My journey with ADHD, and how I’m learning to cope with it
Twenty-five. That was the number of missing assignments I had by the end of my sophomore year. A mountain of homework, quizzes, and unit notes. “I’m just lazy,” I would always tell myself.
Finally, I decided to take a weekend to sit down and get it all done. But as I opened my history book, and turned those glossy pages to the right chapter, I froze. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t make out the words.
I could read them perfectly fine, but their meanings jumbled together in my mind, creating a scrambled mess of letters and concepts. It felt as if focusing on my homework was like holding my breath, and the more I tried, the more winded I became. Frustration grew in me like a virus, corrupting my mind and overriding my senses.
It wasn’t long before that frustration became sadness. I felt so stupid, so lazy, not even being able to get a single one of my assignments done. I imagined the disappointment in my parents’ eyes, those resigned words, “It’s alright, let’s just work a little harder next year.”
When the year had ended, I chalked it all up to being an unfortunate outcome of distance learning, and called it a day. But as the next year rolled around, I found this couldn’t be further from the truth.
At the beginning of the year, things were going great. I discovered my love of physics, and found myself able to pay attention to the whole lecture; a notion that was beyond refreshing. Of course, I ignored my lack of attention in the rest of my classes, but hey, as long as I was getting an A, right?
But it didn’t take long for things to start going downhill. It was just another day: staring off into space for the entirety of my history lecture, then thinking 1000 miles a minute in my physics class.
My next class was Pre-Calculus. Nothing crazy, just a unit test, something we take almost every other week.
But when the time came to answer the questions, my mind went blank. All focus seemed to leave my body, as I clawed at it with desperate arms. I stared at that paper for hours, trying to make sense of the words and numbers that didn’t seem to have any meaning.
Finally, the bell rang, and with my head down, I turned the test in, with only 4 out of 12 questions answered. It was only then that I finally pieced together that something was wrong. It wasn’t laziness, or stupidity, but something else entirely.
Since that day, I had been working for months with counselors, doctors, and my parents to find a solution. However, it was only a few weeks ago that I was finally diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
The diagnosis brought about mixed emotions. I had an idea of ADHD in my mind; those kids who were bouncing off the walls in elementary school, completely unable to keep their mouths shut. But that wasn’t me at all. In elementary school I was quiet when I needed to be, and a complete teacher’s pet (in other words, an entitled know-it-all).
I’ve always earned good grades, and behaved well in class. But then it occured to me. I’ve almost never paid attention in class.
In the thirteen years I’ve been in school, I’ve hardly ever paid attention to lectures, videos, or instruction. But I’ve always gotten away with it. I’ve spent my years looking at the notes after class, teaching myself all I ever needed to know. I’ve always done my homework right before it was due, rushing to get it done before the teacher came to collect it.
But now, as a junior in high school, getting away with it all has become an increasingly impossible battle; a battle in which I am beyond ready to lay down my sword.
But getting diagnosed brought something I wasn’t expecting: validation. My entire life I thought I was lazy, stupid, and entirely incompetent. But now I know that I’m not. I just have a different brain than other people.
But having a diagnosis doesn’t mean my struggles are over. Even though I now have an official diagnosis, it is too late in the year to get a 504. For those who don’t know, a 504 is a program designed to provide accommodations for students with learning disabilities, for example: taking a test in a different classroom to take away distractions, or short breaks in between classwork. But without one, I’m forced to continue with my classes as normal. And between finding the right mix of medication and coping mechanisms that work for me, “normal” is simply not attainable.
Some people ask what it is like having ADHD. Think of it this way: have you ever left to go get something, and by the time you get to where you’re going, you completely forgot what you went there to get? Well it’s like that… but, all the time. It’s like having thirty-nine tabs open in your own mind, everything around you infinitely more interesting than what you’re supposed to be focusing on. (Keep in mind ADHD is different for everyone, so my description may not match someone else’s)
But that’s not to say ADHD doesn’t have its benefits. Many people with ADHD do what’s called “hyperfocus,” which essentially is an intense and deep concentration on a certain task or subject. But what I hyperfocus on is always random. That’s why I’ve become an expert on cosmology, a decent painter, a respectable chess player, and one hell of a chef. It’s like having my own personal side quests; mastering skills that may not be at all relevant to the main storyline of my life, but brings me joy and accomplishment nonetheless.
Ever since quarantine, I’ve made it a mission to advocate for mental health awareness. And this time, I wanted to share my story. And for those of you out there with ADHD just know, you aren’t broken, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. And if there is one thing I can take away from my experience with ADHD, is there are always people around you who want to help, something I will be forever grateful for.