Talking About ADHD

ADHD Made Me Who I Am

Online she’ll always be known as someone with attention deficit. And that’s okay with this young woman – she’s overcome symptoms, dispelled some myths, and learned valuable lessons about herself.

When our kids Google their name, they may find a short article about getting a winning hit in Little League, acting in a high school production of Jekyll & Hyde, or being part of the town cleanup on Earth Day.

Imagine searching your name and learning that you are the national poster girl for ADHD, with 845 hits to back it up. That’s what Molly Zametkin, a college graduate who works full-time at the National Institutes of Health, discovered while cruising the Internet on a slow day at work.

Zametkin’s first thoughts were: “My future! Graduate school! Job applications! Future boyfriends! Everyone will know I had ADHD!” she writes in The Washington Post. “I find myself imagining that the next guy I meet will Google my name and delete my number after he realizes that I am so highly associated with a disorder some people don’t believe is real… I constantly meet people who think ADHD is an excuse for misbehavior and laziness.”

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To be fair, Zametkin wasn’t blindsided by her Internet find. Diagnosed in elementary school with ADHD, she spent her academic career struggling with shame and stigma. “Even when people told me I was bright, it felt as if they were saying, ‘You’re bright…for someone who has an attention problem.’ I truly hated having my teachers and parents think I was abnormal or flawed.”

In her senior year at high school, she learned that a family friend with ADHD wasn’t ashamed at all. “She was beautiful, popular, and smart, and she freely broadcast the fact that she was living with ADHD and taking stimulant medications to treat it,” writes Zametkin. “I began to think, ‘Hey, if she has ADHD and people still think she’s cool, no one’s opinion of me will change if I ‘come out,’ too. I was right. In many ways, it made people understand me better.”

How did she become an ADHD pinup on Google? In 2006, Zametkin was asked to speak at a forum on ADHD organized by the NIH. Her father worked at the NIH as an ADHD researcher, so Molly was a logical and available choice. The Washington Post followed up with an interview on what it was like being a young woman with ADHD. And as we all know, the Internet doesn’t sleep, and it never forgets.

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When Zametkin realized that unsettling fact, as she started her career at the NIH, she tried to reduce “my online association with ADHD by increasing the visibility of more positive information, such as my job, my academic achievements, my lacrosse honors.”

Digital makeovers are as tough to pull off as hiding the stripes on a zebra. Zametkin realized she will always be linked to ADHD, so she accepted it — the struggles and the triumphs — even though she no longer deals with the problems or symptoms associated with the disorder. She worked hard to put them behind her.

“I definitely can’t change the Internet,” says Zametkin, “but I also know that, without adversity, I never would have worked as hard or as consistently to disprove all of the people who ever doubted me. Having ADHD taught me valuable lessons about the way I learn, the way I work, and what motivates me most. It will always drive me to challenge the misconceptions about the disorder.”

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Has Zametkin learned to make peace with her past? “Your past is what makes you who you are today,” she writes. “If someone has a problem with who you were in the past, they definitely aren’t worth making a part of your future.”

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