My Brain is Broken: My Struggles with ADHD

My brain is broken.

Some Background

Okay, maybe this is a harsh way of putting it, but it’s true. It doesn’t mean i can’t live a ‘normal’ life, in fact quite the opposite is true. I have a loving family, good friends, and I’m enrolled in a good college. At a glance, I’m your average 21st century college student. But the cracks appear the closer you look. All of those times I showed up 15 minutes late for a meeting because I was too busy watching a video on youtube, the classes I skipped for no adequately explained reason, the ‘5 more minutes’ of browsing the internet that quickly turned into hours of distraction. In fact, from this view, I probably look like a real piece of shit, because these mistakes aren’t the occasional slip-up, they continually happen. I promise to change, and believe me, when I say that I really have every intention of trying, but that seems to be all I can do: try.

Ironically, this is what I’ve been told I needed to do all of my life. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “smart but lazy” trope. You know, that kid in your class that couldn’t be bothered to do a single homework assignment, but still aces the tests. I’ve seen just about every variation of “Student is not reaching full potential” in just about every grade school report card I’ve gotten. Of course the only response I ever got was “Well, you just need to apply yourself,” as if that was something that hadn’t crossed my mind. And it killed me, still does, actually. You can only get told this so many times before you start to believe it. Yet every time I tried to try, I failed. I’ve read self help books, and tried more organizational and time management techniques than I think I can keep track of, but nothing really changed. Here’s why:

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder

Now, if you read that title and thought to yourself, “oh great, another slacker using a made-up disease as an excuse to be lazy” I would ask you to take a look at some of these studies (http://tinyurl.com/h3atv8l), which all point to a neurological and physiological reasons for this disorder. If you still don’t believe that this is a real disorder, I’m not sure what to tell you, but I’m not going to spend any time here justifying the condition’s existence. Moving forward, I am going to assume you at the very least believe that this is a mental disorder in the same way that Bipolar Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder is.

ADHD and Me

I was first diagnosed with the disorder in the third grade. My teacher had noticed my difficulty relation to my classmates, and thought my parents might want to get me examined. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with ADHD and given a prescription of Straterra, a non-amphetamine medicine. I took the meds all the way through the beginning of 9th grade, when I stopped because of the side effects. High school was rough for me at some points without the meds, but I eventually figured out my own coping mechanisms and was able to graduate and get into college with little difficulty. In fact, by my senior year, I had more or less assumed I’d outgrown the disorder.

Then college happened. You see, in high school I was never really given the room to fail. My parents made me get up for school every morning, I could copy the homework I didn’t do off of my friend who sat behind me in class, and I never had an assignment that couldn’t be completed in a couple of hours. College is an entirely different animal. My first semester went off without a hitch. I aced my classes, got my work done, and kept my head up while I did it. So when next semester the simple act of getting myself to class became a herculean task, I was taken aback a bit. And by ‘taken aback a bit’ I mean I began a downward spiral that I’m still desperately trying to claw my way out of. Suddenly every teacher that told me I wasn’t trying hard enough, every lecture from my dad about living up to my potential came rushing back. I blamed myself. How could I not? That’s all I had ever heard when these things happened in the past, why was it any different now?

On top of that, there was added pressure from my parents to find an internship or job to get me out of the house for the summer (they would be out of the country, along with my brother, for 6 weeks). Not only did I fail to find either, I failed to even apply. So begrudgingly, my parents allowed me to stay home, while I worked at the public works department of a local town doing road construction and maintenance. This was also when I began taking medication again, at the request of my mom. I was given a prescription for Adderall, and things started to look like they would turn around for me. Of course little did I know that I was headed for.

What Were You Thinking?

I don’t know. It was august. My minivan, careening into the opposing lane of traffic, less than a mile from my home, on a sunny day. My parents had returned from their trip that week. They came home to find the mess that I had left in their house. I’ll spare you the details, but it was bad. My mom cried. My dad threatened to disown me. I cried so hard that night it took me almost 15 minutes to even put together a coherent thought. The question I had heard over and over again was: “What were you thinking?” I answered truthfully every time: “I don’t know.” I didn’t want this to happen, I’m not a masochist after all, but I had no idea why this had happened. My head was a whirlwind of every time I’d let someone down like this, of the classes I’d missed, and people I’d disappointed and I had decided that there was only one way to put a stop to it. I saw only failure, regret, and disappointment behind me, and emptiness and futility ahead, so on that sunny August day, if only for a few moments, I decided to end my own life. I was going to do it in the car. I wasn’t going to leave a note. I figured that it would be less painful if they assumed it was an accident. So on my way home from work, I closed my eyes. let go of the wheel and stepped on the accelerator as hard as I could. I don’t know how long it took me before I changed my mind, but it wasn’t enough time to hit anything, thankfully. I didn’t tell anyone I had tried to kill myself until months later, and many people still have no clue. The next week I saw a psychologist who specialized in the disorder and began my road to managing my condition.

Day by Day

I still struggle. A lot. I’m bad about taking my meds. I still get hit by depressive episodes that seem to come out of nowhere. I’ve had suicidal thoughts on at least 3 occasions since this summer. I hide from my mistakes and responsibilities. I miss work. I miss classes. I’m late to meetings. I know. I’m sorry. I’m trying. I still have a lot to learn about just how the hell to live with ADHD. It’s still really tough to get up and dust myself off after I fall. But I’m learning. I’ve started to see a professional again to start working towards building a more permanent framework for success. I’m learning not to beat myself up as much for my failings, and how to love myself in spite of my condition. I have a lot of pieces that need to be picked up, and I’m ready to begin.

My brain is broken, but I’m sure as hell not.