Every so often, I send an article to The Mighty, a publication about various mental and physical disabilities. I primarily write about ADHD––specifically about how it manifests in both women and gifted persons.
I Didn't Think I Had ADHD Because I Get Good Grades
March 20, 2018
I thought I was a completely “normal,” A-plus college student — at least, until a psychiatrist diagnosed me with ADHD last September. Apparently, my mother didn’t even connect the dots, even though she and two of my brothers also have it.
All the signs were there: me losing my car keys, short-term memory lapses, restlessness during class, always on-the-go, hyperfocus, a messy desk, forgetting appointments, easily stressed, etc. However, I never actually thought I had ADHD because I earn such high grades, am responsible, listen well and have a fairly reserved disposition. Nobody would have labeled me inattentive nor hyperactive.
After receiving my diagnosis — combined presentation ADHD — I now realize this is why I struggled so much with math in high school. Math was the only subject I earned anything less than an A in. The homework always took a long time to complete, but I usually had the right answer. However, I always failed the test — and I still don’t perform well on tests in any subject. Looking back, I discovered I knew the correct steps, but I lost track of my work and made careless mistakes.
Furthermore, my parents would sometimes yell at me for forgetting things, doctors would call me to inform me about missed appointments, I missed deadlines for small homework assignments as a kid, and I could never sit through long classes.
Flash forward to college.
Throughout my job in food service, I became frustrated that my coworkers could focus on several orders or tasks at a time, yet I could only manage a couple without losing focus. In addition, I’d sometimes forget what my manager instructed me to do just moments after she told me. Furthermore, I can never sit through lengthy lectures without fidgeting in my seat or taking a stretch break.
Finding out about my ADHD has completely changed things.
I plug important doctors appointments, meetings and other events in my Google Calendar. I write lists down on sticky notes instead of relying completely on my memory. I don’t even worry about the fact that my desk is disorganized — it’s “messily organized” in my mind and I can find everything if it goes back in my place. My keys remain on a lanyard with tons of keychains so I never lose them. I doodle around the margins in my notebook during in class so I remain focused. I take breaks when working on homework instead of powering through for a few hours.
RESOURCES FROM CHADD - ADHD/ADD
Having ADHD used to embarass me, but now I own it. Plus, I realized my strong work ethic is actually a form of hyperfocus. Healthline.com defines hyperfocus as “the experience of deep and intense concentration in some people with ADHD.” However, this drive only surfaces within areas I’m passionate about. When professors give me projects I thoroughly enjoy, I can tune out everything around me and pour all my creative energy into it.
I can’t change who I am, but in light of this new knowledge, I can adapt to my ADHD. I may have inattentive moments and can’t sit still at times, but I’ve developed strategies to combat those shortcomings. Doctors classify ADHD as an illness, but at times, it has become an advantage. It’s what makes me unique, and I’m proud of it.
When I Realized ADHD Caused My Performance Anxiety
August 19, 2018
After working with three therapists and ending my sessions in December 2017, I thought I finally had my panic disorder all figured out. Turns out I was wrong – because I only discovered I had ADHD at the end of September, I didn’t really work through that with my therapists because my main focus was my panic disorder. Guess I should’ve brought that up, because it would have made a difference.
I only discovered this connection about a couple of weeks ago, and I’m so glad I did because it has helped me feel tremendously more at peace. So, how exactly does ADHD cause anxiety? Well, the problem with having ADHD is you will never, ever be perfect. No matter how hard you try. Our minds are wired in a way that’s completely different from the majority of society, and we tend to be highly innovative, insightful, and creative – but our weaknesses shadow those positive traits. According to Unpacking ADHD, people often say we’re lazy, forgetful, need to try harder, or don’t care enough. Dr. Ferrari states that people also will often call us oversensitive, emotional, and say we often jump to conclusions too quickly.
Is being sensitive really that bad? Upon further research that stemmed from my intuition, I realized the inattentive part of ADHD may actually result from being very right-brained, which means our left-brain functions are weaker than the average person. We tend to excel at tasks that require creativity, such as painting and playing music, but according to Simply Well Being, tend to struggle with certain detail-oriented tasks such as reflecting, analyzing, organizing, being consistent, and focusing on one thing instead of multiple things. But that still probably doesn’t answer your question: why do people with ADHD excel more in “right-brained” functions?
