Hey, everybody! I’m Bryce Hagan for the Beacon Bolt and this week I was asked if I could write an article exploring my experience with ADHD. As most of you probably know, ADHD stands for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s a relatively newly discovered disorder and was, until recently, thought to be limited primarily to childhood and more likely to develop in young boys, as opposed to girls. More recent research and data, however, has revealed a much different story.
Firstly, symptoms of ADHD usually persist long after childhood, and often times, indefinitely. Secondly, it is now thought that the distribution of ADHD-linked genes is closer to equal between boys and girls, as compared with previous thinking. The reason, as researchers understand more clearly today, that boys are diagnosed more frequently than girls is attributed to the fact that boys are more likely to develop Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD, one of the two forms the disorder can take on. This type characterizes itself with the symptoms you would most likely think of when hearing “ADHD”: fidgeting, restlessness, impulsive behavior, etc. These symptoms are much easier for parents and teachers to pinpoint as a cause for concern in comparison to the hard to spot, and often overlooked, symptoms of the second form of ADHD, called Inattentive ADHD. This manifests in much more subtle ways, like the inconsistent turning in of homework, the inability to focus on a given task for even brief periods of time, the inability to stick to schedules due to scattered thoughts, etc. Often times, this form of ADHD is misdiagnosed as depression while, in reality, the failures an individual might accumulate in school or at work are caused directly by ADHD. Later on, however, things like an ever-increasing pile of late or overdue assignments, despite knowing that one has the ability to do better, will commonly lead to the development of a very real depression. This is exactly what happened to me.
I first got behind in my homework and my studies suddenly became overwhelming in the 5th grade. This quickly caused me to grow depressed. My mom noticed right away and I went through a lot of parent-teacher conferences. I don’t remember much about them but I recall all of my teachers raving about how well behaved and bright I was (despite my grades…) and how I was probably just more mature than the other boys. Each told my mom not to worry. But she did. I was taken to a psychiatrist for a brief questionnaire in order to assess my psychological health or whatever (I didn’t care, she could’ve been performing a seance; I just wanted to get the heck OUT OF THERE). I took the test and was told that I “passed with flying colors,” which immediately made me curious what kind of penalty there would be if I had failed. Would I be kicked out of the building? Because I would’ve been totally fine with that. The psychiatrist, like my teachers, said I was, and I quote, “totes chill, and super rad.” Just kidding; she said I appeared very intelligent and emotionally insightful, and that I would be fine. This reaction didn’t sound right to me. I felt depressed and broken, yet those feelings didn’t translate well enough into my assessment’s results. I knew I had problems but didn’t speak up at the time, probably because I felt that I had no right to question a psychiatrist’s judgment.
Still, I knew at this point that something was wrong with me. Kids raised their hands in class to ask seemingly simple questions, yet I could not follow any of it at any point. I can say with some confidence that I retained nothing from my elementary and middle school experiences. I was a serial cheater, as well. Oh yeah, I was that kid. I would lean over and bargain with my neighbors for answers. Once I annoyed one enough, I would switch to the student on my opposite side. Look, I was desperate. Regardless, even now I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I wasn’t being lazy for lazy’s sake. I wanted to pass. I wanted to care. I felt left out of my own childhood. Yeah, it sounds a little cheesy to put it that way, but that’s how I felt. The detachment from the childhood society, I think, put me into a constant state of personal assessment, comparing everything I did to the standards that others would set. Kids generally didn’t like me, so I had to internalize the conversations I wish I could have had with others. To get away from this environment, I went to a starkly different high school with no familiar faces in order to hopefully gain a more positive worldview.
