Love and Attention

I recently came across a description of a scene from a movie I have not seen – Ladybird.

The scene description goes like this:

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.

“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.

“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.

The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.

I really want to like this. I do. I even want to believe it – that the things we pay attention to are the things we love. And it may even be true – if you happen to be neurotypical. But I’m not.

And because I’m not, my attention is not rationed out in proportion to my love for things, but in a haphazard spray of chaos, driven by random neurons in my brain that follow their own path. As a result, there are people I passionately care for and would die for that I routinely neglect to call or text, and instead find myself reading articles or watching YouTube videos from someone whose ideas I abhor.

No, ideas like this – that love is attention – just make room for more shame in my already shame-filled mind, one that makes me convinced that my brain sabotages all that is good in my life, that is secretly convinced the teacher in 8th grade that said my diagnosis wasn’t real and was just an excuse to not pay attention in math class was right, that my absolute inability to focus on things that do not interest me is just my own inherent laziness and that, if I wanted to, I could keep my checkbook balanced, my tires rotated on schedule, and never miss a deadline, no matter how arbitrary.

Of course, my rational mind knows that none of these things are true.

My ADHD means I work harder and more than most folks to do seemingly ordinary tasks, not less. What’s more, my ADHD brings gifts that make some things in my life possible that neurotypical people struggle with. If you are neurotypical, I guarantee you I can out imagine you, I can come up with more out-of-the-box ideas than you, I can learn in ways you cannot, and I see things that are invisible to you.

I have super-powers of which you can only dream.

What I probably can’t do, at least in ways you recognize, is pay attention to you. At least, not without some help.

So I set notifications on my calendar so I remember to text people that matter to me.

Other attention=love hacks:

  • I have a list of people on Facebook, so theoretically I see the things those people post more often, and these are people I just default “like” everything they post. If my friend J, with whom I was in love with in elementary school, posted her favorite recipe for a bowl of Cheerios, I am going to *like* that thing. Because in our social media driven world, things like that show we are paying attention, and she is one of the people in this world I love, even if I have not seen her in years. (Actually, there are two women whose name starts with J who fit in this category, and I love them both dearly, so if you are reading this, J, yes, I mean you).
  • Set up a Google alert for their name or company.
  • Find out their birthday and put a reminder in your calendar app.
  • Set an appointment time in your calendar, and during that hour, text or message everyone you can think of you love.
  • Set standing dates: For 8 years I had a weekly lunch date with a friend. I miss that a lot.
  • Have a “drop everything” rule: When someone you love pops in your mind, give yourself permission to drop whatever you are working on and text or call them.

There are more, but you get the point – if you have a brain like mine, you have to remind yourself to pay attention to the people you love.

Not because you need it, but because they do.

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