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I may be funny and cute, but ADHD is not

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a pretty intelligent gal.

I’ve always been a naturally good, curious student. My teachers always wrote that I was a “pleasure to have in class” on my report cards. My grades have been consistently good, sometimes even great, from kindergarten through my first three years of college.

When I looked around at all the other smart kids in my classes, though, something felt different.

My fourth grade teacher made me move my clip down because I forgot my flash cards at home multiple days in a row. My fifth grade math teacher loudly scolded me for forgetting to complete the backside of my worksheet … twice. My sixth grade honors math teacher placed me into the lowest possible class for the next year because I made so many mistakes, and she assumed I was just dumb.

I did have natural intelligence, but it was constantly competing with my natural absent-mindedness.

Similar patterns continued into high school, and it was then that I determined I was simply lazy.

The reason my classmates always did every reading assignment and never had blank spaces on their worksheets was that they were more hard-working and driven than me. They cared more. They had all their shit together.

They all got into their dream colleges; I did not.

I did well in my first three years of college – I made either the Dean’s or President’s List every semester, which I’m very proud of. But things still weren’t quite clicking. In an effort to improve upon my performance in high school, I spent nearly every moment of my life doing work, and yet I still always felt behind

For years, I chalked my struggles up to laziness, but that never seemed right to me. I didn’t feel lazy – I cared a whole lot about school and always did my best. I knew I was capable of so much more, but I always seemed to fall just short and could never figure out why.

It took me until I was 20 to figure out why. Turns out, I was quite literally set up to fail.

It’s probably evident at this point in the column that I have ADHD. Specifically, I have combination type ADHD, which means I am both inattentive and hyperactive (lucky me!)

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My diagnosis was not surprising, as I’d suspected I may have it for a few years. My dad was also diagnosed in his early 20s, back when ADHD was relatively “new” and grossly underdiagnosed.

Nowadays, it’s diagnosed at far higher rates, especially in children. However, it remains underdiagnosed in women and girls because the symptoms manifest themselves in different, less outwardly visible ways than they do in boys.

I was not the stereotypical kid who couldn’t remain in their seat or keep quiet while the teacher was talking – those kids get diagnosed easily. I was a daydreamer and a doodler who did well enough in school to fly under the radar.

Even today, people who aren’t close to me are surprised to hear about my diagnosis because I don’t fit their conception of what people with ADHD look or act like. 

I’m flattered that people think I have my life together, but it’s attitudes like this that delayed my diagnosis for more than 10 years.

Talking about being on Adderall elicits even stronger reactions and a variety of semi-absurd questions. 

Yes, I have a prescription. No, I don’t sell it – I need it more than I need money. 

Yes, it kills my appetite. No, it doesn’t turn me into a superhuman that can perform 15 tasks simultaneously.

There’s a stigma around using Adderall and similar stimulants, and it has nothing to do with people who actually have ADHD. Ohio places it in the same drug category as meth and cocaine because of how frequently it’s abused.

Because of people who take it and don’t need it, my prescription is only for 30 days, and I have to meet with my psychiatrist every month to discuss the drug or else he won’t refill my prescription.

My psychiatrist is also in Illinois and cannot send my Adderall across state lines because it’s a controlled substance, so my mom has to pick it up and mail it to me every month. Because it takes a few days to ship, I’m without my medication for a few days each month while I’m waiting for it to arrive.

It sucks ass. But as long as neurotypical folks keep using it as a party drug, that’s the way it’ll be.

The Adderall stigma is just one symptom of a larger problem: folks being uneducated on what ADHD actually is and how rough it can be.

It’s not just forgetfulness or inability to focus, though that’s definitely a major part of it. It’s also irritability, lack of impulse control, social inappropriateness and a million other things.

Many people with ADHD have comorbidities, meaning they also have other psychological or mental health issues in addition to ADHD. Anxiety and depression are common ones, and I personally suffer from both.

People with ADHD are at increased risk of suicidal ideation, self-harm and premature death due to impulsive and risky behavior.

So, yeah. Forgive me if I express annoyance when you joke about having ADHD because you forgot your laptop charger at home.

Because truthfully, ADHD is no joke. In addition to convincing me I was lazy for half my life, it’s demoralizing, embarrassing and sometimes even dangerous.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have my diagnosis because it has made it so much easier to cope with my struggles, and my medication has changed my life for the better. But I can’t help but wonder how much better off I would’ve been in my younger years if someone had recognized my symptoms and tried to get me help.

Moral of the story, if you have a kid who is especially forgetful or spacey, go get them evaluated. It might save their life.

And, for God’s sake, save the Adderall for those of us who need it. 

@madphabes

phabymr@miamioh.edu 

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