Struggling With ADHD
Ann 16, never fit in at school and figured she was just not smart. But that changed after she was diagnosed and treated for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Now, nothing can keep this girl from reaching her goals.
When I was little, I thought I was just like any other kid. But by fourth grade, I was sure there was something different about me. I couldn't keep up in school, and I found it impossible--no matter how hard I tried--to pay attention in class. I thought I wasn't as smart as other kids.
As I got older, my problems got worse. I would get so disorganized that I'd lose my school work before handing it in. My teachers constantly told my parents, "We don't doubt Ann's doing the homework. She's smart and really understands the topic. But it's just not getting to the teacher and we don't know why." I had no clue something called Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) even existed.
FROM BAD TO MUCH WORSE
By eighth grade, things were out of control. Although I was in honors math, I had such a hard time focusing and getting assignments in that I had to quit. I felt like a failure. I pretty much day-dreamed through class because it was impossible for me to sit still. As my workload increased, my problems escalated. I think everyone thought I was this spaced-out, stupid weirdo.
My school life and social life were a mess. I was never invited to parties, and I gained a ton of weight with all the stress. I became the girl who was bullied by a gang of about 20 kids. Luckily, I had the best group of friends a girl could ask for. They were always there for me.
Even so, I often came home from school crying. The mean kids made every day a nightmare, calling me names like "Fatty" or "Stupid." One of the worst days was when we were playing soccer outside during gym and this boy kept hitting me with the ball--and it really stung. I'd yell, "Stop it!" But he kept doing it, and all the kids just laughed at me. I was so humiliated. I tried to act like it didn't bother me but, when I got to my next class and saw two of my friends, I broke down.
Those kids did tons of other horrible things to me that year. Guys came up to me in study hall and said, "Hey, Ann, wanna go out with me?" with all of their friends watching. It was very obvious that they weren't really asking me out, and it was embarrassing. No matter how I responded, they'd all laugh. My mom said, "They're just jerks!" But I figured she had to say that since she's my mom.
Even with the support of my parents and friends, I didn't see any way out. I figured I was and always would be this stupid, fat, lazy, unpopular kid.
DESPERATE FOR ANSWERS
By then, my self-esteem was pretty much non-existent. But I never sat around wishing I could be like the popular kids--I just wanted to be the kid who wasn't picked on. I worked incredibly hard to get good grades, but I failed Spanish and basically had all C's and some D's. My parents were concerned so, in desperation, my mom discussed the problem with my guidance counselor. She said my inattentiveness and lack of focus were "just a phase." Right! Like, my whole life was a phase. Meanwhile, I scored in the top percentiles on standardized tests, but my report-card marks were terrible.
The last straw was in ninth grade. I'd always imagined things would be better in high school, but my grades were still terrible. My parents took me to a professional to gauge my study habits. After a few days of testing, the man said I had very clear signs of ADHD. I was like, "What's that?"
"You have trouble concentrating and are hyperactive because of a chemical imbalance or an irregularity in the way your brain works," he explained. He also added that having ADHD didn't mean I was stupid--it just meant I couldn't focus. Hearing that was such a relief.
Although there's no cure for ADHD, I was prescribed Concerta for my symptoms. My mom felt bad for not taking me to get help sooner, but I never blamed my parents--they've been completely supportive, even when they had no clue what was wrong with me.
I'M NO DUMMY
As weird as it sounds, after learning I had ADHD, my first thought was, "I can get through this myself]." I was in denial because I didn't want to admit anything was wrong with me. Being on medication made me feel like a freak.
Since I was so firm about not taking Concerta, my parents made a deal with me that I wouldn't have to take it if I worked extra hard for the next two weeks to show them I didn't need it. But after two weeks, there was no change, so my parents said, "At least try the Concerta. If you don't like it, you can always stop." I started taking it with a completely negative attitude, almost willing it not to work. But right away, everything changed. I immediately got better grades, and my homework was getting in on time. By the end of the year, I had all A's and B's. I went from flunking Spanish to winning the Spanish Award.
I felt so good that I lost 20 pounds in a year and have since lost 13 more. I joined swim team and drama club, and my social life is great. At first, I didn't tell anyone except my best friend about my ADHD. But the more I talked to people about it, the more I realized having ADHD is no big deal.
For the first time, I don't feel so different from everyone. I'm more active, open and confident. I'm no longer the one everyone picks on--and I love that! I still have problems with organizational skills, but I have a tutor who helps.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!
Looking back, I feel great knowing all the bad stuff that happened to me wasn't my fault--I wasn't stupid after all! I'm sure if I'd known I had ADHD, things would have been different then.
Even though I hated finding out I have ADHD, I've learned there actually are a lot of positive things about having it. People with ADHD are creative, energetic and passionate. And for me, that makes me really good at writing, drama and brainstorming ideas.
I decided to tell GL about my ADHD because it might help another girl identify her own problems with it sooner, like I wish I had. And maybe if "normal" kids understand that some people are born with disorders like ADHD, they'll be a little nicer to them.
If you think you have a learning disorder, go see a doctor who can test you for it. If you do have a disorder, don't be ashamed--it's not your fault. It's the same as not getting to choose whatever color hair or eyes you naturally have. You just have to five with it, and there are actually many positive ways to deal with it. I look back now and I think, "All those tough times were not my fault. I can just go on with my life from here, and everything will be so much better from now on!"
BY ANN BARKIN AS TOLD TO SANDY FERTMAN RYAN