Hi. My name is Reilly Shingler. I am twenty years old and a college junior, and I was recently diagnosed with ADHD. Does something sound off about that introduction? (Hint: it might be the word “recently” that’s throwing you off there.) While me saying I’ve just been diagnosed with ADHD at the age of twenty might make you scratch your head, my experience is more common than you might think. Let me explain why.
When you think of a person with ADHD, you probably think about a young boy who bounces off the walls in class and is unable to contain his massive energy levels. For a long time, that’s what I thought of ADHD, too. Throughout elementary school, I was the complete opposite of that: a high achieving perfectionist and teacher’s pet, “pleasure to have in class” on each and every report card, teachers gushing to my parents about what a good kid I was during conferences. As I grew up, I started to drift away from that standard I had set for myself, doing less and less homework but still retaining enough information in class to excel on tests.
Somehow this became even worse as I entered junior high. My parents separated when I was in seventh grade and my world was turned upside down. For the first time in my life, I started failing math tests and became the most depressed I had ever been. I had no motivation to do anything and became unable to focus on anything going on in my classes. I chalked my sudden grade drop up to the situation I was in and didn’t think it was because of an underlying issue. How could it have been when I was such a good student otherwise? Ignoring all the signs of being neurodivergent, I made my way through the rest of high school, achieving good grades in classes where I could coast through with minimal effort and struggling in math classes where I actually had to try outside of class time.
I was unbelievably excited to go to college in the fall of 2019 only to be completely unprepared for the intensity of my classes. No longer could I get away with skimming readings five minutes before classes started and starting papers an hour before their deadline. I was floundering academically and isolated socially, and overall had a pretty miserable first semester. I was so used to doing well in school despite doing no work that suddenly being thrust into classes that required a lot of work during my personal time threw my world upside down. It sounds stupid, but I genuinely did not know how to study simply because I’d never had the need to do so before (gifted kid burnout, anyone?).
I went into my second semester of college in January 2020 fully prepared to turn a new leaf and get myself on schedule, and I was actually succeeding– at least until we got sent home because of the pandemic. My life was turned upside down on both an academic and a personal level as I struggled to adjust to not only living at home again and doing all of my classes over Zoom, but also the unexpected end of a year-long relationship. Somehow I lost the tiny amount of motivation I had buried in the depths of my brain and viewed every Zoom call as a time to either sleep or scroll through Instagram. The second half of the semester felt like a blur but I somehow got through it and didn’t do too badly for myself. Fall 2020 was a different story.
For safety reasons, Ithaca decided to be fully remote last fall, which would be my full first semester totally online. I tried my hardest to focus in my classes and do my work but there seemed to be a block in my brain that prevented me from being productive. This is around the time that I realized there was probably something deeper going on that was preventing me from doing my work. Unfortunately, my fear of admitting weakness stopped me from going to my parents with my concerns so I suffered in silence for the rest of the semester and my grades showed it. I performed more poorly this past semester than I ever have in my entire academic career which left me feeling depressed and burnt out, so I made the decision to take a leave of absence for the spring to focus on getting the help I need. I’m currently in the process of trying out medication to treat my ADHD as well as seeking therapy to address this as well as some other mental health concerns I have.
I know the question you might be asking yourself: why wait so long to get help? The answer to that is simple: I didn’t know I needed help. Let’s recall for a minute the beginning of this article where I ask what you think of when you hear the term ADHD. Again, you most likely think of a little boy with energy levels through the roof who can’t sit still in class. For a very long time, that was my perception of ADHD, too. It was only when I started realizing that might be a reason behind why I can’t focus in class and started doing some research into my symptoms that I found out that ADHD isn’t just hyperactivity. The inattentive form of ADHD presents itself in a short attention span, impulsiveness, and restlessness, all of which I exhibited for years but just attributed to my personality. I never knew that my inattention was a sign of something deeper going on, not to mention that ADHD isn’t always high energy levels and being unable to sit still.
The way that we as a society both perceive AND portray ADHD is not indicative of all the facets of such a complex disorder. It is rare that we see ADHD named and shown in the media, and even rarer that we see it in a character other than a hyperactive prepubescent boy. Because that hyperactivity is the only exposure a lot of people have to ADHD, they presume that’s the only indication of it and therefore don’t see the signs in children and adolescents that are struggling, instead of writing off their symptoms as laziness or a lack of motivation. This means that there are thousands of people struggling through everyday life simply because they have no idea that there is something wrong with them. I know that my life would be drastically different if I’d been diagnosed at a younger age and been able to seek the help that I need before things got as bad as they did, and I know I can’t be the only person who feels this way.
ADHD is not a dirty word. Having it doesn’t make you a bad person. It isn’t crippling unless you don’t seek the help you need to deal with it. If you see any of these signs in yourself, do some research on ADHD, and please talk to a medical professional if you suspect you might have it. The worst-case scenario is that they say you don’t have it. And the best-case scenario? You might finally get your life on track.