Guest post by Katherine Ellison:
Over the years, I’ve analyzed and written about dozens of purported smart strategies to cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — from “animal therapy” to zinc supplements, meds to meditation, neurofeedback to hair follicle analysis to computer games and Omega 3s… You name it.
My one big omission is I’ve never, until now, written about Nancy.
My son is now 20, and out in the world, and often making me proud. We’re better friends than we’ve ever been before. There are still days when I’m not sure that he, or I, could have survived without my dear friend.
I met Nancy when both our boys were wriggly five-year-olds on their first day of Hebrew school kindergarten. Both were still several years from getting their diagnoses and branching out from there into the kind of rebellious, risk-taking behavior that so often accompanies truly serious distraction and breeds constant fear and worry in their mothers.
I’ve never in all my life had a friend like Nancy. I suppose before I met her, I hadn’t truly needed one. The profound and chronic distress of having a child who is constantly in trouble, in conflict with you and with the world and, above all, with his own potential, has flattened many a better woman than I. Or a woman without her Nancy.
Black humor, Bombay Sapphire, dark chocolate, and twice or thrice-a-day phone calls became our lifelines over the next 15 years, keeping us relatively sane through emergencies so specifically bizarre that I can’t write about most of them here without being unfair to our progeny. I’ll just say that when Jane’s son, at 16, over-nighted in juvenile hall where I teach writing, I called a guard I knew to check on him. When my son, at 17, crossed one too many lines at home, Jane and her sweet husband let him sleep in their basement for a few nights . Over the years, we traded references for therapists, tutors, and lawyers, and had endless furtive conversations about detentions, suspensions, and community service. And other mothers who rushed past us at the grocery store.
Through it all, Nancy’s ever-upbeat voice on the phone and on our dog walks helped keep me calm and carrying on. Did I mention that she is a professional therapist? Free couch time combined with liberal doses of her expertly cooked brisket as major perks of our friendship.
On a Sunday afternoon in 2005, in the month before I had to have brain surgery, I fainted in Nancy’s arms. After her healthy, fit husband died suddenly and inexplicably last summer, I wrote the obituary.
Today we are like veterans of long-ago wars. We’ve also morphed into a weird resemblance; we’ve basically got the same hairstyle, and both drive dark-gray Priuses. Our dogs even sometimes mistake us for each other.
My son is fluent in Russian, applying for college, becoming a mensch — a person of honor and integrity. Her son is a talented artist, living on his own in San Francisco, making friends. Other mothers are nicer to us. And I still have many occasions to reflect that you can hire all the therapists you can afford, experiment with special diets and supplements galore, and rely heavily on your neighborhood pharmacist (for everyone concerned), but in the end, it takes a special kind of village — and often just two special villagers — to raise children like ours. That’s why I wish for every one of you early on in your ADHD journey, find a Nancy or Nancies of your own.
Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer-prize winning former foreign correspondent and the author of eight books, including the ADHD memoir, “Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention,” and the forthcoming “ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know,” co-authored with the leading ADHD researcher Stephen Hinshaw.
Read some of Katherine Ellison’s books: