I Have Trouble Paying Attention and That’s Okay

So, I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I have ADHD.

I was diagnosed when I was in eighth grade, so I must’ve been about 14. Up to that point, I’d been an okay student. I was always kind of smart, but I was always the really, really disorganized kid– I kept all my papers for all of my classes in one huge folder, because I’d figured out that keeping separate folders or binders meant that I was very likely to accidentally leave something at school that I needed for homework. My desk (or locker as I got older) was always a complete mess, with papers stuffed in every corner. I remember that in fifth grade, if we forgot our calculator in our locker for math class, we weren’t allowed to go get it and so we had to do the worksheet or whatever assignment we had without a calculator– I ended up getting pretty good at mental math because I never remembered my calculator. Basically, I was always forgetful and disorganized– but I was still a fairly good student. I generally paid attention in class, and that usually got me through, even though I struggled with remembering to do the homework.

But as I got older, and the assignments started counting more, and the work got harder and more important, I started to really struggle. I absolutely HATED school. It was for a lot of reasons, one of them probably being that I was still struggling with the fact that I was going through the wrong puberty, but one thing that I had always clung to was the fact that I was “smart” in some way. And in middle school, things started to get really hard. I started doing things like telling my parents I had no homework, or that I forgot the homework at school, when really it was sitting in my backpack because I knew that if I told my parents I had homework, they would make me sit down and do it and I would sit there and think about absolutely everything besides what I needed to do. I would sit down and try to write an essay, and I would start trying to write and fall asleep within 10 minutes even though I’d gotten plenty of sleep the night before. Things that seemed effortless for other kids, like reading the history textbook, were excruciating. I wanted so badly to be able to just read the chapter and be done with it, but every single time I tried to start reading, I would start a paragraph and then I was at the end of the paragraph having no idea what information I had supposedly just processed. I’d try again, and the same thing would happen. I could keep reading the same paragraph for half an hour and still have no idea what it said, until I just fell asleep or got frustrated enough to decide not to do the reading. I remember a teacher once said that reading textbooks could be like that– everyone has trouble reading boring stuff like that. You just have to keep trying and going over it. And so I would– again and again and again, but to no avail. And I just started getting frustrated– with myself, with school, with my parents for some reason– until I was just angry and sad all the time. I was also dealing with anxiety– looking back now, I think I had been experiencing mild panic attacks, which manifested themselves as a sudden, overwhelming butterfly-like feeling in my stomach. I felt symptoms of depression, too, and it was all spiraling into this vortex of “why can’t I do this work? I must be stupid. I’m not smart at all.” It was like impostor syndrome, but for normal, day-to-day life. I think those were really symptoms, rather than causes– I was dealing with gender stuff, school stuff, hormones in general, and all kinds of other things that I just didn’t have the tools to navigate as a preteen.

At a certain point, things started coming to a head. I would be watching TV and my parents would try and get my attention, and I would acknowledge them, and they would tell me something but by the time they’d said the first word I’d stopped paying attention. And they’d tell me again, and I’d lose focus again. And again. My grades were slipping, and there were arguments about that, of course. I felt so moody and so unfocused and so… directionless, might be a good word for it. At this point, I felt like I was sinking, and I couldn’t seem to get ahold of anything to pull myself out.

At some point, I started thinking that something had to be wrong with me. I started googling symptoms of depression, of bipolar disorder– anything that could fit. But nothing did. I knew that, while I did feel sad, it was mostly because I knew I wasn’t living up to my potential, academically and personally. It was actually a health teacher I had in middle school who talked about his ADHD that made me consider that I might have it, just in the back of my mind. And one night, after a particularly nasty argument with my parents about homework, I looked up the symptoms of ADHD online, and realized that they definitely described some of my behavior. So I told my parents. We went to my doctor, and after some tests, it turns out that I was right. I was given a diagnosis of ADHD.

I’d love to say that I got put on medication and that my life just turned around and everything was totally fine from then on. That would, of course, be the ideal situation. But that’s not the case. Medication doesn’t solve everything. But for me, it certainly helped me establish a baseline.

I started to be able to focus in class more. I started being able to stay awake when I wrote essays and did homework. In fact, I started… liking math. In elementary school and most of middle school, I hated math, because if I couldn’t immediately get the answer, I’d get frustrated so easily because all of my ability to focus was just zapped. Now, math was actually kind of interesting, like a puzzle. And if I didn’t understand something, that wasn’t such a horrible thing– I looked it up in the book, or I tried a couple of things to try and work it out for myself.

But of course, living with undiagnosed ADHD for so long took its toll on me. I never really developed some of the skills that other people learned when they were kids, like how to direct your focus, or how to work efficiently without wearing yourself out too much, or just basic time management skills. Those are skills I’ve had to learn as an adult, and that’s not always the easiest thing to do.

Now, looking back, I sometimes wonder how no one ever diagnosed me with ADHD when I was a little kid. I’ve gone back and read some of my report cards and progress reports from elementary school, and many of them say things like “smart, but needs to develop focus in class.” I remember in fourth grade, we weren’t allowed to have anything on our desks that could be distracting, but we were allowed to have bottles of hand sanitizer, so over the school year I used lots of hand sanitizer so I had empty bottles of many sizes on my desk that I made into a “family” of sorts. There was lots of drama in the sanitizer family, and I just sat in class ignoring what the teacher was saying and making up scenarios about the lives of this hand sanitizer bottle family instead. I was also quite a wild child– I would come home from school when I was little and just play Dance Dance Revolution for hours to expend energy. I was the kid whose activity at recess was just screaming. I wasn’t necessarily impolite or anything, but if there was an outlet for me to expend some energy, I expended it explosively.

My point here isn’t to say that everything is great for me now as a college student– it’s actually more the opposite. I still struggle every day with ADHD symptoms. Obviously, the medication helps, but it isn’t everything. There’s the main symptoms that still occur (though less often and less severely), but there’s also the struggles that aren’t caused by the ADHD itself, but rather society’s attitude towards ADHD, and towards mental health in general. First, there’s this stupid, harmful stereotype that all mental health problems can be solved by someone telling you to feel better or try harder, which is just not true, and I think there have been enough articles published on various websites that I don’t have to refute that one.

Another thing that stems from that line of thinking is that mental health medications are just bad for you, and that any issue you have can be cured by some exposure to nature. The version of this I’ve heard most about ADHD is that the stimulants I take every day to function are just study drugs whose only purpose is to help drug-seeking college students get through exams. This is probably the thing that gets under my skin the most, because it ignores the fact that ADHD is real. The mentality is that the evil pharmaceutical industry is drugging our children and taking away their creativity and poisoning them and whatever else people want to throw on that burning garbage pile of an argument. Yes, the pharmaceutical industry in this country is fucked up. It overcharges people for medications they need, and I might even venture to say that in some cases, maybe medication is prescribed in cases where it shouldn’t be as the first option. It is not a valid argument, however, to say that these medications are just “study drugs” and have no other purpose.

From my position, the fact that I take medication for my ADHD sometimes makes me feel like I’m cheating somehow– like I have this “unfair advantage” because I’m taking something everyday that my peers see as a “study drug.” I sometimes catch myself in the back of my mind thinking, “maybe I don’t have ADHD and the only reason I’ve made it this far in college is that I’m taking a study drug.” And I think that’s perpetuated by the way that society views ADHD, and mental health as a whole. It’s a harmful mentality that I think we need to work on.

And, finally, there’s of course the old “oh look a butterfly! Ha, I’m so ADHD.” joke. It used to be much more prevalent, but I still see some form of it once in awhile. On the one hand, I frequently interrupt myself with interjections about things I observe in my environment. It’s a constant thing in my life. And yes, it can be funny. But on the other hand, when someone without ADHD says that, it can seem like they’re minimizing something that is a real issue that some people have to deal with in their lives, or minimizing ADHD to this one symptom, when in reality there is a lot more to ADHD.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t laugh at myself and my ADHD. I do, all the time. And I think that’s one of the ways that I deal with having ADHD. I can interrupt myself in the middle of a sentence and make a joke to my friends about it, because it’s my way of owning it. I find it funny now when I forget what I’m talking about halfway through a sentence, because when you’re having an argument with your boyfriend about which restaurant is better and you totally forget what your point was in the middle of making it, you can laugh together about the fact that it must not have been that important anyway. I love to make my friends laugh by, in traffic, narrating what other drivers are doing because I want to be aware of my surroundings and the best way to do that is to describe traffic patterns like David Attenborough describing the daily habits of a rare bird of paradise. I can laugh about forgetting to eat sometimes during the day because of my medication, and how I become instantly hangry at about 9 p.m. every night as my medication starts wearing off.

