My ADHD Doesn’t Define Me – but It Does Drive Me

February 27, 2019Christo Chaney

I’ve long had two careers in mind: to become an American Sign Language interpreter or to become a rabbi. Both careers, however, require a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college – and that’s just the first step toward those careers. Because I’ve never succeeded in getting my college degree, neither of my dream careers is an option for me, and a few other careers of interest to me have either similar requirements or even more of them.

Some statistics say that only 5 percent of people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do well enough in college or university (even with accommodations) to graduate with a degree – which, of course, leaves 95 percent who don’t.

As an individual with ADHD who has not yet obtained my degree, I am among that 95 percent.

There are different types and severities of ADHD, a condition now known to be on a wide spectrum. In the United States, where I live, it is considered a disability in college and in the workforce, hence the availability of certain accommodations to students and employees.

Because of my ADHD, I’m frequently sidetracked, which can make writing – and thus, college – difficult. While writing this, in fact, I started looking at the blog of a rabbi who I’ve learned from via long-distance, reading up on all of her posts about disability and inclusion. Before I knew it, more than 45 minutes had passed – but to me, it seemed like only a short moment! It’s what many of us ADHD-ers call “time blindness,” and I experienced it quite a lot in college.

Needless to say, I have tried numerous times to graduate college and obtain my degree, but I have yet to succeed at it. At first, even though I had adequate documentation of my disabilities, I didn’t seek out accommodations; I was too embarrassed and ashamed. Perhaps in some ways, I still am, even today, many years later.

Years later, when I received accommodations approval from a local college, I still didn’t enroll. Why? In part, it had to do with my mental health; I continue to struggle to maintain stable employment, and to my knowledge, no financial assistance is available to me.

Sometimes I think, “Why even try?”

Yet, the great sage known as Hillel the Elder once asked his students, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirke Avot 1:14) Immediately after I completed the process of converting to Judaism, someone from my congregation gave me a coffee mug bearing that quote in both Hebrew and English.

Indeed, Jewish wisdom is insistent that every single human being has infinite worth and is deserving of dignity and respect – and that certainly holds true whether or not they have a college degree.  

My struggles with disabilities drive much of my work as a lay leader in my synagogue – because I know all too well how it can feel to be separated and alone.

Hillel once taught, “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5), and as such, I am committed to doing whatever I am able to do to ensure that other people with disabilities feel included, welcomed, and properly accommodated in our congregation and in the community at large.

It is my hope that anyone who enters through our doors – and, indeed, anyone who reads these words – finds comfort, affirmation, security, and above all, belonging.

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