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Invisible Illness: ADHD

By Haley Haverda, Reporter

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I was never a problem child or a bad student, I just was never the best. “You need to just try harder.” “Sit down and focus.” “Why did you only do half of your homework?” “Stop bouncing your leg.” I’ve heard every variation of these sentences throughout my life. Growing up, I was what my teachers called ‘potential,’ and what my parents called ‘lazy.’

I had potential to get higher grades, I had potential to complete my homework, I had potential to be better. They told me I was naturally smart and I just needed to be pushing myself a little more, but I couldn’t. As I got older and entered into middle school, it started becoming impossible for me to finish every class’ homework. I couldn’t even watch my favorite T.V. show without also having my phone out, playing a game, or scrolling through my Instagram feed. I called myself just an avid daydreamer, and my new favorite terms became “I’m really good at multitasking,” or “I just get too bored doing one thing.” I believed I was just a daydreamer until my junior year, when I had a revelation in AP Psychology. When my teacher, Mrs. Kay Minter, said “multitasking doesn’t exist,” I started questioning everything I had previously thought about my work ethic. So many times I have tried to force myself into the strict confines of our school system, but it was impossible for me to keep up with what they expected of me. Finally, senior year, I got my answer for why: ADHD, specifically ADHD inattentive.  

ADHD is a neurological disorder, and those with it have differences in brain development, as well as brain activity, that affect attention, self control, and executive functioning. It affects thinking memory, working memory, regulating and managing emotions, and organization. ADHD is not curable, and it is not fake. It is not stupidity or laziness, and it is also not easy to deal with. Because ADHD is so commonly stigmatized, there are plenty of myths that shed bad light on the diagnostic. ADHD varies from person to person, and each person might have different or more severe symptoms. Telling someone to just “pay more attention” is not going to help them, but understanding and learning about their disorder will.

In the fourth grade, I started showing signs of classroom inattentive behavior and slight hyperactivity. My mom disregarded any thoughts that I might have ADHD because the extent of her knowledge was that it had to be hyperactive boys “who run and hit”, according to her and a few of her cousins. I wasn’t like that; I wasn’t disruptive or loud in class, I didn’t have meltdowns, and I wasn’t impulsive. My symptoms just slipped through the cracks, or so it seemed.

During eighth grade, my struggles with my mental health began to magnify and spread into my school life for the worse. Depression and anxiety plagued my life to the point where I could no longer attend school or do any work. My parents took me to get evaluated for everything. My symptoms displayed were that of ADHD, but the evaluators decided to hold off on a diagnosis because it might all be stemming from anxiety. But in fact, the depression and anxiety might have been stemming from ADHD. Studies show that at least 75 percent of ADHD in girls goes undiagnosed because boys have more outward symptoms and behavior issues. Girls who struggle with ADHD tend to be less hyperactive and more quiet than their male counterparts. Boys get treated quicker because they have more outward symptoms, they are able to get a diagnosis because their clear disruptive patterns cause trouble for them in class or a home. This is because of simple gender variation, but also due to our society. Boys are already more aggressive and impulsive than girls due to their hormones, and boys with ADHD brains have those characteristics multiplied. For girls, they too have elated aggression and impulsivity with ADHD, due to a lack of executive functioning and stress build up. Girls are also brought up to please teacher and parents, so they tend to try to hide their disorder. Because of this, their behavior is often seen as immaturity rather than ADHD. Research shows that girls are more likely to be diagnosed initiative (opposed to being hyperactive),  with poorer self esteem and less coping skills than male counterparts. Sadly, because girls need to internalize their frustrations rather than externalize, they are more likely to blame themselves for struggling. This leads to an increased risk of functional impairment, resulting in major depression, anxiety, and eating disorders at a higher percentage than girls without ADHD, which is exactly what happened to me.

