Believe in Your Strengths and The Value of Your Differences

By Gabriel

One of my typical ADHD behaviors in an elementary school classroom was to constantly recline my desk and balance on it.  Teachers would call my attention on this all the time.  Also, I just couldn’t keep my shoes on, so I would take them off and very often the teacher or other students would take them away from me.  No, it wasn’t fun.

Overall, it was very difficult for me to pay attention in class. My dad told me that once he met with one of my teachers and who said, “Gabriel will see a bird by the window and fly away with it.”  I think the only reason I made it through elementary school is that our mom always took the time to help us (I have one sister and two brothers) with our assignments and didn’t allow us to do anything else until we were done with them.

My journey through high school was full of stumbling blocks.  There wasn’t a single year that I didn’t have to take “special” summer classes to be able to make it to the next grade.  I always lagged behind in mathematics and also Spanish classes… oh did I hate those!  In the end, I will never forget when I finally graduated from high school, the thought of not having to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to go to school made that day the happiest day of my life.  Much later I learned it was my rebellion against structured environments which made it so painfully difficult for me, as if somehow, I was being tortured without knowing why.

It’s been three decades since my days in elementary school and I’m still in school, now almost finishing a PhD, in Molecular Biology… odd to think about it, I became a proficient genetic engineering expert.  I’m pretty sure none of my teachers from elementary school or high school would’ve ever predicted that I could make it this far.  To be honest, not even I myself could’ve predicted this… not in a million years.

My academic journey has been painfully difficult in all sense, but it has kept me motivated and has provided me the greatest opportunity to know myself, my true potential and my limitations.  Still, I can certainly say that college years were for me the best time of my life, that is, the third time I tried it, when I finally decided I should study science.  After previous failed attempts to study business and music, the curiosity generated by science was key to my success as an undergrad.

In 2012, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Biotechnology.  This also included an unaccredited “minor” in math, as I took about as many high-level math classes as I could, which extended my science degree an additional year, simply motivated by the mere joy I derived from math…can’t be more ironic after my childhood math traumatic experiences, yet I excelled.

But so far, nothing compares to graduate school.  Graduate studies have been the most challenging, both physically and emotionally.  It has tested my resilience in every possible aspect, but by an array of coping mechanisms, medication, heavy support from family and friends (much of which have been hundreds of miles away from me, since I left my hometown in this academic journey), I’ve managed to survive the most difficult environment any individual with ADHD could ever encounter.  Too many days I’ve broken down crying thinking I wouldn’t make it through, but motivated and in love with research and learning, I managed to overcome examination after examination, board of PhD evaluations and constant mistreatment – bullying and mockery – by unforgiving colleagues.  I still have faith I’ll make it through and one of my motivations is the fact that I’m so different than the rest.

I believe this difference (ADHD) is precisely the value I bring to the table.  I believe society is enriched by differences, not only cultural, but of intellect.  I believe if more people like me were better understood and integrated into challenging and demanding positions, that they can make great contributions, many times even the best and totally unexpected contributions.  What makes it hard – and ironic – is that others are quick to take credit of our work, not only because it’s not uncommon for somebody with ADHD to end up extremely underestimated by others around them – due to our unusual and many times ‘disturbing’ approaches or erratic/unpredictable schedules – but also due to the accompanying low self-esteem we often find ourselves drowning in.  I just accept what they’ve given me and without much complaint, I’ve had to become accustomed to taking blames, for they’d be quick to point out my obvious ‘stupidity’ and seemingly endless irresponsibility. There just seems no way that normal people would ever understand that the things I ‘do wrong’ or when I just forget something, that it wasn’t my intention and that I constantly struggle to keep up with the simplest of responsibilities.

In such demanding environments, we have no other choice but to always be in a constant state of urgency, everything seems to be crumbling all the time, as if we’re always behind and things are mostly burning down and we are desperately working to keep the ‘fire’ from consuming us.

This is the life of ADHD to the maximum expression.  We have no other choice.  Every single day is a fight.

I want to succeed.  I want to let others know that they can also succeed, even if they exhibit all the classical symptoms of ADHD, like I’ve experienced all my life.  I want others to be aware, very aware, that there are many that think, process and do things differently than themselves, but most importantly, that we all need each other, no matter how different we are.

    • Jason
    • March 12, 2018
    Reply

    I was diagnosed as a kid and rejected treatment as an adult. I do feel many of the symptoms however don’t trust the current government climate. It is very difficult with ADD to cross eye opening realities with a need of treatment from people I can’t trust. I have bounced job to job when I get bored.
    I learn very fast and get bored quickly once I fully understand something. I have succeeded in filling my head with never ending knowledge yet I have no real grabbing interest.
    I really enjoyed the military environment as a United States Naval Sea Cadet but because of legal trouble I am no longer allowed to pursue that dream.
    My problem now is I am hyperfocused but what my mind focuses on its impossible for me to attain. I’ve tried at least 100 different things between work and home to find new interests however nothing seems to stick except the failing industry of Dairy. I’ve owned and operated 2 businesses and yet when I get bored I sell them. The intelligence is there I’m just lost in where to apply it. My family even gets frustrated because their suggestions haven’t helped.
    I love that I learn so quickly and when I’m focused there’s no stopping me but I need to find that interest.