I would recommend that everyone watch Chris Gethard’s HBO comedy special, Career Suicide. He is very open about his own struggles with mental health, and how he was able to find the humor in it all. It really inspired me to write this post, because maybe someone will change how they think about ADHD.

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Snow Days

Hi everyone. I’m so sorry for how long it’s been since I’ve posted– I’ve been busy with school and all kinds of stuff that I may write about at some point, hopefully.

This most recent semester of college, I took a creative writing class in which I wrote a few good pieces, so I was thinking that I might post them here. I’m also hoping to write some other pieces soon, too, but last time I thought I was going to post with regularity, it didn’t end up panning out, so… we’ll see. Anyway, below is a creative nonfiction essay that I wrote for my class. Enjoy!


Snow Day

     I didn’t build my first snowman until I was in college.

     I grew up in a part of New Jersey where schools close at the sight of a single snowflake for fear of being sued by some litigious parent with too much time on their hands. Where I lived, we got snow relatively frequently, but it was a rare treat to get enough snow to really play in. The winter that I was in seventh grade (2009-2010), however, was a winter that just didn’t seem to quit. We had multiple storms that dumped lots of snow on my front lawn, and of course, my school had many snow days.

     One of these particular days, in February, I had been waiting for my bus at the bus stop for around half an hour before I finally decided to just walk home, thinking I’d somehow missed the bus. My parents, disgruntled that they were now going to have to drive me to school, began to clean up breakfast. Suddenly, as the plates clattered and dishes scraped against each other, the sound of the phone ringing pierced through the commotion like a lighthouse through fog. Time seemed to slow down for a moment as my dad wordlessly answered the phone. A good sign, surely, since the call that school is cancelled would be a robocall. Finally, he hung up the phone.

     “No school,” my dad informed me.

     I cheered, and prepared to settle in to watch the snow fall. Ever since I can remember, whenever enough snow fell to cancel school, I’d go outside to play in the snow by myself.  My two half siblings were much older than I and lived with their mom, and my neighborhood was fairly small and didn’t have many kids my age, so it was usually up to me to create my own sort of fun– especially on snow days, when no parents would drive their kids over for a playdate. Unsurprisingly, this meant that I couldn’t do many of the things most kids remember being the most fun on snow days– snowball fights, building a big snowman, or really anything that required the effort of more than one person.

     I spent most of the day sitting in front of the window like it was my job, watching as each large snowflake followed its own path through the air and eventually to the ground, where it would join its companions. When the snow finally stopped falling, I ran to the hall closet to prepare to venture out into the snow. I found my snow pants that were just barely still big enough for me, my coat that was still somehow too big for me, my gloves that had been mismatched over the years, and one of the many knit hats that I had acquired throughout my life. Finally, I slipped on my snow boots and ventured out into the white wonderland that awaited me.

     On this particular day, I sat down in the snow for awhile, deciding what I wanted to do. The shrieks of my younger neighbors starting up a snowball fight a few houses over startled me out of my daze, and I realized that the daylight was fading fast– I had to get to work. Normally, I would attempt to build something out of snow, fail, become frustrated, and go inside for some hot chocolate and TV. But this time, this time, I was going to do it. I decided to try to build a snowman.

     Of course, growing up without siblings or parents that played in the snow much as children, I had no idea how to even begin building a snowman. On TV, it seemed like they just sort of started to roll some snow together. It looked so easy, but everytime I tried, the snow would just disintegrate, as if the snowman just couldn’t keep it together long enough to let me feel like I could do this simple thing. I remember hoping that my neighbors weren’t paying too close attention to what I was doing, because it must’ve seemed strange to see a preteen frustratedly digging shallow holes in the snow and becoming more and more flustered. I tried starting with an ice chunk created by the plow piling snow by our mailbox, but nothing seemed to work, and finally I went inside in a huff.

     One night seven years later, in college in upstate New York, my boyfriend Aidan and I ventured out to build a snowman. As I slowly put on my coat, hat, and gloves, I couldn’t help but hope that this would be it– this would be my first snowman. I tried to keep my excitement to a minimum as Aidan and I made our way through the pristine white field toward the privacy of the woods– I didn’t want anyone to see how terrible I was probably going to be at building a snowman. On the bright side, the snow was the perfect consistency for snowman construction; the temperature had gotten warmer since the snow fell, but stayed cold enough for the snow to have melted just enough so that it packed together extremely easily.

