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From Daydreaming to Dentistry: How an ADHD Diagnosis Helped Him Find Success

An ADHD diagnosis in early adulthood helped one man — previously bullied as a teen — pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a dentist.

Chrystopher Perez, who has ADHD and is studying to be a dentist, with a friend from dental school
Chrystopher Perez and his friend, dentists

When Chrystopher Perez, now 26, was growing up, his “near failing” grades made him the subject of ridicule. Classmates called him “idiot” and “stupid,” and though he tried to ignore their insults, his self-esteem plummeted.

School wasn’t just difficult for Perez academically; he found it boring. He could barely follow his teachers’ lectures for more than a few words at a time. “I remember daydreaming all day,” he said. When he came out as gay when he was 14, the bullies started in again. By high school, the social and academic pressures had become overwhelming.

Perez switched to homeschooling — and was surprised to find that his academic troubles faded. Being able to work at his own pace (and take breaks as needed) allowed him to improve his grades. He graduated high school six months ahead of schedule and dived headfirst into a degree in dental hygiene.

[Born This Way: Personal Stories of Life with ADHD]

Perez attended West Coast University — where he graduated cum laude. While there, he was diagnosed with hyperactive ADHD in his early 20s. “As soon as I found out, it changed my life,” he said. He started medication, which — combined with meditation and rock climbing — gave him the focus (and confidence) to pursue the next step in his career: becoming a dentist.

Perez is now enrolled in dental school, where he’s found that his long-time ambition suits him well. Classes are hard, he said, but the work meshes with his hyperactive symptoms — “It’s diverse, it’s hands-on, and I’m always moving.” He credits his ADHD for supplying him with the energy and willingness to learn a wide variety of dental treatments — dentistry is more than “just cleaning,” he said. ADHD also helps him stay positive and friendly when tackling a new case: “A lot of patients enjoy my demeanor.”

The years of bullying were a painful chapter in Perez’s life, but they were a formative experience for him. “It was tough staying away from other students and their negativity,” he said. “But I used that negativity to challenge myself to be a nicer person.”

That challenge led him, after hygiene school, to work for The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides healthcare to HIV-positive patients. It gave Perez the opportunity to use his dental expertise to care for a diverse population that often faces stigma or other obstacles to receiving care. “Every patient had a story to tell,” he said.

[“I Finally Make Sense to Myself”]

Perez’s ADHD symptoms haven’t disappeared, and he works on optimizing his treatment plan. His success, however — both as a hygienist and as a dentist-in-training — shows that he has the means to accomplish anything he puts his mind to. “I know it’s achievable for me now,” he said. “There’s nothing holding me back anymore.”

Image: Perez (right) with his friend and classmate Lily Sorourifar. Photo taken by Jeff Malet.