By Guest Writer: Eric Chisler
I just got the most profound sense of grief upon reading this. I’m tearful and shaken. I think I just realized the moment that I stopped living in my body, the moment I became convinced that I was defined by what goes on in my head.
I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 7 or 8 years old. The same year I went to Chuck-E-Cheese’s for my birthday party and then my first trip to Disneyland the following summer, I was taking 20mg of Ritalin. And an anti-depressant called Desipremine. By the time I was in high school they had piled a diagnosis for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Dysgraphia on top of those diagnoses. By the time I was a Junior in high school I had exhausted every ADHD medication and was back on Ritalin, taking the maximum dosage that was legally prescribable. My whole childhood felt like a long battle with this idea, this question that nagged at me: “What is wrong with me?”
It all centered around my introversion, my natural sense of wonderment and my strange paradox of being considered extremely smart and yet struggling constantly with school.
School. It seems to have been the central drama of my life. It was such a chaotic story to sort out: At the end of 1st grade I was tested to see where I was at academically. Reading level at 5th/6th grade, vocabulary 6 months into 12th grade. At the end of the very next school year I was on Ritalin and by 3rd grade I spent a period every day with a school psychologist. By the time I was in high school I had monthly meetings with a group which included the school therapist, school counselor, Vice President of Instruction, my teachers and my parents.
The narrative looped and looped: “Something is wrong with you. You’re broken. You’re a burden.”
This narrative, more than any “troubles” I was having with learning, has wounded me more than anything else. I’m just learning to face it and cope with it.
I suppose I’m writing this to all the parents out there who are facing challenges with their child in the school system. I implore you: please don’t make your children face this narrative. No amount of saying “You’re special” or giving positive reinforcement can counter the narrative implicit in all of these actions. So much of this tendency in our society comes from the eroding cultural makeup that drives our schooling and our socializing strategies. The kids are not the problem. Your parenting isn’t necessarily the problem.
The problem is the way we force our kids to conform to society of deadening influences. The problem is a school system that views children as a societal product for the economic meat grinder. The problem is a culture that forces children to lead lives that are counterintuitive to the natural impulses and deep curiosity of childhood. The problem is our will to anaesthetize our Children when they respond to these systems and their logic with the chaotic rebellion of youth.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Look to homeschooling, unschooling. But more importantly, look to your child. Look to who they are and how they show up. The wisdom to guide their lives to the auspiciousness of their gifts, their joys, is latent in them. In fact, if you do, I bet you will learn something profound about yourself, about the wounds that exist from your experience in school, in this system, in this culture of control and separation.