It’s most likely due to a dopamine imbalance. Healthline reports that low levels of dopamine in the left region of the brain could be one of the causes of ADHD. If you’ve read my book or previous blog posts, you know that dopamine is responsible for working memory, information retention, pleasure, focus, motivation, energy, social interaction, and creativity. As you can see, dopamine is responsible for a lot. That’s why it’s incredibly important to get medication if you think you have a dopamine imbalance – and remember to take it (silly me forgets a lot due to my ADHD). That’s one of the problems of having ADHD, actually: forgetting to take your meds. Other neurotransmitters – serotonin and norepinephrine – also overlap with dopamine and are responsible for similar functions, such as mood. These neurotransmitters have slightly specific functions, but they all overlap at some point.
How does this interact with anxiety? If you’re not sleeping well, not retaining information well, not feeling well and avoiding people because of it, and not remembering things well, that can result in a ton of performance anxiety (atelophobia). The more you forget things, have difficulty processing things, have a lack of energy, and feel like being alone all the time, the more you will become emotionally overwhelmed, exhausted, and feel like a failure. Since people with ADHD are also incredibly sensitive empaths (Highly Sensitive People), we tend to catastrophize disagreements and others’ impressions of us. Someone simply not liking our personality turns into others not liking us, which creates anxiety about that conflict. Someone even saying “I’m disappointed in you” is earth-shattering, and that’s why it’s important to let supervisors know, “Hey, I’m highly sensitive. I know you might be harder on other employees, but I need to receive corrections with a softer tone so my emotions don’t go haywire.”
I learned that lesson hard this summer after working with two leaders that were the exact opposite: very strong and not emotionally sensitive people, so they didn’t understand the burden I dealt with every day. However, I know that was partially my fault. I never let them know I had a medical reason for having emotional breakdowns if I received too many corrections in a day. Now I know what to do for next time so I don’t have to switch departments at another job.
Actually, there’s a medical term for this: rejection-sensitive dysphoria. Here’s a quote about what that feels like from an ADDitude Magazine article:
“I’m always tense. I can never relax. I can’t just sit there and watch a TV program with the rest of the family. I can’t turn my brain and body off to go to sleep at night. Because I’m sensitive to my perception that other people disapprove of me, I am fearful in personal interactions.”
According to the article, a fear of failure is often catastrophic for people with ADHD – and that’s why we take corrections at work so personally. We’re just super sensitive. However, some leaders won’t budge. They’ll just say, “Oh, that’s my management style. I’m not going to change it for you.” If you hear that, just do me a favor and quit that job. It’s not worth the misery. I even challenged a leader on this issue, and I wasn’t afraid to do so. I don’t usually challenge authority, but I felt like I wasn’t being listened to, so I spoke up. Don’t let people put you down for having feelings. The best bosses and leaders I’ve ever worked with get to know each member of their team individually and cater their leadership style towards them. This is also known as “self-awareness,” or the ability to understand how your actions affect those on your team, according to Catering Institute. They won’t change it for people who can adapt to it, but for those who can’t, they’ll take a slightly different approach.
That’s how you know you have a leader who cares. Some of the professors I’ve had at Biola use that approach as well, so I know it’s not a task too difficult to ask for. Working with leaders who aren’t self-aware makes me super anxious because I’m always worried about impressing them, but they’re never impressed with me anyway because I’m a failure in their eyes, so it creates this incredibly violent cycle that only ends with self-hatred or self-harm. That’s why it’s important to find a safe work environment, so you don’t harm your emotional and physical health in the process.
Taking this all into account, it seems the majority of the ADHD/anxiety relationship comes from overcompensation of imperfections. We don’t tend to think logically, but we understand figurative meanings and can read between the lines exceptionally. We’re flexible people and adapt many approaches for the same task. We’re profoundly intuitive and creative. Our mysteriousness stumps so many people that they become frustrated with us, and we often internalize their responses towards us.
In addition, anxiety can also result from conflict with people due to our highly sensitive nature. We’re so empathetic that we take facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice into account when we converse with someone, which is how we know how they feel about us. I’ve had people tell me point-blank, “No, of course I like you,” but all these non-verbal cues scream, “I’m only putting up with you because I have to.”
I hope all this information helps in some way, whether you’re primarily inattentive, hyperactive, or a combined-presence type (which is me). Hopefully, this knowledge will help you work through anxiety and live a healthier life.
