Woman doing laundry.

Living Life One Step at a Time With ADHD

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I honestly don’t even know where to begin. My mind is a cluster of thoughts. Did I do my laundry? How will I get the motivation to put all my laundry away? I want to watch that movie that just came out, but I also want to read that book that’s been sitting in the corner of my room for months. But the simplest of tasks can be more than exhausting for me to complete.

I attempt washing and drying my laundry. When it comes to putting it away, I am dragged away from the task by the thought of reading that dusty book sitting in the corner of my room. So I sit down, open the book, and put it down after a paragraph or less. I turn the TV on and try to watch a simple movie of interest, but continuously get up every two minutes, losing my train of thought as I fidget consistently.

As a teenager in high school, I always had a feeling I might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I could never focus, I was a terrible test-taker, and I wasn’t able to apply myself to be the better student I knew I was and could be. It was in late 2013 when I really began to notice a difference with my focus and concentration.

I began taking online classes with the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, majoring in photography. At the beginning of the course, I knew something wasn’t right. I would look at a single sentence within my notes and I would have to re-read it five, even six or seven times for it to vaguely sink in. I started to fall behind with my studies and projects that needed to be completed in a timely manner. Photography is one of the things I am most passionate about, so I was very hard on myself for not being able to complete simple educational tasks for something I love so much.

I also love to read and write, but ADHD does not discriminate. When I write, I can only write a few lines at a time because my attention is being pulled into five different directions. I get severely fatigued by the middle of my day because I cannot complete the goals I have set for myself for that day.

Since being diagnosed with ADHD, I have been receiving treatment through medication and practicing more patience. It took me a long time to learn that just because you have a disability, it does not mean you cannot accomplish anything you set your mind to. I believe if you dream big and have faith, anything in this life is possible and worthwhile.

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Thinkstock image by Mary LB.

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Why I Tell People I've Just Met About My ADHD

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I am typically not the most open person. It can take a long time for me to trust someone enough to open up to them about my personal struggles and insecurities. However, I don’t hesitate to tell people I’ve just met that I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I am often told how great it is that I’m comfortable being open about my mental illness, but I’m not comfortable with my ADHD. I am not comfortable sharing one of my biggest insecurities and feeling like I’m making excuses for my faults. I tell people about my ADHD because I feel like I owe them an explanation for who I am as a person.

I tell people I have ADHD because I can’t apologize again for interrupting them when I’ve done it six times already.

I tell people because I see the look of horror on their face as I dig through the mess of crumpled papers, old pencils and food wrappers at the bottom of my backpack only to find I forgot to pack my assignment that was due that day.

I tell people because I don’t know how else to explain to my friend that I’m driving with my brights on because my headlight has been out for 4 months and I keep forgetting to get it changed and yes I know my service light is on, I need an oil change, and yeah I know I need gas, I’ll stop later, and yeah I know I need to get the crack in my windshield fixed and fill my power steering fluid and sorry, but I can’t clean the windshield, I haven’t had wiper fluid for over a year and I’m sorry I almost caused an accident, I got distracted by a cute dog.

I tell people because I can feel my entire bottom cringe when I hear them ask: “Why don’t you just…”

Ahh yes, please finish; I’m sure I’ve heard it before. “Why don’t you just leave earlier?” “Why don’t you put things back in their place?” “Why don’t you just start your homework sooner?” “Why don’t you just pay your bills on time?” “Why don’t you just keep a planner?” “Why don’t you just stick to a budget?” and on and on and on.

I know they mean well and I know they are just trying to help, and I know they can’t possibly understand the mess that is my brain, so I tell them I have ADHD because I need them to understand I’m trying. I need them to understand I hate being late and that being disorganized gives me anxiety.

I need them to understand that doing well in school is so important to me and I won’t invite them over because I’m embarrassed by the mess that is my room. I need them to understand that I spent years asking myself those very questions before being diagnosed, and I still struggle to be kind to myself when I can’t seem to handle the basic responsibilities that come with being an adult. I feel constantly overwhelmed and stressed out and I can’t handle others’ judging me for what I already judge myself so harshly for.

So I tell people that I have ADHD, because I know I can’t hide it.

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5 Tips for Surviving Exam Season for Students With ADHD

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It’s that time of year again — the dreaded exam season! While for most it means a bit of added stress, time spent revising and having to work a little harder that usual, for someone with ADHD, it means something much more terrifying.

The mere thought of having to sit in a room for an hour, with no change of mental stimulation, no break from concentration and the pressure of a time limit is enough to make me anxious. Let alone the fact that some of my exams are up to five hours long. I struggle to keep concentrated in an hour and a half lesson, often finding myself starting to show my tics and getting frustrated with being unable to concentrate on anything the teacher is saying or what I have written in front of me.

When I cast my eyes over my exam timetable this year, I outwardly groaned! Friends asked me, “What’s wrong with you? You’ve only got four exams!” I groaned because I saw the time for one of my written exams — two hours and 45 minutes. How anybody is physically meant to be able to write for that length of time is beyond me, but for someone who is already starting to zone out writing this post, I can already see my grade dropping — and it has nothing to do with my academic ability.

My usual coping mechanisms would have me disqualified — Listening to music or taking 10 minutes to change the subject and check Facebook on my phone. So how on earth am I meant to cope? It’s taken getting to my second year at college to finally find some things that help. They are both external and things I can do myself. Here they are:

1. Small group and rest breaks (the exam gods’ greatest gifts!)

If I hadn’t discovered this exam concession, I would probably have dropped out of college last year and be sitting around with no A levels to my name. But surprisingly, in a college of over 4,000 pupils, I finally received the help I needed through my tutor.

He introduced me to the idea of having these. At first I turned my nose up — I didn’t need special treatment. I felt I didn’t deserve that! But he reassured me it really wasn’t a big deal and directed me to Study Support. They informed me a note from my doctor would have me whisked away from the huge sports halls lined with hundreds of students taking exams to a smaller room where I could simply raise my hand and ask to leave the room (escorted) for as long as I needed without it affecting my exam time or grade.

As someone who also experiences back and joint pain from hypermobility, this also meant I could have a stretch and a walk and return with a fresh mind and body ready to continue my exam. I honestly can’t tell you how much these helped me. I suddenly became an A student, but more importantly, I felt a lot less stressed in the exams and was able to continue college for another year.

I really stress to anyone who has from ADD, ADHD, any concentration disorder, anxiety, pain or anything else to please talk to the necessary people — teachers, your school’s equivalent of Study Support or your doctor will all be able to help you. I didn’t even know it existed until my tutor told me about it!

2. Add some fruit and vegetables to your diet.

No, I mean it this time! Chocolate chips really won’t help! I know everyone says the same thing about healthy eating — “Vegetables give you brain power!” But they really do! Eating a more balanced diet and helping your body to not be working overtime to find nutrients in what you are eating really helps your brain to focus on the task at hand — exams!

I dare you to try it. I’m not saying don’t eat chocolate, but just think about adding some extra fruit and vegetables to your diet, it will really give your brain the upper hand to help you concentrate and focus and generally have more energy.

3. Avoid energy drinks.

I speak from experience! This time last year, I could not function if I didn’t drink a particular brand of energy drink before every lesson. I’ve never really drunk other energy drinks, but friends have told me they pretty much do the same thing. I genuinely thought even the drink wasn’t doing enough to keep me focused. My heart would be racing in a lesson and I wouldn’t be able to even focus from the beginning. I couldn’t keep this up let alone afford to buy one for every class!So I started to wean myself off of them. Eventually, I made the connection that they made it worse. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know why, but I presume it has to do with the sugar and caffeine making my body and mind work overtime.

4. Take some time for yourself.

You needn’t spend every hour of your life studying! It’s hard work trying to prepare for exams, let alone when that work doubles when you have ADHD or another concentration disorder. If you have a free period, you don’t always have to use it productively. Spend some time just sitting and chilling sometimes — read a book, look at your phone or have a nap if you can find somewhere!

It really helps to just reset your brain once in a while and have a recharge. Don’t feel guilty about it it’s simply a bit of self-care!

5. Know you aren’t alone.

People might not always be able to understand, but they are willing to help. I spend a lot of my time in a bubble. If you tell someone you can’t concentrate, they might laugh and tell you to just concentrate. Little do they know it isn’t as easy as that! I spent a lot of time struggling in silence until I discovered a community of people with mental disorders on social media. They’ve helped me realize a lot of things I thought only happened to me, actually happen to a lot of people. Knowing this has helped me talk to people to help them help me. My teachers will all check in with me once in a while now, to check that I’m up to date with everything and have managed to catch up on what I’ve missed in a “zone out.” I’ve asked to be emailed PowerPoints used in lessons, which has actually helped others in the class too when the teacher has shared them. It’s almost impossible for anyone to take in all the information they learn in a lesson!

It’s really important to never struggle in silence, and one thing I have learned is that other people don’t want you to either. But they can’t help unless you let them and help them do so. They may not understand how my brain works, but if I decipher the code for them, most people are willing.

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Thinkstock photo via macrovector.

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What I Wish Others Understood About My Son With ADHD

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Each day begins with a bang. Not a gentle, “time to get out of bed,” and then the rest of the routine just comes. Each day and each morning require routine and reminders. And words. Constantly. At 9 years old, my son is capable of dressing himself, getting his breakfast and getting out the door, but he requires prodding and reminders at each step. Things must often be repeated. Tasks that might seem simple to some can take more than 15 minutes to accomplish when your brain is in constant alert mode.

The world is full of stimuli to my son who has ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). There is so much going on in his mind that even tying his shoes can be besotted by constant distraction. To him, there are just so many other things he could be doing or seeing. Why can’t the shoe tying just wait?

The thing I wish more people understood is that he is not doing these things to be difficult. He is not purposely taking longer to tie his shoes, or eat his breakfast, or choose a treat at the store. His 9-year-old brain is just full of so much more! He is in almost constant “go” mode. I believe he sees the world as full of possibility, as many of us do, but he sees it all at once. And he does not understand yet why he must wait to see or do it all.

I also wish more of us understood all that ADHD encompasses. It is not just hyperactivity and inattention. It is also emotional dysregulation, anxiety, difficulty interacting with peers, emotional immaturity, difficulty adjusting to new things and so much more. Most days my son enjoys being with friends and learning new things at school. Other days he cries with frustration because his mind won’t allow him to concentrate enough to learn a new idea. Don’t get me wrong. My son is very bright. But for him to learn a new idea requires more effort and patience.

ADHD means we do a bit more for our son. I spend some days on the phone for an hour or more seeking the best providers in our area we can find. It means I spent almost a full year getting him into a behavioral and mental health center at a top-notch children’s hospital in our city. It meant I made call after call to get that first appointment. It meant that he stayed behind with his dad when my grandmother passed away this winter so he could attend that appointment we waited eight months to get. But I would do it all again. And more. Because this specialist at this top-notch children’s hospital has been wonderful and amazing and kind, and my son is thriving.

I have a son with ADHD. I have a son who also is loving, kind, caring, funny and bright. And I wouldn’t change him one bit.

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Thinkstock image by Kuzmichstudio

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What I Wish People Understood About Fidget 'Toys' and Disabilities

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In second grade I would kick my feet under my desk. This wasn’t a light paddle kind of kick, but wildly kicking the desk up with my feet, causing a commotion and a lot of noise. It would completely disrupt the class and I would get yelled at. I would have to stay in for recess because of something out of my control. I remember my regular ed teachers putting heavy books on my lap to try to get me to stop, but I had so much energy my legs would just kick. There was also a time they put tape on my legs (I could easily break the tape) that would lightly tug on my clothing as I started to kick, trying to act as a reminder. But still, my feet swung.

As much as I tried to stop, the second my mind lost focus (which as a child with severe ADHD was literally every three minutes) my legs would start going again. My special ed teacher found a solution, a piece of fabric I could play with in my hands, and suddenly my legs stopped kicking. Over the years I’ve tried different things to get the relief, and I have found nothing more helpful than my fidget cube.

Students with disabilities need these cubes and spinners, but non-disabled students have now taken these objects and are treating them like toys instead of what they were actually invented for: therapy. Kids with anxiety, autism, sensory processing issues, ADHD, and many other cognitive and even physical disabilities really benefit from these tools. While they might be fun for some, they actually serve a purpose to many. They’re now being banned in schools because students who don’t need these objects are misusing them.

Please talk to your kids/friends/family about disabilities, and how some students/fellow employees may get items or services they do not get. Many kids in elementary school are angered by this, but if these kids are informed of the reason for these differences, they are more likely to accept them and help create a better environment for students of all abilities. The fidget “toy” is a great place to start a conversation about ability and disability.

I don’t mind when non-disabled people use fidget tools, but please talk to your kids, siblings, and peers about the importance of them. Teach them to use them appropriately so those who need them don’t have to suffer the consequences from those who use them for fun. For you, they may be a toy, but for me, they are essential in my everyday life.

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The Mental Battle Between Attention-Deficit Disorder and Anxiety

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Having adult attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a constant battle in the brain, like two opposing sides fighting each other.

My anxiety wants everything to be clean and organized. My ADD wants a disorganized mess.

My anxiety hates myself for being such a “slob.” My ADD can’t keep me focused on cleaning.

My ADD always wants to go out and be doing something. My anxiety tells me something is always going to go wrong and I’m safer in bed.

My ADD makes plans often. My anxiety always makes me bail.

My ADD wants to make lots of friends and be social. My anxiety says they all secretly hate me and they’ll hate me more when they get to know me.

My ADD makes studying very difficult. My anxiety tells me I will fail and disappoint myself and everyone around me.

My ADD tells me I should make a Facebook tab and scroll through it until I get bored. My anxiety knows I should be studying.

My ADD wants to make plans with friends. My anxiety makes me want to be alone.

My ADD wants to be spontaneous in relationships. My anxiety tells me every day that he will decide to leave me.

My ADD keeps me talking to him, maybe more than I should. My anxiety thinks I’m annoying him and that he’s going to leave me because of it.

My ADD has me talking more and more. My anxiety uses those words to look for constant reassurance.

“Do you hate me?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you ignoring me?”

My anxiety causes me to break down because my worries become a reality. My anxiety and ADD have ruined every relationship I’ve been in. My anxiety and ADD has destroyed many of my friendships. My anxiety and ADD dropped my GPA so low there may be no way out.

My psychological disorders will not win, even though they have in the past. I’m taking control of my actions, not being afraid to get help and not get frustrated when my medication cocktail fails. Taking control is being patient and knowing those who care about me will keep me moving forward.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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