ADHD and (a lack of) Faith

gray scale photography of jesus christ head 

First off, I’m atheist. Well, more like agnostic. The point is I’m not a believer and I don’t belong to any church. I used to – Roman Catholic. But I left the church when I learned my gay friends couldn’t get married. I just want to manage expectations for this post.

No, fully atheist.

Maybe sort of agnostic.

I’ll have to think on that. I have to think on a lot of things, as I have my whole life.

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One of those things is faith, God, Christianity, church, praying – the whole Lot. If you grew up in a Christian household and community, as I did, you spent a lot of time in church and trying to connect to some magical state of being that everyone around you seemed to be able to access. I’ve spent countless hours trying to ‘be’ a Christian, and trying to connect with God as I was supposed to. This certainly wasn’t easy. Being told to ‘pray on it’, that’s what I would try – in church, in the forest, in my bed, seeking out the most holy or spiritual-looking places I could find – and praying. Or rather, trying to pray. Can you imagine what a prayer from someone with ADHD would sound like to a listening God?

Ahem. Hello, God. (Why do people always start with a cough when they pray out loud? I guess it’s just in the movies?) Ahem. Hello, God. Hello. Okay, this is not a comedy routine. Alright. Praying. Doing the praying thing. Here we go. Ugh – I’m so not comfortable. Just gonna adjust my pants here. Maybe lying down would be better. Ok. Hello, God. Hello, hello, hello! (Music) How did music get in here? Okay. Now. Now. Hello, God. Call me Ishmael. I’m praying because my aunt is really sick. (Guitar solo!) She’s so sick! She’s so sick! This isn’t working. Is this working? Hello? Is this thing on? Give me a sign. Can I have a sign? Like just a little one. Light a candle. Appear in my salsa. Funny. Not original, though. (Guitar solo again). Must have seen that in ten different movies. Man, Jerry’s a real jerk, I can’t believe he said that thing earlier. What an ass. GOD this is soooooo boring. How long do I have to do this for? Okay, one last solid effort. Now. Now. Ok now. Now. Pray. Ok now. (Guitar solo). After this solo. Okay now. Praying. My aunt is sick. Please help her. Bap-bap-bap-bap-bap oh yeah (music). 

So, church is not a great place for an undiagnosed ADHDer. In the Catholic faith, there are all kinds of things to look at in a church – the Stations of the Cross (although most are blocked by columns or people), felt letters cut out and arranged on the plaster spelling things like ‘Peace’ and ‘Joy’, the people who would most certainly die in the ceiling fans were suddenly to fall and crash down below.

My parents thought I was super-into church and religion because I would spend most of the sermon looking around, reading through the books of worship and any reading materials I could find.  I wasn’t all that interested in what I could find to read – it’s just that the sermon was so boring! The Ephesians crossing a river and doing a thing. That seemed to always be what was going on.

In the years before my diagnosis (BD), I did everything I could to ‘find my faith’. I believed there was a pathway for me to connect with God – I just had to work for it. I had to explore, I had to be a seeker of the faith. So I tried to read the Bible. I got tired of reading about who was related to who and never got past the first book. Years later, I told this to a priest and he told me that I shouldn’t have started at the beginning. Got it. I backpacked around Europe seeking out holy sites and a new state of mind. But I mostly just got lost and cold. I went to a religious community and tried really hard to focus on the divine and reach a higher state of being. Like, I tried really, REALLY hard! And nothing. Just endless bouncing of ideas and dreams in my head.

This was perhaps the most difficult aspect of my young life – not being able to figure out  if I believed in God or not. Seems like a simple thing, but if you can’t focus your mind enough to come to one conclusion or the other, it’s hard to know where to go. You’re always in limbo. “Just listen harder for the Lord speaking to you” is not great advice when you’re living with a cacophony in your brain.

In the years after my diagnosis (AD), things became much clearer. I was able to consider positions more holistically, and could decide what I believed in a foundational way. And looking back over my relationship with religion, I’m left with several thoughts:

  1. How many people are out there thinking they are bad Christians because they suck at praying, when really they’re simply undiagnosed ADHD sufferers? Talk about a cross to bear.
  2. Post-diagnosis ADHD treatment has enabled me to reflect more deeply on love, life, community and the cosmos. Diagnosis and treatment did more for me as a person (and one might say as a Christian) than ten years of misguided ‘seeking’.
  3. Instead of spending so much time praying to St. Anthony, I should have devised some systems to keep me from losing items in the first place.
  4. Faith can be a real obstacle to getting proper diagnosis and treatment for all kinds of disorders. Religious people may mean well, but advice to ‘pray on it’, or that you have to be a certain way to please a deity, can prolong unnecessary suffering or much, much worse.

So if there is a young person in your life, and they are struggling with religion in any way, there may be a psychological, or neurological, reason for it. Getting diagnosed by a medical professional will help them be a much better whatever-they-want-to-be.

Thanks for reading.

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