About three years ago, I diagnosed myself with ADD. It was really a long time coming. Just out of college I was working an office job, and despite trying nearly every tool Google offered, I just couldn’t wrangle organization like everyone else. Focus apps mocked me, procrastinating was a physical compulsion, and my memory was, frankly, garbage. This wasn’t new; I’d never been organized, always did work at the last possible minute, forgot things, never took notes, rarely finished a project or craft that didn’t come with a hard deadline. Only now, in a department of put-together, functioning adults, did I begin to recognize something might be wrong.
Turns out it was so bad, had always been so bad, that my doctor asked, “How did you make it through school?” And I could only answer, “Sheer force of will.”
Since then, I’ve gotten medicated and changed careers, and it’s amazing what a mixture of passion and Ritalin can do for your focus and productivity. But when you learn that your brain was operating on a set of rules you didn’t know about for as long as you’ve been Person Shaped, you start to reflect on all the things you thought were just uniquely, weirdly, frustratingly you. You begin to understand the unconscious ways in which you were helping yourself out. For me, it was caffeine and exercise, at least in the later years. But before that? It was reading. When I couldn’t remember anything, I remembered books.
My memory was--sometimes still is--so bad that I would forget whole arcs, scenes, and plot threads even from books I loved. But I can use them now like a photo album. Their covers are snapshots, and I’ve got the captions. Even when I wasn’t remembering the worlds I traveled to, I could still remember the world I was living in.
Unsurprisingly, my first book-based memory is connected to Harry Potter--more specifically, to the Goblet of Fire. I was in elementary school when the books were first coming out, and when I finally decided to pick the series up, Goblet of Fire was the only book available at the library. It was the largest book I’d ever picked up, and it was deeply satisfying to walk home with it weighing down my backpack. Of course, when I got home, I opened it up to find that I had no idea what was happening. Imagine reading that opening with no prior knowledge of what those books are. Confusing, unsettling, but intriguing. It was worth waiting until book one was available to give the series a proper try.
My early teens are defined by vampires. I discovered Anne Rice during my junior year in high school, due in part to being a Twilight fan (more on that in a moment) and in part to the sister of my soon-to-be-best-friend-to-this-day reading an omnibus of the first three Vampire Chronicles books during lunch. Once, during English class, I was reading Interview with the Vampire, pointedly ignoring a classmate trying to get my attention and ignoring a Scarlet Letter-based assignment that I knew didn’t have to be done until at least the following night. I only acknowledged her after she threw her binder at me.
Just typing the title Twilight takes me back to a night when my parents were out of town, and I was about 100 pages out from the end of New Moon. 14-year-old me was so enrapt that she forgot she was cooking, and had to stop reading and make dinner all over again after scraping blackened rice and peas off the bottom of the saucepan.
In college, author Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White was the backdrop to an emotional trauma so severe that it is now simultaneously the float and the anchor: it carried me then; looking at it now, though, I feel ever so slightly like I’m sinking. I look at it, and I’m in my dorm, I’m walking across campus, I’m sitting in the back of the room, hoping no one notices I’m crying. I’m reading it instead of ever taking notes in one of my classes, and I still manage to get a B.
I could go through my bookshelf ad infinitum.
Every Heart A Doorway is my first apartment, in the time just before I lose my office job and realize my brain is full of holes at almost the same time.
Sharp Teeth is the first girl I dated after realizing I am a lesbian.
The audiobook of The Historian is a two-day trip I took to the Middle of Nowhere, Missouri to find a place dark enough to see the stars. I started it just as I was leaving Lawrence, and I finished it just as I crossed back over the city limit.
The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman is the summer of 2018, when I took my family to Madison, Wisconsin. It’s the taste of sun-warm tomatoes from the farmers market, and the view from the Infinity Room at the House on the Rock.
And then there is my own book, which I’ve been writing on-and-off for years. The book I drafted as part of NaNoWriMo, pre-medicated, through sheer force of will.
If there’s anything I’ve learned since getting formally diagnosed, it’s that the ADD experience is ultimately a deeply personal one. There are as many struggling readers as there are strong ones, and it seems like pure chance that my myriad of symptoms lined up to make me the latter. Medicated and with a direction, I wonder now if I always loved books because of how they grounded me when my mind was pulling itself in different directions. As long as I’m reading, I can remember. As long as I’m reading, I know where I am.
-Marilyn Kearney is a Youth Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.