Living With Feeling Stupid

Ed Zitron 6 min read

I’ve spent the last week trying to wrap my head around music theory, cursing myself for not remembering a single thing from music class (as well as not being medicated for ADHD at the time) and repeatedly doing the same exercise on an app that tests how well you remember music notes. It’s exhausting, especially with everything else going on everywhere and how bad that all is.

And writing that out, I realize how much of my education and the way that I’ve learned things and done things has been done under this general varnish of feeling totally deficient. I talk about my ADHD a decent amount, but I rarely go into detail about my learning disability (dyspraxia) because it (and the combination of ADHD and dyspraxia) are so critically depressing and embarrassing that it’s tough to really think about without getting sad.

Called Developmental Coordination Disorder in America, dyspraxia is kind of like having physical dyslexia, affecting your fine and motor skills and making a lot of things that are very easy for most people (catching a ball, tying your shoelaces, shaving, riding a bike) either very difficult or impossible.

I want to stop you there for a second in case you’re thinking “ah, I have trouble with things, maybe I’m dyspraxic,” for the same reason that I stop people when they say that with ADHD. I physically trip over my feet sometimes. It just happens. I can’t catch a ball deliberately (however, I sometimes make these incredible-looking catches). I really can’t write properly - it took about 5 years of occupational therapy to get my handwriting to the point it was readable. I can’t even hold a pen properly. I can barely drive, and it took about 4 different instructors to work out how. I can’t really organize myself in any way that makes sense to anyone but me, and have genuinely hired people to work with me that can understand the vague and confusing way I work, and constantly apologize for it. I find lifting really difficult - I can’t do it at a gym, because I’m paranoid my form is wrong, and I am so self conscious about how I look that someone correcting my form just makes me feel bad, so I just don’t do it. That, and I can’t rely on myself to remember what good looks or feels like.

In general, I’m scared of lifting up heavy things not because of the weight, but because of the fact I know that at random my hand just won’t quite sit right and I’ll drop it. I can’t really find things, I have trouble following constantly-moving things, and my spatial awareness is such that I will, at times, simply walk into things. You may ask “hey, why didn’t you see that?” and the answer is “I do not know, and I did not see it.” I get overwhelmed by too much information, and regularly have to fight an instinct to entirely shut down and stop absorbing anything.

It was great in high school, too, because the school I went to in Hammersmith, London was entirely intolerant of anyone atypical, thus when I didn’t get something I was, well, just stupid. That was it. The occasional teacher realized I’d likely not understood some very specific systemic thing and I’d instantly improve, but that was rare. I wonder sometimes how much education I was robbed of by Latymer’s steadfast dedication at the time to leaving any child behind that wasn’t an easy A.

Combine this with the comorbidities of ADHD and you have a thorough mess of a person, and I feel like I’ve spent years of my life simply mitigating the issues I have existing. The good news is that I have sublimated a lot of these issues and thus, on being medicated for ADHD (about 9 years ago) I found I had created an alarming amount of coping strategies - endless cloud-based notes, systems that automate tasks that I’d largely forget, using my Chief of Staff as a living, breathing to do list,  and making it so that any thing that required me to do something regularly was organized in such a way that I could just plug in and lose focus without a ton of setup. Hell, I think an advantage of it all is that I am overprepared for faults I may have and understand the patterns I go through and thus prepare for them. It’s why I do what I can to digitize everything - I can find stuff on a computer.

Hence why I like Lumi for learning piano, Peloton for working out, and so on. It’s not that I am lazy - I wish! I can mitigate laziness! I do it all the time! - it’s that if I have to physically mess with a bunch of stuff to do something and have to self-direct when it comes to the execution of learning something new, it’s generally extremely difficult. I can do it, but if it’s something that I don’t have to do for money or my family, I will find it very tough to actually pull it off. I get very frustrated when I have to do something organizationally onerous, angry at myself that where others can simply go I am stopped.

The only good side to this is that I have learned how to use spite as a fuel for years, because I have been told that I am stupid since I was 11. I have had teachers and students call me stupid because I found it physically difficult to write an essay, and had the same teachers claim I was cheating when I was able to articulate intelligent thoughts via a keyboard. I think I’ve been called that word beginning with R maybe 150 times in my life, and a few times by people close to me (at the time), and just got used to kind of feeling like I was stupid. To this day, I run a successful PR company, and yet still find myself regularly just feeling dumb.

No matter how successful I may be, I know that stuff like getting up a ladder or putting something together or finding something is going to be incredibly difficult. My kid’s going to learn how to ride a bike or change a tire from someone else, because in both cases I ended up injured when I tried. It’s heartbreaking to think of.

And yet I still run a company and do well because I’ve got so used to creating environments for me to be able to work in that I’ve become extremely good at very specific things, like typing (do not ask me how I know how to type well, it doesn’t make sense to me), or cycling (I can do it because I have a set amount of time that I have to do it for, and I don’t have to worry if I’m doing it right as they constantly instruct you and it’s all numerical), or pitching the media (I know how the systems work and how to learn what goes into them), or whatever I have to do that I do all day every day. Repetition is the only thing that makes something stick.

But I spend a lot of time feeling deficient - like an incomplete person that will, on some level, always kind of look at other people’s experience in the world and know that they’re not able to participate. The numerous things that most people consider just a thing you can do or have the ability to do are not an option for me, which sucks, but you live with it. Thankfully I grew up with extremely patient and loving parents - people who understood and got me help to make sure I could at least have a semi-level playing field (do not make me level anything, I can’t do it)

This is all very maudlin, and I’m fine, I’ll be just fine, I have a great life, but I have wanted to write about this a while and it finally worked on a page. I am lucky enough that we live in a technological society where I’ve been able to graft apps and software around myself, and luckily grown up with the support to make sure that I could find a way around the deficiencies I had and have. I get scared that being vulnerable with this stuff makes me seem less valuable and less human, and in some cases I’ve been proven right - there are some who just assume I’m stupid and lazy. Which…whatever, fine, if you don’t care enough that’s your deal. It does feel like shit to continually feel like you’re letting everyone around you down, though, and I doubt I’ll ever shake that.

This feels embarrassing to write, and I’ve fought the urge to delete it several times. But here it is, in your inbox.

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