke, from shooting a wedding. I hyperfocus and will edit for hours, totally forgetting to eat. The fact I make weird noises and get so excited while I’m shooting I can’t help but do a little dance or tell the couple how awesome they look is actually an asset. Who knew my inability to put a cap on my excitement (aka make sound effects very very often when posing people; it actually gets people pumped and laughing) would be a big strength?