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"What Is Wrong With Me?" ADHD Truths I Wish I Knew As a Kid

I grew up feeling something was wrong with me — that I was lesser, or maybe broken. Now I know that what others misidentified as ‘wrong’ or ‘different’ was actually extraordinary — and that ADHD can be an incredible asset if appreciated.

15 Comments: "What Is Wrong With Me?" ADHD Truths I Wish I Knew As a Kid

  1. Thank you for this checklist to reflect about myself as a child. Many are interesting; but of course, there was no coaching or medication in the Sixties.

    Also, there were other reasons that I was different from the others, not just ADHS. Probably most of the kids in any class find they are somehow different for whatever reason. Everybody I knew as a kid would have gladly conformed if they had known how. I was intelligent and knew it, but also came from an educated family and thought knowledge was a good thing. This might be a class thing, because many kids, and teachers, excluded ba for being arrogant. I knew a lot of stuff, but did not know how to study or work for excellence, I do not believe that schools teach this at all.

    “As I grew older(…) I began to see that the catalyst for potential is not hard work; it’s passion.” Sorry, dear, it is hard work. I was interested in absolutely everything and read anything I could get my hands on, up to scientific monographs. My parents said I should be passionate about something, then I would be successful. But though I was never bored and interested in a lot of things, I have a basic dysthymia odr depression that does not allow me to feel passion. I have not been able to be more than moderately successful all my life because I didn’t work on anything consistently and never finished anything except by just improvising enough to pass.

    The most helpful concept I have come across is “The One Thing” method, also found in other methods such as GTD and on these pages, of understanding my life priorities and doing one thing at a time that lines up with these. Also, it must be all right to NOT do very many things. The rest is, as Helene writes above, self compassion.

  2. Here’s my story. I’m a guy in his pre-geezer years. I’ve known since I was in 1st Grade that I was different from all of my peers. Back in the mid-1950s ADD/ADHD did not even have a name, let alone a description. My teacher sent me home with a note pinned to my shirt that I was constantly daydreaming and lost in space.

    I’m convinced that God does indeed occasionally make brains with QC defects just like car factories occasionally turn out lemons. I was finally diagnosed in my late 60s. This startling revelation has been enlightening but not liberating. For me ADD has always been a handicap and an embarrassment. I cannot cite one single instance where it was an advantage. I have paid dearly for it in both my private/personal life and my business/professional life.

    After 4 1/2 years I received my BS engineering degree. I achieved this by sheer bulldog determination IN SPITE OF, NOT BECAUSE OF MY ADD. Here’s what I’ve learned from real life experience:
    1. If you need help, get help.
    2. Follow the prescribed treatment plan.
    3. NEVER publicly confess your ADD affliction. You will regret it!
    4. Read ADDitude for its comforting counsel and moral support.

  3. Reading this article brought back some painful memories of not being properly diagnosed with both ADHD and Cognitive Learning Disabilities. Still to this day, I have difficulties of letting go setbacks and failures that occured over 25 years ago. Elementary school wasn’t that difficult but high school and college is where all of my issues began.

  4. Reading this article brought back a lot of painful memories, many of them to this day I still have difficulty letting go of. I attended school in the 1980s (elementary) & 1990s (high school). And one thing that I do remember is this: good luck trying to find any information on ADHD or Learning Disabilities. Things like this didn’t make sense to my parents, who emigrated to the United States from Haiti. At times, I feel that my parents were never given sufficient information on the challenges that I was dealing with in school. Even though elementary school did have its struggles, high school was a bit more difficult. I was expelled from one high school because of my poor performance and had to attend summer school. Not only that, my first high school assigned me projects to complete in order to get credit for the other classes that weren’t available. If the work wasn’t finished by the assigned deadline, there was a possibility of me repeating the 9th grade in my new school. Once at my new school, I still struggled to keep up. Math and History were always my favorite subjects but English is where I tend to have my difficulties, mainly due to the reading assignments. Didn’t do well in Biology (had to go to summer school for this class) but was able to keep up in Chemistry. French should have been an easy but it wasn’t. I grew up in a home where both of my parents spoke more than one language and French was one of them. When it came time to take the PSAT, my score was very bad. The same with the SAT. A perfect indicator that something could be wrong but no one noticed it. Even though I graduated high school on time, my college choices were limited due to marginal grades and poor SAT scores. College was the perfect indication that something was wrong. I did seek out tutoring with little success and I had serious problems trying to keep up with the lectures and assignments. My penmanship was so bad, I decided to stop writing in cursive. Everyone had difficulty understanding what I wrote down: tutors, classmates, professors, etc. Some of my notes were incomplete because I couldn’t keep up. One of my classmates looked through my notebook and she mentioned something that many people overlooked: I may have a learning disability. The only time I’ve ever heard of the term was on an episode of The Cosby Show. At first, I didn’t think that it was possible. But with all of the setbacks that I’ve dealt with, it is possible. Unfortunately, I didn’t know who I could talk to or where I can get help on the matter. Over time, it was something that stayed with me despite numerous failures in pursuit of finishing college. Eventually, I finally had the courage to seek help in this matter. I was diagnosed with both ADHD and Cognitive Learning Disabilities at the age of 27. On one side, I finally knew what was holding me back and was excited. On the other hand, I was angry that it took so long for everything to come out. Frustrated that I slipped through the cracks after all this time. Now, at the age of 43, I want to go back to school but I still find myself having difficulty of letting go.

  5. When I read “deep down inside I felt I was smarter than the other kids” nothing could have been further than the truth. I didn’t start to feel intelligent until I went to work and realized I had an aptitude for computers.

  6. I love articles that I have a personal connection to. It is an amazing feeling to know that so many other people felt as I did growing up…and into my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s when I was FINALLY diagnosed. Unfortunately I never made it to graduate college (48 credits in eight years!) I was lucky to land a job with a record company that was fiun, and overlooked a lot of my flaws. I am now retired, and I still work daily to find self compassion for myself. I’m not able to finish a newspaper article, I lose things constantly, and I have a hard time meeting new people, especially Uber successful ones.
    So everyday I need to remind myself that I am enough, that I have strengths, that I have value.
    Practice self compassion.
    God doesn’t make junk!

  7. A lot of this article I have thought to myself verbatim. Having undiagnosed ADHD has so many more implications than anyone who is neurotypical can imagine. I was 33 when I was diagnosed and a year later am basically rebuilding my life thanks to therapy and medication. The hardest part is feeling so misunderstood. I remember telling my high school boyfriend that I felt like I was defective and that some people just aren’t meant to thrive and that was me. In hindsight it breaks my heart. Thank you for so beautifully conveying this in your piece.

  8. At about ten years old, I realised that I thought differently to ‘the group’.
    The only part I played in the group was the art and craft expert. Everyone had roles and the silly competitions we had were really just reinforcing the existing hierarchy and roles.
    I wasn’t ashamed, and didn’t feel stupid.
    I knew that I was smart, but just didn’t fit in with the bizarre social expectations. Many social things did not make sense. They still don’t.
    So I either ignored them or worked around them, and did my own thing.
    This led to several problem years.
    At university, I found my real self, as did many others.
    Being diagnosed a lot earlier would have helped a lot!

  9. Yup. I was born in 1950. Every night I went home intending (though not expecting) to do my homework, and every night it just didn’t happen. I loved English and loved to read, but never got the knack of diagraming sentences because it was so boring. Hated arithmetic and to this day can’t learn languages through academic study, although immersion would probably work well.

    I initially flunked out of college in four quarters. I was always accused of “not applying myself.” Even in graduate school I was supposedly “not engaged.”

    I can’t blame my parents or teachers for not knowing about ADHD back then. But I wish that I would have known about it. It would have saved me a great deal of self-doubt and inappropriate guilt.

    1. I can identify with this so much…even diagnosed at 33…all the negative messages we hear is basically a slow death of self esteem and self worth. The worst part of ADHD for me is the emotional component- I wonder sometimes if I had been diagnosed in childhood if my feelings of deep shame and guilt and feeling “less than” others would be a little less crippling.

