I have severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And you know what? I am freaking sick and tired of it, and I have a feeling a lot of you are too.
I just came from an exam that I bombed. Not a difficult class; anyone with half a brain could at least get a passing grade if they put in the time, but time is my enemy.
Born with an impaired frontal lobe, I have little to no ability to structure my life. You can’t plan on me getting anywhere on time, meeting deadlines, or even remembering plans in the first place.
Even when I am trying my hardest, I feel completely unreliable. If you know someone like this, try to understand that even if it doesn’t appear like it form the outside they are giving their best effort. This may not even be up to them, and they might feel like intelligent energy shackled to a physical form that wasn’t built up to spec.
If they are like I am, they haven’t fit in anywhere their entire life. Always too loud, too distracted, energetic, and ultimately too flawed to make up for any of these would-be minor personality traits with hard work.
It’s funny, I really do intend to be successful, it’s just that my brain doesn’t seem to understand that.
We all have a fuel tank of sorts, a capacity for executive functioning, the skills that let you plan out and manage everything you do. You return home from a long day, feeling too spent to cook dinner so you snack or microwave something? That’s your tank running on empty, gluing you to the couch.
For us with executive functioning disorders, such as ADHD, our tank runs out exceptionally fast. We have a severely limited capacity for anything that requires higher planning or examination: anything required to be a functional human being.
That means if we had to sit through class all day, work on a large project or be social for an extended period, everything else we planned to do will suffer.
We find ourselves always behind, in every aspect of our lives. Blind to time. Having missed one deadline, we have to overcompensate to work to fulfill that expectation. An expenditure of time that pushes ourselves further off track.
Every single day of our lives is an apology tour that shows no signs of stopping. We have to send out “I’m sorry” emails, meet with professors to explain an essay that’s a week late, and call friends apologizing for missing the dinner, or acting like an ass when we had no energy left to keep a basic conversation going.
All these apologies and pleas for help usually come weeks or months after the problem began, our inability to focus shrouding even our most basic needs.
This evil cycle of panic and fear kicks in as classes, clubs jobs, and obligations overlap to create a constant state of fear, paranoia and depression. Even worse, we tend to shame ourselves into believing that our failures are just who we are, not a symptom of a mental disorder.
“If you want to kill a kid with ADHD, send him to college and he’ll do it for you,” my psychologist said.
For us, time is right here, right now, and now alone. We are the ones that have infinite energy and procrastinate reality by imagining a better world. A brain fart of selfish beauty and creation that we feel like no one else sees. Time blind. Yesterday and tomorrow feel like far-off destinations that we can never approach in the landscape of our mind. It’s like the flights there always end up canceled as we rush to the gate. And that means…
Sorry, I just got distracted, my friend “J” with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) who wanted to remain anonymous came into my room snapping along to the music I’m playing. We started talking about the stink bug infestation in our house that we’ve been fighting for months.
Like so many with an executive functioning disorder, we all share some ground in our stories of treatment. My friend went through his first three years in college with untreated and undiagnosed ADD. Depression and anxiety had followed close behind, stemming from his inability to plan his life out properly.
He now takes amphetamines that were prescribed by his doctor only months ago, having finally learned the name of the monster he’s been fighting all his life.
This is all too typical of executive functioning disorders, which tend to show their ugly head only after external scaffolding of structure breaks away. Before, all my life was scheduled for me with school and extracurriculars, but in college, I was suddenly thrown into real life. It felt like I had never been there before. My friend agreed that this life can be tiring.
“So much stress is on asking for help,” He said. “but everyone feels so ashamed to do it.”
That’s really it. Shame. Some days I don’t even get out of bed, too overwhelmed by simple tasks to face the world, but I can’t let down my loved ones by admitting to such an easy and frequent defeat.
“Hey how was your day,” friends ask.
“Oh ya know haha not too great, but I’m hanging in there.”
I say, having missed every class, gone without meals, and spent the day in bed hating myself. Mayhem because of failing to complete some basic tasks like folding laundry the night before, throwing my entire life off like a loose nail on a flimsy train track.
