Attention Deficit Disorder? I Hardly Knew Her

I want to talk about growing up with ADHD and what it has been like to have been diagnosed so early.

I saw the doctor about ADHD for the first time in 6th grade.

It all started small. I would lose things easily and often, but what kid doesn’t? Things escalated when I transitioned to middle school. I was having panic attacks daily and I was so sick on my stomach throughout the day that I was making myself sick. Not about making friends or middle school crushes, but about being able to retrieve all of my supplies from my locker between periods and get to class on time. Each day at school, I was missing something important for class and each day I would find myself unable to breathe in class or go home crying and in fear that I would be punished academically or embarrassed at school.

On the fourth day of school, when I started crying before even getting on the bus, my mom decided to take me to the psychologist. My brother was diagnosed with ADHD when he was young, so she decided to make an appointment with his doctor to see if I had it as well.

That diagnosis probably changed my life more than almost any other event in my life. I was home schooled my sixth grade year because of the increasing stress I felt with going to school and because we moved counties during the school year. This allowed me to adjust to medication outside of what I considered to be a high-pressure environment. My mom tried her best to help me be less forgetful, she would make charts that I would forget to fill out and notes I would forget to read. She tried to put me on a schedule that would ideally help me, but I found it impossible to keep it consistent.

I finally returned to school in 7th grade and things were normal, until my doctor heard about Adderall and thought that I might be a great fit for it. I tried it and it was extremely helpful. I could finally remember things, my brain stopped feeling “cloudy,” I stopped being tired all the time. I excelled in school and stopped having panic attacks. I took it for granted.

My life changed in 2011 on my 19th birthday. My mom has been on disability since 2002, turning 19 meant that I was no longer covered by health insurance. I was unable to afford my medication as it was close to $300 without insurance and I was a college student paying for my own rent and food.

My grades suffered but so did my entire identity. Can you imagine building your entire life and identity around an mind-altering substance from 13-19 and then having that taken away over night for no real reason? I sunk into a deep depression, feeling stupid and confused about why. I lost something like 10 house keys and multiple debit cards my 19th year because I could not keep it together (my mind or my belongings). I did not know how to cope with my disorder outside of medicine.

I want to stop here and say that the institutions that were supposed to serve me, failed me. Medically, no one, in the 7 years I was seeing a psychologist and taking Adderall told me anything about my disorder. What caused it, how I could cope with it long-term, what other areas in my life could have been impacted by it (hello clumsiness, poor impulse control, sensory hypersensitivities, eating and emotional dysregulation, and central audio processing disorder!).

It took losing my insurance and then finding out about an ADHD study at VCU for me to finally learn about my disorder and be given skills to cope with it outside of medicine. It felt like I was learning how to be myself all over again, how to put myself back together and keep myself together. The most incredible thing happened when I found out certain traits I had always considered to be personal shortcomings, were actually linked to my disorder. I began to understand and go easier on myself.

Shortly after starting my job, I began to feel like I did in middle school. I left my phone or lunch at home on a weekly basis, I would mess up basic tasks like filling folders with the correct amount of materials in the correct order, bringing materials to meetings, or with remembering where my nametag was (I had them order me an extra so I could not worry about crying about my nametag). So I went to the psych and got back on ADHD medicine for the first time in nearly 10 years. .

I am not on Adderall anymore and I don’t think it’s the right medication for me, but my current one isn’t either unfortunately.

I am about to navigate this process again and I am afraid. It’s hard when the line between disorder and treatment and self are all blurred. I am not sure which parts of me are organically ME. I don’t know what’s fixable, or what parts of me I will lose in order to be able to function normally. I just want to be honest about my experience because I am still trying to understand it and still navigating it. Despite popular belief, ADHD isn’t something you grow out of and it’s not something that those of us who suffer with it often get to talk about.

If you know someone with ADHD, give them a hug, they probably need one.

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