  10. I grew up in the 60s, so a lot of this stuff wasn’t known, or if it was, my parents, teachers and friends certainly didn’t know about it. I could not memorize the multiplication table, and it was humiliating. I felt so stupid. I was very aware of my surroundings, and I noticed details, wondering why others didn’t see those things, but that didn’t give me an “A” in anything (although I always did well in art classes, something I loved). My feelings were easily hurt, and I could dwell on that to the point where it was all I could think about. And, to be very honest, I still struggle with managing my ADHD. It’s an ongoing effort, and I do so many things right, but it never goes away. I do want to add that, I have a fantastic life. What I’ve liked a lot about myself is my ability to take care of myself. I refuse to be stuck, and I do not allow people to abuse me. Oh and I love how interesting so many things are to me. Yes, when it’s boring, forget it, but I’m endlessly fascinated by the world.

    1. I can relate to all of this. I was diagnosed with ADD in ’85 when i was 4 years old. My parents thought the riddelin was making me zombie like. They dismissed it all and never thought twice. In 1st and 2nd grade i was in the advanced reading and math classes. Then towards the end of 2nd grade i got taken out of the advanced classes. By 5th grade i was in “retard math” the other kids called it. Really started to struggle in jr high school. Also jr high is when i remember really starting to suffer socially. Teachers told me i wasn’t paying enough attention, peers told me i was weird and stupid. Then in 9th grade just before high school i was failing all classes except gym, art, and computer. Teachers talked to my folks and they sent me to counseling. A special counselor that tested me for learning disabilities. I not only was called stupid by peers, but now i felt stupid too! Got into the “self medicating” crowd smoking cigarettes and weed when i was 14. After counseling determined i didnt have any learning disabilities, i just continued to get yelled at for not paying attention. Same story continued into high school. I excelled at automotive, Welding, woodworking, Machine Tool and C.A.D., Art, Photography, and Gym classes. But was would struggle hard, really hard with Algebra (i was top of class in geometry however) english class, writting classes. I still dont know what a verb or adjective is. But i remember all of the linking verbs! Dont know what that means…i suppose they link verbs..but i know them all! (am is are was were be being been have has had do does did May might must can could should shall will) haha no clue how to use them tho!
      After graduating high school i went to community college for Machine Tool. Have 260+ credits and no degrees. Worked in food service throughout high school and college, married my high school sweetheart and joined the US Army at 21. Excelled in the Military! But my wife never liked the Military life. After 2 tours to Iraq in OIF it was apparent that it was the Army or my Wife. So i left the Army. My wife left me a year later, saying i was too difficult. Her main complaint was that i would alwAys forget things. Then 30 i was at a loss. The army structure was easy for me to deal with, not so much for being a civilian..my social problems sky rocketed, started drinking heavy and smoking weed agian. I was never into popping pills, but a friend offered me one at a party saying “its legal speed man, its called adderall” WTF i thought after taking it…i had never felt more “normal” in my entire life! I could hold a conversation without my mind jumping faster than i could talk. I could remember the original convo or point after realizing i was off on a tangent or 3 from original convo. I had no problem listening to others in a grp setting (partly what led to social probs as a kid, more than a few people talking and i couldnt keep up)
      The next day i goggled adderall to find out it was to treat ADHD. I started reading about ADHD and was like holy hell…this is me!! I told my mother i had done some research on ADHD and thought i might have it (self diagnosed as Adult ADHD combined Type) My mother replies with, well yeah you were diagnosed with ADD when you were 4..
      WHAT THE FUCK! Are u serious?
      I was 31 during that conversation.
      Now im 37, and i feel like i understand myself better now in these last 6 years, then i even ever dreamed of for the 1st 30 years of my life.
      Yet i still cant find good work or something that interests me. After 20 years of food service (was a cook in Army also) i had been kitchen manager at a local corprate restaurant and bar. After 40 years in operation, the company wanted to focus more on there fast food store, and closed the restaurant. In civilian life food service anyway its hard to move laterally from company to company. More restaurants like to hire from within vs bring in a new dick manager…so after 20 years the best thing i could find was a shift lead at a bar.. I quit after the 1st year and have been mowing lawns for a commercial lawn service company for last two years. In 2001 before i joined the army i worked at a nasty factory making 11hr (my rent was 210 +bills a month w/ 2 roomates). Now 2018 i make 13hr as crew leader on mowing crew (rent is 550 +bills w/ 2 roomys). Right now i have just been enjoying the outdoors…but my life is still in shambles and im utterly tired of being broke. Wish i didnt think i was retarded with learning disabilities as a teen. Never understood why i seemed so much smarter than other people, yet was constantly told i was retarded.
      I enjoy being unmedicated, just wish i had more support, more positive options dealing with social stuff. The coping mechanisms i created on my own work, but are not necessarily healthy or positive.

