ADHD: finding what works for me


On October 31, 1999,
Halloween here in the states, my family moved to Los Angeles
from a small flat in England. They were at that time, just my parents,
my brother, and my sister. A year and three days later, I was born. I don’t think it was immediately
obvious I was a little different. But around when I was four,
my lack of attention became more apparent. I wasn’t replying to people,
I just seemed to ignore them. I got my mom so worried
I was partially deaf that she spent $400
on a fancy hearing test. I passed it with flying colors,
and I’ve never heard the end of it. My inability to focus on anything
for any length of time, my forgetfulness, and my complete lack of organization
is something nowhere short of legendary. I always lost pencils, never turned in assignments,
even when I did them, I always left jackets at school, which
plenty of times were never seen again. I couldn’t sit still,
and if I did sit still, I was talking. I talked so much
that even when I wasn’t talking, my teachers still told me to be quiet
because they just assumed I was. My third-grade teacher put me
in my very own corner of the classroom away from everybody else to try
and stop me from talking. What actually happened is
I just shouted across the classroom. I was a nightmare. And this whole time I always had
so many missing assignments. Always more than anyone else. Fourth grade was the turning point. My mom had been working
to become a teacher, and through this, she worked with kids who
had been diagnosed with ADHD. And she started to realize
that these kids seemed really familiar. Their problems
were the same as my problems. By April of fourth grade, I had been to a therapist
and I’d been diagnosed with ADHD, which in a nutshell, is three things: Impulsivity, Hyperactivity, and Inattention. Impulsivity – yes that’s why I was just
blurting out whatever was on my mind and talking in class. Hyperactivity – I was always fidgeting, much to the annoyance of, well,
everyone around me. Inattention, though,
is a bad way to describe it. Actually, my brain just moves
from one thing to the next very rapidly until something
really catches my attention and I get kind of sucked in and I might have a short-lived
obsession about it. This is what’s responsible
for my forgetfulness. I can remember things fine,
just only when I pay attention, and that just doesn’t happen often. It’s also responsible for many
of my life experiences. I’ve tried all the sports, even baseball,
which was a terrible idea, You never stick a kid
with ADHD on a field waiting. I tried robotics. I tried a few instruments
and all of those were a massive failure. I tried cartooning which
I actually got pretty good at, but then I wanted to learn how to paint,
never did and now my interest is gone. I tried to teach myself
computer programming. That got boring by the end of the day. The point is I was always moving
from one thing to the next. To treat these symptoms, and save my parents’ reputation
for being able to raise a child, I was given medication. This is probably the single most
impactful event in my entire life. In the beginning, it was wonderful. It was the fifth grade,
I was a model student. I not only finished my work, I did it quickly,
then helped my friends finish their work, and we were all done and horsing around
while everyone else was still going. The best part about it was that the third-grade teacher
who sat me in a corner, was the fifth-grade teacher. I can’t imagine how confused she was. This continued in the sixth grade. I stayed organized, stayed on top of my work, got perfect grades, and everything was wonderful. But going into the seventh grade, the dosage of the medication
I took was raised because it was thought I’d need it to cope with the increasing pressure
of middle school. This is ironic considering
that in middle school the real pressure is from your peers, something that for me,
the higher dosage actually damaged. All of a sudden,
I didn’t socialize with people. I became distant. I consider ADHD a part of my personality, I mean how could I not
if I’ve lived with it my entire life? The higher dosage took that away from me. Worst of all, I couldn’t eat
while I was on the medication. I was a pretty skinny kid
and my mom kept trying to get me to eat, and every day, she’d pack these lunches
and every day they’d end up in the trash. When I told her that when
I was on the medication, the food just seemed totally unappealing, the answer was summed up as this:
you’re just going to have to suck it up. There wasn’t much else that could be said. In response to all of this, I started taking medication on and off,
and well, it was pretty obvious. To give you an idea, back in LA, there’s an ice hockey team,
the Los Angeles Kings. So I went to one of these games and
I got pretty pumped up. Every time anything happened
I’d be up and jumping and cheering. The dance cam came on,
and to make sure I got on it, I took my shirt off
and waved it above my head, You bet I got on that camera. The next time I went to a King’s game, I took medication right before
to focus on some homework. When I went, I didn’t dance,
I barely stood up when the Kings scored. The people I went with were disappointed because they wanted to see me
with the kind of energy I had before. With the medication, I couldn’t bring
myself to do any of that. Those things felt immature and beneath me. Teachers would call
this perfect behavior. I sat down and I shut up,
and I didn’t bother anybody. This is an important conflict
many kids with ADHD face. You can either get better grades easier
and lose part of yourself, or you can be who you are
and be crucified for it in the gradebook and for people who find
your normal behavior irritating. Once I stopped taking medication entirely,
I got crucified. My grades just dropped. People were getting annoyed by me. My friends and family who knew
about my disorder tried to joke about it. I guess they were trying to give me
something to blame it on, but really it was degrading. I’d rather take the blame for
my mistakes myself, not some disorder. Otherwise, it just becomes
a way of putting me down, like I can’t do these things anyway
because I’m not normal. This is only the eighth grade, but already life seemed a lot different
then from sixth grade, and I started to wonder
if I really was smart or if the medication
had just put up an illusion. My ego was shattered
and I was just angry and I was bitter, more at myself
than anything else. I didn’t believe in myself anymore, that I could do any of the things
I used to think I could. And I came into freshman year
of high school not somebody who was ready
to take on the new challenge. I was beaten before
I walked through the door. For me, it all goes back
to that raising medication. Now don’t get me wrong. Compared to a few other people who
have taken the medication, I had it easy, even though most people who take
the medication are perfectly fine. Some kids suffer from withdrawal when
summer vacation comes, like bad withdrawal. They have the shakes. I know a kid who stayed awake for two days
after taking the medication. I’ve heard of a kid, someone my mom knew
from working at schools, who had suicidal thoughts after
taking the medication for the first time. That shouldn’t be happening. People with ADHD have a lot
to learn about themselves in order to deal with the disorder, and that’s a long process. Right now from what I’ve seen, the only solution people give
that works is medication, and if that doesn’t work, you kind of just have to work
things out for yourself. And sure, I get it,
most people are fine with medication. They don’t have side effects
that interfere with their lives and it enables them to do
what they need to get done. That isn’t the case for everyone, though. And the stress, and the pressure, and the frustration that come with ADHD for not only the person with the disorder
but the people around them? That’s tough. It’s no coincidence that
when researchers in Sweden checked their countries
national database, and checked suicide rates among people
with ADHD and those without, the people with ADHD were ten times
more likely to commit suicide, 0.2% compared to 0.02%. 1.3% of the people
without ADHD attempted suicide, For the people with ADHD,
that number was 9.4%, nearly 1 in 10. Family of people with ADHD
are at risk as well. Compared with, again, 0.02%
for the general population, parents had a suicide rate of 0.7%. Siblings had the same rate of people
with ADHD with 0.2% With statistics like that floating around, how can medication be good enough
for the entire ADHD population? Obviously, despite the plenty of people
working fine with the medication, there’s still a huge issue for the people
who don’t have that luxury and the medication for whatever reason
just isn’t the thing that can help them. People who see the stress they put on
their loved ones every time they mess up, and they can’t seem to stop messing up. And you’d be surprised
at just how many there are. It’s estimated that here in the U.S.
4% of the adult population has ADHD. For children, that number,
according to the CDC, is 11%. That’s just the numbers for the U.S. and we’re already looking
at millions of people. That’s people in this room, battling this,
battling the stress it causes them. People like me. So here’s how I dealt with it. The only way I was going to live with ADHD
and still be happy was to beat it. I needed to prove that ADHD wasn’t
something that was going to hold me back. So sophomore year, after a freshman year
where I really just let myself down, I wanted to prove to not only
to others, but myself, that I was smart, that I could get the grades I wanted, that I could get involved and
still find the time to do my homework. So I got the grades I wanted, and I got involved, too. I joined the Red Cross, and volunteering for them has been one of
the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I’ve found ways to do things
that work for me. I’m organized as much as I need to be,
no more, no less. It’s also important for me
to find patterns in classes so that even when I miss out on things, I still always have a general
idea of what’s going on. It’s very important for me
to have friends in classes so that when my attention span
inevitably fails me in classes that I don’t have
an undying passion for, I can still always ask what directions
were just said or what the homework was. All of these things take work, but it’s worth it because it enables me
to do what I want to do. Really, it’s about compromising with it. This has allowed me
to get off the medication, something which isn’t too common
for an ADHD success story. Now I can go to school,
and the me that’s there, is the real me. I irritate teachers, I struggle to do my work, and I’m happier. I’m reliant on myself. No medication, no teachers hovering
over me. It’s possible. Whether the medication works
for them or not, people with ADHD need
to find what works for them, get the support they need, and keep building up self-reliance. ADHD isn’t a battle that
will ever be totally won, but with a little bit of understanding, we can help millions. Thank you.

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