The Benefit of the Doubt

I started wearing glasses every day three years ago.

When I was living in Rome, it started to dawn on me that other people could see things I could not. I don’t mean metaphorically, or in some abstract sense – I mean literally seeing things in front of me with my eyes.

I remember telling my parents when they came to visit me to look out for a particular number of bus, but not to feel bad if they missed it because the displays on the front of the buses were almost impossible to read, even up close. With perfect timing, a bus drove slowly past us and my parents laughed and asked me what I was talking about because they could both read it absolutely fine. I looked. It was all fuzzy to me.

So when I moved back to Sheffield, I had my first eye test in seven years and was told I needed glasses, especially if I was going to be driving. I didn’t tell them that until about a year before I’d been driving all kinds of places and that really it was a wonder I was still alive. I tried contact lenses, but they were fiddly. I also considered being one of those people that only wears their glasses some of the time, but that sounded like a lot of work and I saw myself losing pair after pair, and so I just resigned myself to wearing them all the time.

I don’t mind it at all. But the reason I bring this up is because the year after finding out I was short-sighted, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Now, in some ways, they are similar. They are both a hard fact of your biology. You can’t outrun them. You can’t “try harder” to see – you can just wear glasses that compensate. And you can’t “try harder” to regulate your attention, or your emotions, or your sensory overload, or however your particular form ADHD manifests in you – you can just find ways to work around the difficulties it causes.

But the two conditions are very different in one key way: everyone else can see your glasses. They can’t see your mind.

Psychological issues are difficult socially, mainly because they are invisible. Because whilst you’re going round with a brain that functions differently than it’s meant to – through absolutely no fault of your own – you still look “normal.” And so through no fault of their own, people expect you to act “normal.” And if and when you don’t – because you can’t – they don’t understand why. How could they?

And so you have not only to live with the condition, but also to sort of be aware that unless you really spell it out for other people what’s going on in your head, they’re going to look at what you say and what you do and just assume that you’re rude, or anti-social, or you don’t give a shit, or you’re lazy, or you’re unreliable… and when they believe all these things, you have to think “Yeah, I’d probably think that if I were them…”

The whole journey has obviously taught me a lot about myself, but more importantly it has taught me how to deal better with other people. I’m a hell of a lot slower now to form judgments about people. I rarely just assume that I have any idea what somebody is going through. And when they do or say something, I might have my theories as to why they did, but I try not to let them settle into an opinion. Because I know I’m probably wrong.

Perhaps this is also why I bang on so much about what you can and can’t control – that does seem to be the message of at least half my pieces of writing – because I know what it’s like to feel you have no control over yourself, let alone over the rest of the world.

I want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt because I’ve had to struggle my whole life to give it to myself.

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