Everything at Once

‘Yes,’ said the consultant. ‘Everything points to your son having ADHD.’

My lovely seven year old was at that point torn between prodding the consultant’s computer and running toy cars backwards up a ramp. My heart sank. Not because I thought it was the end of the world, but because I could imagine what people would say.

The ones who’d been telling me so for years would smirk. The ones who thought it but never said would sneer. Close friends and family would go into denial. My father would probably buy a book about it.

I had been in denial for a long time. My son’s playgroup had hinted it. His first school told me to take him for assessment. I wasn’t happy with the school and chose to ignore them, although terribly upset, I rang to tell a friend, leaving a message on her landline phone. She didn’t pick up the message for weeks by which time my distress had been replaced with belligerence. 

A year later, we moved a hundred miles and he’d changed schools. The new school couldn’t have been better. But as sitting still became harder, concentrating more important, my lovely happy child lost his self-esteem and confidence and finally his joy. When this school suggested an assessment, I listened. 

Is it my fault? It never ever occurred to me to blame my husband, but I certainly blamed myself.

Was it because I’d eaten red meat, shrimps, nuts and had the odd glass of wine during pregnancy? Was it because I’d craved cheese and ate it in almost any format? Was it because I had what seemed – for a first time mother – a rather traumatic if fairly quick childbirth? Was it because an hour before he was born and they said ‘the baby is getting distressed’, I thought ‘what about me? I’m distressed. Am I invisible?’ None of that made any sense. 

Was it genetic? The consultant said it was often hereditary. I am a natural fidget and daydream as is my husband. But discipline at my home and school was fairly rigid and I long ago learnt to daydream with 90% of my brain while the other 10% appears fully engaged in whatever boring thing I’m supposed to be concentrating on. I struggle in a lot of social situations because I’m trying to listen to every single conversation around me regardless of whether I’m part of it or not. I am very easily bored. I try to do everything on my to-do list at the same time but I do get through it eventually.

My son wasn’t like that. He didn’t seem able to concentrate at all, unless it was something he was absolutely absorbed by. Oddly, this wasn’t always what was deemed ‘important’ by school or society. He found it easier to listen if he wasn’t looking at someone. If he was looking at them, he was concentrating on their face, their mannerisms, their mood rather than their words. Did people understand that? No. Of course they didn’t. He just got into trouble.

Was it because I didn’t discipline him strictly enough? I was conflicted on that one. I demand good manners and an interest in knowledge but I also want openness. I don’t want my children to be hung up, to be afraid to express an opinion or afraid to be honest even when they knew I won’t like their opinions or their honesty. I want them to come to me if things go wrong without fearing I will judge them. I want them to have the space to make stupid decisions knowing I am there to catch them if they fall. 

‘Sleep when he sleeps’ my friends with children said when he was born. My son barely slept in the day and didn’t sleep through the night till he was nearly seven. I went back to work part-time when he was six months old and had to learn a new role but still found it more relaxing than managing a child who didn’t know how to rest. Changing nappies and bath time were activities easier done by two. He rolled over at six weeks, was running by nine months. Trying to get used to managing on a reduced income, I remember sitting with him on my lap trying to read a bank statement and work out where the money was going. He flipped the paper over and I started to cry – and I don’t do crying. He was utterly exhausting. Somewhere around this point, the health visitor gave me a questionnaire. She must have been worried about my mental health and she was right. It was a whole year before I woke up and realised I felt ‘normal’.

Forget all those stereotypes. We don’t eat junk food except on occasion. I was rigid about early bedtimes and a regular routine (if not for my children’s sake, for mine.) My son is not and has never been deliberately rough and rarely angry (although now, as an adult, perhaps righteously so over injustice and political stupidity). He does not always ‘get’ people but he’s sensitive and kind. If he has ever been violent it has generally been through exuberance rather than out of any desire to hurt. (Quite possibly this does not always extend to his little sister but she gives as good as she gets.) I am proud that he knows how to be polite to others and equally proud that he is honest with me and has opinions he’s not afraid to express. 

‘His brain is wired differently,’ explained the consultant. ‘We think it can’t stimulate itself, and so it’s constantly looking for external stimulus. It’s actually concentrating on everything simultaneously and can’t work out what’s important. Medication may create stimuli that his brain can’t so that he can concentrate on what’s necessary.’

I chose to accept medication for him. This involved a battle with the extended family. They said I was labelling him, drugging him, that I just needed to discipline him better. We used it for school alone. On holidays and weekends, we didn’t use the tablets at all. At school, he regained his confidence and started to do well in class again. When he was called ‘ADHD boy’ by another child, my son put his head up and said he was proud to be an ADHD boy. The one time I took both children (both under eleven) to London on my own and decided to medicate him, I regretted it. Who was this quiet child who wasn’t trying to run in three directions at once and asking a million questions? He was easier to manage but was he enjoying it as much? I still don’t really know. When he reached sixteen, the decision whether to take medication was left to him. He took it for his academic subjects but didn’t for music and drama. ‘I need my mind to be free to be creative’ he said.

