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What ADHD Is Really Like

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Aug. 9 2018, Published 9:37 p.m. ET

When people think of ADHD their immediate thought is of someone with severe and exaggerated concentrating problems.

Like that dog from UP.

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SQUIRREL.

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To be fair, that isn’t completely far off from the truth but that mostly happens in our heads. You can’t always tell when our attention has been diverted and that’s what makes it so difficult to be taken seriously.

At its worst, there are way too many colliding thoughts in our heads. You know when you get angry and you need to take a deep breath? Imagine that but having to do it for each individual thought. It’s exhausting. And then there’s a new thought.

Not everyone has ADHD the same so I can really only talk about my own personal accounts with it. For instance, I’m not hyperactive so what I’m actually diagnosed with is ADD. I never have trouble waiting in line, staying in my seat, etc. But what I do have trouble with is staying focused. In the middle of conversations I drift off into my own daydreams and then I have to come back but I can’t let the person realize that I just missed an important chunk of what they just said. If it’s a really important conversation, I will ask them to repeat themselves. For these moments, I have to overcome my social anxiety which is something else that ADHD exacerbates because when your brain is out there doing its own thing, all the panicky thoughts are in the forefront.

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Elementary School. I was never diagnosed as a kid because I was never hyperactive, I always did my work and made the honor rolls. I was 5 years old when I learned to speak English and for the first few years, I was navigating communication. I took longer to do my work but it was understandable. For this reason, I didn’t think procrastination was ever a problem. If I sat next to someone reliable, I would always ask that schoolmate for the work or what was just said. Finally, one of my classmates in 6th grade mentioned that I never pay attention and he always has to repeat what is being taught. I still remember that day because while I was defensive, I really thought about it and realized…..I never really knew wtf anyone was saying. I’m in my own world.

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Middle School. This is when my grades took a hard hit. Goodbye, honor rolls. HELLO, sudden realization that procrastination is a problem. I was struggling. By this time I also developed an “I don’t care attitude” (pff adolescence). Did I really not care? Of course not. I’m a Cancer. I care too much. I got to the point whereby the end of middle school I was trying to catch up with everyone else. It didn’t really work so I guess I had to keep pretending that I didn’t care.

High School. By the time high school rolled around I was only in two AP classes; Spanish and Art. From elementary to high school I went from always being at the top of my class to trying really hard to hold on. I remember having a friend tell me that I was really “spacey” and it really hurt my feelings. I pretended to take it as a joke though. I even let it define my personality. We all do dumb shit in high school and that was mine (+ that guy I dated but that’s a whole other story). When Senior year of high school rolled around, I was devastated to find that I didn’t even make it to the annual Top 20 dinner because I was at the number 21 spot. Boy, when I tell you I cried. I cried. Then I got over it and decided school was bs anyway. Of course, I didn’t really believe that because I was applying to colleges.

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College. This is when I really started realizing that I had a problem. I wanted so hard to pay proper attention to my studies and I knew that when I could do it, I could really do it. I was creative, funny and passionate. Then there were times where I did so bad, it honestly felt like “who did this awful work??” Damn. It was me. I would start off all of my classes with a promising A. By the end of each semester I was riding on the “C’s get degrees” wave. A wave that I knew deep down I did not want to be on. I couldn’t even get into my school’s School of Management because my grades were so bad. It was a blow to my self-esteem and my sense of self.

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After college, I wanted to know what was wrong with me. The restlessness surpassed normal levels to the point where I really felt like I needed assistance motivating my life. It felt like there was a motor in my brain but my body didn’t know what to do with it except shut down. I would pace back and forth like something was happening but nothing was happening. Nothing. I had so many thoughts racing in my head. I applied for trade school to give me something to latch onto because I really felt like I was losing it. I sought counseling here but when I realized that they were really awful at their jobs, I started to regain my sense of purpose again. How can someone whose job it is to help other people make things worse? Who else were they damaging? More thoughts to race through my head.

Diagnosed. I kept getting ads for an ADHD study through Facebook so I decided to do it. This is where I finally learned so much about myself. When I tell you that things started making sense, I could finally connect the dots from my past to my future. I can’t afford medication but understanding your mind makes it much easier to navigate. I know that I work better in complete silence without any distractions. I can’t sit around a boardroom and come up with an idea. I have to be completely zoned in on it. I have to be so hyper focused that if someone calls my name I don’t hear them. I work in tunnel vision.

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All in all, ADHD is like a brain on overdrive. Even simple decisions can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders because your brain doesn’t know exactly how to process all of the pros and cons. It just throws everything at you. As many of you who have ADHD or ADD know, the lesson is learning how to manage it because it’s something we have to live with. On the plus side, we aren’t alone in this and you have to admit that our creativity is off the wall.

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