This morning I couldn’t find my keys. I’d set them down (I thought) in their usual place, but when I went to grab them they were nowhere to be found. This isn’t uncommon. I have ADHD, and in my world losing things is just part of everyday life.
Growing Up It was clear early on that I didn’t do things the way other children did. I was creative and loved reading, but homework reduced me to tears. My endless daydreaming meant I often missed instructions and assignments.
As I got older school got harder. I still loved learning, but I’d begun to dread walking through the doors every morning. It felt like I was always in trouble. At home, I lost homework assignments, pencils, shoes, jackets and even whole backpacks on a regular basis.
“It’s like your things just evaporate!” my mother told me, exasperated.
“She’s Just a Daydreamer” My parents took me to a psychologist who said, “Girls don’t have ADHD.” He told them not to worry. “She’s not hyper. She’s just a daydreamer. She’ll be fine.” He was wrong. Girls do have ADHD and I was not fine.
Back then, most people—like my psychologist—thought ADHD was a young boy’s disorder. We now know that girls definitely do have ADHD but our symptoms can be subtler. We may be less hyperactive and disruptive, which means we’re easy to overlook and often don’t get diagnosed until we’re much older, if at all.
In middle school my self-esteem began to crumble. I struggled to stay afloat academically. As my friends excelled I fell farther and farther behind.
“You’re so smart—why don’t you apply yourself?” was a constant refrain. Every time I heard it, my heart sank a little more because I knew what they didn’t: I was applying myself. I was trying my hardest and it wasn’t working. If I was so smart, why was I failing?
By high school I’d given in. I tried to pretend success wasn’t important because I didn’t want people to know how badly I wanted to do well.
When Things Became Clear Finally, when I was 21—after years of not knowing why things were so difficult—I was tested and diagnosed with the inattentive type of ADHD. All of a sudden things became clear. I wasn’t dumb or broken or lazy. I just did things differently. For years I’d been trying to fit into a mold that simply wasn’t made for me.
My diagnosis helped me accept myself for who I was. Understanding my ADHD gave me the tools I needed to rebuild my confidence. I became good at advocating for myself and stopped being ashamed of needing extra help. Slowly but surely I developed skills and tools to help me manage my organizational difficulties. I went to college and began to excel academically.
I remember thinking when I was 15 that it would be a miracle if I finished high school. Last year, I graduated summa cum laude with my master’s degree in counseling.
If you ask me today how I feel about my ADHD, I’d say I’m proud of who I am. But it took information, understanding and acceptance to get me here. I have strategies to manage my ADHD. My regular keys may not be where I thought they were, but my backup keys are right where they should be and I’m out the door, ready and excited for a new day to begin.
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