Alyson Allen

Cannon Editor-In-Chief

 

I got diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) less than 6 months ago. I wish I hadn’t taken that long to get tested, and I wish someone out there would update the symptoms of ADHD to be more than just common stereotypes like never having attention or jumping off walls. I decided to share my experiences with you in case anyone might be going through something similar or just want to take a look into what goes through the mind of a quiet, seems-like-I-have-life-together person like myself. So let’s dive into my story, shall we? 

I lose my phone around the house at least 3 times a day. I have piles of failed planners and agendas that I told myself I’d keep up with for years. I half-finish chores to half-finish other ones and it takes all of my willpower to complete just one of them. I sit in class, unable to take notes for more than 10 minutes without nearly falling asleep. I forget many, many things even if it’s something I did a few moments ago. I overwhelm my life with extracurriculars and responsibilities in the hopes that my brain can be so stressed that I’ll actually be able to do something. And, on the rare occasions that I actually can break through the mental paralysis I have to start something, I can’t stop working. I lose track of time. I lose track of my surroundings. I lose track of my friends. I lose track of my personal health. 

Despite this, it took years of asking if this was normal to spark any doctor’s attention. I was misdiagnosed with depression. I tried counselling, which led to increasing my stress by pressuring me to track every thought, feeling, and things in my life. I tried becoming a healthier version of myself by exercising, getting adequate sleep, and eating well. And… nothing helped. 

In fact, I was told there wasn’t really a problem. I was told that I’m lazy. Addicted to my phone. Not trying hard enough. Trying too hard. Overreacting. Doing just fine. Setting expectations for myself too high (well that’s a little true).

No one really believed me because I didn’t seem to “struggle” when I was in elementary or high school. I got high grades, did my homework, was heavily involved in extracurricular activities, had a job, and had my passions. I was literally the definition of “that one perfect kid” who never did anything out of line and would definitely bring the school some sort of reputation after I moved on. And I hated it.

I didn’t struggle academically only because I could predict any test questions or way a teacher would grade an assignment. I didn’t really “learn,” I just simply found the tricks that would guarantee the highest mark. I spent classes doing the homework for the things that were being taught only because I would fall asleep or want to speak to the person next to me instead. I did plenty of extracurriculars, yes because I loved them, but mostly to fill up my time so I didn’t have time to think for myself and just be able to stay stimulated. I would get horrendously distracted when I was getting things done, but I was always yelled at anyway by parents that I faked working by staring at blank notebooks for too long. It was annoying but even more annoying to know that this was definitely not normal or healthy and not knowing what to do about it. 

Up until PEY, I tackled university in a way that allowed me to just “get by,” despite my best efforts. I accepted this was the reality of my life, that I would just have to wait for the random, infrequent bursts of inspiration and motivation to get me through a final project or studying for a midterm. I’d have to let everything pile to a point of nearly breaking me in order to hash through them all. I was tired, annoyed, and quite honestly, not sure how I was still in uni. 

In class, it was evident that I never properly built my foundations in high school. I still couldn’t pay attention in lectures. I got discouraged the moment things got slightly difficult. I got frustrated and bored with how slow the progress would be to get through content. And I hated how abstract everything we learned seemed. I wanted to apply my knowledge to the real world now. I knew university would be like this, but I thought I would be able to manage just four more years of learning.  

That frustration and discouragement fed into midterms and exams. I didn’t really focus on learning anything properly, just whatever types of questions I thought I’d be tested on. That barely worked. Even if it did, I spent tests overly aware of every single sound anyone made in the crowded examination rooms. A sneeze meant a train of thought would be completely derailed. I’d start thinking of lunch in the middle of reading a question. I would get overstimulated at the cry of a TA letting us know there were just five more minutes remaining. I failed many, many times. 

Honestly, the only reason I passed was because of the assignments, projects, and my friends. Words cannot describe how thankful I am for the many times my friends literally explained topics from scratch, showing me how they related to assignment questions, and being so patient, especially since I gave up with attending class half the time. 

The same discouragement even started happening with my Skule™ involvement. I wanted all my extracurriculars to be things I was interested in. But, my interests change so quickly that I’d get stuck in roles I no longer wanted to do even if there weren’t any problems with it. I also liked having responsibilities since they kept my brain engaged… until suddenly the work would pile up and I’d struggle to get anything started. I somehow got through them though, oftentimes destroying my mental health in the process, only to get the little bit of dopamine at the end that would tell me “I got through it.” 

Considering this on top of having all my personal responsibilities, it makes sense why I got burnt out a lot. The timespan between burnouts would even decrease each time. I was simultaneously over and under stimulated. 

In the second half of second year and in third year, I tried some new approaches. I stopped attending any class that didn’t suit my learning style and learned my own way. I started actually trying to learn the material for tests, even if it meant I didn’t get good marks. I rode the waves of inspiration and productivity when they came and when they didn’t, I tried accepting it.

Did this work? A little bit. I understood content a lot more and found it way more interesting. Professors noticed that I understood, yet still couldn’t do well on tests. I still took on too much, struggled to do so little, etc. At its core, it was the same struggles in a different font. 

At the same time, I was in the (excruciatingly long) process of getting accessibility accommodations for anxiety,  which ended up being broad enough to help me a bit more with my untitled struggles. In this process, my new doctor on campus and I met up a few times until they hinted at me getting ADHD testing. I looked into ADHD, finding a lot of descriptions that I didn’t fit into: hyper-active, loud, always moving, disturbing others, etc. Yet, I took the shot and was put on a waitlist for an incredibly expensive test I wasn’t sure how I’d pay for (thankfully there are OSAP grants for that, I later found out). 

Weeks went by. I talked with friends who were diagnosed who shared incredibly similar struggles. 

Months went by. I learned a lot of common descriptions for ADHD were outdated, based on stereotypes, and focused on symptoms found in children, especially young boys. 

The pandemic hit. Suddenly I was introduced to the wonderful concept of speeding through lectures, at double speed with closed captioning,whenever I wanted to. I did significantly better taking open-book and 24 hour exams where I could actually properly apply my knowledge. I realized that I wasn’t stupid. The previous education system wasn’t working for my brain. 

More months went by. I started my PEY. I couldn’t really use accommodations there. I didn’t really know how to explain getting distracted if anyone would pass by my desk and found me not “working”. Or how to explain why I always needed to ask people to repeat things, made small mistakes I didn’t catch, and missed things in meeting notes, without sounding like I was lazy. 

Then finally,  in August of 2020, I was able to go through my ADHD testing. Except, the testing concerned me a lot when I started it. I was asked so many questions that I just weren’t relevant to any of my experiences at all and were literally targeted for children instead. I thought I was losing hope for finally having some sort of answer for why my brain functions this way. I thankfully talked to the doctor one on one afterwards for hours. 

I was told that women in my scenario tend to notice ADHD struggles after high school, the moment when rigid structure gets thrown out the window. Since it’s not the stereotypical, outdated definition found in kids, adults with undiagnosed ADHD tend to get dismissed when they share their problems. My experiences weren’t uncommon. University wasn’t meant to cater properly to people like myself. After almost four years at school, I realized I wasn’t “stupid” or incapable of anything, it was that…. I just had undiagnosed inattentive-type ADHD. 

Now, I’m not going through all the details for what it means because it’s genuinely different for everyone. And well, getting a question answered obviously didn’t solve my problem at all, but it sure did give me a huge relief. That doctor shared different paths I could start taking to actually help myself out. 

I started by telling my managers at my PEY, who were incredibly supportive and helped me find ways that would help my day to day, such as more frequent check ins.  I worked with my therapist on figuring out what my mind is going through and recognizing what does and doesn’t benefit me. I started medication, which has helped me get over the hurdle of starting simple things like sending emails or doing an assignment, finishing chores without taking a million detours, and surprisingly, taking breaks for myself. 

It isn’t all perfect. There is no solution, especially in a world built for neurotypical people. But I’m learning a lot each day. And I’m learning that it’s okay to just exist and be how I am. 

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