    2. It is fascinating and sort of retrospectively reassuring to read this as a 67yr old. I never mastered the times tables either..really just not good at rote learning. No one ever believes me when I say I never learnt them, they seem to just think I am being amusing. I was good at maths as I worked things out my own way. I was the last kid in the class to be able to tie my own shoes too, and when I did I invented my own method. It works neatly and makes a nice even and tidy bow, but it is slow and looks a bit cumbersome so people still stop and look at me asking ‘what on earth are you doing, why don’t you just tie them the normal way’. And I also was teased and chastised by teachers for being a daydreamer. Could go on…
      Finally I have found my tribe

    3. AnneHW – I am strugglng to find answers to my “boyfriend’s” mood swings. Although I understand it is different for women, I wonder if you can comment, please. He is 65. He gets very anxious and drinks alcohol to excess in order to “relax”, then blacks out to blot stuff out and sleep. The biggest problem for me is that he can just “erupt” angrily at the least little thing I say – possibly what he perceives as criticism or the onset of an alarming discussion or potential “row”. He just WILL not discuss problems, as I suspect he is terrified of them blowing up into a row. So I walk on eggshells. I used to think it was the alcohol talking, or the withdrawal as he never drinks or smokes when I am there, but there are other things I cannot “put my finger on”, which I don’t understand. ADHD seems to be the most credible explanation so fsr, but he has never been diagnosed, and others on this site seem to think it is just a bad reaction to the booze, and typical verbal domestic abuse on his part. I’d really like to think that, so that if he ever stops drinking he will stop having these symptoms – but I am not so sure. He does not seem to understand the “rules” of society (especially regarding dating only one women), is hopeless with money – spends it recklessly, even though he is in debt. He lends money he does not have to people. He is very kind (a people-pleaser), and will do anything for anyone (except me!), to the point where they take advantage of him – and that worries me. He can be very blunt and hurtful in what he says (especially when he is drunk) although he does seem to know he is, and usually says he is just joking or “windng me up”. He gets very, very anxious, but trys to cover it up. He has OCD – keeping and placing things in a very particular place and order – which I guess could be his way of organizing himself (to be admired!!). But, as I say, the worst one is just erupting like a volcano over absolutely nothing. He is very sensitive and takes things too much to heart – making more of them and dwelling on them forever. We have fallen out at the moment, which often happens, and he has blocked my phone calls. I have tried reaching out via email, but not sure he is getting them. I wonder whether it is time to leave him to his own devices, but I do love the “nice” him and worry about him, and feel I should make contact, just to know that he is OK. He has no close friends, other than the woman next door who he drinks with. What do you think, please? I would really appreciate your input. Lorna

      1. Hi. I’ve just read both articles from Lorna and AnneHW. I can identify with both. I also grew up with ADHD but I was born in the 1950s. From a young age I felt different to other children and didn’t get along with them. I’ve never been able to cope with crowds and parties and did very badly at school, but like Anne, I excelled in art. I also loved music and passed piano exams. Maths was a nightmare and I was bullied by the teachers because of my hyperactive nature. After school I taught myself a lot. I refused to let school put me off learning so I went onto college and then went to university and got my degree. I then went overseas and worked in the Middle East. I’ve fought to try to do normal things and fit in because I didn’t know I had ADHD until a few months ago. It all makes sense now. I wish I’d known earlier. The positive thing about having ADHD is resourcefulness and the ability to be independent and strong in the face of problems and adversity. I met my late partner (John) in the Middle East. He sounds so much like your partner Lorna. I had a child with my partner who appears to have Aspergers. His personality is like his father’s. I could never put my finger on what exactly was wrong with John. But after reading literature on Aspergers I’m convinced that’s what he had and that is what my son has. Erupting like a volcano was normal as was being a people pleaser and not understanding the rules of society. It all sounds so familiar. My son possibly has Rejection Sensitivity Disorder as well. He never socialises, has no friends and doesn’t really want any much like his father was. Reading the two articles was a breath of fresh air for me. Just knowing that we aren’t on our own, that there are other people out there who have the same issues to deal with on a daily basis. Alexandra

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