“Well, you’re definitely going to score somewhere on the scale,” my psychologist said to me when I handed her back the questionnaire.
I’ve always wondered if I had ADHD. As a constantly daydreaming and chronically late, perpetually disorganized, and tragically short attention-spanned human, it almost seemed like a cop-out to label myself with a diagnosis. Especially since the wondering always occurred when I was trying—and failing—to study for a test.
Through high school, and college, although I entertained the idea, I chalked it up to just not trying hard enough. Well, sure, if I hadn’t started studying at the last minute, I would have gotten a higher grade; if I hadn’t written my entire paper the night before, it would have been more thorough; if I had just focused more in class, I would have a better idea of what we were talking about.
It was especially easy to rationalize away the idea of an obstacle like ADHD preventing me from academic success because I was doing just fine academically, for the most part. And what’s more is that I knew I wasn’t dedicating enough time towards studying to truly garner my best effort.
But after I started studying for the LSAT this year, I realized something had to be wrong. Because I realized the stakes were much higher for a test like this, for the first time in my life I started studying months in advance. But chunks of study time would go by without anything to show for it, and despite what I would say is a herculean effort, my test score from October showed no improvement.
More than that, the timing scared me. It felt as though, regardless of how much practice I got, I could not pick up the pace. My focus would wane, and I perpetually struggled to get through the last questions of every section. It didn’t feel right. And so, I went in to see if maybe that ADHD thing I’d been wondering about was a problem.
As I spoke to the psychologist, she asked me if I felt like this had been going on for a long time—it had—and in what instances I had trouble focusing.
The truth, I realized, was basically everything. On my good days, I could focus maybe 75% of the time, but on my bad days? Peripheral movements, background noise, grocery store displays, colorful book covers, interesting outfits—literally everything was a potential distraction.
And when I filled out the questionnaire, I realized that this hadn’t just affected me academically. Being part of the conversation when it involved one or more people was also an uphill battle. It was too easy for me to lose focus and miss a crucial point of what someone was saying. When three or more people were involved? Well then I just gave up to daydreaming.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the worst thing in the world to get lost in your thoughts all the time—it makes essays more interesting, and projects more innovative. But it becomes a problem when it’s an involuntary thing that happens all the time.
It’s strange to think that what I thought were personality quirks could be—are—the symptoms of a brain that is deficient in certain areas. That there is a scientific reason why I daydream so much, why I bounce from thought to thought without being able to settle on one thing, why I’m so cluttered and always procrastinate. These are defining characteristics of myself because they have determined so much of who I am and what my interests are—but they are also, if I am to believe in what ADHD means—a weakness.
The thing is, I’m not sure where to draw the line between explanation and excuse. I was brought up believing that I could do anything if I worked hard enough; I’m still wrestling with the idea that this has limits, and that mine may be more restrictive than others.
I’ve tried the medication, and though it will take me a while to find the right dose, I can see the difference; it’s as subtle as being able to read a few paragraphs without my mind wandering—but it’s there. And under a timed situation, it just feels like I’ve been given a faster car to complete the race.
But that begs the question—what am I gaining by artificially giving myself the ability to focus, and what am I losing? Is it worth the exchange?
Anonymous wrote this for Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood.