6 Words of Advice I'd Tell My Teenaged Self With ADHD

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Dear Teenaged Katie,

a sketch of a girl with long hair wearing a hat

Lately you have been starting to believe the joking jabs from your peers and even adults in your life, but I am here to tell you that you are neither a “space cadet” nor a “dumb blonde,” despite your hair color and all of the seemingly air-headed mistakes you make. Those mistakes are due to a neurological difference; however, the possibility won’t enter your mind until almost 10 years from now after the birth of your second child. You have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I know what you’re thinking — the only people you’ve known to be diagnosed with ADHD struggled with grades and behavior issues in school. And they were all boys. Because of this, you will never conceive it as a possibility. Unfortunately, that means you struggle through the next 10 years without any therapy or guidance on how to function with your condition.

Now, however, I can use this fictitious forum to give you a few words of advice (which won’t help you, but might help other girls like you).

Starting this very moment: Stop. Being. So. Hard. On. Yourself. Stop crying over Bs and Cs. I know you want that 4.0, and you’ll have it (thanks to weighted classes), but grades are not worth your tears. I know you tried your best and are disappointed that you “failed” (news flash: a “C” is not failing, it’s average). But cry over your breakups, fights with your friends, or your grandpa’s stroke, and never waste another lunch period in the bathroom crying over something as fleeting as one test grade.

Realize that when you get anxious before a test, when someone puts you on the spot, when you talk to a boy you like, when you do math, or when you confront your adversaries, your brain literally freezes. You don’t have access to your vocabulary or computational skills.

In those situations, take a pass. Breathe. Breathe deeply. And since you don’t know you have ADHD, after some of those moments you will cry in the bathroom out of frustration and lack of understanding. For if you had known, your teachers may have given you more time to relax and finish your tests, and you may have been able to take your math exams in a quiet, separate room. You could have had a 504 plan to help get those school accommodations.

Instead of beating yourself up, give yourself credit for succeeding despite the stress, late nights, anxiety and perceived failures. It’s actually why no one caught that you had ADHD. You did well in school because you adapted, even if it meant staying up studying ineffectively until 2 a.m., then setting your alarm for 5 a.m. to study some more when you couldn’t keep your eyes open any longer. You do fall asleep in class a lot. Your teachers will mostly be tolerant of this (or you hide it well).

The important thing to remember is that good grades do not negate an ADHD diagnosis any more than bad grades define it. You have ADHD and your brain focuses differently, and you will learn strategies to work through those differences.

You will figure out that you can write papers more easily with wordless music playing in your headphones. After your friend tells you about using notecards to study, your memory will be almost photographic for rote facts. Once you start outlining every word your teacher says in class, you will find a way to stay focused and everyone will want to copy your notes when they are absent. And that trick of making a list of conversational topics when calling a boy you like? Genius. It will definitely cut down on the awkward pauses.

You won’t figure out that your reading comprehension improves greatly with audiobooks until you are well past college, so there will be no hope of understanding a word of “Heart of Darkness.” Your friend’s dad will still mercilessly tease you about being blonde, and you will never be able to think of a good comeback because of your anxiety mind-block. And I am really sorry to say that you will still get in trouble at home a lot, because you won’t quite figure out how to control your impulsive temper or to remember what your parents wanted you to do (or not do, for that matter).

Try not to focus on your mistakes and realize that because you have this beautiful, frustrating condition, you will be creative. You will have innovative ideas to contribute in group work and class discussions. You will find comfort in art, music, photography, nature and friends. You will often notice what other people may not, which will make life rich and interesting. ADHD will not define you, but it will strengthen you. With relief, you will embrace ADHD at your moment of realization: What makes you struggle can also be what makes you great.

Follow this journey on for Elysium.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My 3-Year-Old Daughter Without ADHD

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To My Sweet Daughter,

You are only 3 years old and are so incredibly independent and self-sufficient. Instead of asking me to get you a cup of water, you get it yourself and do it without spilling. In the morning, you don’t put up a fight when I tell you it’s time to get dressed and go to school. Instead, you get dressed all by yourself and are happy and excited to start the day. Thank you for always being my sunshine!

I love playing tag with you, and I love playing store with you. You are so fun to be around and have such a wild imagination! I wish I could play with you more, but your big sister needs me. She may be 3 years older than you, but she has ADHD, and in some ways, that makes her different than you. Not worse. Not better. Just different.

little girl smiling

As smart as your sister is, she needs me right next to her the entire time while she’s doing her homework. She needs me there to help keep her on task and focused. When she starts to have a meltdown because she is having a difficult time with her math, she needs me there to encourage her and help build her confidence. I know you want to be in the room with us, but your presence distracts your sister. Thank you for understanding that and for quietly playing outside the room so your sister can do her homework without any distractions.

