For as long as I can remember I’ve been questioning what is wrong with me. I felt weird, like a freak, and I didn’t know what to do with those feelings. I’ve been therapy for years beginning as a teenager. It helped, and it also made me feel more like there’s something off about me. I struggled to pay attention in school. I knew I was smart, but I didn’t understand why I wasn’t able to achieve the academic success of my peers in the honors classes that I was taking.
I was often in my world daydreaming about a different time, questioning the meaning of life, struggling to pay attention to what was in front of me. I was assigned full-length books read within a couple of weeks. I couldn’t do it because of my brain, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t want to admit something was wrong with me, so I struggled through academically and instead of addressing the issue I got a slightly lower GPA than I could have achieved had I been evaluated. I avoided subjects that were difficult for me and focus on the ones that I excelled in such as English, algebra and the analytical parts of mathematics such as logic.
After I graduated from high school, I got into Ithaca College, felt isolated because I didn’t have my driver’s license and I was away from my family in New York City. I decided to leave Ithaca, so I got straight A’s and transferred to NYU. I muddled through my undergraduate years. It was challenging to get through college because of coping with debilitating anxiety and depression, but I knew that I wanted to get my bachelors. It was important to me to have a higher level of education to get a good job. Unlike now, in the early 21st century, a B.A. could get young 20-somethings a sustainable job. So I went through days of having with my therapist calls “the anxiety shits.” I would procrastinate doing my term papers until the very last minute. At the time, I justified my procrastination as an increase in adrenaline and cortisol. I took a nap at 8 pm and got up in the middle of the night to start my work. I got into the habit of writing papers at 3 AM. I was able to complete my assignments on time but barely. It was mentally and physically exhausting, and I thought it was all due to anxiety and depression, but I was wrong.
After I graduated from NYU, I had a handful of unsuccessful office job experiments, and at age 24 I decided I was going to take a job at a veterinary clinic and become a vet. In the meantime, I worked as a vet tech and receptionist part time while I went to school at Hunter College to get my pre-requisites. When I started pre-med biology, I realized that there was something wrong. The professor’s diagrams looked like gibberish to me. Everyone around me seemed to understand what she was showing us and I couldn’t. I decided to seek the help of a licensed psychologist. I suspected I had a learning disability.
I went to an office in the middle of Midwood in Brooklyn. It was the Jewish Board of Family Services, and they had a candy machine that I would get a Snickers from during breaks during my testing for learning disabilities. Getting a psychological evaluation was nerve-wracking, but I wanted to know what was “wrong with me.” A middle-aged Jewish woman with prematurely gray hair reported the news that I had a visual-spatial learning disability. At first, there seemed to be “nothing wrong with me,” until I had to do one of those exercises where you find which object is missing from the previous page. I couldn’t do it.
I scored in the 90 something percentile for cognitive abilities while in the 4th percentile for visual-spatial. It was clear that there were severe problems with my perceptions. There was a bonus item: I had ADHD. The proverbial red sea parted, and I was able to see the other shore. It all became clear to me, my entire school career of daydreaming in history class, English class, drama, and pre-calculus. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me and now I had four letters that explained it to me. It demystified why I couldn’t focus or pay attention when I desperately wanted to. For years I avoided taking medication for ADHD, but finally when I couldn’t be on time, couldn’t keep jobs because of a lack of focus I knew I had to do something.
Taking stimulants saved my life. I was able to maintain a fulltime job. I was able to sit in front of the computer and accomplish work, instead of laboring over one article for eight hours. Living with ADHD isn’t easy, but it’s manageable using a schedule and medication if need be. There are good things, like hyperfocus, where I can zoom in on something that I’m working on and get it done quickly. There are also hard things, like struggling not to interrupt others. But, I’m working on them, and that’s what I can do. So, now I know what’s “wrong” with me. And I also know what’s “right” with me.