My days have changed drastically. The fight between chaos and control that used to define my life has at last subsided. We have reached a peaceful compromise.
Like others diagnosed with ADHD later in life, I struggled with a host of situations and skills prior to fully understanding my brain — and how to work with it, not against it. Without this knowledge, I was left to blame myself for shortcomings, all while my dopamine-deprived brain desperately grasped for anything to alleviate its starved state.
These deficits are debilitating. They elicit much anxiety and can make it impossible to complete any task in an appropriate timeframe.
My Complicated Relationship with Time
Consider this innocuous statement: “The quiz will start at 2 p.m.”
To a neurotypical college student, this statement means that by the time 2 p.m. rolls around, you better clear your schedule for the task. In the meantime, you can carry on with your day as usual.
But the ADHD college student will find it impossible to focus on anything except the quiz all day. It will be the sole event of the day around which everything else revolves. Anything occurring before 2 p.m. will be done on autopilot, lacking appropriate attention, as all available attention is on the upcoming quiz.
[Free Time Assessment Chart for Adults with ADHD]
Until recently, I did not understand why watching a 30-minute lecture was a 2-hour task for me. Why couldn’t I watch the lecture while taking notes like my peers? I did not understand why I’d start reading a textbook chapter only to remember that I need to wash my bowl of oatmeal, and while rinsing the bowl, I’d notice a speck on the counter that would prompt me to clean the whole kitchen, thereby confronting the chips on the counter that would remind me I needtofillmywaterandtheicetrayandwheredidIleavemyphone?
Oh no, my quiz closes soon, and I have a long way to go. I’m so disappointed in myself. Why didn’t I just do what I needed to?
I hope the previous paragraph’s chaos illustrates just a portion of what someone with ADHD experiences. This was how I spent my time every day. Now, with what I know about ADHD, I am finding healthy ways to manage and spend my time.
How I Reclaimed Control
Even as I type each sentence of this blog post and think of what I most want to illustrate, I realize that I have not stopped to check my phone, to get a snack, or to start another task. I haven’t even zoned out. A low battery alert flashes on my screen, but I don’t want to get my charger because I am so committed to writing.
[Read: 12 Ways to Maintain Focus All Day Long]
This is a mindset and ability I’ve desired for a long time — and one I was denied all this time by a chemical imbalance. Now, my ideas can flourish as they are meant to. I can dream, initiate, work on, and accomplish my goals.
The time is 8:26 p.m. So far today, I have worked a shift in the ER, exercised at the gym, gone grocery shopping, eaten three meals, tutored, and done some studying. This productivity would not have been possible before my diagnosis. In those times, I would fantasize about all the tasks I had in mind to complete in a day, until inattention, distractions, and chronic exhaustion ruined my ability to focus on a single one.
The curious thing about the ability to pay attention is its mask of simplicity. Paying attention is anything but simple. It depends on a world of complexity. Eye contact, planning, relationships, self-reflection, and so many more aspects that enrich life require you to be in the moment – which you can’t do without your full attention.
Finally acquiring the ability to deliberately live my life has been the most profound change of my lifetime. Gone are the days of watching the movie, Jacob Munoz’s Life. I’m now the protagonist in charge of how it all unfolds.
One Thing at a Time
Experiencing life in first person is a blessing. It’s great to accomplish the big tasks, but I’m equally amazed by the little things I can now attempt. My interest in calligraphy has always been inhibited by my lack of sustained attention. Now, I organize my supplies and set up my station for an hour of continuous creativity. I sit down and create a piece of artwork that I can be proud of, instead of restarting 10 times because of a missed detail.
These profound moments create a new picture of my day’s activities and timeline.
I always thought jumping between tasks was my way of increasing efficiency without losing focus. But this was merely a failed coping strategy. Switching tasks allows for a variation in stimuli, but it compromises thoroughness. Now, I focus on one task at a time and nothing else.
Quantum physics, calculus, and biology are all disciplines I enjoy studying on my own time. (They can come in handy as a neuroscience major.) I can spend hours talking about each subject, possibly side-tracking into other topics as I get distracted. But it’s the textbook readings, the 30-minute problems, and other related assignments that have been points of contention. My classmates are able to memorize the contents of a chapter as needed for an exam, without truly grasping the material and how it’s all connected. I struggled with the opposite – the science of quantum physics fascinates me, and I understand what there is to understand. But if I were given a 50-question test about the topic based on a reading, I am sure to fail. Thankfully, I am confident in my knowledge and feel confident employing these concepts. While I do not test well, tests do not always gauge knowledge accurately.
Understanding the once-hidden components of myself hasn’t all been easy. Finding a medical provider who could see me and answer my questions proved to be a daunting endeavor. Unanswered calls, texts, emails, and voicemails left me feeling unheard and uncared for as my problems mounted. Just when I started to feel defeated, help arrived in the form of a consultation within the hour. That appointment confirmed that ADHD was at fault for the problems I believed to be of my own doing. It marked the start of my journey toward self-discovery and forgiveness. The support from those around me and my faith in God’s will led me to discover myself as I was intended to be created.
My daily life looks different than it used to, and it will undoubtedly change as I continue on my self-discovery path. I’m in my last year of college, but I look forward to the next semester of study where I will work on an assignment in one sitting through completion. I look forward to finding peace in my days, knowing I have accomplished what I sought to. I look forward to appreciating every detail of the beautiful world around me. I look forward to and appreciate the now.
Taking Control of Your Life: Next Steps
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Updated on June 3, 2021