I’ve been working in Tech for the last 20 or so years. I would say my fascination started when I was a kid (10–11) and I had to install my first PC game in MS-DOS. I had nobody around who could instruct me but I found a manual and started reading. Eventually I was able to install it on the family PC and I became a super l33t h4x0r over night (… not quite).
This trend of reading computer manuals stuck and I eventually had a large bag of computer manuals I had collected and read. Despite this interest I couldn’t pay attention in school and averaged a D grade (fail) for most of my classes (except those involving computers). My parents were rightly concerned and had me evaluated. The determination was that I “did not have ADHD but there was definitely something wrong”.
Most children are born with one side of the brain more dominant, and on that side, related components are grouped. For example, you might have the sections that handle input from the eyes and ears close so that they can both be used for rapid learning/processing. In my case, there doesn’t seem to have been a clear winner so I ended up cross-dominant (aka mixed-handed or cross lateral). This means that while most people are clearly right handed and some are left, I am not completely one or the other.
- I can write with my left hand while using a mouse with my right.
- I throw a ball with my right hand.
- I see more clearly through my right eye.
- I hear more clearly through my left ear.
- My right leg is stronger than my left.
These would all indicate that the components are not closely related which lead to a learning difficulty and an auditory processing delay. Still to this day I struggle to understand people when they are talking to me, I have to put a lot of energy into paying attention and in complete honesty, I get so tired after about 15 minutes. This gets really hard when I’m leading a meeting or having an important discussion where I have to concentrate at all times.
Fidgeting seems to be a coping mechanism for people who struggle with focus. Since I learned to touch-type I’ve started typing whatever I’m thinking at the time as if my fingers were at keyboard even though they may just be resting on my chest as I’m trying to fall asleep. I always have to be moving, fidgeting, and it doesn’t ever stop (not sure how my wife hasn’t murdered me). If you think you’ve seen me standing or sitting still, I can tell you that what you couldn’t see was my fingers “typing” on my legs, or my toes moving in my shoes while we were talking. I had a habit at one point of toggling caps lock (real or imaginary) on and off every three words (just cos?) but it was impacting my typing speed too much so I trained myself out of it.
However, I digress (surprise surprise).When I was 13 I made friends with a bunch of fellow computer nerds and we bounced ideas off each other for the next few years. We all become more proficient in networking, coding, and how computers physically worked. This was when I started building and repairing PCs for friends and family.
By 18 I had moved around a bit, dropped out of high school, sold all my possessions and moved from Brisbane, QLD to Melbourne, VIC to be back with my nerdy friends. I had also started working in a computer repair shop.
I had horrible (crippling) anxiety around this time (later diagnosed as Social Anxiety Disorder and minor Obsessive Compulsive). I wasn’t able to look anyone in the eye and took years of training to overcome this. One thing I learned is that people will not trust you if you avoid eye contact all of the time. Despite being technically good at my job I was eventually let go and became reclusive; only leaving for shopping.
As time went on I learnt to embrace my technical obsessions as they came along and they enabled me to learn far more than I would have otherwise. I started to excel at my work and received many promotions (humble brag). With each opportunity I would challenge myself harder and the more stressed I got, the harder time I had paying attention. I also tend to avoid/ignore things that get too stressful which is obviously unacceptable in a professional environment and is something I’m working on.
Despite how much trouble I have, I love my weird brain! Often I will struggle to maintain focus but if I’m interested, I can hyper-focus. I can work from 6:30am until 11pm and then do it all again the next day, and the next. My wife can tell when I’m manic with enthusiasm because I will be rocking back and forwards in my chair rapidly. When she see this she always gives me a hug and asks me what I need which is I think the sweetest thing anyone can do for someone else.
This obsessive nature has its own set of problems though:
- Scope creep is bad for me. This occurs when you set out to do something but then realise, “oh this would be better if it had this extra little thing to it”, and repeat that in a loop 30 times until you get nothing done. To manage this I keep my goals on Post-It notes or in journal so that I am constantly being reminded of the primary goals.
- Financially, having an obsessive nature leads to impulse spending. This has been painful over the years and I’ve had to learn ways to restrict it. I now have a two week rule: “I must want something consistently for at least two weeks before I am allowed to buy it”.
- Collecting hobbies distracts from my actual goals and leads to exhaustion. Learning one hobby, moving onto the next is a real frustration but I’ve gotten better in recent years at telling myself “I think you’re doing enough right now, give it six months and we’ll come back to it”.
I’m currently trying to get help, I’m trying to see a specialist to get finally re-evaluated and find the support I need to be effective and healthy. Months of waiting to see someone is frustrating but seems a necessary evil.
I’m just explaining this to get my thoughts out there and to do my part to remove the stigma associated with learning difficulties. If you have similar situations I’d love to hear about them.