My Life with ADHD

Submitted by H.

This is the story of my ADHD.

I say MY ADHD for two reasons. The first is that I don’t just have ADHD. The second is that there are so many variables that make each person’s experience with ADHD a unique experience. I know it sounds like the kind of fortune cookie bullshit that goes on people’s selfies right below the boobs, but don’t worry, I’ll actually explain that too (the thing that isn’t about the boobs).

If you’re diagnosed with ADHD and you read this, and you can somehow relate to my experiences, that’s wonderful.

But that’s not why I’m not writing this article.

Everyone, including myself, has their preconceived notions from what they’ve heard and experienced about ADHD. Some are accurate and some are so full of shit, it could clog the Grand Canyon.

For better or worse, we’re all more aware of ADHD now. Allowing a child who (actually) has ADHD a chance to learn what they need to with some services (and medication, if necessary) is always a good thing.

On the other hand, there are also parents who use ADHD as an excuse for why their son got mad at his teacher for correcting his spelling to the point that he punches the teacher even though the child has made zero improvements with their medication (side note: shit like that is why I can’t blame people who think ADHD is bullshit).

The point is, most kids get diagnosed with ADHD during their elementary school years. My story is a little different. When I was nineteen, I got kicked out of college for failing my classes. After a visit to the neurologist (and a psychiatrist for a second opinion), I learned that I had ADHD.

The big shock wasn’t my diagnosis, but rather my experience from taking my first medication. For the first time in my life, I read a paragraph in a book and understood what the hell it meant. That’s when it occurred to me that I somehow managed to graduate from high school (a specialized one) without ever knowing how to read (for comprehension).

When I was young, my mother and grandmother had high hopes for me, as with most parents who immigrated from where we did. But it wasn’t just our culture. I inadvertently did a few things to raise their expectations even more. At age five I multiplied up to ten mentally. If you told me a date (regardless of month, day or year), I could tell you what date it was without using a paper or a calendar (I figured out the formula in my head without anyone ever having to tell me). During that time, I had subway and road maps of Queens & Manhattan memorized in my head and helped my mom get to and from places I’ve never been to myself. My family assumed that this would translate to excellent school performance (which mattered to them the most at the time), but instead, they got suggestions to refer me to special education.

My teachers said I didn’t listen, was easily distracted, extremely disorganized and a bunch of other things that aren’t part of ADHD. While I can go all day about how special education is not a bad thing, you can’t blame how upset my family was. Especially when they came from a country where psychology barely exists AND considering the fact that occurred back at the time when kids were just put into self-contained classes (even nowadays, they got a 4% HS graduation rate in NYC). My mother refused the school’s recommendations.

As I got older, my troubles were mainly understanding what the hell I was reading and staying organized. As a result, the school stopped “suggesting” special education for me. I never actually read a chapter from start to finish, let alone a book. I just skipped pages, skipped lines, looked at bold words and tried to memorize their definitions, went on Sparknotes and paid attention in class. Paid attention? No, that’s not a typo. That was my plan back in the day and it’s also what got me to pass half my classes in high school. What about the other half? Well I either failed them or multiple choice tests somehow saved me.

Back then there was no Common Core, so there was no need to explain the process. For the most part, I just had to bubble in the right answer. As I mentioned earlier, patterns always came naturally to me so that helped me eliminate the wrong answer based on whatever I was actually able to pick up from class. For classes where I picked up absolutely nothing, I used the person next to me. Back in high school I was noticeably overweight, so nobody suspected anything if I appeared tired and leaned on my hand. Of course teachers would try to give us alternate test forms so we wouldn’t be able to copy, but one quick glance of people flipping the page was enough for me to tell that Form A’s question 1-25 was Form B’s questions 26-50 or vice versa and whether the choices were in the same order. It was like playing Metal Gear Solid and a Rubiks cube at the same time.

Wouldn’t it have been simpler had I just studied? Only if I actually understood what I was reading. Because of this, I was the kid who did well on tests but didn’t do as well in class because I dozed off. To my family, this translated as lazy.

