So now I’m searching every aspect of my personality for evidence of ADD. How about this one?
When I developed an eating disorder, I became very anti-social. It was an enormous relief, which surprised me, given how highly I prize friendship. It was a return to nature, a rewilding, because I’ve always been rubbish at relationships. I didn’t realise this: I wasn’t aware that there were alternative ways of being and I thought everyone experienced things as I did.
Thinking about it, I’ve always floundered across those dance floors, making heavy weather of the simplest interactions, while (some) other dancers move around me with ease and grace. (Though, God knows, there are a lot of flat-footed bastards out there.)
Every conversation is a nightmare of frantic improvisation. I’m out of my depth and comfort zone, so I gabble. I fill the space between us with words, because I want to relate to people, and that’s how it’s done: by talking, right?
Any time somebody volunteers some information about themselves, I try to show interest and engagement by responding. I talk. I take over the conversation. I witter on until their attention wanders. I’m doing it because I’m trying to connect. I’m trying to talk my way into a connection, because all I can offer is my words.
It has the opposite effect.
This might be a link to attention deficit disordered behaviours: if I was calm and centred, I could foster some wonderful stories. As it is, I’m filled with an almost anguished pressure to speak. My unspoken words seem to be stifling me until I can get them out. Then they smother everybody else’s. It’s impulsive.
For example, my next-door neighbour revealed that his family was Irish. His grandfather had Anglicised his surname to avoid prejudice when he’d first arrived in Britain to work in armament factories in the Second World War. I didn’t coax the details out – did he feel Irish? What did he think was the cause of his grandad’s sense of persecution? Instead, I matched it with a similar story about one of Jo’s friends. Both are excellent stories, but I’d taken over, and couldn’t get back to next-door’s one. We’d only passed on the street. It was time to go.
I have a new friend at work. He arrived in Britain as an asylum-seeking child. He showed me a poem he’d been given by a well-meaning colleague. It was clever piece of writing which, read forwards, expressed a fear and suspicion of immigrants, but read from bottom to top explained the importance of embracing people who come to you in need. My friend said it was good, but, as an asylum seeker himself, he felt it was a little obvious, a little Anglo-centric, perhaps. He wondered if he was being reduced to a type, rather than being regarded as an individual.
Instead of encouraging him to explore this idea, I rushed in to respond supportively. I said, “I see what you mean. We’ve all heard these sentiments before, haven’t we? The poet knows it’s the pious position to take and bla bla bla and bleurgh, and on and on” until I noticed that his eyes had glazed over. Then I tried to haul on the reins and, swerving violently back towards him, I said “so, is that what you found?” but at that point all there was left for him to say was, “Yeah, I guess…”
Today he told me he was reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I told him I hadn’t read it, but I had read The Trial. Then I told him a lot of stuff about The Trial. That was effectively the end of the conversation. I didn’t learn much about Metamorphosis, or my friend’s thoughts on it, other than that he liked the simplicity of the prose.
 He’d started going out with a Jewish girl at university, at which point his grandfather told him that his whole paternal family was Ashkenazi German Jewish. They’d escaped the Holocaust and had tried to totally obliterate their Jewish heritage in case it happened again!