We’ve all failed at some point, whether at school or in our personal lives. But for someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), failure seems to be a lot worse. As someone with ADHD, I feel distressed daily. Completing “normal” tasks seem impossible, causing me to feel defeated. It’s very important that people understand this condition and the people who live with it. While you may not be able to help their brains, you can help by being supportive and educated on their symptoms.
There are two kinds of attention deficit, inattentive (ADD), and hyperactive (ADHD). The difference is, if you have ADHD, you have trouble staying still for a long period of time. ADD is a mental hyperactivity, where your attention is everywhere.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of ADHD include fidgeting, forgetfulness, trouble following directions and controlling emotions, switching quickly from one activity to the next, being easily distracted and frequent daydreaming. ADHD is on a spectrum, so not everyone struggles from symptoms in the same way. The severity varies and depends on factors such as environment, diet and how often you exercise.
Some of these symptoms can lead to serious consequences. For example, according to CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), youths with ADHD are “overrepresented among crash and fatality statistics than their non-ADHD peers.” This not only puts ADHD drivers at risk, but others as well.
People with ADHD also often suffer panic attacks. These feelings, according to Dr. Andrea Spencer, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center, make teens with ADHD “blame themselves and feel demoralized.” Michelle Privé, clinical social worker at Boston Medical Center, said that ADHD can also lead to “academic and social difficulties, which may increase feelings of frustration, irritability, sadness, low self-esteem, or loss of motivation.” Over time, these feelings can make you feel depressed, or contribute to depression.
Despite the challenges I’m destined to bear, I felt relieved when I finally understood the reasons for my inattentiveness and frustration. But it wasn’t long after that I perceived the stigma many have about ADHD—that those on ADHD medication haven’t tried hard enough to control their symptoms. From personal experience, I can tell you this is not true.
It isn’t me who wants to take three hours doing one assignment. I want to finish my homework as early as I can, I want to sleep by 10 pm each night and I want to be able to control my brain so that I complete my tasks on time. I am sure this applies to many others who also have ADHD, but we have little control over our brains.
I have tried to overcome my ADHD. I’m on a pescatarian diet, limiting foods with preservatives, artificial flavors and colors in attempt to eliminate factors that may trigger symptoms. I try to find a “perfect” place to study and do homework, where I can focus. But blocking external distractions is not enough. Even in these “perfect” environments, it’s nearly impossible to get my undivided attention on what’s in front of me. I often feel as if I’m a total failure, that I can’t accomplish anything like a “normal” person.
“I wish people would understand that ADHD can make it hard for those who have it to focus on one thing at a time, and people keep pressuring us,” said Illea Hutcherson, a student at the William W. Henderson Inclusion School.
Regardless of the stigma, it is important for ADHD to be treated. Understanding your disorder and what works for you will force you to create coping mechanisms early on, before life gets even more hectic to manage. ADHD is typically treated with stimulants, which increase neurotransmitter dopamine in the central nervous system, while improving focus, attention, planning and organization. Dr. Spencer said these medications are safe and effective when taken as prescribed. She added that “up to 90 percent of children with ADHD can get relief from their symptoms with medication.”
There are also natural ways to improve ADHD. Privé suggests using tools to help you stay organized, such as a daily planner or apps on your phone. Limit your distractions by keeping your phone away while you are doing homework, or sitting near the front of the class in school. Use a timer if you work best under pressure. Lastly, practice mindfulness or meditation. By practicing these strategies, your symptoms and feelings may improve.
ADHD may seem pervasive, and while it still impairs one’s life, it’s not the worst thing. People with ADHD tend to be very enthusiastic and we get excited over the smallest things. We also have a very special talent—the ability to hyperfocus. Many writers, engineers and artists with ADHD are successful at their jobs because of this superpower. Hutcherson said, “drawing helps my mind focus and settle because I really enjoy it and it just helps me get use to focusing on my work more.” Use your hyperfocus to your advantage by finding a productive activity that helps you alleviate your stress, as Hutcherson has. This lessens your feelings of failure, because you know what you’re a master in.
Helping the ADHD community begins with acknowledging their struggles. Instead of judging or ridiculing them for their mistakes or their behavior, let’s start helping them turn their feelings into feedback on how they can improve. People with ADHD love trying new things and failing at something new is perfectly okay. It merely shows how determined and resilient we are.