Coming to terms with my ADHD

The disorder is much more complicated than it seems

Ben reflects on his experience with ADHD.

During my second year at Queen’s, I worried I might flunk out.

Lectures were grueling tests of endurance and narrowing my thoughts enough to focus on my professors felt impossible. Worst of all, I kept losing at a game called “sitting still for two hours,” and my failures were making me irritable. 

None of this made sense because I’d always been a great student—I graduated as the Student of Excellence from my high school. My chatty tendencies had long annoyed my teachers, but never prevented me from achieving academic success. 

I’ve always been motivated and inclined to succeed. I couldn’t understand why I kept showing up to class ready to learn and kept leaving frustrated at my inability to do it.

I’ll never forget finally breaking down and calling my mother because I’d only lasted 10 minutes in my three-hour psychology lecture. I told her if something didn’t change, I wouldn’t be able to continue with my studies and that my life might never pan out. 

That day, I finally accepted the truth: my brain was failing me.

Being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) didn’t surprise me. However, it shocked me to learn how my ADHD had controlled my life—from my attention span to my emotions. 

Contrary to what many believe, ADHD isn’t just the “I can’t sit still” disorder. Having my knee bounce up and down faster than a pogo stick whenever I’m bored is only the tip of the iceberg. 

ADHD is a multiple presentation disorder with associated symptoms ranging from inattention to impulsive eating. Some people lean more toward the attentional deficit side of the spectrum, while others are more hyperactive. My symptoms are a bit of both.

As someone who considers himself quite self-aware, my diagnosis helped put much of my life into better perspective. It helped me understand that sometimes my shortcomings are the byproduct of atypical neurodevelopment rather than a personal failure. 

Now, rather than criticizing myself when my ADHD has me feeling unproductive, I try to make the most of my productive moods. 

I’ve worked hard to organize my lifestyle into routines that allow me to be successful. For me, that means going to the gym every morning while I wait for Vyvanse to kick in, then powering through whatever work needs doing for a few hours afterward. 

I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with my ADHD medication.

Those lovely pills make my symptoms manageable to a point where I can sit through a lecture without going crazy. Unfortunately, they also upset my stomach, mood, and sleep schedule. 

ADHD is more complicated than people think. The disorder’s influence on my mood and my relationships—both with myself and others—is more detrimental and challenging to live with than the well-known attentional problems.

I’m so married to my routines that the slightest disruption can put me on edge for hours. I wake up at the same time every day and do all the same things every day. I feel terrible unless I eat dinner around 5 p.m. when my medicine starts wearing off. 

When one of my housemates beats me to the shower in the morning or the stove around dinner time, it takes a conscious effort for me not to lash out at them. 

My brain considers boredom a threat. I get restless and angry when I’m disinterested, and my body goes into “fight or flight” until I leave the situation. I’ve come to understand that I couldn’t sit through lectures unmedicated because my body was in panic mode. 

I hate thinking about how my ADHD affects my loved ones. 

Sometimes I hurt my friends and family unintentionally. Sometimes my toxic relationship with boredom affects my romantic life. I’ve worked hard to be a good person, friend, and partner to past girlfriends, but everything is more complicated with ADHD. 

Then there’s the anxiety. My fundamental need to live a routine-oriented life not only makes me anxious but those people around me, too. 

I’m a fiercely independent person. I subscribe to the philosophy of doing things yourself when you want them done. It’s easier that way. With that said, I get anxious and stressed about needing medication to be Mr. Do-It-Himself all the time. 

I think about this a lot in the gym. Once an overweight kid, I’m left to wonder how much ADHD-driven impulsive eating played into my size. 

Now, as I continue building the body I’ve always wanted, I’m curious whether I cheated thanks to the appetite-suppressing effects of my medication. 

Imposter syndrome is real. As a writer with ADHD, I’ve often wondered how my medication affects my creative process and skill set. Having one of my short stories about this exact topic published over the summer only left me with more questions than answers. 

Who am I without my medication? I’m still figuring that out. 

I know I’ve painted a bleak picture of life with ADHD. While it can undoubtedly be difficult, I still consider myself incredibly lucky when all things are considered. I wake up every day feeling thankful for my health and privilege.

I’m proud of myself. I’m getting better at accepting my flaws and putting my shortcomings into perspective—life is complicated, and so is living with ADHD

One thing is clear: if I didn’t flunk out because of my ADHD, then neither will you. 

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