Gah! Oh my gosh guys! It’s August! The month that I go back to school.
While I can’t say I love school 100% of the time (see my first two posts ever), I understand that it is necessary to be in the profession I love. However, last year I was diagnosed (as an adult) with ADD. Here’s the thing, I had always found school boring and I was moderately disruptive (that depended a lot on the teacher) but, I’ve always had… how to say this tactfully… a level of scholastic ability that allowed me to get by and do quite well. Alright, very well.
In high school I was on attendance parol from grade 10 to grade 12 and even before that I did distance education for a few years (which I thoroughly slacked on, but somehow managed to survive). I didn’t know I was on attendance parol until nearly a year after I graduated though. How on earth does that happen, you ask? Well, the school called my parents and told them, my parents asked what my grades were, and then proceeded to not bother telling me because it seemed unimportant given said grades.
With that in mind you might anticipate that I rarely had to put much effort into any class. The first class that actually challenged me (calculus) left me in a puddle of tears the night before the midterm, which I eventually kicked in the butt by getting a really great tutor.
When I got into university I also enjoyed a relatively chill study schedule (although to me, in comparison to my previous education, my work load was enormous). I coped reasonably well still though, and merely balanced classes I struggled in with classes I was strong in. I asked tonnes of stupid questions (yes, they exist), annoyed the heck out of my classmates, attended work sessions with profs, and yes, even hired a couple tutors. I didn’t think twice about the elevated difficulty, other than having the occasional moment of the usual: questioning my existence, asking myself whether I was cut out for higher education, crying puddles to wallow in, and calling my parents long distance (lucky I had a great phone plan) to sniffle.
Fast forward, apply for vet school, and get in after taking the minimum requirements: I suddenly am in a professional college. Each regular (two semester) school year now I take almost an extra semester worth of credits compared to what a full load of courses in undergrad was. By the end of first semester I was drowning, I got my first fifty ever, I was personally miserable, I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything, was struggling to really listen to more than twenty minutes of any lecture (especially since I had jumped from a couple of hours of lecture on any given day and a lab to eight hours of school per day), and then I swore at a professor… during a final… in front of the class.
I apologized after the incident and the prof gave the best possible response (being more concerned for me and my classmates perception of me than about the incident itself) however, this moment marked a turning point for me. I began to ask myself: Why am I so miserable at school? I’ve never liked school, although I love reading and learning, but in lower grades I never had to put in more than minimal effort which made school tolerable to some degree. Plus, I spent every other moment of my time with a horse, a dog, working, or on a computer.
At different times it had been suggested to me that I should get tested for ADD/ADHD but, although I knew my mind often ran along the same lines as people I knew with ADD/ADHD, even as a child I had found the idea of being diagnosed to be distasteful. Not because I looked down on those kids that had it but because I couldn’t see how being identified as weird could be helpful in any way. My parents never pushed me to be tested because of my high academic achievement, and out of respect for my wishes.
I saw a diagnoses of ADD/ADHD as something I could use as an excuse not to achieve not as a possible removal of a hinderance to my achievement.
So, I continued to put it off before finally making an appointment in February of last year. I jumped through a bunch of hoops (which were mainly questionnaires asking me to rank how often I feel certain ways or think certain things on a numerical scale) and in late February or early March was told I was indeed within the ADD spectrum. What next?
I got a prescription, which my doctor carefully explained to me may or may not work for me in particular because much like many drugs used to help alter peoples mental states, it doesn’t affect everyone the same and requires a lot of fiddling around to get the dose right even if the drug is the right choice for me. I went to the pharmacist and was told how it might make me feel when I first started taking it (yeah, nausea was a thing for me). Finally I sat at home with the lowest dose of my new daily routine, which I was to double if it worked but didn’t work enough (have fun trying to make that distinction).
I ended up staying on the first prescription I was given and found a middling dose that worked for me–where the nausea died down and my sleep was least disturbed. I also realized that the toys I regularly brought to class and exams were actually fiddle toys and bought myself a few more that were more fun (but also discreet).
When I try to explain the difference the medication makes to my mind I have found a few metaphors that work for me, my go to though is: Imagine you lived in an one bedroom apartment and all your life you thought everyone lived in a one bedroom apartment. Then one day someone called you up and told you you had finally qualified for your adult house. You went to the address they gave you and found out that all your life everyone else had been living in two story, three bedroom, two bath houses and that that was normal.
I felt like a stranger in my newly focused mind: my peripheral vision had narrowed, but suddenly my binocular vision was eagle eye strong.
And I felt like I was cheating. I had gotten through life without this for over twenty years and suddenly, I get into a more difficult program and I get a new toy to make my brain work better? I mean sure, I can still use my new laser focus to watch cat videos but what if by taking this thing I was not just equaling other people but surpassing them? How is that fair to them?
I would express this to those close to me and they would ask me things like: do you think people who take anti-depressants are cheating?
The trouble is, to me, those people are truly sick. I never thought of myself as sick. I never thought of myself as disabled (which is why I didn’t sign up for DSS–Disability Services for Students). I felt like such a fraud when I woke up in the morning feeling more lively and popped my pill which allowed me to pay attention to forty out of fifty minutes of each lecture instead of twenty. I felt like a fraud when I picked up my prescription. I felt like a fraud each time I studied four days ahead of time instead of cramming for the usual two.
I felt like a cheater when I looked forward to the next school year, when I could stay on top of things a bit better from the start.
Applying for government student loans this year, I still feel sick checking off the “Disabled” box, followed by the “ADD” box, and having to get a doctors note to prove to the government that I am “permanently disabled”.
I can’t say I have a solution for this. I think over the summer I have come to terms with it a little more, but like I mentioned above, my student loan application sort of set me off. I really considered not checking the box. I considered being unidentified. I realize though, that as long as I stigmatize mental health for myself and refuse to accept an invisible and unquantifiable issue as real, I can’t extend the understanding I should have towards others.
So I checked the box because I’m ADD, I don’t view myself as disabled (although I am by the governments definition), but my brain chemicals balance in an abnormal way and that is okay, but also treatable. And treating it is fair to me, and doesn’t hurt other people.