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]