My son is now an adult and he sometimes uses medication and sometimes doesn’t. What have I learned about ADHD? I realised that everyone has it to some degree, the majority only at a very low level. I look back at my own school years and wonder if some of those ‘naughty’ but intelligent children might have made something of themselves if someone had realised that their brain was wired a different way. I wonder what opportunities for them were lost. I realised my father probably had some form of Asperger’s syndrome and this helped me understand him and become less frustrated with some of things he said and did.

People say that ADHD didn’t exist before the modern western world got too soft. I think this is utter nonsense. People are just people. There have always been people who have very clear thought patterns and people who think about lots of things simultaneously. We need both. We need people who can make straightforward unemotional judgements. We need daydreamers. Perhaps in industrialised cultures there is less respect given to the dreamers. In our culture we want the output – the film or music or jet engine but don’t realise space needs to be given to the wild idea that leads to them. Our culture doesn’t always appreciate a person who walks to a different beat.

As a small child, yes, my son was exhausting. But he was fascinated by everything. He laughed, he was happy. Sleep was a waste of time when there was a whole world ready to fiddle with. He danced in my womb when I sang in a concert and as a pre-schooler, he danced in our small front room to a CD of classical (sorry – Baroque) music. He was full of joy. I bought him a tiny toy keyboard in a charity shop for £3 and all by himself he learnt how to play Silent Night at the age of three. He was the only child in playgroup who could sing in tune. He is a musician. 

He is now a delightful young man full of passion and ideas and creative energy. I don’t always agree with him but then I am his mother and older, why should I agree with him? And he is young, why should he agree with me? Hopefully there is plenty of time for both of us to find out when to bend and when to stand firm.

If I had ignored that diagnosis or tried to discipline him out of ADHD would he be as creative and have as much potential now? Or would he be frustrated, angry, rebellious, bitter? 

I suspect the latter. I know which I’d prefer.

If you’re a parent struggling right now, find someone to understand and don’t be afraid. There will be someone. If your child had asthma, no-one would query your need for help or theirs – ADHD is no different. 

If you think you may be attention deficit and/or hyperactive – it’s a good thing. But again, seek support.

If you don’t understand – do some research. Many highly successful people have ADHD. A diagnosis doesn’t mean you’re undisciplined, unnurtured, badly nourised, violent or useless.

Whoever you are, be kind to yourself. 

Whoever or ‘whatever’ you are, the world needs you.

BBC video – the joys of ADHD

A Winter Forest at Night by Matthew Harmon

The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service

NHS information

Information for adults with ADHD

UK Support Groups

a thousand connections

Words and photograph copyright 2019 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.


I didn’t expect to feel this way.

Perhaps it’s because it’s been quite stressful recently.

Perhaps it’s because while I’ve worked for the same organisation for nearly twenty-eight years, I’ve changed teams and job roles three times in two (and twice in eight months). This has been largely by choice because the alternatives were worse. I haven’t worked with a team who are all in the same building or even the same town for the majority of the last eleven years. I’ve yet to get past acquaintanceship with the people in my new team. Three days a week, I work from home or sit in a side office, usually on my own. Twice a week I rattle along in trains full of strangers to meet face to face maybe only one or two members of my team. On those days, I work in a large office in a huge building full of people, the majority of whom I don’t know and am never likely to know. Of the work friends I’ve built over my career, many are, like me, rushing from place to place all the time. It’s hard to meet up.

Perhaps it’s because I’m under the weather. Everything has been overwhelming for ages. I feel as if I’ve been stumbling through undergrowth, step by exhausting step, not sure where the path has gone. Now, despite the fact that it’s July, I have a chest cold and virus.

Or perhaps it’s because my children are growing up. They both sat public exams this year. My eldest is eighteen today. My youngest is less than two years behind. When my son leaves home for university in the autumn, my daughter will be starting sixth form. I have washed my last item of ink stained school uniform. Sixth formers don’t wear uniform. The children can see that adult life doesn’t live up to the hype but are eager for it anyway.

I feel lonely.

I don’t feel alone. I have a lovely husband who’s my best friend. My children, when we’re all disconnected from electronic devices, still hug and chatter. They’re great company. My oldest friends and my wonderful sister, who know me best, live some distance away. But I have fantastic local friends and my mother lives nearby. It’s not the loneliness I suffered at school, alienated by bullying, nor in the first year at university, too shy to talk to anyone. I know I’m not alone.

