Reply To: Discrimination in University

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Your post drew my attention because I am 47 years old, in my final year of graduate school, and was diagnosed last Spring with ADHD. I’ve suspected for years that I had it, as I fit the bill perfectly: chronically late, lose things constantly, work in circles like the energizer bunny starting more things than I can finish, forget appointments and deadlines, and so hard on myself every time I keep someone waiting, lose or forget something. On the flip side, I can hyperfocus on something that grabs my attention, be really fun and silly like a bright light on a good day, and love to help pretty much anyone around me. I often offend people without meaning to with my honesty and blunt delivery or thinking something funny that may seem inappropriate, and appear nosey because I offer to help people who don’t ask for help and talk to anyone in line next to me.

All that said, I have struggled with whether or not to tell my professors and advisors of my online graduate program, as I feel I’m barely hanging on much of the time. I’m always on the verge of missing a deadline and struggle with rote memorization. I had a bad experience at a week-long intensive clinic this past summer (speech pathology) that was the result of miscommunication with a supervisor, difficulty meeting tight report deadlines (needing a brain break after 6-hour days of giving intensive therapy), and being misunderstood as defensive when I thought I was just having open communication about feedback. They called me in at the end of the clinic to tell me I would not be passing (a C grade in grad school is a no pass) because some of my reports were late and my supervisor thought I was defensive and aggressive in my communication with her, which was not how I felt at all. FYI, I have had straight As for two years running in my grad program, so this was a huge blow to me. What I thought was a discussion of feedback at the end of each day, she thought was an argument on my part. I was blown away at how I missed that she read me that way (again, a common occurrence for me to offend others without meaning to or realizing until too late). I am older than her, and our personalities are very different (she is very strict and no-nonsense). In tears at hearing a would “fail” (get a C and have to remediate), I finally told her that I was diagnosed ADHD recently, that I struggled with deadlines and sometimes my communication came across as too blunt when I was really trying to be honest and open, and that I can miss subtleties in communication. I apologized and tried to explain misunderstandings, but she told me I was making up excuses and not taking responsibility for my mistakes. She went further, making personal judgements, telling me I did not care about my clients and only had a “check the box” mentality (likely because as the week progressed and she was criticising me more and more, I was compensating by trying really hard to please her which she interpreted as only caring about a grade). Anyone who knows me knows that I am very passionate about my clients, become very attached to them and care deeply. You couldn’t be in a therapy field if you didn’t care and want to help others! She further told me she had doubts about whether I would pass oral exams to exit grad school, or be able to pass my professional exam. Talk about rejection sensitive dysphoria (have you read about that on this site?). I came home barely able to function for a week. I was in a really bad depression and wasn’t sure I’d go on with my program.

In the end, I’ve picked myself up slowly and am moving along again, but I learned even in a field where we constantly work with people with disabilities, including kids with ADD, people don’t seem to take ADHD in adults seriously. In kids it is better accommodated, but as adults I feel we are supposed to “know better” by now how to manage our time and our brains. Women are even more overlooked than men, IMO. My ADHD affects my parenting, my school career, my social life, and I’m trying to rebuild my marriage after 9 months of separating but now realizing how the emotional side of ADHD affected my marriage. Now that I’m taking Straterra (or a generic form of it), an edge of anxiety has been melted away, I can breathe easier and I can see how I treated others when I became overwhelmed. I can be short with people or shut them out altogether, I snap at my kids and my husband so I can be left alone when I’m overloaded and my brain is overstimulated. I fall into depression when I’ve forgotten something yet again and hate myself for it, which affects everyone around me. I’m learning to cope in small ways now like using noise reducing headphones, making tons of lists and calendar alerts, and meditating and doing yoga to calm my crazy brain. My counselor is having me work on eliminating the negative self-talk, which is a long-running habit that takes me down a rabbit hole of self loathing.

I hope you can get some support, but you may do well to seek it through medication, lots of compensatory strategies to help you organize and focus, and possibly counseling instead of expecting others to understand and cut you any slack. I have found I am getting the love and support I need from friends and family, and occasionally self advocate to others if I think it will help, but I don’t count on it. And I don’t joke about it if I tell them I’m ADHD. It’s usually in some form of apology for forgetting something important and I try to let them know I’m truly sorry about it. Now that you know why you are the way you are, you can start finding ways to manage and advocate for yourself as best as you can. I do think it best to tell teachers or employers up front so that it doesn’t sound like an excuse later when something ADHA-related inevitably happens.