ADHD in College

“I Try Harder Than Anyone, But Still I’m Called Lazy”

I’m not lazy, dumb, or immature. These misconceptions about ADHD hurt me, and prevent you from knowing who I really am. Please, I beg you, take a minute to understand.

I am smart. I am funny. I am caring, compassionate, loyal, enthusiastic, hardworking, and genuine. Yet that isn’t what most people see. Sometimes, my own family struggles to see the good things. My attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a funhouse mirror that distorts what I look like to other people… and, more often than I would like, how I see myself.

Going to School Is an Act of Courage

I am easily distracted, so I can seem dumb and immature. I have trouble doing tasks that aren’t interesting, so I seem lazy. If I feel rejected and I yell, I seem mean.

My classmates don’t like that I can’t control my emotions or impulsivity at times, so I don’t have many friends. That math test I got a 50 on — I studied harder than anyone in my class. It was boring, and took so much effort to focus. How am I supposed to learn math when all my effort goes into just reading the page? How am I supposed to enjoy school when my emotions make it feel like an act of courage to just leave the house?

Yet every day I suit up and go to school, where I am told I need to try harder, or am teased by my classmates, where I feel alone and misunderstood. I wish people could see me as I really am. I can finish a 1000-piece puzzle in two days. I can recite the Harry Potter books word for word. I can destroy you in chess using my pawns. I will win three awards for the essays I write this year. And when one of my friends has a breakdown at two in the morning, she will call me to give her comfort and support.

Working on something I love or find interesting, I can do anything, quickly and to perfection. But most people will just see this as evidence of my laziness. Why can’t you work at math the way you work on your essays? It’s not the same, and I wish they understood. It’s hard for anyone to know what’s going on inside me. But unless you take the time to learn what’s going on in my brain, you’ll continue to be confused by my behavior.

[Free Webinar Replay: You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy? New Empowering Lessons for Adults with ADHD]

Born This Way

The first thing you have to know is that this is my normal. I am not being wild and willful on purpose. I don’t slack off on math because I hate it and don’t think it’s worthwhile. I can’t focus on it, no matter how hard I try. I cannot take that laser-like focus I have for Harry Potter and animal documentaries, and apply it to math. I have tried, but it doesn’t work.

This is the way I am wired; it’s as much a part of me as my bones. You can’t take away my ADHD and make me like my non-ADHD peers any more than you could yank my skeleton out and give me a new one.

The second thing you should understand is that I am a bundle of contradictions. Depending on the moment, I can have relentless determination, or I can be lost in my own head, unable to start a simple homework assignment. I am a compassionate, loving human being, or I am so self-centered and mean-spirited that you wonder if I’m a sociopath.

ADHD Makes Me Feel Powerless

Ever since I was two, I could engage in complex intellectual conversations with adults. Yet, as a late teen, I can be so immature that people tell me to stop acting like a toddler. My peers want nothing to do with me, because they never know which “me” they are going to get.

I love animals. They never judge me, or tell me how I have failed. My guinea pig thinks I am the greatest person in the world just for bringing him two cherry tomatoes. If only people were so easy.

[What Happened When I Stopped Apologizing for Being Me]

My ADHD often makes me feel powerless. I don’t have control over my own impulses and feelings. I want to study math, but no matter how hard I struggle, my brain feels the need to focus on everything but the book in front of me. That soda you’re drinking on the other side of the room, I can hear the fizz of the carbonation. That soup my brother is making in the kitchen, I can smell it. The dog panting on the floor near me, I can feel her breath.

It’s sensory overload for me day and night, and it’s exhausting. But the math homework in front of me needs to be done, so I’ll read the question a third time and maybe this time I’ll comprehend it. Random thoughts and memories swirl through my head along with the math. Not just one thought, but at least three at once, with no discernible link between them. And just like that, my ability to do my homework is shot. I have lost whatever engagement I had with it. How I am I supposed to learn math or anything else when my brain is like this?

What You Can Do to Help Me

Now that you understand what it’s like in my brain, what can you do to help me? The biggest thing is to love me despite my shortcomings, and don’t get angry with me for having them. Realize that I have a real obstacle standing in my way, even if you can’t see it. Push me to become better and work hard. Try to differentiate between laziness and my lack of focus. Help me develop coping mechanisms, and to avoid situations that I struggle with. The girl who can hear your carbonated soda is not good at spending hours in the same room with 20 other relatives at a family gathering, no matter how wonderful everyone is.

Do what you can to inform my teachers about me, and teach me to advocate for myself. Know that with love, understanding, and support, I can learn to live with my ADHD and achieve things you would have never thought possible for me.

[“It Stops with Me:” The End of ADHD Stigma and Cruelty]

12 Comments & Reviews

  1. This is Beautifully said! I felt the same way in College. I feel the same way today! ADHD does not just affect children it carries into adulthood, and parents, and the world needs to see that and understand it too! Life is so challenging with ADHD!

  2. Not to be negative but by these standards everyone who cant focus on something they dont find interesting has ADHD. If a blind deaf woman can read and write, math can be done. Maybe just find a way to make it interesting or get help. Three of my five children were diagnosed with ADHD two of the three had a speech problem. Only one take medication. Find a way.

    1. @Muniiking you cant be serious? Your arrogance is astounding and you obviously did not read the article… and also you don’t have AHDH – this article isn’t for you, it’s for me and the others that have ADHD. This article is 100% accurate. Well done to the writer.