High school, as a result, did just that. I attended a Mennonite high school, which shaped a lot of my positive feelings toward theology, as opposed to the previous academy I had attended. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience overall, though I only just barely scraped by in the last year. I’m not exaggerating either. The day before graduation, I was still unsure as to whether or not I’d be allowed to attend graduation! The only reason I was able to get my work handed in EVER, was thanks to my parents’ persistent nagging, which I would soon learn what it would be like to live without. The rest of high school was a blur to me. My ADHD-related depression ruled my life and, on a subconscious level, I’m partially ashamed of who I was. I wasted far too much energy dwelling on my emotions or on sentiment. That’s not to say emotion and sentiment should be considered unimportant, but if they were to become the central themes of your life, you might want to gain a little perspective. Moving forward had only proven to be a positive choice for me, and while there was and still is a great deal to learn through examining my past experiences, dwelling on them can cause a lot of negativity.
College was, in theory, going to be my time to shine. I would be on my own, in the limelight, finally free to study the subject matter I wanted to study! I made lifelong friends on my freshman year hall. After hearing stories from others, I honestly believe that I had the best first-year experience that anyone could have hoped for. I mean, my roommate was a hilarious older Swedish guy who would occasionally serenade me late at night with random Swedish lullabies (no, it wasn’t weird) and often woke me up by abruptly shouting and cursing at his computer in Swedish during his daily online ‘Counter Strike’ games (See? The weird balances out here). Our next door neighbors would eventually become our best friends and my roommates the following year, a time that I remember equally as fondly. During my first semester, I continued to pursue my interest in acting as I played Sir Toby in the Shakespearean play, Twelfth Night. Oh, and I also had a 0.0 GPA at the end of the first semester and… a rather shortsighted plan to move to Colorado, chop down trees or something and just, like, get away from it all, ya know? If it helps illustrate my point here, my favorite movie at the time was ‘into the wild.’ [SOCIETY, MAN. SOCIETY].
This shortsighted plan, by the way, is probably what a good percentage of people with undiagnosed ADHD actually go and do. The disorder leads to a lifestyle that is simply incompatible with the standards set by those without it. Unlike the people who actually run away from the stresses of the American school system, however, my friends stopped me from doing anything rash, and instead, I looked up my symptoms. Through high school and up until this point, I chalked it all up to severe depression, but now I knew it was something different. Without my parents’ help in getting me to buckle down on homework, I realized my problem was that I couldn’t buckle down. I once sat and stared at a word document for literally hours. I had my finished outline beside me, all of my sources laid out before me, a polished thesis, and anything else that may have been required to prepare me to write that paper. But no. By the time morning came, I had approximately ¾ of a page finished. The paper was meant to be a 12-page research paper. That’s when I knew it wasn’t just laziness. Something about my brain must have been broken.
Believe it or not, the solution came just as suddenly as the diagnosis did. During that winter break, I went home, described my symptoms to our family doctor and got treated with medication right away, a process that often takes a lot of trial and error to get right. Luckily in my case, however, I got it on the first try. The following semester, I achieved a 4.0 GPA and switched my major. I was no longer an anxious mess with a wildly cluttered dorm room. I was organized and for the first time in my life, I wanted to take care of myself. Look, I just don’t know how to describe how life changing this was. I gained the ability to learn, to read, to reason, even just to think for myself. The following summer, I even learned to play the piano. It was like someone unlocked my brain, like what happened to Bradley Cooper in ‘Limitless.’
ADHD isn’t laziness or just the stereotypical restlessness of kids. I could go through the detailed description of what it is and what my medication does, as I’ve studied the research extensively, but here’s the explanation watered down: certain parts of my brain were working too efficiently and now, thanks to medication, they work at a slower, more normalized pace, allowing people like myself to focus in the same ways as those who don’t have this disorder.
I guess, if you get anything out of this article, it’s this: There’s a stigma surrounding the abuse of ADHD medications, but I really want to emphasize the importance it has for people who really need it. The only reason I am able to live my life regularly today is because of this medication. Yet, according to the CDC, only 50% of people who have ADHD are treated for it. If you believe you might have this disorder, look into the common symptoms. Do some research. I avoided it and mislabeled it for years and that’s one of my biggest regrets to date.
Thanks for listening everyone! Have a great Spring Break 😀