How Talent and Intelligence Masked My ADHD
October 28, 2018
I’m a straight-A (or A-minus, depending on how hard the professor’s TA grades) graduate student at the Talbot School of Theology with a BA in journalism from Biola University, four different jobs, and 13 units – one over max credit load. Even so, I misplace my ID card at least once a day, forget to eat lunch half the time, and mix up memories because I focus on parts instead of the whole. To most people, that seems like a paradox: who in the world is highly intelligent, yet at the same time forgetful and incompetent?
This is the battle I fight every day. My professors, supervisors, coworkers, and even friends at times don’t understand exactly what I deal with.
Most people assume I’m highly organized and always have things together because I have an excellent work ethic and stellar time management. However, the “dark side” comes out at other times. For instance, I’ll think I’m doing something right at work, then find out I’ve done it wrong the whole time and bear the anger of the person giving me the correction. To them, it doesn’t make any sense – they think I’m intentionally disregarding instructions or am just a complete ditz. Nobody else has trouble remembering instructions, so why me of all people?
I didn’t find out about my ADHD until I was 21 because I flew under the radar as a child. Most children with ADHD receive their diagnosis around age 7, according to Healthline. However, I was quiet and obedient. Although I didn’t really display the traditional signs of hyperactivity, such as raising my hand too often, blurting out answers, and talking incessantly, I tapped my foot and daydreamed. My teachers didn’t see that, nor did my parents.
The fact I was gifted didn’t help either. Many people assume children with ADHD won’t participate in activities that require talent because they can’t focus enough to apply themselves. However, those with ADHD know very well that we often have this phenomenal ability called hyperfocus, where we can focus on something we love for hours on end. While it’s true that most people with ADHD are inattentive, the word takes on a different meaning than most people suppose: we’re not necessarily inattentive all the time, just when we have to do things we aren’t really interested in. Math was my area of disinterest – I had an A in every other subject in high school.
Music became my passion when I started playing flute at age 11. I still play it today, 11 years later in the Symphonic Winds at Biola University. Although I had ADHD and couldn’t focus in class at times, I could hyperfocus on music. I became excellent at sight reading and practiced several hours a week. My giftedness is not so atypical, yet it’s unexpected due to misconceptions about ADHD. Psychologist Holly White and Priti Shah conducted a study that found adults with ADHD often have more creativity than those without it due to higher levels of divergent, rather than convergent, thinking. In simpler terms, this means they have a more spontaneous than structured thought process.
I even published a book, God’s Grace Through Gastritis, GERD and Grit, this past summer. That’s seemingly atypical for someone with ADHD, yet due to my passion for writing and research, it came together in only three months.
Due to these misconceptions about the ways ADHD manifests, I went undiagnosed for far too long. According to ADDitude, it’s actually fairly common for women to receive ADHD diagnoses as adults. Around half to three-quarters of girls and women – about four million – remain undiagnosed because they don’t display what most people consider the typical signs of the disorder. It’s often regarded as an invisible disability. Plus, some of these signs don’t become outwardly apparent until the college years, when these females have to handle significant responsibilities on their own.
The seemingly invisible signs of my ADHD were there the whole time if someone looked hard enough: forgetfulness, boredom in certain classes, needing to stay busy all the time, daydreaming, misplacing everything, having a disorderly-organized room, having overwhelming feelings “normal” people didn’t understand, and having hypersensitivity to chaotic environments.
My late diagnosis has pushed me into a place of shame and guilt because I always thought my mind was defective. I let people down because I forgot things. I misplaced my debit card for the fourth time in two months. I didn’t check my mailbox frequently enough and missed all the doctor’s bills. I became upset with someone for hurting my feelings and they called me “hypersensitive” instead of actively listening. I always seemed to make unintentional mistakes, yet I was blamed for being careless. I’ve even done incredibly clueless things like put the milk in the pantry and the cereal in the fridge. My thoughts screamed, “Why do I work so hard and yet constantly fail?”
Disregarding the common perception of ADHD – being a complete space cadet or a rambunctious kid who always gets in trouble – could save a lot of other women from walking the destructive road of self-hatred, especially those who excel in academics or in creative areas. I don’t wish the pain I felt upon any other woman. If you’re a woman know another woman who may have undiagnosed ADHD, I recommend completing this quiz as a starting point. If those quiz results point to ADHD, I suggest a visit to the doctor. Receiving a formal diagnosis can seem scary, but it can also change your life, as it did mine.