     “Okay, so first, create a small ball, and then just start rolling it along. It might break up, but that’s ok, just keep trying,” Aidan said, beginning to roll up some snow. I watched, amazed at how easy he made it look.

     “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever made a snowman before,” I mused, attempting to follow Aidan’s lead. I began gathering up enough snow for a small ball, and attempted to roll it along.

     Aidan, coming from a large family with three siblings, raised his eyebrows and his voice in amazement. “Never? You’ve never built a snowman? That’s so… sad!”

     We both laughed, and as I turned my ball of snow a few times, I was surprised by the fact that the small snowball I had started with was rapidly becoming a snow boulder. I pushed, turned, flipped, and struggled with the cold mass until I had a ball that almost reached waist height and that neither Aidan nor I could push any further. I couldn’t believe how heavy that ball of snow was.

     Aidan and I both struggled to lift the ball that he had rolled onto my giant one, and even with both of us lifting, we couldn’t even get it off the ground. As a physics major, I understood why; the snow was extremely dense, especially since it was packed so tightly. However, in that moment, I was just a child, astonished by the fact that snow could be so heavy and compact just from rolling it along. Before my eyes, this form was beginning to take shape, and I realized that there would have been no way for me to construct this by myself, especially when I was younger and weaker. But mixed in with the thrill of creating something tangible, I felt a sort of quiet remorse. In a way, as a child, by not going and joining the neighborhood kids in the snow– by not looking for and meeting new friends in my neighborhood– I had insisted on being alone. And I suppose, in a way, I allowed myself to miss out on some really fun experiences.

     After multiple attempts to lift the midsection onto the base of the snowman, Aidan and I decided to break up Aidan’s ball into two (one for the torso and one for the head), and finally, the body of the snowman was constructed. Overjoyed, we packed snow on and around our creation, found him some stick arms, and made a face from some twigs.

     “What should we call him?” Aidan asked.

     “Edward Snowden?” I laughed, amused by my own pun.

     “No, I feel like he needs a real name…”

     “For some reason, I feel like he’s a Dewey,” I replied.

     And with that, I had participated in making my first snowman: Dewey.

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Stories From Childhood: Molasses

When I was a little kid, I was always took a long time getting ready to go places. For some reason, it seemed to take me forever to decide what I should bring, gather everything up, put on my shoes, everything that a kid needs to do to get ready to go somewhere. My parents were constantly chastising me for being slow; I have many memories of my Dad yelling up the stairs, “hurry up, you’re moving slow as molasses!”

Naturally, this started to get on my nerves. As a kid, I suppose I didn’t really understand why being on time was important; I never thought it caused anyone any real inconvenience. After all, it’s not like anyone else had anywhere to be, right?

After hearing my parents use the phrase “slow as molasses” so many times, I was eager to get “revenge”, and use this phrase against them. Finally, one day when I was excited about somewhere we were going and had gotten ready on time, my parents were the ones who were going to make us late. I was so excited; this is exactly what I’d been waiting for! I made my way to the bottom of the stairs and, when I saw my parents in the hallway, confidently shouted “c’mon, you guys are slow as MOSES!”

…Apparently, I was not as familiar with the phrase as I had thought. Not knowing what molasses was, I’d always assumed my Dad was comparing me to Moses, who was, from what I inferred, a guy from the Bible who moved slowly and was always late for things. My parents, amused, later explained that the phrase was about molasses, the viscous substance, rather than Moses, the biblical figure.  In hindsight, I suppose molasses made a lot more sense, but to this day I still carry around the perception that Moses was a guy who took his own sweet time.

 

 

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Whoa, I’m Not Dead! (Plus Housekeeping!)

Hello there! As the title of this post says, I am not dead, don’t you worry (you probably weren’t)! I’ve been pretty busy with college stuff lately, but I’ve been wanting to post for awhile (I just haven’t gotten around to it until now).

I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to post about, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to start a new thing; I think I’m going to start blogging about some experiences that I’ve had. These could be things like stories from my childhood, something that happened to me recently, or things that totally just happen in my head and really are only meaningful to me, but that I feel the need to share with the entire internet anyway (hooray for narcissism!). In order to do this, I’m going to start a couple of “series” of posts. To kick this off, I’m going to start a series of posts about some of my childhood experiences, which will be tagged “Stories from Childhood”. This doesn’t mean all of my posts from now on will be of that nature – just some of them. I know this post isn’t much, but don’t worry – I’m working on my first “Stories from Childhood” post right now! So don’t fret.

See you soon (hopefully)!

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Top 10 Reasons Why I am Glad to be Leaving NJ

So, I’m heading off to my out-of-state college in a few days, and I just wanted to post a short list of the top 10 reasons why I hate my home state of New Jersey.

  1. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  2. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  3. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  4. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  5. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  6. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  7. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  8. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  9. Chris Christie is an asshat.
  10. Chris Christie is an asshat.

Here is the latest asshattery from our governor: laughing at the transgender community on right-wing radio after vetoing a bill that would allow transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

So I say to you, New Jersey – good riddance!

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(un)Productivity

I have this weird thing that I do in order to prepare for stuff that I am excited for. It’s really weird. Ready?

I plan.

Yes, plan. But not in the way that you’re thinking, oh no. Not normal, “oh, how do I get there, what do I do” planning. I mean I really plan shit out.

For example, a few weeks ago my cousin and I went into New York City for the day. A couple of nights before, I decided to research exactly which subway routes would be most efficient, print out schedules for each line we would be taking, and plot a map. All in all, I stayed up until 4 a.m. doing all of this, for no real reason other than I wanted to because I was excited for the trip. I really didn’t even need to plan much at all; I know my way around NYC well enough that I could have gotten by fine without researching every detail of the NYC subway system.

Here’s another example; I’m leaving for college in a few weeks, and I’ve been packing all of the stuff that I’ll be needing for my dorm. I started with one list of all the items I needed. Then, I decided to split that list into what I’d bring with me and what I’d buy up at college. THEN, I divided it into what I could pack now vs. what I could pack later. And THEN I divided that further into what goes in what container. And it’s gotten to the point where I’m going to need a list of lists.

I think I do it partly to keep myself occupied and excited for whatever the exciting event is, because otherwise I think I’d just sit and be thinking “can’twaitcan’twaitcan’twait” until it happens, which is a state I cannot exist in for long periods of time. But during these times I also get almost nothing else done, which pretty much means if I get excited about a thing, anything I need to do that is unrelated to the exciting thing does not get done.

So I guess, until I actually leave for college, I will be checking off items on all of my lists. Well, at least I’ll have an inventory of all my shit when I’m up at college.

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The Universe is Wonderful

You know, sometimes I forget just how beautiful existence is.


Moon

I went outside tonight with my telescope for just a few minutes, and I decided to look at the moon for awhile (because it’s easy to find and honestly my inability to do more advanced things with a telescope is sad for a future physics major). While I was out there, I just pointed my phone camera through the lens and snapped a few beautiful photos, if I do say so myself.

But I did not come here to brag about my moon photos (though I am really excited to start changing some profile pictures). Really, I came here to talk about how irrelevant each and every one of us is.

We really are tiny specs in the universe. I often like to think about the fact that while we humans are still squabbling over territory and resources here on earth, somewhere out in the universe there is a star exploding, maybe throwing the building blocks of life out into the cosmos. We are on a planet, in a solar system, in a tiny part of one of billions of galaxies in our universe. If our entire species were to die out tomorrow, in the grand scheme of things, it would probably make no difference. The picture would remain unchanged. Things would pretty much go on as they were.

And I know that thinking about the insignificance of humanity tends to bother some people, but I actually really enjoy it. In fact, it’s sort of comforting, in a way. We humans think we’re so clever. We’ve set up our little economies, explored our little planet, made these little lives for ourselves… and yet it could all be gone in a second. We could all be hit by an asteroid, or a supernova, or a gamma ray burst, and it would all be gone. While some people find this terrifying, I think it’s sort of wonderful, in a way. Thinking about this kind of stuff reminds me how small my problems actually are. Nothing actually matters to the universe, so the only things that should matter are the things that matter to me. And in the grand scheme of things, a few snags in one’s life really aren’t going to make a difference.

And that’s why I love looking through a telescope.

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