This shit did not fly in college.

I went to a college where even people without ADHD had trouble understanding what the fuck their professors were trying to explain. Some of the few people who were actually successfully actually skipped lectures altogether and just read their books to ace the class. Since I couldn’t read, I had to resort to copying answers, which was a terrible strategy when most of my classmates didn’t know what the hell was going on either. Then there’s the part where I got kicked out, evaluated, diagnosed and reinstated due to medical reasons.
So there’s a few things the medication did for me other than allowing me to understand what I was reading. That thing called a syllabus that tells you when shit is due, and when you have a test? That used to be just a document I stuffed in my bookbag (or a folder if I remembered). The medication allowed it to have some effect when I planned things. People take that for granted until they don’t have it.

The other thing is that it made me think about shit I should have thought about but didn’t. I took notes in class but my handwriting was so terrible I couldn’t even read what I wrote. Somehow, it took medication for me to realize that since I type faster than most people could speak, it’d be a good idea to type notes. For the first time, I was able to foresee how action or lack of action would lead to some consequence without someone else having to remind me.

I’m not saying if you lack common sense, it means you have ADHD, I’m saying how the medication gave me common sense even though that wasn’t the intended effect.

Before the medication, I was always socially inappropriate. After the medication, I knew when to be socially inappropriate.

That’s why I laugh when people say, “medication robs you of your personality”, as if the part where getting into trouble was such a critical part of who I was.

I can’t say life became easy after I took my medication. Even with medication, most of my undergraduate professors still bored me. The difference was that I wasn’t passing out and even if I was, at least I was smart enough to type down what they said so I could process it later. However, thanks to medication, my effort actually translated into As. I was able to drag my GPA from a 1.7 to a 3 just in time for graduation (and applying to graduate school).

We all know a few people who have trouble paying attention or someone who has the symptoms of ADHD. That’s why I tried to get a few of my friends on the medication by letting them know what to say to their doctor. Unfortunately, the medication didn’t help them the same way it helped me.

That’s when I realized how complex it all was.

It was part of what drew me into Psychology and into my current career. While medication sparked the change, I can’t take credit away from my supportive family and girlfriend, the fact that I’m in an era where computers allow me to CTRL+F stuff without having to browse through a book, or that computers allow me to be more organized, or that I’m engaging in other things (e.g., martial arts) that help my focus too. Oh and there’s a friend who knew to read her flashcards to me so I could still learn after my medication expired, and the fact that my professors in graduate school were actually amazing – the point is, no matter who you are, whether or not there’s a psychological disorder, people have a ton of problems to begin with. Like being broke, being sad, having shitty people around, a psychological disorder is just one of many problems that could possibly cause people to be distracted. And even when you have a psychological disorder, you still have to deal with other problems the same way anyone else would. Sure I worked hard, but I don’t want my story to be twisted into a “if he had ADHD and was successful, so should everyone with ADHD” since as you can see, luck and resources that would help ANYBODY succeed played a huge role too.

I finished my graduate program with a 3.8 GPA, but I can’t tell you which program or what career I’m at now since it’d be too damn easy to identify me. From past experience, bad things happen when people find out that I have it. When I first found out I had ADHD among other stuff, I was pretty open to telling everyone.

Unfortunately, people have their own misconceptions about it.

It put a strain on my sanity to hear someone I cared about hear from others or even say to me that I’d be a poor role model for kids, how they shouldn’t be with me because their kids would be messed up too.

They didn’t see a person who was getting their life together. In fact, I don’t think they even saw a person at all.

I’d like to say that this is all over because those people are no longer in my life. However, I fear the pressure my current girlfriend would face if her family found out. I fear the day my coworkers and the people I serve losing faith in my ability to do my job if they ever found out. Ironically, it’s all for the same reason they deny such problems in themselves or their loved ones – they have trouble understanding that having a psychological disorder doesn’t rob you of your humanity, it’s merely a part of it.

There’s nothing wrong with just having a diagnosis, but we still live a world where misconceptions can rob people of their ability to be at their best.