    2. A blind person uses another sense to learn to read, someone without a limb uses a prosthetic etc etc. However when it is brain chemistry that is hindering learning and daily functions things are not so simple. It takes a great deal of time to study your way of learning and figure yourself out. Discovering the root of your problems, whether that’s ADHD or something else, is the first step. Then learning how that affects you personally, then how you can adapt and develop strategies. However to be blunt, the majority of modern society is geared towards a neurotypical brain. Not saying all things can’t be done but sometimes trying and failing is more harmful than accepting and moving on. To paraphrase Einstein: everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will always believe it’s stupid.

      Ps. Your children will be desperate for you to be understanding, and will need your support in developing strategies. Please learn everything you can before saying things like that to them.

  3. As an adult with ADD, I get it. I have felt this way before. I desperately struggled with university and many similar issues since then. But this whole article is playing the victim. Wow, I’m sure I’ll get negative feedback on this. But the author talks about what everyone else can do to help her. I quote, “What You Can Do to Help Me.” It is a great first step figuring out what one feels and how it impacts one’s life. But now the responsibility is on the author, not the people around her. No matter how much other people want to help, until the author makes the choice to improve, she’ll be stuck. Use the pain and frustration and anger energy to find a councilor, create a daily habit, talk to the doctor about meds, research and implement solutions found in so many places such as this website. Use small victories to propel yourself into larger ones. If math is such a struggle, why are you taking it? Since you are in University, why not choose a path that doesn’t include it? Not once does she talk about any strategies she’s using to help herself, just that others should understand her and help her.

    I truly empathize. Honestly. And I applaud the courage to move forward, the work it takes and how hard it is to try to do things sometimes. But make the choice to get help. Asking others to understand will not get you very far in the world once you are out of University. You need to make the choice to move forward, even in the smallest victories. You have fought so many battles and won them to get this far. Reach out and get some of the extra tools you need to move forward. That choice is something only you can do. And you CAN do this!

    1. I think I read this differently to you. To me this article’s intention was to educate those around someone with ADHD about how it feels on the inside and to help them avoid misinterpreting the signs. This is what I’d like to show the people in my life that have always called me lazy or selfish for how I appear when that’s the complete opposite of what I feel on the inside. I thought this was a well written article about how our symptoms manifest and are misunderstood.

  4. @koolBeans There are as many ways of supporting people affected by ADHD as there are facets of its presentation. Feelings like the ones in this article are real and also need to be expressed. There are hundreds of articles on this site to meet whatever need we have at any given moment: sometimes we need a kick in the pants, sometimes words of empowerment and, yes, sometimes even sympathy and a hug.

  5. I was only diagnosed as an adult and looking back my family did everything the exact opposite of how one should encourage a child with ADHD. i was constantly called “lazy”, “selfish”, accused of not trying or purposefully “forgetting” chores (complete with air quotes, thanks mom).
    If i had known back then WHY i was so distracted maybe i would have done better, all i know is that i always felt broken and i didnt know why things were so difficult for me that everyone else claimed to be easy.
    this article felt like it was written by a version of me who got diagnosed earlier, desperate for others to get me, to understand WHY i am. I cant tell you how many times adults in my life would stand and watch me struggle, waiting for me to finally ask for help but by then im so flustered and discouraged ive talked myself into a meltdown where i become incapable of anything but tears and hair-pulling. then i would often be called “dramatic” or a “baby” and chastised for not handling things on my own. i just want to not feel so guilty for needing help sometimes…. trust me, if i could just “make myself interested” in things i would.

  6. @KoolBeans, I think this article was just meant to educate those who don’t have ADHD so they can understand what it’s like to deal with it and how the judgment of others makes a person with ADHD feel. This is not a “what I’m doing for my ADHD” article. That wasn’t the point of the article. The point was to educate others on how to be supportive of someone with ADHD. I didn’t read anything that implied that the author was telling people how to “fix” her so she didn’t have to do anything herself.

    I was diagnosed with ADD as a child but my mom was told that, since I got good grades in school (except math!), I didn’t need any treatment. No one even told me I had ADD or ADHD until my mother mentioned it when I was almost 40! My doctor was so wrong, but of course they just didn’t know as much about ADHD back then. My life could have been so different had I gotten treatment and even now, approaching my 50’s, I struggle with so many of the things mentioned in this article. I wish articles like this were available back when I was a teenager. One of the WORST things I had to deal with was the bullying and judgment from others who saw me as lazy, stupid and immature. An article like this might have helped me understand what was really going on with myself and ask for the help I needed back then. It wasn’t until my youngest children were diagnosed with ADHD and I started doing research for them that I started learning so many things about myself and how I could help myself and get the outside help I need. It’s never too late to get help, but my life would have been so much different and so much better had I gotten the help I needed as a child. If this article resonates with a teenager or young adult and enables them to get the help they need NOW instead of having to wait 4 decades like I had to, OR if it helps someone who knows a person like this be more supportive, it can change their lives for the better.

  7. A very well written, and insightful(*See “insight”) article, on the inner workings of…well…me!
    The description of the hardships of dealing with homework and math problems, were spot-on! *As was the entire blog honestly.

    From someone who loves math, and can get a bit obsessed with it, but is still horrible at it…and yet still finds it fascinating in all the ways my ADHD brain enjoys,…Thank you!

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