    • mltester3567
    • February 3, 2018
    Reply

    As a former Jr at UNCG in North Carolina, I can relate to the constant urgency and pending sense of doom. The problem for me was foreign language and certain sience classes that are needed for my English and Women and Gender Studies degree. Unfortunately, my school never truly caught up with the need to have more smaller, accommodating language classes and the 2 classes they did have required special permission well before the sign up date and each only had 15 slots. I tried Latin twice (yes, I had a tutor and carried my smarten with me ) but I could not process or keep up with it. I even gave Russian a shot thinking a different alphabet would make it easier for my brain to process. Now, I’m on probation (depite my once active role in OARS and my constant presence at the academic support center). Now, financially I am at a dead end with no degree or job. It breaks my heart that such a minor set back like foreign language could demolish my college education and leave me feeling like a failure despite the fact I’m 75 or more complete with BOTH major requirements. Your story was truly inspiring and I hope that I will be able to follow your lead by getting a degree of some sort. It made me smile to see you changed majors 3 times. Ironically, I just added them on by the end of it all I was majoring in English and Women and Gender Studies with a minor in African American Studies. It goes to show how the adhd mind truly is only motivated by novelty and interest. Congratulations and good luck showing neurotypical students exactly what us ADHD/ atypical students are capable of. Truly, that’s what breaks my heart so badly about my own situation: I know my value and what my mind and objective way of thinking could do for all oppressed people…. I suppose that’s why I rarely mention school anymore. This article has rekindled my determination to somehow conquer the adversity I am facing in order to finish my degree so that I can ADVOCATE for all groups in the future. Thank you so much!

    • Eva
    • January 17, 2018
    Reply

    This is awe-inspiring for me. I’m a 6th year college student at the university level, pursuing automotive engineering technology, and I am still an undergrad in my program. I was diagnosed with ADD, predominantly inattentive type, almost 9 years ago. The struggles you outline of being a college student in this article really got home, especially having an urgent schedule and being perceived as endlessly irresponsible by colleagues. For me, it’s still professors and peers, but I thought I was the only one. Thank you for sharing your story, it’s incredibly inspiring to me and gives me hope that there’s a light on at the end of the tunnel. A big congrats to you and ALL of your achievements, I know the struggle all too well, myself. Kudos to you to proving everyone wrong, and pushing your own limits. You ROCK.

    • Keia
    • December 13, 2017
    Reply

    This is so awesome, I am ADHD and also desire to purse a PhD in a science related field. This article was right on time for me =)

      • Admin
      • December 13, 2017
      Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it Keia!

    • Tammy
    • November 13, 2017
    Reply

    Your story is very impressive and I am so glad you have surprised those teachers. I am raising my grandson and he was diagnosed with ADHD and ADD at age 4. He is in 1st grade at present. School is a challenge to for him. Not only with the school work, but it effects other parts of his life as well:..ie: putting on clothing, constant lying and excuses. He is on medication, but it doesn’t hold him very long. He doesn’t retain anything at all. I was just helping with his homework and I explained how to do the math, yet he still did it backwards. Did anything work with you when you were young? I will share your story with him. Thank you for sharing your experience!

      • Rita
      • November 30, 2017
      Reply

      Your grandson sounds like he might be a little deslixic ,
      One thing to try is a timer and reward system, do this task you chose time but make it short, timer goes off he gets an award, does not have to be food or candy, can be somthing he likes to do like play with his cars or go for a walk, the short intervals and little rewards really helped.
      I got this from a friend who is a teacher and wow did it work great,

        • Sarah Freyou
        • April 27, 2018
        Reply

        yea with me don’t me 10 math problems show me like 5 and do it little by little . I know this takes longer . but after 20 mins your brain start to snooze. and anything said after that is useless. unless their in a break on between. Some things.

    • Anne Heller
    • November 9, 2017
    Reply

    Great success story. Wish I had a good one to share. I am 67 and was diagnosed when I was 37 when I took my 8 yr old son to a neurologist to find out what was going on in his brain and I found out that it was the same thing that was going on in my brain and his fathers brain— double whammy, poor kid. Life has not been good but with knowledge and patience there is always hope.

    • Natasha
    • November 8, 2017
    Reply

    I haven’t been diagnosed (yet, probabaly), but this resonates so well with me. You are an inspiration. I’m happy you found your passion and are changing stereotypes and sigma just by being you.

  1. Wow, impressive
    Now I really feel like an under achiever.
    I wasn’t diagnosed until my mid 40, then I spent a few years- in denial. I’ve been trying to work on my procrastination and disorganization issues, among others. I’ve certainty never accomplish anything like this man has.
    I don’t want this to sound wrong but it is good to know that successful people with ADHD still struggle with the things that are so easy for others without the condition.
    Great article
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Reply

    That was a awesome exspression of how I feel. The article, I just read ,arrived at a perfect time. I quite often forget what we go through and I have beaten myself up by taking it personal.

    • Betty Bennett
    • November 8, 2017
    Reply

    Congratulations on your many accomplishments & contributions. There is do much truth in this article. It explains my 75 yrs of fighting with a disorder I didn’t know I had. It’s too bad this article doesn go viral. Tempted to cut and paste on Facebook but won’t as I’m not sure su h action is allowed.

Leave a Comment

Could This Be Your Story?

By Samantha Schmidgall I couldn’t believe ADDA wanted to hear my story! Someone is…

Highway to Hell: Untreated Depression, Anxiety & ADHD Drove Me to Addiction

By James Tilley I always knew something was wrong but could not figure it…

ADHD Stimulants: Medication Diversion in the Real World

A Podcast from Jeff Copper's Attention Talk Radio There’s ADHD content and then there’s…

Therapy Helped Me Take Back Control

By Nightshade For the past two years, I've blocked out my emotions. I feel…

Tell Your Story… To More People

My name is Emily Dorffer. I'd like to share with you a publication opportunity…

Moving To a Better State of Mind

We sometimes get caught up in painful vicious circles that never seemed to be…