I know I let you watch TV or play on the iPad more than a child should to keep you busy and quiet while your sister is doing her homework. Although this is something I know you enjoy, you have no idea how guilty it makes me feel. It should be me, your mother, playing with you and teaching you new things, but I haven’t quite mastered being in two places at once yet.

You must feel like Daddy and I spend more time with your sister than we do with you. The truth of the matter is we probably do, but it’s not because we love her more or favor her over you. We love you both very, very much, and we would go to the moon and back for you girls. You must know that. Sometimes, your sister just needs extra help, support and guidance.

This family is a team, and I know you know this because I see you helping your sister when you can. Thank you for complimenting your sister on her drawings and for telling her she looks pretty in her new outfit. Thank you for getting excited to see her when we pick her up from school and for giving her those great big bear hugs. Although your sister may act like she doesn’t appreciate it sometimes, I assure you she does. She needs you in her life because you show her how she is admired and loved. When you become a mother, you will know just how much moments like those warm my heart.

Your sister has a very outgoing personality. She moves around when she isn’t supposed to, like when she gets off her seat at restaurants and wants to run around the table. This causes her to be the center of attention a lot. It’s no wonder you love your ballet class so much. It’s the one place you know for sure you will always be the center of attention and all eyes will be on you.

Believe it or not, Mommy is not a parenting expert. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing a lot of the time. All I know is I don’t want you to feel like you are second. I want you and your sister to always feel like you are both first. I love you and I appreciate you. Mommy promises to try her best to show you that each and every day. Thank you for being my special little girl and for making our family and our lives complete. As small as you are, you’re making such a positive influence in your sister’s life, and I will forever be grateful for that.

All My Love,

Mommy

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The Note a Choir Teacher Wrote When My Child With ADHD Couldn't Stop Fidgeting

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I had my child baptized when she was 3 months old, and she’s been attending a private Catholic school since she was in kindergarten. My husband and I are Catholic, but we’re not super duper religious. We do say a prayer before we eat dinner, and we go to church at least twice a month. My child has always taken an interest in learning about God and Jesus since she was very young. (I’m talking 2 years old here.) She enjoys hearing children’s Bible stories, and she likes to listen to children’s Catholic music. She also loves to sing along to them, so when we found out she was old enough to join our church’s children’s choir, we signed her up.

From the beginning, I told the choir teacher my child has ADHD and that she sometimes has a difficult time focusing and staying still. The teacher warned us that the children would have to stand for long periods of time in church, which is something the younger children have a difficult time with. My daughter was determined to sing in the choir, so she promised me she’d try her best.

My daughter has been singing in the choir for six months now. Seeing her singing in front of the congregation on Sundays brings me such joy, and I am so proud of her. She looks and sounds just like an angel. Unfortunately, the teacher’s warning was right. It really was difficult for my child to stand in one place for such a long time. Because of this, she started to fidget. She played around with the microphone stand, she combed her hair with her fingers, and she even deliberately made a giant hole in her stockings. Don’t forget, she was doing all of this while she was front and center. She wasn’t embarrassed by her behavior, but I was. I don’t even know how many times I tried to quietly get my daughter’s attention so I could mouth the words “Stop it” to her.

After mass, I explained to my daughter that acting that way in church is disrespectful to God, her teacher and the congregation. She understood, and she genuinely did feel bad about her behavior. She even wrote an apology letter to the teacher, and she absolutely hates writing.

Do you know who else felt bad about their own behavior though? Me.

After some thought, I felt horrible about getting mad at my daughter and feeling embarrassed about her actions. She can’t help that she fidgets when she knows she can’t move around. And do you know what else? God made her that way, so I know He wouldn’t be mad at her either.

To prevent her from touching and messing with things that she shouldn’t, I gave her a fidget bracelet to wear at church, which is something I should have done from the beginning. I can’t get rid of her need to fidget, but I can give her the tools to be able to help control it. When she gets the urge to fidget in church now, she discretely plays with her bracelet. She’s happy. I’m happy. It’s a win-win. The teacher is happy too. She wrote my daughter a note that said: “I’m so glad you’re in choir. I know it’s a long time to stand at church, but it’ll get easier!”

note from teacher that says "I'm so glad you're in choir. I know it's a long time to stand at church, but it'll get easier!"

I cannot tell you how happy and relieved my daughter and I were to read that note. Not only did the teacher understand the struggle my daughter was facing, she assured her she would be able to get through it and encouraged her to follow her dream of singing in the church’s choir.

Mrs. Adams, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in my child.

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How I Made My Daughter’s ADHD All About Me and Almost Missed It

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I hoist the baby back up on my hip as I pause to stare at the bulletin board. I can pick out my daughter’s work right away. Not only because I recognize her telltale artwork, but because I see the words accompanying it are mostly a simple scramble of letters. I slowly look over the other work, chiding myself for even daring to compare. I, who strive to teach my daughters every day to accept themselves for who they are, am standing here comparing.

She is clearly far behind in writing. I know she’s behind in reading too. She has to be, because we’re in grade two and she’s still struggling to read the first “Mat Sat” book.

Where does she end and I begin? Why can I tell myself in my head that her immense vocabulary and fantastic comprehension count, yet in my heart her ability to sound out three-letter words is all that matters?

I cry. Again. Most people tell me to wait. It will come, but I am the one who sits with her over and over and sees her struggle, despite a clear and desperate desire to learn. It’s her teacher who will later say, “I’ve never seen a kid work so hard, for so little reward.”

We decide as a family to meet with a psychologist to make sure we aren’t missing something.

I cry on the phone when I book the appointment. I know we’ve chosen the right psychologist when she talks to me for 20 minutes. She listens as my heart cracks open and I admit I’m pretty sure my failure is the reason she can’t read, that I’ve broken her.

Weeks later I sit in the psychologist’s office. “I always hesitate to diagnose kids with this unless I’ve spent a lot of time with them, but I think your daughter has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” She acknowledges this wasn’t even on our radar, but suddenly floods of memories begin pouring in: the daily spilling of cereal, and falling off chairs, the constant clumsy, scatterbrained nature, her teachers telling us she has trouble sitting still and the steady stream of verbal consciousness.  Even her reading and spelling is characterized by constantly skittering ahead, talking endlessly about the picture or multiple bathroom breaks.

I spend hours in the next weeks scouring the Internet for anything I can find on ADHD. The stories that hit close to home are about girls — girls who got missed because they don’t present in the typical, running-around-the-classroom stereotype. Stories of busy minds and mouths, of daydreamers and later, lots and lots of shame in teenage girls who felt constantly misunderstood. We find out she scored fairly high on her IQ test, especially in the areas linked to creative problem solving, things associated with girls being highly adept at hiding their struggles.

One night, we try reading with a fidget, as recommended by the psychologist. I don’t chide her for squirming, I remind her to use her finger to follow the words and she twirls the fidget in her other hand. The constant whir of moment making me shudder. She reads the whole book, in order. I choke back tears. Could it be that simple?

Months later I’ll stand at another bulletin board, my daughter presenting her work. Her writing is still clearly behind her classmates. I’ll take a deep breath of relief that we took the psychologist recommendation and had her repeat grade two. I’ll listen to her chatter about all the things she’s learning. Instead of comparing her work to others I’ll look at how far she’s come. I’ll take just a little credit that she has never really cared that her friends can read far better than her. She stands before me, so proud of the work she has poured her heart into, and she sees only her hard-earned accomplishment. I realize, that is just as important as learning to read.

drawing of a castle

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The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When My Daughter Asked Her Future Self If She Was ‘Still Sad About Having ADHD’

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When my first-grader comes home from school, I always take out the work she brought home from school and we go over it together. It’s a part of our after-school routine before she starts her homework. I ask her questions about her assignments and she tells me what her favorite assignments were and why. One of the assignments she worked on was a time capsule for her to open in four years. She had to write a letter to her fifth-grade self, and when I read the words she wrote, my heart sank.

She wrote: “Are you still sad about having ADHD?”

letter handwritten by child
The letter Cristina’s daughter wrote to her fifth-grade self.

Heartbreaking, right? I took a breath and as calmly as I could asked her why she was sad about having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She answered, “Because it makes it hard for me to concentrate at school. I just want my ADHD to go away.”

Now some parents in this situation might say something to their child like, “If I could take your ADHD away, I would.” When my child was first diagnosed and I didn’t know much about ADHD, I might have said the same thing. Now that I understand much more about ADHD and how it can affect my child in a positive way, I said this to my daughter instead:

“Your ADHD is what makes you so incredibly unique, creative, smart and fun. ADHD is not a bad thing or something to be ashamed about. It can be like a hidden superpower that allows you to think outside the box and see the world in a fun way.”

I am not sugarcoating ADHD to make it seem like it’s all sunshine and rainbows. It most definitely has its thunderstorms and my daughter knows it. Living with ADHD can be hard for her at times, and as her mother, I see her face challenges on a daily basis. A lot of hard work and effort is put into her getting through everyday tasks. But would I take her ADHD away if I could? No, I wouldn’t. Although it is not who she is, ADHD is a part of what makes her my beautiful, intelligent, fun, silly girl.

What I would take away if I could, though, is this perspective of ADHD that comes out every now and then, which was the purpose of the talk I had with her. After my little pep talk, her demeanor changed and she breezed through her homework afterwards. I am sure we will have many more talks like that and I don’t mind at all. Children with ADHD can need frequent assurance, praise, recognition, support and love, and I know my fellow parents and I will always be their biggest cheerleaders, fans and advocates.

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The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us the story around a note or card you saved because of its significance. Send a photo of the note or card as well. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Was Diagnosed With ADHD as an Adult

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Sorry. I really was interested the last time we spoke each other. I really tried to listen to what you were telling me. The thing is, I also participated in all the other conversations in the room, just not out loud.

I apologize. I didn’t realize I left you in the middle of our conversation and started a discussion with someone else. I was already speaking to her, wasn’t I?

Wait… that was in my head, not out loud.

Yes, it’s true. I completely ignored everything and everyone after I was so impolite to you and focused on yet another conversation, but the subject of that conversation fascinated me and I couldn’t let go. 

I still can’t and I’ve been losing sleep over it for days.

Diplomatic? Not my thing. Honest? Always! Lying through my teeth? I don’t like it and I can’t; you’ll see right through me.

Birthdays? Forget them all the time. Especially when Facebook reminds me!

I’m rambling on an on, aren’t I? I seem like I’m not listening. I really realize that. Still, I hear and understand everything you are telling me. It does help if I find the subject of what you are trying to tell me somewhat interesting. It becomes difficult if that’s not the case. Just be polite and listen? Everyone will see I’m faking it in a second.

I know people think men can’t multitask. I do. I simultaneously take care of dozens of projects and problems at the same time. I’ve made hundreds of different exhibitions in the last 20 years, and I remember every little detail from all of them, but what was your name again?

Yes, I go fast. Always. No matter how hard I try to find more balance in my life or ways to conserve my energy, I always end up rushing from one project to another. And I’m tired, so terribly tired.

Strange enough I can’t understand why it looks like everyone is taking the easy way while in fact it’s me who’s the one who’s out of pace.

Most of the time I don’t like myself, and I’m terrified that you feel the same. 

It won’t come to a surprise to you; I’m not doing well. Despite the fact that I’ve been asking too much of my self for years, the last five years were devastating.

You didn’t notice? I believe that. You have to be really close to me to break through my shield or see through my pokerface.

author giving presentation at work For a long time I was perfectly capable of managing the amount of pressure and stress I dropped on my own shoulders, but lately I can’t find ways to ease the overload of thoughts, feelings and emotions in my head — this overload, this uneasy and restless feeling I’ve had all my life — but by inserting a huge amount of energy in keeping the speed, I rushed through it and ignored it. 

At times I found myself too tired to walk, but instead of taking the time to recuperate I went even faster.

Being restless and so tired caused me to be even less concentrated, and anger and aggression surfaced. I ignored my family and friends. My private life and my work started to suffer.

When I finally realized I couldn’t keep living like this, I went to our family doctor and got referred to a psychology practice. After several sessions and research I got the same diagnoses as my son: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). From that moment on, I received help in dealing with the problems I’ve faced all these years.

The decision for starting medication with my son wasn’t something I took lightly, but after witnessing the results of this medication, it was less difficult starting myself. The first time I took my medication, it moved me to tears. I felt like I had been driving on The Autobahn at 110 miles per hour and then crossed the border to the Netherlands at 30 miles per hour.

I felt like walking through water. Never before have I felt so at ease. I could find some order in my thoughts and focus on the most important projects instead of dividing all my energy to 10 or 20 things at the same time (and therefore failing at about half of them). Problems out of my reach stayed where they belonged: out of my reach.

At the same time, I made changes at work; I could focus more on what I was good at without constant distraction. I started delegating work to the team. 

The combination of treatment, medication, changes at work and working hard to find a better way of life should result in exactly that: a better life!

Reading a book, walking with my dog, watching a movie with the kids, going out for dinner with my wife. I want it all more and I enjoy it all more.

I want to be more… me! And with the support of the people I love, I can. 

author hugging his loved one

Editor’s note: These answers are based on personal experience and shouldn’t be taken as professional advice. Talk to your doctor before starting on any medication or diet.

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