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What It’s Like to Be Diagnosed with ADHD in College

There are no words for the relief one feels when something makes sense for the first time; the rush of the click and the clarity that follows can form a deeply cathartic experience. Although college is notoriously known for being a time of exploration, I began my undergraduate education feeling deeply rooted in my sense of self, and very few situations have ever rattled that. My understanding of myself though, came with a profound understanding of my shortcomings. I knew myself to be the “bad at math” friend, the flaky friend, the friend who interrupts others when they speak. These all seemed both unrelated to each other but essential to my identity. 

Some of my most vivid childhood memories are sitting down with my teachers and trying to explain to them what I saw as the barriers between me and learning. Due to a mix of my lack of helpful language and their lack of understanding, it always came down to the assumption that I wasn’t putting in enough effort, or my attitude was the problem. My desperate attempts to advocate for myself were, more often than not, met with disciplinary action or silence. As a result, I grew up believing I wasn’t smart enough to graduate high school, nevermind get a college degree. 

About a year ago, I began to contemplate the idea that I could have ADHD after my sister’s diagnosis. It’s about 75% genetic, sparking me to do some amateur research. I quickly found that everything I associated with ADHD only made up a small percentage of all possible traits. Though I can be fidgety and restless at times, many of my traits are not commonly seen by others. After undergoing a professional evaluation and receiving a diagnosis, I had to undertake the process of reworking all the things I thought were simply flaws of mine into a new narrative. I struggle to focus on things that don’t capture my interest because I have ADHD, not because I’m inconsiderate. I have difficulties with auditory processing because I have ADHD, not because I’m not intelligent. I have sensory issues that make me ill-suited for classroom environments and a very complicated relationship with structure and a thousand other things that I used to feel embarrassed about but don’t anymore. Having a name for my collective chaos is the most liberating gift I could ever have been given. Women and girls with ADHD are so often overlooked because their symptoms are not overtly disruptive- they often struggle in silence, and difficulties can be attributed to other things, especially gender stereotypes. Having a concrete diagnosis has allowed me to better understand myself and the world to understand me.

Karly OKeefe

Stonehill '22

Karly is a Gender and Sexuality Studies major at Stonehill College with a passion for social justice. She loves gardening, reading, and collaborating with friends on new projects. Her favorite music artists are Fleetwood Mac, Florence + the Machine, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift. She hopes to pursue a Master’s degree pertaining to social justice and make an impact in her community.
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