What ADHD feels like to me

There are no windows and my gaze drifts toward the orange door of my classroom. My foot bounces up and down, and my attention pings around during the lecture. My professor is speaking just a few feet away, but he fades in and out of my focus.

I drift between the PowerPoint on the screen and the notes on my computer. I absent-mindedly enter bullet points. Occasionally, a ripple of laughter flows through the classroom. My classmates’ questions and stories, along with my professor’s responses, swirl around me and fill the room.

This isn’t a boring class. This lecture on mental health and exercise definitely interests me. And my professor does his best to keep us engaged with amusing and interesting stories.

Still, like a pinball, my focus bounces from one thing to another. The lecture is the last thing my brain wants to pay attention to, even though I want to pay attention and I’m trying hard to. But I’m caught up in the chaos of the sounds of my fellow students — zippers, coughs, pens, keyboard clicks….

This is just a snippet of what ADHD looks, sounds, and feels like to me. At the time of this lecture, I didn’t know I had ADHD because I hadn’t been evaluated yet. But it was the beginning of figuring out that piece of my story.

It can be tricky when you learn or think differently, because there’s no “before” and no “after” that can help mark them. It’s just part of who you are. I realized around middle school that maybe I felt “different.” But since “different” was my normal, I didn’t think too much on it.

I’ve been told that everyone experiences occasional “ADHD-like” symptoms. But it’s the frequency and the severity of symptoms that make ADHD what it is for me.

Maybe everyone zones out once in a while. But I constantly have to work to stay focused. And it’s frustrating because I’m not always successful.

In high school, my friends and I all joked about “my ADHD” well before I was ever diagnosed. I couldn’t stay on topic for long. I could never remember my locker combination (much less find stuff in my locker!). And I was constantly borrowing pencils because I never brought one to class.

I did well enough in high school. But in college, my challenges with attention and focus were just too much.

When the lecture ended that day, I heard my professor asking us to connect with him if we needed support with the mental health issues we’d been discussing. Encouraged in that moment, I took that first step. I emailed him, and he helped point me to where I got evaluated.

From the evaluation, I learned that I have ADHD. The diagnosis changed my life for the better. After years of struggling in silence and feeling different, the biggest positive was understanding myself a lot better — and why I see the world the way I do. I was able to get academic help and accommodations, which helped me complete my university degree.

I never hesitate to tell people that being evaluated was the best choice I’ve ever made. ADHD doesn’t define me, but it does help me understand who I am.


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