When I was in primary school, I couldn't learn my addition tables. I still don't know the alphabet — I have to sing the whole "ABC" song in my head when I search for a word in the dictionary. In high school, my French teacher told me I would never be able to write French properly (French is my first language) so I should just invest in spell-check software. My history teacher couldn't understand how I could mix up two historical facts 100 years apart. He told me I would always be a B student, an average one. I was a "lost cause." It felt like they gave up on me.
Is it the experience you would expect from someone who just completed a PhD? Believe it or not, this is how school started for me. Welcome to my world with ADHD — from diagnosis to transitioning into adulthood and finding my way to grad school. I decided to share my story because there is a lot of stigma and misunderstanding associated with ADHD. I want to show people that even if your brain works differently and that your strengths are sometime (wrongly!) seen as weaknesses in our society, it is possible to achieve great things and make a difference in this world.
When I persevered, and was eventually an undergrad in psychology, I couldn't understand why memorizing the names of the 206 bones in the human body was so difficult. But somehow, in 2009 I managed through and got accepted to do my master's degree in social work. I guess my curiosity and my thirst for knowledge kept me from dropping out of school. I was also fortunate to have a very present mother who would take care of the little details of my life like booking appointments or snap me out of daydreaming during my morning routine. Little did I know how this environment was a blessing for my ADHD.
I want to show people that even if your brain works differently and that your strengths are sometime (wrongly!) seen as weaknesses in our society, it is possible to achieve great things and make a difference in this world.
When I was getting ready to start my master's degree, I decided it was time to move out of my parents' place. Be an adult, you know? "You got this," I told myself. "It can't be THAT hard, right?" This is a snapshot of how my adult life soon turned into chaos:
Friday morning: Finish milk carton. Observation: Nothing left for dinner tonight. Note to self: buy milk and dinner stuff when coming back home from work. No need to note it, I can't forget that right? Obvious.
Friday evening: Finish work. Walk home. Walk by the grocery store. See the grocery store. Completely forget about the note to self. Arrive home, hungry. Open the fridge: "Right! No food." Walk back to the grocery store...
Tuesday morning: Use last pair of clean socks. Note to self: I need to do laundry. Proceed to sort laundry, prepare to go to the laundry room. Grab soap. Look for loonies. No loonies. Note to self: pass by the bank after class to get loonies.
Tuesday evening: Finish class, walk home. Walk by the bank. See the bank. Forget about the note-to-self. Arrive at home. See the laundry basket: "Right! The bank." Walk by the bank. Bank is closed. Walk home frustrated. Following morning: leave home wearing a less-dirty pair of socks...
These daily hiccups are but a taste of what my first couple of months living by myself looked like. Everyday life was a struggle. Grocery shopping, doing laundry, paying my bills, cleaning my apartment. "Why is adult life is so hard?" I often wondered. I got frustrated with daily tasks. I felt guilty not being able to be an adult like I should be. It was around that time that I started looking online for information, and started to read about ADHD and began recognizing a lot of the common symptoms in myself.
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To make a long story short, I got diagnosed with ADHD shortly thereafter when I was in my early 20s. I realize now that it was when I left a well-structured home, with a very organized and tidy mom, that my ADHD became unmanageable and started to affect every aspect of my life. With a close accompaniment from my psychiatrist, I decided to try medication. Not everyone with ADHD needs treatment, this is a personal choice. But for me it was a game-changer. For the first time, I was out of the permanent brain fog and able to get through complex tasks without losing my train of thought.
Medication did not make my ADHD disappear, it simply allowed my brain to work to its full potential. Ten years later, after I completed a master's degree, moved to another province, completed a PhD, and learned a second language, I can say that I have learned a lot about myself and how to manage the challenges but also the wonderful capacities that people with ADHD, like me, have.
Is my story sounds strangely familiar? Do you want to learn more about ADHD? Don't be afraid to talk about ADHD with your family and your doctor. It might change your life. If you suspect that you or someone you love could be living with undiagnosed adult ADHD, visit "coulditbeadhd.ca" and fill out the symptom assessor that can be a helpful starting point to guide conversations with your family doctor.
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