In October of 2013 I had one of the most epic meltdown of my entire life. To the outside world I may have seemed composed, but I was constantly vibrating on the inside. While trying to do my best impression of my usual self, my insides felt like they were being wrung dry by someone else’s hands. What was the trigger that sent me spiraling into anxiety? I realized I had forgotten to write a test date into my disorganized excuse of a calendar — a test that I was unprepared for and that was scheduled to happen the next day. In my fourth year of university, after years of feeling like I was lazy and disorganized, I decided that maybe it was time to talk to someone.
I’ve always felt that I would probably be diagnosed with ADHD if I ever went through with the formal testing. In fact, in my final year of high school, I actually started the testing process but gave up after enough people told me that, with an average as high as mine, it wasn’t worth my trouble. So I passively agreed, and even though studying was excruciating, it was clearly not so bad that I couldn’t excel. It wasn’t my opinions but the opinions of others that kept me from getting formally tested for another four years. And I only decided to get tested when I had finally snapped. Alas, at the age of 21, and after a lifetime of symptoms and red flags, I am officially diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.
The diagnosis was a relief, and I’m sure a lot of individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD in early adulthood feel this way too. I am still the same person I was before my diagnosis, the only difference is that now I can actually put a name to the way my brain works. This isn’t an excuse for my impulsive and disorganized behavior; it’s an explanation. I now know what I was dealing with and can focus on management rather than allowing the symptoms to render me useless. The diagnosis gave me a platform to work from where I’m productive and putting my best self forward. But it’s daunting too, especially when so many years of bad habits finally catch up to me and it’s a struggle to work on certain lifestyle changes that lessen the effects of my disorder.
The psychological symptoms from ADHD that I have to deal with every day are hard to manage not only because they cause my brain to move quicker than my mouth, but because lots of people don’t believe that it’s a real disorder. We’ve all heard these arguments, that “it’s just an excuse for laziness” or that “our society makes us have ADHD, and all we have to do is stop watching so much TV.” And unfortuantely, it were these types of attitudes and opinions that kept me from seeking help and support for so long, and keep me now from talking about my disorder openly. The problem with these arguments is that they place blame on my lack of mental strength; if most people are able to keep their minds in check despite our distracting environment, I should be able to as well, right? Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like the mere fact of my disorder is, in itself, admitting defeat and that I don’t have the work ethic others have.
The medication only reiterates the stigma. I’m afraid to talk openly about being medicated to anyone besides my closest friends, and even then I sometimes still feel judged. I am consistently mad to feel as if I’ve given in where others haven’t; that my use of medication is just another indicator of my mental weakness. No matter how well the medication allows me to focus and get things done without anxiety, and how much my life has improved with a pill in the morning, it’s still hard to justify my successes when I need extra help to do it. When I take my medication I feel sane and ready to take on the world — something that most people have the ability to feel on their own. It’s not like I am taking advantage of an option that not everyone has, becoming super human with every Adderall capsule. The thing that others don’t get is that the medication isn’t helping me to work better than them, it’s bringing me to their level.
It is impossible for anyone to imagine how my mind works, just as it is impossible for me to understand how others’ minds work. It’s only fair to assume that, if someone says they have a mental illness or another psychiatric disorder, he or she is telling the truth.
Ending the stigma surrounding mental illness and psychiatric disorders is not going to happen with just a simple conversation. Although being as open as possible about whatever we are facing is important, this effort for open dialogue may be fruitless without a set of ears that are open to genuinely listening and to ridding their mind of preconceived notions. In order to make progress, we have to step outside of our own minds and realize that not everyone is the same. I understand that this is sometimes difficult, but we must actively try and put ourselves in foreign shoes. If we could just be more sympathetic and understanding of others’ differences, the past version of me might ha sought help earlier than he did. That is, if he remembered to write it down in his calendar