How I didn't become a professional bassoonist

Someone in my ADHD forum brought up the topic of ADHD and intelligence and/or doing well in school. My answer got pretty drawn out so I thought I might want to say some things about it here too. Because it is true, smart kids with ADHD fall under the radar of psychologists, teachers, parents. In my experience, a lot of us only get diagnosed much later in life, once we have reached the limits of our coping mechanisms.

I too did really well in school - albeit not socially - and graduated with honours from a school for gifted children. I never had to study for languages, and even in my weak subjects - that would be anything math or science or, well, boring (hello, geography!) - I got by with as little studying as possible and I got by pretty fine.

I played the piano first, then the bassoon. My teachers were tearing at their hair because there was this really talented girl who yet consistently resisted improvement by practice. I hated practicing. I just wanted to play. I'd show up at my teacher's house, grudgingly admitting the lack of practice I'd gotten in during the week past. So we'd just play for fun, duets, because he was a pretty awesome teacher who chose not to berate me for my lack of commitment. But he'd ring his hands in despair every single time because I played well and "imagine how well you'd play if you'd practice," he said. Eventually, the prospect of practicing six hours daily was what made me veer of the professional path - that and it would've meant giving up a lot of other things I loved, like writing. Unfortunately, I stopped playing the bassoon pretty much entirely once I quit school. Everything else had become so much to handle.

In retrospect I realise that graduating was a shock for me, because after school there was no system keeping me in place anymore. I spent two years in regular university, sleeping in, going out, studying whatever caught my fancy. I had a hard time concentrating during lectures and got the most miserable marks of my life. Hell, I cheated on exams I never would've dreamt of cheating on. It's not that I wasn't interested. I just couldn't concentrate either in class or on studying at home. Plus, a lot of university things come in the form of aural input which is simply a disaster for me. Does. Not. Stick.

I switched to a University of Applied Sciences which had more structure, and that eventually got me through to my diploma (a "Magister", which is comparable to something between a BA and and MA) in 4.5 years. Again, horrific marks! And quite a bit of... well... I'm not proud of it.

My therapist told me that in an ironic way my considerably high intelligence completely fucked with my chances of getting diagnosed with ADHD. And I tend to agree, I probably still wouldn't have cracked if my dad hadn't died. I'd still be muddling along at the edge of burn-out and depression, feeling like a failure most days of the week but always scraping by somehow. Usually by the skin of my teeth.

It's not that intelligent people don't have ADHD, it's just that no one notices with us. Under the radar, through the cracks. What teachers, parents, psychologists see is that these people "could do so much better" at anything they do "if they only tried harder". No one has an inkling - least of all the affected themselves - that they're already trying pretty fucking hard, harder than anyone else. It's exhausting and it leads nothing but complete and utter exhaustion, the one that makes you feel like an empty husk.

The funny thing is, had I gotten my diagnosis earlier, maybe when I was still in school, I'd probably be a musician now, sitting in an orchestra with my bassoon, blending in with the crowd. Or maybe I would've been a soloist. Either way I'm sort of happy I'm not. I'm quite content with where the drama of remaining undiagnosed has led me; to writing and telling stories. It didn't cut music out of my life, but going with music might have kept me from writing. And if I pick my bassoon up today I can still play it. I'd just have to practice a bit.


  1. Thanks for sharing this post. A good story told well. Back in school I was a smart kid with dyslexia that flew under the radar too. What you said about coping strategies is so true, in my case this mainly involved cheating! Couldn't read a book properly... couldn't spell, couldn't mental maths, but other stuff... no problem. Glad you chose writing over the bassoon so we could all enjoy this post.

  2. I think it would be so fucking fun to tell people that I was a bassoonist. I just like the way it trips off the tongue.

  3. @Med I could give classes in cheating ;D

    Hey Maria, if you think that trips off the tongue funny you should try saying "I'm a blower" ;)