My name is Laura. I was born in Japan, grew up in Texas, moved to Utah to attend Brigham Young University and didn’t leave. Leave Utah, that is. I have a degree in English Language and a minor in Editing, which I mostly use to tell self-described English experts that Shakespeare’s English sounded more like Captain Barbosa than Captain Picard. I am also married and have two children.
I have ADHD, and here is my story *insert Law and Order dun dun.*
Talk to me
For starters, I didn’t talk until I was 3 ½ years old as the result of ear infections. Because I was speech delayed, I received special education services through my school district. I had speech therapy from preschool until I was in second grade. In second grade, I was struggling in the normal large classroom setting and I was placed in Resource (small group classes) for specific subjects. Honestly, the fact I was struggling in my normal classroom for those subjects should have been a clue, but it was all (understandably) swept under the “speech delayed” rug.
I had teachers call me a daydreamer. I also kept a messy desk. More clues. I still remember my second grade teacher dumping the contents of my desk into my lap when I was struggling to find a pencil for the spelling test. With enough guidance and engagement, I did quite well in school, especially in my Resource classes. In fact, I was transitioned out of the Resource program in fifth grade when it was decided that I was doing well enough.
Then I started struggling again. Mostly I struggled with verbal instructions from the teacher. I would get in trouble for not paying attention, when I really was. I also got in trouble for forgetting small supplies, losing papers, or not getting something signed. In fact, my fifth grade teacher once kept me inside for recess for an entire week because I didn’t get a spelling paper signed. Let’s just say my second and fifth grade teachers were not very nice people.
Silence isn’t always golden
My family moved into an inner city school district the summer before I started seventh grade. That school district didn’t care about my history, which was kind of a blessing because I could have a fresh start. This district already had its own problems with behavior, overcrowding, and finances.
I became “the quiet kid” and the teachers LOVED me. All I did was behave myself and do my work. There came a point after I got to high school when I decided I wanted to try a few advanced placement classes because my regular classes seemed too easy, and I wanted to look good for college applications.
Ooooh boy did I get in over my head. You know how my “quiet kid” label was good for regular classes? Well, in these advanced classes, you actually got graded for how much you contributed to class discussions! Sometimes for as much as a test grade. WHAAAAAT????? This…was not ideal. Somehow I did enough to get passing grades, but I certainly didn’t excel.
There was also the note taking. I had a hard time paying attention to the teacher and taking notes. How do you take notes when a teacher is talking? What do you write down? How do you decide what’s important enough to write down? These are just a few of the thoughts that went through my head when trying to take notes. Let’s just say I could never be a court stenographer.
Put your shoulder to the wheel
College was another beast. I struggled. A lot. I had more than one college professor say, “You’re clearly smart, what the heck is going on?!” I had no explanation. I started going to the college counseling center, where I was sort of diagnosed with anxiety. I got talk therapy for two years, and I guess it was better than nothing. Did I mention that I got on Academic Warning not once, but TWICE?! I struggled with time management and getting my priorities straight. Also again, the note taking problem.
“Laura, you’re better than this!” I would tell myself. I would also wonder, “But…am I really better than this? Maybe I am just stupid.” My friends and roommates also commented on my ability to completely zone out, like I was in my own little world. Especially when I was using my computer.
I somehow managed to graduate from college in four years with under-treated depression and anxiety, and undiagnosed ADHD. My GPA was pretty bad and I had been in academic trouble more than once. How did I manage to graduate? Extreme stubbornness, most likely. I also got married the day after I graduated. Yup, I did that.
The next few years were one struggle after another. Partly because of the Recession, and also because I do not interview well AT ALL, it took me nearly a year to find a job, only to get laid off a few months later. Despite living in a small, one-bedroom apartment and having no children to chase after (except for the boy I nannied for a time), I still couldn’t seem to keep a consistent cleaning schedule and clutter was a problem. This was on top of adjusting to married life and everything that came with it. I finally started taking antidepressants during my first pregnancy, which helped.
When my first daughter was almost two years old, I decided to go back to therapy. This time, I found out I had moderate depression, severe anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD. I started doing EMDR, which honestly was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was able to make peace with some things and I was better able to manage my depression and anxiety. I also believe that this got me into a place to eventually accept that I have ADHD.
Despite the psychotherapy and antidepressants, I still struggled with basic daily living. Housekeeping was still an unending battle and the clutter was still taking over. I could have a really good day/week where I would be on top of everything, and then I would fall into a deep depression where I couldn’t do anything. Now I know that those “good” days were actually me forcing a lot of energy into doing the things.
While my daughters were loved and cared for, establishing and enforcing consistent boundaries were my weaknesses. I vacillated between being overly permissive or overly strict. I thought it was just my anxiety and depression, it didn’t occur to me that there was something else.
You think I have what?
My mom was the one who suggested that I look into getting diagnosed with ADHD, noting our extensive family history. I have a brother who was diagnosed with ADHD during childhood because (a) he was clearly “hyper” and (b) young boys in the 1990s were more likely to get diagnosed than girls. Several members of my extended family (even going back generations) have symptoms of ADHD as well, though few have been diagnosed.
At first I scoffed. How could I possibly have ADHD? I’m not hyper! I have depression and anxiety! Out of curiosity, however, I decided to do some Googling. The more I read, especially by and about women with ADHD, the more I saw myself. “Wait a minute, could it be ADHD?!”
So began my search for someone who could test and treat me (if I did indeed have it). Then there was actually making an appointment and then GOING to the appointment. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be taken seriously because of the stories of women having a harder time getting diagnosed. I was also worried about being accused of drug seeking, since many of the drugs used to treat ADHD are controlled substances.
I feel incredibly fortunate that I was taken seriously. Both by my nurse midwife, who told me her husband had just been diagnosed himself and by the psychiatric nurse practitioner who evaluated me. The moment the words “Yes, you have symptoms of inattentive ADHD” were uttered, I felt so much relief. My entire life made so much more sense! I wasn’t lazy, stupid, or crazy…I had ADHD!
However, there was also a grieving process of sorts. Missed opportunities, my failures and shortcomings, damaged friendships, etc. Also the anger over not being diagnosed sooner, but I try to remind myself that I grew up in the 1990s, and the phrase “it was the 90s, we didn’t know anything” applies.
What happens now?
I am currently taking medication for ADHD. We’ve had to tweak it a bit, but now I am seeing how good life can be. I am learning more and more about my diagnosis, and how I can better live my life with my diagnosis rather than fighting against it. My house is getting cleaner. I can honestly say that I am a much happier person.
Of course, I know that medication doesn’t always work for everyone. Even people who are related. Remember the brother I mentioned earlier? He tried all the available ADHD drugs in the 1990s (stimulants, mostly), but the side effects were much worse than the actual ADHD. As a result, he went unmedicated for about two decades. In the last few years, he has gotten on a non-stimulant drug that has been great for him. Me? I’m on an extended release stimulant that is working great.
My point is, no two ADHD cases are alike. Sure there are the common traits, but everyone manifests them differently. If you’ve met one person with ADHD, you have met ONE person with ADHD. I personally don’t exhibit a lot of the stereotypical traits of someone who has it, which I will elaborate on at another time.
If you suspect that you or someone close to you has symptoms of ADHD, I would look further into it. If it’s for say, a loved one, approach the matter with sensitivity. Respect their choices and be supportive.
If it’s you, be kind to yourself. You are not defective–your brain just works differently, and that’s OKAY. If you are worried about taking medication, I would like to gently remind you that it’s no different than needing insulin for diabetes or an inhaler for asthma. It’s a tool to help improve your quality of life.
ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @ gmail.com