I’m a 36 yo man living in Indianapolis. Growing up I was always labelled as smart but lazy. I’d ace tests, but rarely turned in my homework on time. I gravitated toward art and science classes, but barely passed anything to do with English or math… endless grammar exercises and math problems… I barely made it through high school, and began college at a non-traditional, satellite campus of IU.
I was always told I just needed to work harder. So I did. When I got to college I excelled. I tested out of algebra, even though I skipped equivalent courses in high school. English composition was no problem for me. I got straight A’s in my first semester. And continued to do well. Of course, I changed majors from Graphic Design to Biology in my second year. Then moved to the school’s main campus. Did well, but wound up bored with my choice of major and struggled to find a passion in it. I got through, but I was working 2-3 times as hard as other students, I was always working on things, everything, last minute, and barely had a social life, job, or other activities except the gym a couple nights a week. In my fifth and final year, I found a passion for Evolutionary biology. So, when graduation was looming and I had no other ambitions or job prospects (let alone internship experience), I decided I’d continue on to grad school and study evolutionary biology after a two year stint as a lab tech to get some research experience.
The first couple years were great. Exchanging big exciting ideas and socializing with really intelligent people. It was challenging, tons of fun, and really engaging and fulfilling. I picked an advisor and got settled into his lab with a project. Then changed my project at the end of the second year. I pulled so many all-nighters to get things done. I felt like I was really doing well. I was motivated and accomplishing goals. But it still seemed like everyone around me was getting a little more done and living a little more fully. The woman that finished in just four years after giving birth to her first born in her third year… I thought she was competitive and lucky. While my friends were finishing their dissertations in my fifth year. I was starting to deal with anxiety and depression. I started going to therapy. I blamed it on too much socializing and drinking. I was starting to get into financial trouble. My credit cards were maxed out and the grace period on some of my student loans expired and I couldn’t catch up on a grad student stipend. My advisor was getting impatient with my lack of progress. He and I both managed to get funding for my project despite massive budget cuts that year. Yet I was struggling to get things done. I was missing deadlines and meetings. We tried every form of scheduling, goal setting, and organizational tactic while papers just piled up on my desk and was spending more time at home reading, sleeping too late, not coming in. One day I actually made it in, my advisor approached me and asked me if everything was alright. Apparently my mother had called the university to ask my whereabouts because I hadn’t answered any of her texts or phone calls for weeks. I’d go to meet friends at our usual hangouts and they’d ask “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in like two months.”
I was putting all I had into this PhD, but all that happened was I seemed to be getting increasingly depressed, broke, and socially isolated, but really good at sudoku and discovered a deep fondness for fantasy novels.
In the middle of my sixth year, I decided to leave. I stayed on for a few months to tie up some loose ends that never got tied up while I was there. Then at 31, I moved back in with my parents.
After a month of applying to jobs I thought I’d qualify for with my Master’s degree (aka consolation prize) I swallowed a lot of pride and began working at an Amazon warehouse during the peak holiday season. I stayed there for 2.5 years because I couldn’t find a job description that matched an evolutionary geneticist with more experience writing computer programming than working on genetics research. When some hiring manager saw some potential in me and gave me a chance, I’d typically choke in the interview because I wasn’t a good fit for the role, I was carrying around tons of insecurity because I knew about the duties of the roles, but I wasn’t really experienced with them. Let alone, I was doing the dumbest, simplest type of manual labor, and still I constantly made mistakes. Forget that I had a master’s, knew four different computer languages, and could get federal research grants, it seemed like I could barely enter the right numbers into a barcode scanner. Eventually I did move out of my parents’ place… and I can’t even get into how difficult living with them was… but my financial situation was getting way worse.
After 2.5 years of hanging on, grinding it out, and hoping for a breakthrough, I went back to school at a community college to learn to be a machinist. Now my classmates were chain smoking ex-cons (no judgment if you are, some of these guys were alright) instead of the bright ambitious young scientists I knew in grad school. After one semester I landed my current job. It’s not bad. I never show up at the same time every day, but we rarely deal with hard deadlines and I’m valued there. I still make stupid little mistakes when I’m not paying attention (which is often), but I still perform well.
But, I want to be doing so much better. I can be doing so much better. Why am I not doing so much better?
I am pretty sure it’s because I’ve been dealing with undiagnosed ADHD all my life. I think my academic performance masked the reality of what I’ve been dealing with. I think my parents were dismissive of ADD or ADHD as a source of the problem. As have I, especially when I compare my behavior to others I’ve known to have ADHD, those hyperactive, rowdy boys over there… who by the way finished their worksheets way ahead of me. I’m just introverted and I get distracted by my thoughts and imagination, interesting ideas, or books. I get distracted by constructive activities (most of the time) so it looks like I’m doing well. But, to really succeed at anything, you have to get through the drudgery. You have to practice the math problems if you want to answer a big interesting research question. You have to stay organized, and make schedules, and show up on time. You have to respond in a timely manner to texts, emails, and phone calls. But I just can’t, or rarely can.
It was only a couple of days ago I came across a youtube video with a psychiatrist who described ADHD in more detail and with better nuance than the mayo clinic’s ADHD pages or psychology today or whatever simple list of traits described in simple language vaguely defines the disorder. And for the first time I considered ADHD as the source of my problems seriously, and realized “Yes, that describes me.” While I was at work that night, I snuck away to a computer to request an appointment with a psychiatrist who works with ADHD in adults.
I have a preliminary visit with a counsellor scheduled for one month from now. I want to verify this self-diagnosis and see if knowledge, medication, and therapy can help me turn my life back to the path I was on before, and do it right. In the mean time, I want to meet others with experience dealing with ADHD and learn about the path to diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.
If you’re still with me thanks for reading. I was supposed to get on my exercise bike an hour ago.
PS. Where are all the cat gifs? Are they banned from this forum?