My parents and I had been under the impression I had ADHD for almost four months before my doctor’s appointment, so it wasn’t shocking when my doctor confirmed our suspicions. Getting a diagnosis wasn’t a big or life changing revelation, it was just a piece of paper that added up my points on a function and behavior checklist. My parents and teachers scored my abilities from high to low with corresponding numbers. According to the score, the doctor concludes you either are diagnosed, not diagnosed, or might be in between and may require additional testing. Based on my scores, and previous testing I had done, I was diagnosed five days after my 18th birthday with definite ADHD inattentive. It was the first time I had a reason for my ongoing struggles.  

Growing up with an undiagnosed disorder set me up for extreme failure, but it also allowed me to get comfortable pushing my limits. Because I had to go through my whole childhood with constant struggle and I didn’t have a reason for it, it made me keep going (although what kept me going was negative feelings of my self worth and usefulness). I knew how to push myself to succeed. Being able to pass my AP classes with no extra help was extremely stressful and difficult, and thinking of how much better I could have done if I had that extra help is something I have to stop myself from thinking of because there is nothing we can change about the past.

But as ADHD is a symptom spectrum disorder, my ability to stay afloat in mostly all my classes, might be seemingly impossible for someone else. ADHD affects people in different ways, and it shouldn’t be generalized under the umbrella term of hyperactivity. The symptoms of ADHD are not always as glaringly obvious as the media makes it out to be. Symptoms can be divided into three subgroups, hyperactivity, inattentive, and impulsive. With hyperactivity, the disorder can be easier to spot: fidgeting, getting up or walking around expectedly, appearing always restless, difficulty staying quiet. Impulsivity symptoms include blurting out answers, having a hard time waiting their turn, or interrupting others. As for inattentive, the symptoms can be quieter, like the people who fall mostly into the subgroup for making ‘careless’ mistakes on papers or school work, not seeming to listen when spoken to, easily distracted, failure to finish projects (ie: homework, cleaning, etc.), losing things reluctantly, forgetfulness, and great difficulty with organization. The subgroups cover all symptoms that can be exhibited in someone with ADHD, and to be diagnosed, at least six different symptoms from any subgroup must be present. Having ADHD inattentive doesn’t mean that I don’t show signs of hyperactivity, I just exhibit more inattentive symptoms than within the other subgroups. One person’s diagnosis can be completely opposite to another’s, or very much alike, as each ADHD brain is different even though we all have the same condition.

It’s time to break the stigma on ADHD and get people the help they need. Our brains are extremely complex and our most important organ, and we have to stop treating it like everyone owns the same one. Brain activity is what makes us, us. Mental disorders need to stop being second rate to physical disorders. Just because they cannot be visually seen (unless we use an Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Electroencephalography (EEG) or magnetoencephalography (MEG)) doesn’t make them not real or not as important as a broken arm. We are our brains: it’s time to take care of ourselves and stop living in pain.

About the Writer
Haley Haverda, Reporter
Hi, my name is Haley :) I like cats, candy, writing, Netflix, and books. This is my fourth year in Journalism, I am the Varsity Girls Lacrosse Manager, I'm haunted by spirits descended from my Filipino ancestors, and I hope to go to college in Manoa, Hawaii. Also, Jenny is my favorite baby chicken.
2 Comments

2 Responses to “Invisible Illness: ADHD”

  1. Mrs. Minter on May 5th, 2018 8:42 am

    This is a beautifully written article with the credibility of a person educated to the science of Psychology. Your true-life testimonial is a tribute to your personal courage and also to the importance of educating ourselves about how our brains work. Thank you for your insights into the ADHD spectrum and for exemplifying the high level that a person who has an ADHD brain can achieve! — Mrs. Minter

  2. Grandma Haverda on May 17th, 2018 6:21 pm

    THANK YOU, HALEY FOR THE INSIGHT ON ADHD. YOU TAUGHT ME ALOT. I AM SO VERY PROUD OF YOU AND YOU ARE A VERY INTELLIGENT YOUNG LADY. I LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCH.

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