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ADHD Set Me Free

I was diagnosed with ADHD as a medical student — and finally found the strength to pursue my dreams.

ADD Diagnosis helped her see she was on the wrong ride
ADD Diagnosis helped her see she was on the wrong ride

They told us that undiagnosed ADHD was common among medical students, and that if any of us started having academic problems, we should talk to someone right away. I dismissed it, as I jiggled my foot and twirled my hair around my finger again and again.

At best, I was ambivalent about the profession I was entering. I had started college as a pre-med and dropped that major after a year. Then I bounced around from major to major, eventually attaining degrees in anthropology and biology. At the end of my fourth year, I still didn’t know what to do, so I applied to medical school after all. I’d let the admissions committee decide for me, I thought. They said yes.

My life as a medical student was a roller coaster. I skipped classes and put off studying. I read novels. I watched TV with my husband. But at other times I was consumed by exams. I made plans and study schedules that always fell short. Once an academic crisis was over, I’d forget my despair and self-doubt and go back to my novels.

Then, during second semester, I failed a class. I had never failed anything before in my life. I was devastated and terrified. I knew there was no way I could handle repeating that year. Luckily, the professor gave me a second chance: a comprehensive exam over summer break.

Finally, at the prompting of my husband, several friends, and a professor who had ADHD, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist. As I sat fidgeting in the doctor’s comfy chair, he told me I was a classic case and prescribed medicine.

My mind cleared. I could suddenly bring my thoughts to light without losing them. Before, it was as if I couldn’t see my own mind. I could sense it, brush it with my fingertips, but I couldn’t grasp it. My thoughts were at the bottom of a pool, at the end of a dim tunnel.

I felt as if I were seeing everything for the first time. It was October and I marveled at the oranges, reds, and browns of the trees. I remember driving around with tears in my eyes. I had always loved fall, but I realized that I had never really experienced it.

In the end, I knew with certainty that medical school was a mistake. That spring, I discovered I was pregnant. My husband and I were ecstatic. I went off my medicine and somehow managed to pass all my classes and the step-one boards.

My son was born the next October. I went back to school two months after he was born. After a week, I knew I had to quit. I didn’t want a profession that might require me to put my family second. I finished out the month and withdrew.

Now, I spend my days playing with my son and writing. I still struggle with ADHD, but it’s a different kind of struggle. I’m learning to work with my strengths and weaknesses instead of against them. And I’m no longer trying to make myself into something I’m not.

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