Because of my attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) and social anxiety, I feel invisible during the first few days of college. But surrounded by confident peers, how long can I refuse to practice my social skills?
by Henry Greene
I pace in tight circles around my 8-by-8 dorm room. The room is lit by blue-gray 5 a.m. light. I’ve been pacing since 11 p.m. Now sunrise is poking its intrusive face through my window. It flashes straight into my bloodshot eyes. I stub my toe on the foot of my cot and watch a toenail buckle. I throw my face into the cot’s sheets -- neatly folded, undisturbed -- and scream.
I collect myself, grab a bottle of Tylenol PM that’s been lying on the bed, and pop a pill, chewing it to dust and swallowing without water. I nurse my toe. The thought of sleep dances somewhere off in the distance. Then I remember my quaking hands, racing thoughts, and frenetic heart rate. Why can’t you grant me sleep? I curse at my useless sleeping pills. It’s been 48 hours and no sleep!
Sunlight is pouring through the window now. Night number two in college has officially passed. I mark the new day with an X on the calendar. I look outside and see people shuffling to work along the sidewalk.
Bang bang bang!
A nervous, staccato knock on my door causes my heart rate to skyrocket. I crack the door cautiously.
“Hey, hey, hey!”
A bony head with freckles and unkempt brown hair pops through the crack. A deranged grin beams beneath bloodshot eyes.
“Don’t mind me if I seem a little strange,” the head continues as it nods, fast and nervous, up and down. “I took, like, four sleeping pills last night to try to wind down.” He jabs his hand near my face and holds up four twitchy fingers for emphasis: four! “I’m as jittery as a freakin’ rabbit.”
My heart rate drops. The head begins to look familiar. It’s another neurotic, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) head like mine, one I met just the day before.
“You’re not alone,” I mumble. “We’re eerily similar, Mike.”
“Great minds think alike,” he says, letting himself into my room.
“Thank God I met you yesterday,” I say. “Otherwise I’d be completely alone during all this. Who knew that the first days of college would do this to you?”
I shake my little Tylenol PM bottle to make sure there are more pills left. I hop onto my bed, lean against the wall, and let out a sigh of deep exhaustion.
“You realize how nuts this is?” Mike says. “I mean, right now, no one knows who we are. Fresh start. We can become anyone we wanna be!”
His words make me even more tired. Does he have to remind me of why I’ve been sleepless for the past 48 hours?
“Who are you gonna be?” I ask.
“The next Don Juan, duh.” Mike says as he pulls back an oversized white T-shirt sleeve and flexes a bony, freckled arm.
“But seriously,” he continues. “Everything, I mean everything, hinges on the impression we make during the next few days!”
My heart sinks and I start chewing on a fingernail. “Yeah,” I say, suddenly needing a smoke. Because that’s how it’s worked in the past, I think to myself sarcastically as I rise, leave Mike behind, and file into the closest elevator, heading downstairs to get my nicotine fix.
It’s early, but faces surround me. Pretty girl voices trill from the opposite corner and worsen my heart rate and headache. A sports-jersey-clad shoulder 6-feet-2-inches high smashes my face into the wall as it lurches into the elevator. The girls laugh.
They’re laughing at me! I think. But I’m wrong. Luckily I’m still in that invisible stage. They guy’s back is to mine. Thank God he’s not going to humiliate me with an apology, I think as I massage my new bruise.
The female laugh was instead directed at sounds that the guy’s deep voice was making. He’s showing the two girls suggestive remarks and phone numbers that are written all over his forearms in permanent marker. “Crazy night -- crazy,” he says, his deep voicing echoing between my ears. I realize that the sounds he’s making are a form of speech, albeit a seemingly foreign dialect. The females respond in said dialect. Their words resemble English, but they lack literal meaning. It seems their communication is mostly nonverbal –- tapping of one another’s arms, too-loud laughing from the male, the females’ mysterious tendency to twirl their hair with their finger.
The elevator opens, and I shuffle down the hall with my head down. I hear the voices trailing off behind me. I throw myself through the revolving door. Outside, I light up two cigarettes at once and puff desperately.
I hear the revolving door spin. Out comes the trio. The male seems to be demonstrating exaggerated body motions. A mating technique? His hands grab at an imaginary pole, and he moves his hips in a thrusting motion. “I’m Julia!” He is received with hearty laughter. Some sort of primal Charades. It seems to amuse the two females, I think.
One of the females looks at me. I stare back blankly. Suddenly, I’m awestruck. I exist? The thought slaps me awake once more, and I wonder what she thinks of me. My ADD/ADHD brain panics. She’s recoiling at my hideousness! My ADD/ADHD brain then goes on a tangent involving face transplants and bicep implants.
Luckily, my frontal lobe takes over. She’s not thinking anything of me -- yet, I think to myself. When I look up, she’s gone. But I feel the clock ticking. It’s only a matter of time until I can’t pretend to be invisible any longer.