Tough Stuff

I am not lazy: How one GL girl deals with her ADD


From the time I was six years old, my teachers had all been saying the same thing: “She’s so smart, but she doesn’t try.” Every single progress report, parent-teacher conference and year-end evaluation was the same. I could practically predict what they would say ahead of time. “If she would just put in the effort, she would be doing so well.” They were absolutely right, the schoolwork itself wasn’t hard for me, yet every day I stared out the window, doodled on everything and tore apart erasers instead of taking notes. Teachers would intentionally call on me during class to get my attention, and I received lecture after lecture from my mom about why I should be trying harder in school.

What never occurred to me, my family or any of my teachers was that my struggle to pay attention wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t until 7th grade when I received a progress report from my advisor different from all the others that things became clear. It read: “I think Alexis has ADD.”

ADD, short for Attention Deficit Disorder, affects a person’s ability to focus and pay attention for long periods of time. Other symptoms of the disorder include forgetfulness, anxiety, impulsivity and absent-mindedness, all of which described my behavior throughout my entire school career. After a long talk with my pediatrician, I was prescribed with Concerta, a medication intended to help me focus my attention and keep my mind from wandering during school.

Within one day of taking it, my teachers were sending notes home about how much I was improving. I was alert in class, I took detailed notes and I never missed a homework assignment for the rest of my middle school career. As a result, my grades improved, I was placed in higher-level classes and even made honor roll for the first time. Best of all, my self-esteem improved and I started gaining confidence in myself. Turns out I wasn’t lazy after all - take that, Mrs. Grant!

But as I started improving, my overall perspective changed in a way I wasn’t expecting. I found myself becoming more understanding and less judgmental overall. Maybe the kid who eats bits of paper can’t help it, and maybe teasing him for it is only making him more self-conscious. Maybe the girl who takes hours to read one chapter isn’t dumb, reading is just harder for her because she sees her letters backwards. Having ADD made me realize that if I could be mislabeled as lazy and stubborn, maybe I should stop labeling others when I don’t fully understand what’s going on in their lives.

Don’t get me wrong though, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. One of the most common side effects of ADD medication is loss of appetite, and it began hurting me physically as fast as it helped me mentally. I started rapidly losing weight and came home every night with a pounding headache, a side effect of both the medicine itself and simply not eating all day. At one point, the medicine was doing its job so well that all I ever wanted to do was study and do homework. This sounds great in theory, but my friends didn’t understand why I was skipping lunch to do math problems instead of talking with them about boys.

Eventually I found a way to manage my ADD in a healthy way. It still makes me less likely to chat and I still get nightly headaches, but now I can balance my social life with my academic life and maintain a healthy diet along with a high GPA. More than anything, I now have the confidence to push past any obstacles I face with the knowledge that I am not lazy, I just have a touch of ADD.

Do you have experience with learning disabilities, either your own or a friend's? Tell us in the comments below.

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by Alexis Ancel | 4/8/2019