But I still feel lonely.

Eighteen years ago, my son, my longed-for, long-awaited child was put into my arms. I was so conscious of his dependence on me that although he slept, I couldn’t for fear he’d stop breathing. Now, his dependence on me is nebulous. He can take care of himself if he has to, he definitely has his own opinions and can and does make his own decisions. (Although, somehow it’s still me doing the laundry.) We’ve encouraged his independence always: given him space within boundaries. We’ve tried to prepare him for adulthood. He is a wonderful young man.

My daughter is following right on behind. She is my lovely, lovely girl. But last night, we were looking at possible universities for her. She is flexing her wings ready to fly.

When my son leaves home, my daughter, no matter how much they fight and argue, will miss him. It’ll be just three of us for a while and then before we know it, just two of us.

Life with just my husband will certainly be more peaceful. I am looking forward to it. I am looking forward to welcoming the children when they come home, looking forward to visiting them when they have homes of their own, looking forward to watching them build their own lives and traditions.

But what will my role be? Where perhaps someone else would feel their employment defined them and would be lost without its focus, I don’t think I have ever felt that way. I have my career, but truth to be told, I think the real me is writer, companion and the mother.

I never expected to feel lost when the nest started to empty but I do. I thought we had helped them mature year by year until they were ready to leave and we were ready to let them go. And we are ready. We are. And yet…

We never thought we’d have a child and then, eventually, my son came along. We thought we’d perhaps never have another, but my daughter had other ideas. I remember that after she was born and she was no longer part of me, although I could hold her in my arms, I missed the company of her in my womb. I felt lonely for something that was gone, even though it was replaced by something better. My role to protect and grow a child under my heart was over. I had to learn something new.

So perhaps it’s not loneliness exactly.

There is a word in Welsh ‘hiraeth’ which has no direct English translation. In Cornish, it is ‘hireth’ and in Breton, it is ‘hiraezh’. Welsh, Cornish and Breton are derived from the same ancient British language. The closest English explanation is an intense longing for something lost (usually a home or a person) or for the memory of them, whether real or imagined. Apparently, Portuguese and Galician have a similar word: ‘saudade’. It’s been translated as ‘missingness’.

So I don’t know exactly why I feel the way I do at the moment. Perhaps it’s the weather, perhaps it’s the virus I’m enduring, perhaps it’s work, perhaps it’s my age, but I think, in truth, it’s probably because I feel ‘hiraeth’ for the children who are now young adults and who will soon be leaving home.

One of my friends, whose daughter is the same age as mine, recently said that she felt adrift. And I thought ‘yes, that’s it exactly.’

I too feel adrift, looking back at the fading lands of their receding childhood, wondering where the breeze will take me next.

lonely 2

Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission


When I held you first in my arms I knew
Somewhere your brand new existence
Represented something to be destroyed.
I wanted you to grow up;
In love with variety;
To look for beauty in every genre
Of music, literature, art, humanity.
I wanted you to see a world full of
Strange faces: varying colours, headwear,
Hear different languages and be
Fascinated by difference not repulsed;
To see the person not the generalisation.
To believe or not believe yet understand belief;
Not let any man’s imperfect interpretation
Form an immovable, uncompromising view.
How can I imagine bringing you up to hate
When love is the only thing which has meaning?
Yet the world is in fear of fools who lie
And believe a lie and enforce a lie.
They do not speak for anyone’s god
They have a different master –
One who wants to divide and aims to demolish
Until there is nothing left to wipe out.
You are nearly adults now.
I am about to let you out in the world
To put you in the trust of strangers
To know that you will be on buses
And trains and planes
And sit in restaurants and theatres
Without me.
And I pray that in the end
The fear will not devour you or us but
Consume itself in the face of love.
And today, full of tears of grief and anger
I wish I could reach and touch
The mothers who feel lost and empty,
Overwhelmed by darkness and loss.
Not just the mothers;
Not just the parents and friends or lovers
Whose faces and culture I understand
Whose country I love;
But everyone everywhere who woke yesterday
Wanting nothing but to love and live
And bring up their children
In peace
But had to face the gun instead.

Reflection 6

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

The Promise

My daughter.  My precious girl.  You look up at me with limpid eyes, trying to focus on mine.

Baffled by the freedom of your limbs and losing the warmth of my womb, you curl on my breast, try a tiny suckle and then close those lovely eyes into sleep.

I am exhausted too and I am ready to slumber, but first I will make you a promise.  In you, I can see my mother and my grandmother and your father’s mother and his grandmother.  Already I am sure that you will be determined and funny, maybe quick to anger but loving long.

