Teachable Moments: How One Teen Took Control of Her ADHD and Tics
Do-it-yourself strategies and a determination that her disorders wouldn’t control her life changed the author’s life.
“Mom, why do I have to do this? I hate ABC order!” I shouted. I had been struggling to put my vocabulary words in alphabetical order for the last three hours. I was in third grade! One homework assignment should not take this long.
“Mom, I’m tired of doing homework. Can I just go upstairs and play with Tanner?” I asked.
“No!” mom replied. “You can play with Tanner after all of your homework is done.”
“But I can’t do it! It takes forever!”
“Yes, you can do it, you just don’t want to do it.”
“But it’s so hard!”
When I was in third grade, I had one of the toughest teachers at school. I also had ADHD. Neither my family nor I knew this yet. My homework used to take hours. I had seven to 10 homework assignments every day, and just the alphabetical order assignment took me about two hours alone. I hated my homework because I was never able do anything else when I got home. My daily routine as a third grader was: school, eating something, and homework. I don’t know how I would have done in school if my mom weren’t there with me to help me study and do my homework.
Every time I sat down to do homework, my mind didn’t let me focus on it. I could be sitting for hours and not get more than a sentence written down. I was jealous of my brothers, who played in their room after school. I wanted to play with them. I wanted to do what seemed like every other kid was doing. Was that too much to ask for?
My parents had tried everything to get me to focus on my homework. My mom even made me a homework station out of cardboard with everything I could possibly need to do the work. I still found excuses to leave my chair.
Another problem was that I missed important details in conversations.
“Mom, guess what?” I asked.
“What?” she asked.
“Did you know that Mrs. M Robinson’s husband died yesterday?”
“I don’t know. That’s just what she told us.”
My mom was skeptical.
“Are you sure she told you that her husband died?”
Apparently, my third-grade teacher’s husband went to the hospital for surgery, but all I heard was “hospital.” This happened all the time as I was growing up.
A few years later, in fifth grade, I found out that I had ADHD. I took medication. The first time I tried to take my medicine, I almost threw up. I had never swallowed a pill before. No matter how many times I tried to swallow it, it didn’t go down. I had to open it up, and dump the disgusting powder into applesauce so I could take it. After a year of doing that, my mom told me I should try to swallow it again, so I did. I still couldn’t do it. Finally, my mom told me to think of the pill as a piece of food. Once I thought of it that way, I could do it! I took my medicine everyday, but it didn’t mean my life was fixed.
I went to the doctor’s office later that year for a routine checkup. I had lost many pounds, even though I was still growing. The more I thought about how I was eating, the more I realized that I had been skipping meals almost every day. I ate dinner when I got home, but I never ate lunch.
I soon realized that my medicine made me lose my appetite, the way you do when you feel sick. I decided to make an effort to eat lunch, even if I was not hungry. This proved to be a very tough task. Even when I could hear my stomach growling, I didn’t want to eat. Every afternoon around five o’clock, my medicine wore off, and I was starving! I also got angry and irritable around that time.
After another doctor’s appointment with no improvement, my doctors and I decided it would be a good idea to change medicine. My new medicine was a lot better. It still made me lose my appetite, but I could make myself eat. My mom noticed that, when my medicine wore off, instead of getting irritable, I got emotionless.
She would ask me, “Whitney, are you sad?”
“No,” I replied.
“Are you angry?”
“Are you happy?”
“What are you?”
“I don’t know. I’m just here,” I said without emotion.
Although my emotions were weird when the medicine wore off, I was no longer angry. I was content, and so was my mom.
My emotional struggles were not the only thing that came with my ADHD. I also had anxiety. It caused me to have tics. I had, and still do have, tics. They come and go. Sometimes I picked at my arms and face. When I overdid the picking, kids came up to me and asked what was wrong with my face. I ignored the questions and tried not to cry. Other tics included muscle jerking, eye blinking, and muscle tensing.
When I was in high school a lot of my teachers and schoolmates asked if I was OK. On a couple of occasions I was pulled aside after class, or was singled out in the middle of class, and was asked if I was OK. It scared people when they saw me jerk. It looked like I was having a mini-seizure, and a couple teachers informed the school office, so they could ask my parents if I was really okay.
I originally tried to take medication for the tics, but nothing seemed to work. During my senior year, my tics got really bad, so I decided to go and see a cognitive behavioral therapist before I went off to college. It helped so much. I learned different ways to control my tics and cope with them.
My life changed when I realized that I couldn’t allow tics to control my life. I had to take charge, and nobody else could do that for me. I realized that just because I had some challenges didn’t mean I was crazy or that they should limit my dreams. Everybody has challenges to deal with; mine were more visible than others.
I learned that I could slow a tic down, or stop it completely, by putting my mind at ease. The cognitive behavioral therapist taught me to actually plan ahead for tics and to be prepared to deal with them.
When it comes to ADHD challenges, I learned that I need to take time to stop and think about what I needed to bring with me when I was going somewhere, even when I was running late. This pause helped me remember important things.
I also learned that cleaning my room, when I got home from school, helped me do my homework. When I forced myself to clean my room, I started to hyperfocus. I redirected that hyperfocus to doing my homework. In other words, doing something simple that didn’t require a lot of brainpower, like cleaning my room, jump-started my focus, and I transferred the focus to something that required more brainpower, like homework.
Now, after all of these years, I am able to do the everyday things that many responsible adults do. I have learned how to manage my time and avoid procrastination. I have learned how to accomplish goals in most aspects of my life. I got into my first choice of college, and I am moving forward in my everyday life.