Level-Up. Life before Law School. Walking with ADHD and God.

I firmly believe that God put me in law school. It was a call that I heard for years. “Go to law school.”

Doctors and Lawyers had the highest education level I knew of, and I LOVED learning! But doctors had to deal with blood, and as you’ll soon read, blood and I don’t have the greatest relationship. But lawyers got to deal with books. Lots of books. And I loved books.

Books were in my blood, and their words spoke to my soul before I could even read them. I remember as a young child I found an old hardcover copy of a textbook for shorthand. I carried that around for a year, like a security blanket. I still remember the faded yellow cover, and the odd scribbles, interspersed among what I recognized as real letters. This strange book could mean anything I wanted it to mean. And I gave it the deepest meaning I could.

I remember sitting with that book, flipping through the pages, “reading” it. I pretended the book was my diary, and that God was the only other one who could read it. This book looked nothing like the large black leather covered Bible in my parent’s closet. But I found God in those words. I found Him in those random scribbles that could mean anything. And I found him in the spaces between the words where they could mean nothing and anything all the same. I couldn’t read the Bible yet, and I couldn’t even read this yellow book with the funny scribbles in it, but I found God there.

He was my imaginary friend. (And he was a creepy dude in a suit who hid in the linen closet of our bathroom- but that’s the other story about me and God. You can read that here. I talked to God all the time. He talked to me. And together, he and I had a plan. The best thing, was, God isn’t the kind of imaginary friend that only kids have. And I knew that. God was a completely acceptable imaginary friend for grown-ups too. So God would go to law school with me.

As far back as I can remember remembering, I had my whole future planned out. Without question, I would attend Kindergarten, then Elementary, then Middle School, then High School, then College, then Law School. Without question, I would be a top student, excelling beyond my classmates in every endeavor. Without question, God would be there. The two of us, invisible. But I’d be seeing him, and he’d be seeing me- in books. And in the spaces between the books, that is where we would remain invisible but know each other.

Learning was life to me. Formal education was almost like a video game to me. But they depended on each other. I had to complete each level of formal learning, or my life would be over. Level up. Or die.

In early elementary school I used to sit in the classroom, lost in a secret little game-world of perfection. I loved learning, but formal education was agonizing to me. Sitting there, going at the pace the rest of the class took; it made my blood feel hungry. Like it had to all crawl out of my veins and out of my skin if I didn’t feed it. Like my blood was filled with blank pages, and I couldn’t keep it in my veins if I wasn’t feeding it words. I had to be constantly consuming information or my blood would crawl out of my skin and I would bleed out everywhere.

I secretly knew the answers to every question the teacher asked. I could read well ahead of the class in all the books. I usually had a second book or two that I would read, to keep myself occupied as the teacher had to keep the pace. I always finished tests and quizzes well ahead of anyone else. I would sit quietly, pretending to continue working, until others stood to turn in their papers before me. I was invisible, playing a game of perfection against myself, and the others. It felt like being alone and winning my game was the only way I could sit there in that classroom and not explode.

I even had a real classroom set up in the living room. I had an old desk with a globe,  a stack of papers, pens, crayons, and even a set of old encyclopedias. I read that entire set too, A-Z. Except P. The P book was missing. I would go home from school and play pretend school for hours on end. I’d read and re-read, and write and re-write. I assigned myself book reports and memorized the states and the capitals and the state birds. I had to know everything. My blood only did that weird thing at school.

The thing about elementary school that I remember the most though, is the need to remain invisible. I had to stay invisible or they’d know my blood was doing that weird thing. They would know I was a freak. And they wouldn’t understand. Plus if my blood actually crawled out of my skin it would be a terrible mess. I once vomited in front of the whole class. It was so embarrassing! Bleeding out was just not an option.

And then everything changed. I made it through elementary school. Level up.

It was the first week of Middle School. I remember the terrible, sinking feeling I got when the new kid raised his hand before me, and had the right answer. Then he finished a quiz, and even confidently stood to turn in his paper, just before I had finished. And that’s when I was done. I wasn’t winning my game. I wasn’t the invisible smartest kid anymore. I was suddenly just the invisible kid. And there was now a very visible, very smart kid -winning my game.

If I wasn’t going to win, I had to give up. I stopped the little competition in my head. I wasn’t prepared to be second best. Even if it was only in my head. The fun was over. It didn’t matter if I did the paper, or the homework, if it wasn’t going to be both perfect AND better than everyone else then it wasn’t worth my time. My hungry, crawling blood couldn’t stand mediocrity. It still needed something to feed on. I lost the words for it, and I lost the understanding that God and I had. I wrestled through middle school confused, and unsure of who I would be if I wasn’t a book. It was hard and uncomfortable. My blood grew thick and slow, it stopped needing to be fed but I was too distracted to even notice if it was hungry. I don’t even remember most of it.

And, as it tends to, the world put a damper on my dreams. And slowly, my imaginary, invisible friend, God, seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle too. I stopped seeing him in the words. He was SO invisible then. And sometimes I forgot that he could be felt in the spaces between the words. I stopped feeling words all together sometimes. I would read, but the words didn’t feed my blood. I felt like my thick and slow blood could no longer be moved by words but that it could somehow be measured by time or distance. I started counting.

60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 7 hours in a school day, 5 days in a week. 9 weeks in a marking period. That’s one million, one hundred and thirty four thousand seconds in a marking period. 27 ceiling tiles in the science room. 136 bleachers in the gymnasium. 73 squares of flooring between my homeroom and where my crush had homeroom. I don’t know if those are the real numbers but I remember counting a lot. It sounds crazy, but it kept me from going crazy. And I made it.

And then everything changed. I had completed Middle School. Level up.

I was now a Jr. High Student. That is when I learned the fine art of procrastination. This was a new game. A game of doing my own thing in ways that I could keep the crawling blood feeling at bay, and do just enough of the formal education things to keep up. Just enough to stay invisible. This balancing act was my new challenge. My blood liked it.

“Do it well, or not at all.” That was a motto I lived by. And even though independent learning and reading were still my favorite hobbies, following curriculum and hitting deadlines were not my thing. “Not at all,” became the default setting for anything assigned or expected from me. There is a strange rush when you’re disobeying norms, or breaking rules. A failure rush. Failure rush is like the direct opposite of winning rush.

Intentional failure though, that’s like a rush that you’re winning at failing. It’s a no-win game, a zero sum. But my blood didn’t care whether the food was positive or negative, or zero. The rush of failing kept it just as happy as the rush of winning did. Failing was a lot less work. And intentional failing was a lot more fun. Somehow, I got through.

And everything changed. I had completed Jr. High. Level up.

High School. My grades plummeted. If I wasn’t doing awesome it wasn’t worth doing. I was failing, and I didn’t really see the point of continuing, because, why bother? Do it well or not at all, right? The ultimate intentional failure is to quit outright. That would be the secret tunnel that would allow me to win this video game of formal education.

And then everything changed. I was offered an opportunity to duel-enroll. I was able to take college courses in place of high school courses. This allowed my day to be broken up between high school, college, work, and commutes. My crawling blood loved the novelty in my schedule! I loved that I could now be a new kid, and my silent genius brain started up again. I also learned to calculate my GPA, and match it with my attendance points and the weighted assignments combined with the college classes weight against my high school GPA, so I knew right away what days I could skip and what assignments would be useless. I knew what classes I needed to go to and what ones I didn’t. Then I used the in-school suspension time (that was supposed to be disciplinary) to complete my assignments without the distraction of a teacher lecturing in a classroom. I aced my college courses, balanced my way through skipping and skirting around my high school courses, and I ended up graduating high school in the top third of the class. All while still remaining invisible.

By now, the invisible God I had found in books had been totally replaced by my invisible self. It was like the words moved out of my blood and into my head. I couldn’t feel them anymore. But I could hear them. The words in my head grew more and more powerful. “Only smart kids go to law school.” The only way to prove I was smart was with grades. I didn’t have those. I wasn’t going to let my secret out now. It was too late. And without grades, I also wasn’t getting scholarships. “Only rich kids or scholarship-worthy prodigies go to law school.” I wasn’t valedictorian, I wasn’t athletic, and my musical gift (which I also kept hidden from the world) had only led me to a “musician’s lifestyle” of smoking pot and drinking tequila in people’s garages. Not exactly law school material. (Or, so I thought- Now I know, many lawyers are actually some pretty garage band-ish kind of people.) My blood still did that thing sometimes, but mostly now the words in my head were making me feel like something was missing. And it felt like it was something I couldn’t fill with words.

And then everything changed. I was now a High School Graduate. Level up.

I was a College Student. I was a cashier, a bartender, a waitress. I had various jobs, even sometimes all at the same time- but never for any length of time. That agonizing feeling of my blood needing to crawl out of my skin returned. Like it needed to be somewhere, anywhere but there. I couldn’t stand it. So I would change jobs, change schedules, skip classes, call in sick to work, and self-medicate. My books and words became drugs and alcohol.

Then it would get thick again, and sometimes it felt fizzy. I’d get lost for hours in mundane tasks so I could forget the distraction of my blood touching the inside of my veins.

But I kept trying to play school. Every semester of my early college years was like a new game to me. I’d start strong, then something would happen. I’d get sick, or miss an important test, or start a new job that conflicted with my class schedule or work load. I’d either quit a job, or drop out or fail out of school, using the delicate balancing act I had learned as my tool to chose what risky intentional failure I wanted to pick. Then; Reset the machine, pull the cartridge out, blow on it, put it back in, and repeat. I had to keep playing. Levels were the only reason I could think of to live. I was a dedicated gamer.

The problem was, that society didn’t see it that way. I wasn’t a dedicated gamer to them, I was a repeat college drop-out and I was continually failing. This led to academic probation, financial aid probation, and a narrow miss of district court probation.

The fail-outs, drop-outs, and night-outs were riddled with do-overs and hang-overs. I had full-time jobs and part-time jobs and inside jobs and outside jobs. I had over 40 employers in about a 10 year span. Like the GPA game, I learned how to balance sick days and vacation days with planned time off requests and still make enough money to pay my rent. But nothing more.

I kept putting that game cartridge back in the machine though, and somehow, I made it through my bachelor’a degree. Even though I had actually, probably, failed and dropped more classes than I had passed. I got through college.

And everything changed. I was now a college graduate. Level up. The next step was law school. But I was as far away from law school as humanly possible.

And it was clear to me that I could not function in a conventional world of academia, or employment.

My brain was too restless, my inner drive was too strong. I knew I was unable to let a work schedule or a paycheck be my reason for living. But leveling up- law school would be my last level. What happens when you finish a video game? You beat the levels. It’s just like finishing a good book. You turn it off. You close the cover. You go get some food. You walk around dazed, unsure what to do without that mission.

I could either keep playing the game, or just walk away from it.

I had sporadic academic records, poor finances, an insane collection of low-level job titles, a slight criminal history, and blood that is weird and sometimes flowed fizzy and sometimes flowed thick, and sometimes wanted to just flow right out of my body, and sometimes wanted to just stop flowing all together. This level would be impossible. I was defeated. The game won.

And then everything changed. I was a law school candidate. A secret level! A level between the words. An invisible place I couldn’t see! It was God. I could feel his words, I could see him in the spaces.

God plucked me out from behind the smoky, dingy, sticky bar where I worked and showed me how to go to law school.

My grades? Forgiven. My finances? Forgiven. My tendency to procrastinate? Forgiven. And actually, procrastination turned out to be a valuable skill in law school. My past encounters with drugs and alcohol? Forgiven. And also valuable. Turns out, a lot of law students are raging alcoholics and cocaine is rampant in law school. That boat was long gone in my life. Been there done that.

Law school was exactly what I needed and where I needed to be at the time. My love of preparing for and taking tests? Law School. My love of reading and writing? Law School. My love of independent learning? Law School.

I was made for law school.

God gave me law school. It was like he made law school specifically for me. And then he footed the bill! I got a full ride scholarship. He gave me law school, made me perfect for it, and when it was over, it was over.

And everything changed. Game over. Power down. Close the book. Now what?


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