How do I know?  You are such a little scrap, your ears like little shells, your nose like a tiny bead, your little feet a miracle of craftsmanship.

You are perfect.  You are neither evil nor a disappointment nor a failure to me because you are a girl.  Do not tell me, who has just given birth, that women are weak.  We are stronger than oxen, stronger than the rain storm, stronger than the mightiest tree.   One day your work will be as necessary as your brother’s, your mind as fast, your ideas as fascinating.

Maybe you will find it hard to trust, and you will not be wrong little girl, the world is a cruel place and those who say they love you will say that they must protect you by changing you.  They will say that evil lurks in wait if they do not do that thing, that you will never marry, never carry a babe of your own, that your own body will rise up and destroy you if they do not do that thing.

But I have decided I will not let them.

If I have to run from my own family and from your father’s family, from the wise women with their rusty blades and the wise men with their threats of violence, if I have to run with you, I will run.  I don’t know where we will go my little bird, my little mouse, my precious gem.  But one day the cutting must stop.

And I make this promise to you my darling, that for you and me it stops today.


Harbour Mouth

As usual, dinner choked her and she ate barely anything. Sam didn’t notice but poured her more wine. She drunk some white. Then some red. As usual, she went to bed drained, pincers at her temples and took paracetamol and ibruprofen, and valerian because otherwise how would she sleep? Sam was still watching TV. What was on TV tonight? Nothing. She quietly packed a bag and wrote him a note. 4.40am every day and she was wide awake, mind churning churning, options like the doors off one of those unending corridors – is the answer here? or here? What even was the question? When the alarm goes off her body ached, her eyes leaden. One foot in front of the other, shower, wake the kids, make breakfast, put on the face, do the hair, say goodbye to Sam, take the kids to school, late again, tutting stay-at-home mums watching her as they gossip before going for coffee or to walk the dog or clean their clean houses. Go to work. Endless emails, like the fairytale with the self-filling purse only with the opposite effect. The fuller the inbox, the more drained she felt. Rushing to get the task done for the vague thanks she’d get, providing data so that someone else would get the praise. What did it all mean anyway? Who wanted those endless stats? What did I do in work today? Nothing. Rushing to get back for school pick-up. Late again. Angry teacher talking to her as if she was six. Driving home with the kids, “what did you do in school today?” “Nothing – what’s for tea?” At home, the overflowing laundry, the pointless cooking of tea – prodding of broccoli, shovelling of pasta. What did I do at home today?  Nothing.  She tried to put all this in the note, waiting for the valerian to kick in and took more painkillers. When she left, who would even miss her really? Exemplary employee, caring wife and mother – just functions. They’d miss the functions. How could they miss her? She had been lost a long long time. She tried to put it in the note, but it was hard to put it into words. She wasn’t sure what she was writing. The next day at 4.40am, she slipped out of bed and out of the house. She got to the coast and wondered vaguely if she’d shut the front door. She imagined the house – wide open, wondering where she’d gone – the overflowing laundry, the untidy rooms, the toys crying “organise us!” and the fresh air blowing in whispering “she’s gone, she’s gone” and the children and Sam sleeping on and on until they woke and tried to remember what she looked like and life going on without her. She got to the coast and looked at the harbour bridge shiny in the dawn.She didn’t remember it being so long, the end was barely visible, the other side of the harbour mouth hazy and clean. She didn’t remember it being so narrow, only room for her.  Weren’t there buildings on the other side? Where was the traffic? Maybe it was always this quiet at 4.40am. Was it still 4.40am? No it must be later, time for the alarm to go off. Surprising there is no traffic. She starts to walk across the bridge. Why am I walking? Didn’t I bring the car? Never mind. It’s peaceful here but looks even more peaceful there. The buzzing, the humming, the relentless noise of her mind is silent. Nothing can be heard, not the sea, nor the wind, nor the town behind her. Is the town behind her? She doesn’t want to turn and look – the other side of the bridge is more inviting. There is a person coming towards her, as vague as the bridge, it is calling to her. It must be shouting because it’s so far away she can’t tell if it’s male or female, but the voice is like a whisper, she closes her eyes to hear better. “Not yet,” it says, “Go back, go back, here is some strength, go back, go back” and rain starts to fall on her from the clear blue sky, “come back come back” and she opens her eyes and Sam is holding her, his tears falling on her face, and she is in her bed and he is holding her and he has her letter in his hand, crushed against her, and he has her letter in his hand, crushed against her with its scrawled words: “I’m lost. I’m so tired. I want to sleep forever. Find me.” And he is whispering “you didn’t wake when the alarm went off, I didn’t know, I didn’t know” and he pulls her up to himself, crying into her hair and she steps back off the bridge and into his arms.

bridge 2Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission