As an only child of two highly intelligent and motivated people, a lot was expected from me very early on in life. My parents constantly encouraged me to be the best at everything I did. For a while, I succeeded. I was “ooh’d” and “ahh’d” at by adults who were amazed by the precociousness, eloquence, and creative abilities I displayed at a very young age. My parents and their peers always told me that I was “going somewhere” and that I would “be somebody” very special one day. I was very lucky.
Around the age of nine, I started to experience difficulties in school, particularly with math. My parents and teachers were baffled at my sudden inability to concentrate and my disorganization. While I was once at the top of my class, I was steadily falling behind my peers. I would lose homework, my library card and my school projects. I would forget entire lessons and lectures from just the day prior. I was constantly late to class and overly tired because my racing mind wouldn’t let me sleep at night, further impeding my ability to focus. My self-esteem began to suffer greatly at this time as I was also the subject of chronic bullying.
My parents could not understand where their once seemingly brilliant and driven little girl had disappeared to. I became incredibly shy and would not participate in class because I was too afraid of giving the wrong answer. I tried my absolute hardest to focus during lectures, but all the sudden I would experience overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks because I could not make sense of what my teacher was trying to explain. Particularly with math, I felt like I was looking at ancient hieroglyphics rather than 2nd grade algebra.
I only got worse during high school. While I was placed in honors level courses, I was still two grade levels behind in math. I would fail nearly every math exam and developed severe test anxiety. I would always turn in major assignments late and was constantly showing up to class late too. I withdrew from social life because the sheer thought of being in a room full of my peers who were all more successful than me sent me into a depressive tail spin.
My teachers, my parents became incredibly disappointed in me because they presumed I was just being lazy. Deep down I knew I was intelligent, I just couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t translate all the thoughts spinning around in my head onto paper, why I couldn’t seem to explain to my parents and teachers the ENORMOUS amount of effort required for me to sit down and study for a test and be able to remember what I studied the next day!
I became severely depressed and experienced many episodes of suicidal-ideation. In my mind, I was a failure. I was a falling star, once bright, shining, and promising, only to slowly fade away and categorized as those who simply “don’t try,” or lack the intelligence to comprehend what I was taught in school.
After I graduated from high school and struggled through community college courses, I eventually developed a dissociative personality disorder. At any sign of stress, primarily involving academia, I would dissociate and go on auto-pilot. I would often forget how I arrived at certain locations, or how I drove home from work or school. There would be gaps in my memory lasting as much as two or three days at a time. My brain was in survival mode.
I was extremely depressed and anxiety-ridden.
I couldn’t keep track of items like my driver’s license, credit cards, medications, car keys, my glasses. You name it, I would lose it. I would even forget to turn my car off after I had parked, and would walk away with the door still open and the engine running. I made silly mistakes on important work documents, forgot people’s names less than a second after they told me and missed critical deadlines. I could be having a conversation with someone and have no recollection of what was being discussed.
My depression became so severe that my parents urged me to see a psychiatrist. After a series of misdiagnoses ranging from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia, a psychiatrist finally brought up the possibility of Adult ADHD. She gave me the book “Driven to Distraction” by Edward Hallowell and asked me to read it to see if I could identify with any of the case studies from the book. When I finally sat down to read it (a task in of itself) I was brought to deep, soul-breaking tears. THIS WAS ME. Countless adults across the world were experiencing the same difficulties I had struggled with all my life. I empathized greatly with their feelings of failure and inadequacy. I read stories of highly intelligent adults with brilliantly creative minds who just simply could not seem to “get it together” enough to actually succeed. I had found the answer to a question that had plagued me my entire life. I wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t lazy, I wasn’t a drama queen just looking for sympathy! There is something neurologically “wrong” (I hesitate to use that word) with my brain, and it could be helped! I wasn’t destined for a life of failure after all.
It’s been many months since my diagnosis of Adult ADHD Inattentive Type. I am now on a regimen of medicinal stimulants, anti-anxiety medication, as well as weekly cognitive therapy to help overcome what the medicine cannot. I am succeeding in school again, and arriving to work on time. I can remember people’s names and what project is due next week for class. I was once a passenger in my own life, but now I’m back in the driver’s seat, learning about the way my mind works, nursing my wounded self-esteem back to health, and focused on living each day as presently as possible.