What You Should Know About ADHD

October is a busy month, most prominently because of Halloween, Breast Cancer Awareness and many other month-long observances. I recently just found out that ADHD is also celebrated during the month of October. As someone who was diagnosed in adulthood, this was extremely exciting news.

Many social media creators are using the month to talk about their experience with this disorder and work to normalize being open about what we go through. It’s important to realize that just like every other chronic disorder, ADHD looks different for everyone! Two people of similar demographics can have wildly different experience and manifestation of symptoms.

Molly Peach-Friends Molly Peach / Her Campus

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is a neurocognitive disorder that is so much more than the stereotype of fidgeting or bouncing off the walls with excess energy. ADHD affects every part of your daily life and can make doing basics tasks a major struggle. There are a range of symptoms that can affect your academic, work and social life. One of the major signs of ADHD is executive dysfunction. This means we can struggle with planning, problem-solving, organization and time management. So, we aren’t procrastinating; most of the time we want to start or complete a task, but our brain just doesn’t let that happen.

It’s also important to know that in the DSM-5 (the holy grail for psychologists), ADHD and ADD are actually categorized as the same disorder, just on a spectrum. What was once known as ADD is now referred to as the “inattentive” type of ADHD. So, someone can be more hyperactive, more inattentive, or stuck in the purgatory that is a combination of both types of symptoms. Not that any of the placements on this spectrum are a walk in the park, but I’m personally familiar with the experience of combined type ADHD and it really is the worst of both worlds sometimes.

As with so many medical conditions, most of the accepted symptoms have been historically observed in men. In this case, the majority of the criteria for diagnosis comes from the observation of young boys with ADHD. This creates an issue for women, adults and many other groups to get a diagnosis or treatment because ADHD presents so differently for them. Some doctors even refuse to diagnose adults because they believe that once you turn 18 your brain magically starts making enough dopamine again.

My experience

Throughout high school, no one in my life noticed the (blatant) signs that I wasn’t neurotypical because I was branded as a high achieving student. I got great grades and stayed out of trouble. Because of this, the fidgeting, anxiety, missed social cues and just all-around odd (or annoying) behaviors were overlooked. From an early age, my classmates would tell me I was so hyper and use it as a negative descriptor. I would go home and be told that I wasn’t hyper, I was just a kid with energy. While the last part was completely true, I was also hyperactive just not in the same ways as the other kids in my classes. Looking back, grade school was super easy for me because I had so much structure to lean on. Due to this structure, I learned how to mask the majority of my symptoms and work around the rest.

It was only when I got to college that I started paying attention to what was going on inside of my own brain. I wanted to study so badly. My desk would be cleared except for my notes, laptop and textbook, I would shut my phone off and then I would just stare. Once I became aware that I wasn’t on task, I would try to refocus but then I would hear a song in the depths of my mind and have a solo jam session, or I would notice that the dorm was a mess so I had to get up right then and deep clean which ultimately caused me to fall into the cycle of multiplying the tasks that needed to get done. In class, my eyes would just un-focus themselves and every lecture felt like I was watching from behind a window of sea glass. When I was focused, I was constantly fidgeting: pen clicking, nail biting, picking at my lip or scalp and my absolute favorite was going through the same routine of cracking all of my joints over and over again. The time horizon? Nonexistent for me, what I thought was half an hour was actually closer to two hours of time. All of this culminated in me doing less than desirable my first year, even though I wasn’t expecting to be a straight-A student anymore.

That summer, I got my diagnosis and my life really changed for the better. I was privileged enough to find and be able to afford a doctor willing to take my concerns seriously and help me get to the bottom of the issues I was having. Over the past 14 months, I have learned so much about myself because I’ve had an open line of communication with professionals who care about my wellbeing. Additionally, I’ve been able to find a whole community of people on various social media platforms who share my diagnosis and are passionate about spreading information that can help other people manage their ADHD effectively.

Sometimes personal anecdotes are a lot more powerful and insightful than any book in a medical library. When talking about ADHD this is especially true because of the lack of published knowledge we have concerning diverse groups and what this disorder looks like for them. I’ve been able to relate to a lot of “weird” traits and habits that other women experience, and only now is the medical community catching up to our lives and acknowledging that we are affected differently than a 12 year old boy is by ADHD. A lot of what I considered to be my negative traits are linked to ADHD, and now that I know where those come from, I have the opportunity to fix and develop those traits into a superpower. My hyperfixations can turn into art or, with a little bit of work, something unique on my resume that sets me apart from my peers. I am meticulous with my work and refuse to turn something in that I am not happy with, so my future employer will be getting the highest quality product from me. Because my brain moves so quickly, I can find connections between two seemingly unrelated topics in almost no time. This means I’m creative, witty and can bring a unique perspective when trying to solve a problem.

A quick PSA from your local ADHD-er

The disorder that I, and so many others struggle, with is the root of a lot of discomfort in our lives. If I tried to list and explain everything I deal with daily, this article would be painfully long. Not to mention, the stigma that surrounds an ADHD diagnosis or the struggle to reliably access and afford doctor’s appointments and medication. It is such a privilege to get a formal diagnosis, but self-diagnosing and then trying to self-medicate by buying pills from other people is so dangerous. Medications that are approved to treat ADHD, even if they aren’t stimulants, can seriously endanger your health if not monitored and taken correctly. Plus, the widespread abuse of pills like Adderall and Ritalin is a major reason why it is so hard to access them even when you are prescribed. ADHD has serious effects on physical and mental health, so please stop saying that “everyone is a little bit ADHD,” because it downplays so many people’s experiences. If you think you may have ADHD, try contacting your university's mental health center because they can help get you started towards a diagnosis and making a positive and safe change in your life. You aren't alone by any means. There is a whole community waiting to give you tips and tricks to manage your symptoms and confirm that what you may be struggling with now can turn out to be one of your biggest assets.