It feels like we always feel emotions to a greater extent than others, and as it turns out we do.
We all know people with ADD or ADHD procrastinate all the time, but most people don’t understand one of the largest detriments to our mental health, Rejection Sensitivity Disorder (RSD).
Because of our over-empathetic, fast-paced minds, we are hyper-attuned to the emotions of other people. Our susceptibility to the pulls of depressive anxiety means we often end up seeing negatives even if there are none. Because of RSD, that small whisper of negativity eats away at our brains until it is the only truth we can recognize.
A small joke made people laugh that you didn’t understand? Guess you’re gonna have to skip that club meeting for weeks because they must have been making fun of you like they always do. And why wouldn’t they? It feels like I can barely survive even with the help of a support system and scheduling apparatus that keeps me constrained and whipped up like a racehorse in a stall.
Everyone else can just do all of this, on their own. We all struggle with these skills and have to practice mindfulness, but most people at least have a paddle while stranded on a raft in the sea. I don’t even have a boat, and I’m running out of energy to keep treading water.
Mental illness isn’t suited to this modern world of realistic expectations. And we really do see how realistic my obligations are to fulfill. We can be very understanding and introspective people, but self knowledge means nothing in the face of a disability. Knowing is half the battle, but the other half is fought with a hand tied behind our backs.
We feel like misshapen prototypes, a sick joke someone thought up long ago.
Still, we have remarkable abnormal skills if only we can master them. We with ADHD can type out a 16-page paper in 4 hours, hyper-focusing like racecar drivers, as long as the proper amount of fear is in our system.
Adrenaline junkies, the pounding beats of our exhilarated heart is the only thing that compels us to complete something. God forbid you become used to a cycle as dangerous as that. We end up building a cruel environment where we only begin working when terror shakes us to our core, and our heart races past 120 beats per minute. Why start that assignment now- when I can just do it the day it is due, hitting submit at light speed minutes before it closes?
Well, even if that is the initial plan, (what a terrible plan) we also have a tendency to “fall out.” We fail to get that expected activating adrenaline on the eve of the due date, so we make up some rationalization for not completing the work and we submit nothing at all.
I have done that more times than I have fingers or toes just in the realm of submitting stories to this newspaper. I really am sorry, but you’ll never hear me give the excuse that I have a mental disorder. Mental illness isn’t stupid, but at the same time I feel like using my condition is a stupid excuse for failing to do what I believe “normal people” can. I know many people that face challenges with mental health feel the exact same way.
If any of this relates to how you feel, if you are facing issues that bring you to a place of helplessness: know that there are others like you. Hell, there are plenty of people like you out here, fighting just to wake up in the morning.
Talk to someone. It wasn’t until I embraced my support system that I started seeing improvements in my life. The university offers great consulting services. You have the option to speak to a trained professional who will hear you out. Just putting words to your feelings is difficult, but therapeutic. Believe me, I’m doing it right now.
Even if it “doesn’t feel like that big of a deal,” it is a big deal because you are. No one in the world is like you, and I’m happy you are here. And if you are doing well, great! Reach out to someone who isn’t.
We all have friends who appear happy and put together, but brave faces often hide internal struggles. Reach out to everyone you hold dear, and tell them it’s okay. Even if you can’t understand, you can empathize.
The university can’t handle all of us. I mean, in a perfect world, every person would have mental consulting available to them for free, but hey that would only work if we lived in a world that respected the legitimacy of mental illness, right?
Ending on a positive note, people with ADHD can be some of the funniest, most energetic creative minds there are. I know there are many successful artists, actors, writers, business leaders and politicians across the world who are executively impaired. With a heightened awareness of mental health, I know we will see a future filled with even more neurodiverse societal leaders.
I am personally looking forward to a day when well-structured externalities compel me to overcome my internal struggles. Luckily, there are resources available to help me on my path. Even if it feels like there isn’t, these same helping hands extend to you.
Kevin Travers is a staff reporter for The Review. His views are his own and do not reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s staff. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org