For as long as I can remember, my mother has lovingly called me ‘tappy’. This, of course, refers to my knack for constantly tapping my feet ad nauseam, driving those around me to the brink of madness. Any time that sitting for an extended period of time has been required, I start tapping along with my feet to whatever song ends up wedged in my head. For the longest time, I took this to mean that I just loved music a lot (which I do), but it turns out that it wasn’t entirely the case. The inside of my mind has always sort of seemed scattered like a Jackson Pollock painting, with thoughts racing around like electrons around a nucleus. It is through this spontaneity that this blog was born, so that the thoughts inside of my head could be shared with others, so that I could know and be known.
Nearly every single report card that I was given by teachers growing up who said the same thing, which was something along the lines of ”Greg is a good student, but he really needs to focus more”. It is only until very recently, that I have come to understand that I was always the good kid, and that try as I may, I was unable to completely focus. Somehow I fell through the cracks of the education system and was never diagnosed, nor was I given a suggestion to get tested for ADHD by anyone until my junior year of college. There is part of me that resents the fact that I have had this internal barrier all along throughout my education and nobody thought to call it out, but there’s also the overwhelming part of me that is freed by a diagnosis which is accompanied by a sense of understanding and learning. So far, having a diagnosis has allowed me to use resources which help me learn, and also help me understand how I can achieve success. Growing up, K-12 had so much structure intertwined into it that I didn’t feel the detrimental effects of ADHD until I was entirely responsible for the structure of all of my days and the completion of all of my own tasks. When you’ve dealt with something your entire life and it hasn’t been properly labeled, you just assume that’s how reality must objectively be and as a result, you measure yourself against the metric of others who may not have an executive functioning disorder.
Speaking of measuring yourself against unfair metrics, I’ve felt a large cauldron of mixed emotions lately as college graduation is coming up in less than a month. Many of my peers have dietetic internships lined up or at the very least have had a much smoother ride in college than I have had. I know that if it weren’t for my tenacity, I would likely not be in college now and chances are great that I would have lived a life assuming that I was unable to learn despite my best intentions. Honestly, it’s kind of scary thinking about living in a world where you just assume that you don’t have the capability to learn, to the point where you define yourself as an unlearned person with little or no intelligence. My heart breaks for those people who aren’t as tenacious as I am, but are in a similar position. It breaks for those who don’t think that writing appeal letters to the dean of their college is worth it because they don’t think they can learn, and that college isn’t for them. My heart breaks for the likely millions of children and adults who believe that they have failed academically and have no idea why, without realizing that academia has failed them.
Okay, enough of the doom and gloom.
Being diagnosed with inattentive ADHD has probably been one of the best things that has happened to me in my entire academic career. There have been countless times in my life where I have put int a lot of effort to my schoolwork, but it was misguided. I was putting in a lot of energy and effort, but getting nowhere, sort of like bashing your head against a brick wall over and over and expecting to climb over the wall through this chaotic act. With a diagnosis comes the ability to be extremely self-aware and also it is a foundation for which you can start to climb over the wall. Having a diagnosis also gives you access to the support that you rightly deserve in order to achieve educational equity. Since the start of this semester, I have been attending an ADHD support group. I can’t say enough positive things about this group and how beneficial it has been. Every week in the group, we discuss ways to address our ADHD in different aspects of our lives. From studying, to food, to environment, to whatever you can think of, this group largely covers it. I’ve learned so many ways to effectively deal with my ADHD through this group, and needless to say, it has been empowering. When I feel like I’m on top of all of my responsibilities, I feel empowered.
The group is just one aspect of learning how I operate. I would be foolish to not mention the help that I’ve received from my learning support specialist at school. Every Friday afternoon, we meet and go over things such as weekly to-do lists, prioritization of tasks, as well as effective studying tools and methods. Having a weekly routine of knowing what I will be doing for the next week is huge. Understanding that everything must be specific and goal-oriented for me in order to be completed is even bigger. Having all of my tasks completed because they are specific and goal-oriented is a feeling next to elation. I’ve implanted so much structure into my schedule that I always know what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. I will say that developing routines, prioritizing tasks and organizing are all part of what make people successful, but for me, it’s what makes me function and allows me to have the opportunity to be successful.
I would be negligent to not talk about medication, though.
Many people think of medication as some silver bullet that will solve everyone’s problems, but this is not the case. With a diagnosis, comes the ability to receive medication for your ADHD. This process involves meeting with your doctor and trialing medications to see what works and what doesn’t work. This process is largely still going on for me, but I’m learning more about myself through the process as well. While medication is a great help, it is truly not the greatest help for my ADHD. That prestigious title belongs to time management and the development of daily routines, with setting goals and writing to-do lists coming in close second. Medication is something to be respected and taken as prescribed. People who take stimulant medications recreationally can give these medications negative stigmas, especially with people viewing the medications as a means of students trying to get an unfair edge over their classmates. For every person who gets these drugs illegally during finals week in order to crash study, There are dozens of people who have a diagnosed need for these medicines in order to help them carry out their daily lives.
When I went to the doctor for the first medication consultation, I was terrified. The last thing I want(ed) to be was hooked on stimulant pills. I had no idea how my brain would function, what sort of side effects would advent, and most importantly, how I would feel. The first time I took Concerta, I noticed it almost immediately. My brain was buzzing, my body was warm and my attention seemed dead-set. I still remember sitting in a class that I otherwise loathe, with feet glued firmly to the floor, sitting in the same position, giving the professor my undivided attention. This has always been a barrier to my learning because essentially all of K-12 is one giant lecture hall. If the environment does not foster the learning of a child, do you blame the child or blame the environment? Needless to say, it’s seemed like a rigged game against me my entire academic career. I suppose the best answer is to modify the environment, but that only comes with either a diagnosis or relative certainty of an executive functioning disorder. Come to think of it, I think that ‘divided attention’ is a great way to think about ADHD.
Since being diagnosed, I have tried a couple of different medications, and different doses of the same medications. One of them being Adderall. I only took Adderall once and it was one of the worst days I have had in recent memory. Not only was I more fidgety than usual, but I felt depressive and also feelings of malaise. Needless to say, it was my first and last day using the medication. Having said that, each medication works differently for everyone, and with the help of my doctor, decided that Adderall was not for me. This whole process of learning how to deal with my inattentive ADHD has entirely been about me learning what is best for me and my success.
But what even if success? How do you define it? If you don’t fit the neuro-typical societal mold, do you adapt yourself to succeed in the environment, or do you change your environment to benefit you? There isn’t necessarily any right or wrong answer to the aforementioned question, but view it as food for thought. Since my brain is physically unable to stay focused on any one thing at any given time, it ends up branching off into unrelated thoughts, which lead me down rabbit holes of thought and emotion. Part of why this blog exists is because of these fleeting thoughts. Anything that crosses my mind that I think is worthy of writing about gets saved in a Google doc, to be looked at and expounded upon later.
While I’m on the subject, if you have an inkling of a suspicion that your child has ADHD and you can afford to get them tested, please do so. The worst thing that you can possibly find out is that your child does not have ADHD, accompanied with a detailed report on how your child learns most effectively. There are many people who will say that ADHD is being over-diagnosed, and that many of the people who get tested are just lazy and seeking an easier way out in education and in life. This is not the case. Not only is this a logical fallacy, but it is often used to delegitimize those who have ADHD. The truth isn’t that I don’t want to pay attention out of sheer laziness, but that my brain has a physical inability to concentrate despite my best efforts. The paradox of having ADHD is that on one hand I’m able to draw inspiration from everything around me, but on the other hand, my mind is constantly being pulled in 17 different directions at the same time, which can make completing tasks difficult. I should mention that there are different types of ADHD. There is hyperactive ADHD, inattentive ADHD, and a combination of both inattentive and hyperactive. I happen to have inattentive, although everyone’s case is different. Although I’m able to get joy from every small thing around me, being able to sit still and pay attention all day during lecture is nearly impossible. I’ve found that there’s almost a ‘work’ and a ‘play’ version of me. The former in which I’m medicated and the latter in which I’m not. Because of this, ‘work’ me is great at performing tasks and getting to-do lists done. On the other hand, ‘play’ me is great at brainstorming and thinking about the ins and outs of every single aspect of the universe, with a genuine curiosity for learning that is bar none. The only problem is that ‘play’ me doesn’t necessarily do me much help in lecture, and ‘work’ me doesn’t really have a knack for being creative. It’s all about finding a balance between the two and trying to turn my weaknesses into strengths.
I want to bring a few things into the light before I wrap up this post. ADHD is believed by scientists to be largely genetic. It is caused by a dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is largely responsible for moderating behavior. It is something that you are born with and will always have. It is not a personal failure and those who have ADHD (including myself) may care deeply about interpersonal relationships and their work lives but they are physically incapable of paying attention to everything and it becomes quite easy to become overwhelmed. Having said that, If you are part of my immediate or extended family, you could either potentially have ADHD or be a carrier for it. If you even have an inkling of a thought that you or a family member/loved one has ADHD and you have the means to get them tested, please do so. The worst thing that can happen is that you learn how you or your loved one works and learns efficiently. It has affected me unknowingly for nearly my entire life, and I am just coming to realize the internal barriers to success that I have as well as learning strategies to implement to overcome these barriers. Had I known about this sooner, I would have already had those tools and known how to use them to better my situation in life. Some people go their entire lives without being diagnosed, struggling the entire way. I’m happy that although it took a while to get my diagnosis, I can know myself on a deeper level as a result of it. Going forward from here, I know how to adapt myself and my environment to make me the best version of myself. The sky is the limit.
Those are my thoughts, what are yours?
Here are some resources that can help you understand what ADHD is more thoroughly: