Closeup of woman reading book.

I am in a Ph.D. program, so everyone thinks I am smart. Even my cohorts tend to look at me that way. It’s true, I can be intelligent, and I possess many gifts, but the way I got those was an alchemical process of trial by fire in my childhood. I live with ADHD and PTSD that I manage with medicine. Still, there are times my illness is stronger than the drugs or my desire to do well in everything I attempt. When this happens, I become lost.

When my ADHD is symptomatic, I can read a page and not remember or retain a word. So, I read it again and again. When this doesn’t work, I turn to notecards or notes I can come back to when I can make sense of the words on the page. The same happens with writing in this state. It’s hard to string one sentence together let alone two, and writing a paper is clearly out of the question.

The problem is, in school at this level you are given deadlines to finish work, and any variance is frowned upon — even if you have a disability that prevents you from learning in a particular and accepted standard way. My institution knows I have ADHD, and once I had a doctor write a note requesting time I was allotted for an incomplete, as all students are four times a year. Nonetheless, I felt it was a failure on my part because I want to be like everyone else.

I don’t want to live with the challenges of my mental illness. I go to school to change the trajectory of my life and remove myself from any disability support. That’s what you don’t know about me. I am working hard not to have to deal with the stigma of always having to explain why I can’t run as fast or jump through the hoops other can. Still, everyone at school thinks it comes so easy, and I am so smart without seeing how hard I struggle and how much I doubt myself and fear I am never quite good enough. Sure, they see me as a little different and weird, but they think that’s where the genius is.

I’m also 50 and have been dealing with ADHD and PTSD since kindergarten. I always thought I would come to accept it, or I would outgrow its reach. I still feel like a kid again each time it catches me, and I feel “stupid” again. I know I am not after all this time, but that little voice is alive in the feelings which always pass through, leave, and then I am intelligent all over again.

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I am not inconsiderate. Although, I can see how it may appear that way.

I am late (a lot), I interrupt (working on it, I swear), I forget important dates, events, names… (but I know I like you!). Just writing this makes me mad at me! But the definition of inconsiderate is literally “done thoughtlessly.” My problem is quite the opposite.

There are just. so. many. thoughts. I get trapped in my own head and it becomes impossible to put myself outside of time. I am somehow always surprised when I look at the clock and realize I am running late, which then flips my switch to frantic mode. Then I run from room to room trying to figure out which steps I need to take and in which order to get myself out the door. I spin through the house like a tornado, tearing the whole place apart looking for my keys or my other shoe, while panicking over the thought of being a giant, chronic, living disappointment. While you are sitting there, checking your watch, tapping your foot and cursing my name, I am sweating profusely, racing for the train… and also cursing my name.

I really do want to hear what you have to say. I know you are talking to me, and I know it is important to you, and I desperately want to be able to hang on to your every word… but there is another conversation going on between the couple three tables over, and I don’t see one, but I most certainly hear a baby crying somewhere around here. And that phone just won’t stop ringing! I swear I just absorb the energy within my environment and it can get really overwhelming sometimes. I like to compare it to listening to multiple different radio stations at once at a high decibel, while trying to learn the lyrics to one song. Not easy.

So what I want you to know is: ADHD is real. What I wouldn’t give to have the ability to “just choose” to be organized. Or punctual. Or prepared. I understand the skepticism, though. Even I had a hard time believing my diagnosis. All I ever heard, growing up, was how easy it is to “just remember” to turn the lights off, or bring my books to class, or pay attention. After so many times of failing to perform such basic tasks, it starts to take a toll on a person. I didn’t believe it had anything to do with a neurological dysregulation; I figured I pretty much just sucked at life. The more I started to read about ADHD however, the more I was blown away by how much I could identify with every single symptom of the disorder. Learning there were ways to treat and manage my symptoms was a huge relief, and with some help and practice, I was able to just that.

But it’s not an excuse. ADHD has given me an explanation for a lot of the challenges I’ve dealt with all my life. Understanding the neurobiological basis for ADHD has helped to alleviate some of the feelings of inadequacy and inferiority I’d been living with, and has helped me to take control of my life and my future. I’ve learned not to be so hard on myself and to let go of some of the unrealistic expectations I had of myself. I’ve learned to discover and harness some amazing qualities, and I am continually finding new ways to manage the qualities that are not-so-amazing. I am an eternal work-in-progress, and it delights me to feel that I am always becoming a better version of me.

I value my relationships. I may never answer my phone, rarely answer my texts and flake on important dates, like, oh I don’t know… your birthday. But it’s not because I don’t love you. Trust me, I do. And if you catch me on a night I don’t end up canceling plans at the last minute, you can bet the farm that we’ll have a blast! I’ll never want to leave and you’ll have to drag me out of whatever establishment we happened to wander into. Then I may just fall off the face of the earth again after that. But believe me when I say that if you were ever going through a difficult time, or needed help in some way, I would drop everything I was doing and do everything in my ability to make things easier for you. Because you know, that’s what friends are for!

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Living for the past few years has been more like surviving.

I have read from numerous sources that the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) mind lives in a constant state of fight or flight. For me, that translates into a constant state of anxiety. Everywhere I look in my home, I feel shame about another chore I have no idea how to start, or where any of the items in the piles of clutter belong, because nothing really has a designated home.

My son said to me after a productive day last week, “Mama, I don’t like it when you clean, because I can’t find anything.” I laughed a bit, and stopped. There was so much truth in that statement… out of a 4-year-old. I am not sharing this for pity; I am sharing it so whoever may read this will understand why I am so overwhelmed.

Why I don’t have people over.

Why getting out the door is so very difficult.

Why I am always breaking plans.

Why I can spend $200 at the market; and not have anything to make a complete meal.

Why, some weeks, I can be on top of my game. I can be so on top I forget the feelings of inadequacy which clouded my mind the week prior.

Why, no matter how pretty and organized my planner looks, I never use it as a planner. I am incapable of planning ahead, so I use it as a journal to remember all the things I did that day, down to what we had to eat at each meal.

Why I never got a degree, even though I excelled at each major I tried.

Most importantly, why I understand my son so much more than anyone else. Why, when I see the panic cross his face in a public restroom when the toilet flushes automatically, my heart cracks a little. I know exactly that sensory overwhelming feeling.

This is how I am able to intuitively know that when he is disciplined, he is not crying because a toy was taken away; he’s crying because his feelings were hurt, because he was yelled at. He is harder on himself mentally at 5 years old than most adults. He sees the differences between himself and his classmates. He has cried to me: “Mama, what is wrong with me?! Why can’t I be normal like my friends?” His self-esteem has taken a huge hit from noticing this difference. He berates himself often. Try as I may, I know my words barely touch that pain. The only thing I can do is hold his hand, and wait for the storm to pass; to let him know I love him, and will always be there.

First things first — I’m not lazy. I’ve thought that for 38 long years. These are all problems with executive functioning.

My son is not spoiled. He does not need more discipline, less sugar or less screen time.

He needs understanding from everyone. He needs love above all else, and positive reinforcement; patience, and concrete explanations. And hours outdoors exploring, plus copious amounts of sensory play.

I/we have not told him yet of his diagnoses, but it was recommended by our group of specialists that we do share it with him. I’m looking for an age-appropriate book to share with him, as we both connect over books. I have told him that I understand his frustrations because I am just the same as he is. This one sentence has helped him immensely. He now comes to me with questions about feelings, and we talk and figure it out.

I must remind myself often this is a neurological disorder. It is no one’s fault. I can be blamed often for being too lenient, not disciplining enough.

I have heard from too many professionals to not use the word “bad,” or use harsh words or punishments; that is what I follow. Why? I know how much it destroys an already-fragile self-esteem to have someone call you these things.

I know when those words are used in reference to myself, I internalize them, add them to the negative tape on constant repeat in my mind…. oh, and before I forget the point behind this post?

After a particularly overwhelming day, my mom came to help me clean up and calm down. She asked my son to put the silverware away. He looked at her puzzled. It was in the dish strainer. She started to joke with him about him not knowing where the silverware went. I jumped in and explained to her that I’ve never put it away. It belongs in the strainer, in his and my minds. This is the way my brain has worked. She helped us put it away, and rearrange my kitchen to be more user-friendly.

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I’m the proud parent of an 11-year-old daughter with ADHD. She likes to be busy all the time, even when she’s on medication. She’s like the energizer bunny — she never stops. She is extremely observant and has a love of learning new things. She reminds me of doctor’s appointments, to take my medication, to pick things up at the store. It’s like she remembers everything I tell her.

This is what I want teachers to keep in mind this school year:

1. Let her be her.

Yes, she is busy, so give her jobs to do. Anything from passing out papers to running errands, let her help you and your day will be much better.

2. Remember she’s trying.

Although it may seem like she’s rushing through her work, remember her mind is working at warp speed. Her world is zooming around her and she she wants to be going on to the next thing.

3. Know that some kids, especially with ADHD, are not good test takers.

If you ask my daughter a question about what was taught in school that day, she’ll tell you, no problem. You put it in test form and she feels overwhelmed. Forget state standards and scores for a minute and focus on my child. Don’t teach to the test.


4. Let her have that fidget spinner.

I know some teachers were having issues last year with those things, but if it helps her to concentrate, life will be easier for you and her.

5. Enjoy her.

You will only have her this year so enjoy her curiosity, enthusiasm, willingness to help and the yearning to learn.

This will be the only year you have her, so have fun while it lasts.  You never know, this might be my daughter’s and yours best year ever.

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They say it takes a village to raise a child. Yesterday, my son and I were surrounded by ours even though my mother and husband were working, and therefore not with us.

We traveled two hours or so west with my father and sister to attend our annual family Memorial Day picnic. For the past 20 years or so, we have made this trek almost every year. We visit with aunts, uncles, grandparents and an assortment of cousins and extended family. It is a wonderful time to really connect and catch up; unlike any exchange via social media or email.

Having received my son’s diagnosis last Monday, I shared the results with three wonderful women in my life. My grandmother, who raised five happy, successful children, while holding the position of Children’s Librarian at her children’s elementary school. My aunt, a teacher and an incredibly knowledgeable woman who raised three amazing young adults in their 20’s.  My other aunt, who is an incredibly talented photographer, artist and graphic designer; she’s kind, gentle and mindful and I’ve always shared a special connection with her. All three have shared many, many useful tidbits of information with me over the years, which I have applied to our lives.

I was a bit apprehensive about attending the picnic. My son is impulsive; especially when overwhelmed with too many people, new experiences or too much sensory input. There was a pool, many acres of woods and a river in those woods.


When we go to places like this, my husband and I work in a tag-team of sorts; we never take our eyes off him. Our son has run into traffic, twice. Fortunately, we caught him before he stepped in front of a moving vehicle.

My largest fear is he will get overwhelmed and sneak out — out of a yard, home, into a road — and these fears were confirmed with the developmental pediatrician and psychologist. We were told it is very common with the impulsiveness that goes along with ADHD. And, I can certainly relate; to this day when I get overwhelmed, I have to physically remove myself from the situation to process and regroup. So, I do understand why he takes off. However, it is scary because he does not understand yet how unsafe running off can be.

Well, it turns out my fear of attending the picnic with my son was unnecessary. Since I had reached out to the three women, they also helped keep an eye on him. In fact, as the day progressed, I realized half of the people at the picnic were also keeping an eye out for him. He’s quick! Twice he got away — I paused to grab a drink and could not find him. My uncle waved, he saw my panic, and found him digging in the garden.

I was so overwhelmed with the love from all of my family members. Everyone pulled together to help me when I thought I was most alone. Most amazing, not once was my son scolded or forced to sit when he needed to move. I was not alone. They understood. I did not have to explain to anyone. This was surprising and filled my heart. My son experienced his first picnic, free to explore as a 4-year-old boy should.

One of my cousins with two little ones came to talk with me. I started my usual defensive speech about how I’m not a helicopter mom, he’s impulsive due to ADHD and a communication disorder. She said, “You know I’m an elementary school psychologist, right? I see these diagnoses often, and they are definitely manageable.” We talked for quite some time as we watched our children play; the same way we did as children. Full circle.

It meant the world to me to see my son treated with love and acceptance, to have my anxieties wiped off my consciousness, to feel we were both accepted with all our conditions… my heart is more full than I thought possible. My son had a full day of fun, with no meltdowns or comments that could potentially affect his self-esteem. This is what life is about. I am so very thankful to be a part of this “village.”

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A fly buzzes on the windowsill, flitting back and forth, hitting the glass repeatedly. The air conditioning emits a low hum, reverberating through the room. Pencils scratch paper, etching out an underlying rhythm. Pages rustle, my peers flipping to the next sections, focused solely on the test. To them, the room is silent.

I have always disliked the cliche “you could hear a pin drop.” I do sewing for 4-H, and I have heard a lot of pins drop. They aren’t that quiet.

I have ADHD, yet most people can’t even tell I have it. Many people don’t believe me even when I tell them; one of my teachers laughed at me when told, thinking I was joking. How could Kaitlynn, avid reader, fountain of random knowledge, euphonium section leader, 8th-grade-mock-election-proclaimed teacher’s pet, have ADHD?

People know — or think they know — how “ADHD kids” act: wild, hyper, out of control, unfocused, irresponsible or cavalier. I understand these stereotypes, I’ve seen students who act like that.

“You don’t know what it’s like.”

Yes, I do.

Yes, it is harder to focus.

Yes, it is harder to sit still.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

“Nothing is impossible.” Another cliche, but with this one, I agree. Yes, there are hard times. Yes, there are struggles, but I can overcome. I have struggled with my ADHD, but through the tenacity and resilience of my parents, the support of my friends, and my curiosity to learn about the world around me, I have achieved the unthinkable: I am a top student with ADHD.

With each battle, with every time I remind myself I can, even while others and society tell me I can’t — I grow. I take one step further towards my goal — and with each step, the path ahead gets easier. I’m not perfect, I still struggle sometimes, but even if I had the option to somehow be “cured” of ADHD, I would turn it down. I am who I am today because of the struggles and trials in my past. You take away my ADHD, you take away a big part of who I am. True, I will struggle in the future. But without the pain of struggles, the joy of achievement would not be as sweet. Beating a personal record in the 100 butterfly isn’t special because I beat the person next to me. It’s special because I practiced every day to get there. Placing first at marching band festival isn’t special because we get another trophy but because of my sore arms from holding up my baritone. It’s not the destination, but the journey.

To me, the room is not silent. The buzzing, humming, scratching, and rustling emanates in my mind, a tapping pencil to me, a booming drum. I take a deep breath. You can do this. I pick up my pencil and turn the page.

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