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I was the girl who stared out the window.

I was the girl who cried at the drop of a hat.

I was the kid who had an anxiety attack and nobody knew what it was.

I was the girl with the most black marks on the good kid/bad kid board.

The shame of watching those marks being made by my teacher still sit with me to this day. I still feel like that kid with the most black marks in class.

I didn’t misbehave; I was actually well-behaved, but I was extremely forgetful. I would forget my gym clothes, my musical instrument, my homework and that permission note my mum needed to sign.

The school tested my hearing because they thought I might have hearing loss. Why? Because when my name was called, I didn’t respond. I was away in dreamland.

My teacher said, “She is there in body but not in mind.”

All of this carried on through school. As a teenager, my behavior was monitored with a microscope. I stopped going to school when I was 15.

I couldn’t do my homework at home. I impulsively hit my siblings out of frustration and immediately regretted it. I fidgeted and wriggled in my seat. I didn’t brush my teeth. I didn’t wash myself properly. My mother had never heard of ADD, and her frustration with me equalled to stern discipline and punishments, but they never worked. I was a “problem child” who did whatever she wanted. The kindest thing ever said to me as a teenager was that I “was a free spirit!”

What does it look like now?

On the outside, it might look like I’m a “flaky” friend who just can’t get it together and jumps from one job/project/idea/career choice to another while dropping everything else. On the outside, it might look like I don’t care about my friends or family because I forget their birthdays, and I don’t have any money to buy presents. On the outside, it might look like I am a selfish friend, daughter, sister and girlfriend. That I just don’t care enough.

“Why can’t she just focus and do something with her life?”

“Why can’t she keep her home clean?”

“Why can’t she get a job?”

I stare into space at home and jump from one thought to another.

The place is a mess. I’m afraid to answer my phone. I keep the curtains closed in case somebody calls and I pretend I’m not there.

I can’t hold down a job because I get frustrated so easily. I create enemies where there are none because I can’t handle stress properly. I’m late, I don’t have any clean clothes, I didn’t give myself enough time to shower so my hair is greasy. I forgot to brush my teeth.

I put that utility bill aside and forgot about it, so now I’ve been disconnected and I have to spend the winter washing myself in the sink with a kettle.

I forget to respond to text messages, so my friends assume I don’t care enough about them to respond in a timely manner. They stop calling and texting.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 35. Everything made sense. I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I could explain my difficulties and be heard. But on the outside, I am still that “flaky” friend, the “messy, moody” co-worker and “inattentive” girlfriend.

I’ve been through a lot in my life because of being undiagnosed, and it had a massive impact on my mental health. I have had depression and anxiety at varying levels of intensity. The anxiety is quite bad now, but at least I know why I am having difficulties. Since diagnosis, it has been a slow road to being easier on myself, trying to create routine and getting the help I need. Medication helps me feel clearer in my mind, and I look forward to therapy, where I can deal with the negative views I have about myself and deal with the low self-esteem. There are only so many times you can get back up and brush it off and start again before your spirit starts to show signs of cracking and breaking.

This is a message for those in my life who still see me as that person who just needs to try harder: I have been, I always have been and I will never stop.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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On a bright cold day in April 1993 or thereabouts, I was in an elementary school computer lab populated by a ragtag assemblage of low-end Macintosh LC’s and rather more quaint Commodore Amigas and 128s. I sat hunched over in my miniature ergonomic chair, mouth agape, entranced by 256 vibrant colors of edutainment diffused across a 12-inch monitor, poised to make history on a microcosmic scale.

My game of choice was Word Munchers, a Pacman clone designed to impart basic grammar skills upon jaded schoolchildren. See, you controlled this little monster, and you had to make him eat words that conformed to specific vowel sounds, or words that were only adjectives, or words that rhymed with other words and so forth. The specifics aren’t important. What’s important is that on that day in April, after two hours of hyper-focused gameplay, I beat the game. I was in the first grade, and I beat the entire game on the fifth grade level.

I tell you this not to brag, but to say I have no taste for self-aggrandizement is a grievous understatement. I recount this story because, as pathetic as it might sound, beating that inconsequential game on that bright cold day remains the apex accomplishment of my entire life. For one fraction of a second, I was open to options I had never before considered. Everything seemed within the realm of possibility. I know it sounds reductive to posit that my entire self­-image could be based upon a single incident from my childhood, but on that day I cast a shadow from which I’ve never been able to fully emerge. There’s no way that I could ever live up to my own grandiose expectations.

Last year, at the age of 28, I was diagnosed with ADHD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Contrary to the unfair stereotype of a child with ADHD being a malcontent who revels in kicking the backs of chairs and assailing other people with various calibers of Nerf ordinance, growing up I was always exceptionally deferential to my elders. I was quiet, calm, unassuming and stable. Somewhat akin to Martin Prince, though lacking his social cachet. At least that’s how I was for the first few years, before I burned out.

For me, having ADHD is like using a color wheel without the little spinny top part — I have the advantage of being able to see all of the colors at once, but I’m at a distinct disadvantage in that I can’t discern which colors are best suited for one another.

My perception ends up unified. I see the past, present and future all as one. I simply can’t navigate. I can’t command my mind to go where it needs to go. It’s not that I can’t focus on anything, it’s that I feel compelled to focus on everything all at once. Or one precise thing to the detriment of all else.

I can make conceptual connections and empathize with other beings in ways that many neurotypical people can’t or don’t want to, but I’m barely functional in almost every other regard.

I lack the ability to delay gratification, too. I’ll put off anything I am doing,­ no matter how important­, if I think there’s something I can do in the immediate moment to help someone else. I do it even if that help is not really needed. I might spend hours or even days intensely focused on perfecting a cookie recipe if I feel there’s even the slightest chance a plate of perfect cookies might cheer someone up. All other concerns become secondary and tertiary.

My capacity to make decisions, at least in a timely manner, is severely encumbered. I’m felled by an abyss of contingencies, all of them equally ­weighted, suffused with infinite possibility.

This form of paralysis has wreaked havoc on my ability to successfully complete a great multitude of work over the years. It doesn’t matter if I am faced with jotting down a brief reflection on a subject or engaging in an extensive literature review — when I sit down to write something and consider the limitless options before me, I become enmeshed in my endlessly tangential thoughts.

This becomes especially apparent to me whenever I attempt to engage in any form of deep reading. It takes me a very long time to finish a single book, and as a consequence I feel innately dull. It’s impossible for me to read more than a paragraph at a time without stopping to ponder for hours, or staring at the wall for days. I’m a dilettante — an imposter. I’m constantly vigilant lest others find out and feel compelled to discount me altogether.

Emotionally and intellectually stupefied. Exhausted. Untrustworthy. A flake. A disappointment. I’ve internalized these perceptions. They are part of me. I have brown hair, green eyes and I am a complete screw-up.

As I attempt to salvage some semblance of self-­respect from my formative years, I’ve come to understand in many regards I hold myself to impossibly high standards. If I create anything I perceive to be less than perfect or ideal, I tend to take it as a failure, unworthy of being shared. Years ago I wrote a letter to the editor in which, upon publication, someone erroneously changed my use of the word “averse” to “adverse.” There is literally not a single other entity in the universe who could possibly care about this, but it still bothers me immensely my name was attached to the misapplication of a word.

I understand the fallacies inherent in what I’ve just said, but I nevertheless can’t surmount them. Perfection is illusory and the relentless pursuit of it is innately self-destructive. I would never hold anyone else to the same unattainable standards to which I hold myself. I would do everything within my power to find the beauty in others’ work — to encourage tenacity. Why can’t I afford myself the same courtesy? Because to do so would constitute self­-pity. Egotism. Naval gazing. It would be distasteful. Logic has no bearing on my self-concept.

I suppose everybody has a set “person” they feel they’ve become. Some people mold themselves into this person but most elect to have others do it for them. We’re all shaped by forces greater than us. After a while this personality becomes hardened and stringent, like the shell of a cicada. We become afraid to molt the shell because the process leaves us naked and vulnerable to the world.

I don’t like what I’ve written. It’s laughably maudlin, serious, my anecdotes are too personal, too specific, too boring. I haven’t said anything others haven’t said more eloquently a thousand times before. My writing is redundant, inelegant and not remotely transcendent. Nevertheless I’ve chosen to share it with you in the hope that doing so will allow me to finally emerge from the shadow of my 7-year-old self, or break free of my spent cicada shell or whatever other metaphor you might see fit to employ. I write to accept myself for who I am. I will never be the world’s first fire-­fighting cyborg clown to be appointed Secretary General of the United Nations, and I need to be OK with that. I am OK with that.


When a parent receives an ADHD diagnosis for their young child, they are filled with many emotions. The biggest one I hear from parents is relief. They feel an overwhelming sense of relief because they finally have an explanation for their child’s behavior and actions. Now they can move forward and seek proper care. That is absolutely fantastic for not just the child, but the entire family. However, when a young child is diagnosed, parents are then faced with a decision: whether to tell their child they have ADHD or not.

Honestly, I am surprised by how many parents have told me their child doesn’t know they have ADHD. However, I can understand why. Our society has created such a negative association with ADHD. Sadly, when most people discover a child has ADHD, they automatically assume he or she is “a troublemaker,” “rambunctious” and “disobedient.” Hardly anyone looks at the child and thinks he or she is “a leader,” “an out-of-the-box thinker” and “a visionary.” Because of this, I am not surprised many parents are afraid to tell their child they have ADHD. They are afraid their child will feel scared or “different.”

I see ADHD as an advantage. I see it as a gift. I see it as a superpower. That is why there was no doubt in my mind I would tell my then 5-year-old daughter she had ADHD. First of all, I felt she has the right to know why her mind works a certain way. Second of all, she has nothing to be ashamed about. In words she could understand, my husband and I told her that her brain works differently than in other kids and because she is so interested in the amazing world around her and has so many wonderful thoughts, it makes it hard for her to focus sometimes. We told her there is special medicine just for her that will help her brain focus better at school. We also told her about the celebrities with ADHD and all of their accomplishments. (Her favorite is Walt Disney.) We told her ADHD is part of what makes her so creative, imaginative and passionate. My husband has ADHD and he’s an intelligent and successful businessman, so my daughter sees firsthand how ADHD affects her father in a positive way every single day.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite having a positive perception of ADHD and using medication to help her focus in school, my daughter still has some difficulties. Anxiety and depression have found their way into my daughter’s life as well, which often coincide with ADHD. However, it is nothing we can’t handle together. My daughter is young and still learning what works and what doesn’t for her ADHD, which is completely understandable. When she is having a hard time, I like to recite Rumpelstiltskin’s famous quote from “Once Upon A Time” to her: “All magic comes with a price, dearie.” I say it in his voice of course, which usually ends in her laughing and then remembering all the great qualities and abilities that can come with ADHD.

What I do and will always do for my daughter is help her see the glass half-full. I will always provide her with the tools she needs, including me, who is her biggest supporter and advocate.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


As a person with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), one of my major stressors can be the frustration, and sometimes guilt, of procrastination and the feeling I’m never accomplishing enough. It takes very little to knock me off course sometimes, and the freewheeling, relaxed, socially abundant atmosphere of summer, while wonderful, doesn’t help.

There’s always someone doing something somewhere that sounds so much better than the work project that’s due on Monday or that errand you promised your spouse you’d take care of for the kids over the weekend. In short, there are plenty of “squirrels” to steal your focus.

For someone with ADHD, the word “routine” can conjure up a series of repetitive, logistical tasks and seemingly “mundane” obligations that are about as exciting as watching a new cable channel called “Haircut TV.”

That’s not to say they aren’t important. In fact, they’re often vital, and I sometimes regard those who can manage them with an almost mystical reverence. But for me, they can be painful. So in this context, I use the word “routine” simply as an unbiased descriptor — an adjective.

But while these “routine” tasks often assume the persona of my sworn nemesis, I’ve also come to realize over the years that the word “routine,” in an alternate context, has come to play an extremely valuable role in the management of my ADHD life. “Routine” as a noun — a word that refers to the regularity of activities that can help bring order and stability to an otherwise chaotic mind.

For someone living with ADHD, adding a certain amount of routine (in noun form) to their life can be a very effective coping strategy. It can help provide external cues that make it easier to transition between tasks. 

When faced with a task that needs to be accomplish regularly (but always seems to get put off due to its mundane nature), you can build a “routine” around it. Creating a ritual of sorts can trigger your brain to know when its time to start shifting your focus towards that activity. In other words, establishing a routine as an external prompt can, in some cases, help build “muscle memory” of the brain.

Let’s face it: A lapsed routine during the summer can be fine. It’s expected. It’s the time of year when we get to slow down and enjoy some of the rewards of our hard work. The trick for many individuals with ADHD is to take advantage of the downtime without allowing it to consume you.

But there’s no denying that for me — and for many who deal with the challenge of ADHD — there is a certain amount of comfort and safety in knowing that when September roles around and the kids head back to school, everything can get back to its normal routine.

So although it may be wise to recognize and appreciate the difference between “routine” as both an adjective and a noun, the truth is that while we may never desire one to be more than a casual acquaintance that we learn to accept and tolerate out of necessity, the other can become one of your best friends.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Every child behaves inappropriately from time to time. They kick, they scream and they express their displeasure for a situation in a way that is equal parts tiring and inappropriate. My son “J” still expresses himself like this during times of distress. To those on the outside, my son is acting out; he is not trying to act appropriately because he is “spoiled.”

I do not like this word. By definition, a child is “spoiled” when their parents are too lenient and give in to even the most impractical requests. In my opinion, such an explanation for my son’s behavior trivializes his conditions and the hard work he puts into living within the confines of life’s expectations.

Let me back up. My son was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at 5, unspecified anxiety disorder at 8, and autism spectrum disorder at 10. Every day is an alphabet soup of situations and his reactions to them. Sometimes those reactions are “appropriate,” and other times those reactions are not. On days his reactions are less than stellar, we work on coping skills and emotions. It seems that, regardless of how hard he tries, however, the most widely accepted explanation for his behavior is inept parenting. We’ve “spoiled” him. We’ve “babied” him. In my opinion, neither of these external reactions to J’s behavior hold merit. That is because J generally reacts in ways that are stereotypical in relation to his neuro-complexities.

For instance, children who experience anxiety can show signs of irritability. Children with ADHD are more likely than their peers to engage in disruptive behaviors and to be impulsive. Last, children with autism may face a slew of complexities that impact their behavior, their reactions and their lives. Making strategic decisions on how to best handle complex behaviors associated with these diagnoses and defusing situations without unnecessary conflict does not “spoil” children because children cannot spoil.

Milk spoils.

Meat spoils.

Eggs spoil.

Children do not spoil.

Children react to their environments, and listening to a child and working with them in a certain capacity does not diminish their quality or degrade their worth. It empowers them. It helps them know they are loved and enhances their quality of life. That, in my opinion, is worth far more than appealing to misconceptions of his motives and misunderstanding of how he’s parented.


Parenting is not easy. And (shh), it is not always fun. It can be grueling and, at times, seemingly impossible. There are days I want to put up a sign that says, “Gone Fishing. Or to Trader Joe’s. Or to pee. In Iceland.”

The thing is, parenting is isolating at times – no matter how much you love your children and adore motherhood. Having a kid with special needs can really throw you into a corner all alone. It doesn’t matter what the specific need is; it can be terrifying and trying along the way.

Here are four things I wish I had learned 12 years ago about parenting a child with special needs. 

1) It is not easy; maintain your sense of humor.

My oldest daughter and I have a special relationship. We get each other. We love each other so intensely it is often suffocating (for both of us).  She is fun, bright, passionate, funny and wants to be with me always. She also has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We have all had to learn to laugh (with her) because otherwise we would cry. If we find humor in everything else, it makes the painful parts a little less painful.

2) Find support.

For years I did not share my daughter’s issues with anyone – not even her teachers. Sure, they knew she had ADHD and understood the impact it could have on her life at school. But no one knew about the difficulties she had at home: the meltdowns, difficulty reading social cues or how she would not go to sleep at night. I was sure all of this was because I was doing something wrong. Then one day, after a really rough night, I broke down to a friend. Lucky for me, I chose the right friend; as it turned out, her child had similar issues. We vented, shared stories and became each other’s main means of support during the hard times. To this day, we laugh together, cry together and offer each other tips.   

My other lifesaver has been our cognitive behavioral therapist. She has helped my daughter become aware of her behavior and work on regulating her emotions. She has assisted me and my husband in coming up with a behavior plan based on incentives. She has helped us understand the psychological and physiological characteristics of kids just like my daughter. It actually felt better to know our child is not entirely unique; it made us feel less alone.

Online support groups for parents are also helpful. There is a whole world of parents who are experiencing the same issues that you face. You can validate each other, mentor each other and explore your options together.

3) Tune out your critics. Trust yourself.

My harshest critics are often those closest to me. “She has tantrums because you are so strict with her.” “Why aren’t you enforcing more rules and limits?” “Why on earth are you not medicating her?” “Why did you medicate her? Poor kid!”

It was hard, but I had to learn to feel confident in my own parenting. As I relied more and more on “the experts” and my fellow parents to guide me through the rough patches, the more I was able to tune out my critics. I have learned to parent as I see fit. Oh, my critics still criticize, but I am more capable of ignoring them and carrying on. I have watched my daughter thrive and blossom as my husband and I learn to parent with confidence.

4) Advocate. Advocate. Advocate.

You are your child’s greatest advocate – and at times, maybe the only one. Even with the neuropsych evaluation in hand, you may have to gently (or not so gently) remind the teachers your child needs modifications and/or differentiation to meet goals and expectations.

When a teacher says, “Your daughter had a lot of trouble focusing on math today,” I ask, “What came before that block?” When they reply, “English and science and a double block of reading,” I know to ask, “Was there any gross motor movement? Any breaks? Was she given any time at all to get up out of her seat and even socialize?”

I’ve been on both sides of this coin. I’ve been the teacher with 28 kids in my class. I have seen how hard it can be to take every single child’s needs into account, but it is still so important for teachers to do this!

It is your right – perhaps even your job – to keep your finger on the pulse of your child’s life at school. If he/she is not successful, ask yourself: why not? A simple tweak, like walking around the school after half an hour of work, could be just the trick your child’s teachers may have overlooked. No one is a better expert on your child than you are. I should add that you will have many a teacher who has your child’s best interests at heart. We have had plenty of those! Be sure to let them know how much it means to you!

Every family has ups and downs. Every child has good days and bad days. Sometimes it feels like we families with children with special needs have more rough days than “normal” families do. But I assure you, this is not true. What I have learned since I started opening up is that no family is “normal.” And we are so lucky.

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