I was very smart and sassy as a kid. I was one of the youngest (and of course, shortest) kids in my kindergarten class. I enjoyed school; school was fun for me, because I already knew all my ABCs and numbers.
School was easy!
I remember around second grade I started getting in trouble for talking too much. Another girl and I would sit in class and talk until we’d get in trouble and have to spend our lunches inside. I will never forget when the woman who ran lunch-detention affectionately named my friend and I “M&M,” (motor mouth). Detention and I became good friends and we began seeing each other on a regular basis at a young age.
In third grade, I really started to struggle with my work. I just could not focus. I did not realize that there was a lack of focus; I felt like I was being myself. I would talk to whoever was listening, I would daydream, doodle, and draw pictures during important lessons. Any subject that wasn’t entertaining became almost impossible for me to keep up with. I tried my hardest to stay attentive, but for some reason I just couldn’t. My mind would drift off to another place and would stay there for most of the day.
As I got older, my grades started to suffer. School was no longer easy. It became the most difficult thing I ever had to do. On my report cards, the teachers would say the classic, “She’s a bright girl, but she doesn’t apply herself.” My mom was LIVID and had no understanding for why her daughter would not try. It came to the point where she dreaded going to parent-teacher conferences. She would leave the conferences so disappointed and in tears, because her daughter was not a good student; I wanted to be a model student and I could not figure out why I wasn’t.
My desk at school was always a nightmare. I would keep completed papers shoved all the way in the back and they would never get turned in because I wouldn’t be able to find them and I never spoke up. My grades continued to slip and my parents did not know what to do. I started tutoring in and outside of school for math. The one-on-one time made a difference, but I still struggled to focus. Sometimes when teachers would talk to me all I would hear was literally the Charlie Brown mom sound, “womp womp womp womp,” in one ear and out the other. I was present, but I wasn’t present.
After third grade, I hated school.
In fourth grade, God sent me an angel in the form of a teacher. She understood me, she knew my struggles and put extra time and effort into helping me. My fourth grade year, I did well. I felt more confident and comfortable. I felt smart. I was so proud of myself that I finally had a breakthrough. My parents were so happy for me and we all celebrated. Fourth grade was a whirlwind of a year, but it was the last year I did well.
By middle school, I was getting kicked out of class for being disruptive. I was unable to sit still, I was unable to control my actions and unable to control my mouth. At this point, I knew something was “different” about me. Why couldn’t I just sit down, shut up, and concentrate? WHY COULDN’T I?! My inner self-confidence was shot. I had figured it out, I was stupid. I wasn’t like the other smart kids. Smart kids sat still, paid attention, turned in their work and were organized. It came to a point where if I did not understand something, I stopped asking for help because I felt stupid and I knew I would expose my stupidness to everyone else.
I became the class clown. My friends would entertain my antics, but they had the ability to stop, concentrate and get their work done. But me, I couldn’t stop. My behavior became so bad that I barely passed my electives, (the fun classes I chose to take)! I mean, come on, Jess! I felt out of control, but didn’t know how to gain control.
At the time, I felt like my parents couldn’t stand me. I was mouthy, I appeared to not give a shit about school and I didn’t give a shit about my work. Their disappointment was so deep, all I could do was block it out. I got used to them being upset and started to not care. My parents honestly didn’t know what to do with their daughter, who was a bad student, couldn’t keep it together, and was lazy. So, they did what they thought was right. They took things away from me. Things I loved to do were very restricted or taken away, because I was a horrible student and a mouthy girl and until I got my act together, I would always be in trouble. I was a horrible girl.
Why was I such a bad girl?! Why couldn’t I just pull my grades up? I started to believe not only was I stupid, but I was lazy. It became who I was, and really made me not care.
High school was no different. It was a pure mental hell. I never felt more dumb and confused. I started each class off great and then it was like a switch turned off and I no longer could focus; I no longer cared. I started skipping classes and hiding in the bathroom. It was easier than having to sit in class, because most likely I would fall asleep or get kicked out. Everything was hard for me. The only things that saved me were writing, dancing, singing, and choir.
After getting kicked out of choir once for being mouthy, my teacher gave me a second chance, and from then on she truly helped me by way of music. I didn’t need to be focussed to sing, it came natural for me. My choir teacher grew to love me and I loved her. She understood me and made me feel like I wasn’t a loser. I was also a cheerleader, (when I managed to be off probation). On a bus ride to one of the football games, our cheer team was having shirts made and we were picking out nicknames for each other… and they all looked at me, unanimously giggled and said, “Your name should be “ADD,” because you’re all over the place.” I had no clue that this nickname would mean anything more than just a funny joke.
I continued to skip classes, sometimes full days of school, (I’m still not sure how my parents never knew). School was just too hard for me. My grades, what grades? I pretty much failed everything. Okay, not everything, but I never got above a C and when I did, it was by the grace of God. I still had trouble completing things and if I did, I would lose them or I just wouldn’t turn them in. I could not concentrate, so why try?
My home life was a mess as well. I was super messy, always in trouble, and always being told how creative, but lazy I was. I believed it. I was talented, but stupid and lazy. I think I spent all four years of high school grounded. Ha! My mom had no tolerance or understanding for my behavior. She often wondered why her? Why does she have the daughter that’s failing in school? Why could I not do what she asked? Why couldn’t I keep my room clean?
I went to summer school, night school, and I barely made it out of high school. I’ll never forget right before graduation, begging one of my teachers to please pass me with a C- so I could graduate. Don’t get me wrong, I did many great things in high school, I was in a play, I played sports, I was even voted most talented. But the mental hell I was in overshadowed the good. For that very reason, I hated high school.
After I finished high school, I needed a break. I took a year off and then started attending community college. With my grades, there wasn’t even a thought about attending a four-year university. I did so much better in college. Something about having more freedom and not having to sit in the same class everyday was better for me. But don’t get me wrong, I still managed to get kicked out of class and fail classes for not attending. I was used to being the “bad student.” It was who I was, it was my “normal.” I still didn’t understand why I was the way I was and why I wasn’t as smart and put together as my friends, but I had been living with it for so long that it was a part of me.
Seven years ago, I was talking to my friend and she mentioned taking a test for ADHD. I was married and had three kids at the time and I was still in my daily mental struggle trying to juggle things and I thought, “Why not take the test?”
I took the test and was blown away. When I looked at my score, it was clear I was not in the “normal” range.
I immediately called my mom and told her I wanted to dig further into ADHD, because I truly believed I may have it. I was almost excited, after all the years of suffering I thought I had finally found the reason why. My mom encouraged me to go see someone about it. I went to see my first psychiatrist at the age of 27. I remember being so nervous because I didn’t want to look dumb. I took several tests and she asked me a ton of questions. After a few hours of testing and talking I asked her what her honest opinion was, because I could still just be that stupid lazy girl who needed to try harder. She looked at me and said that without a doubt, I had ADHD and was on the higher end of the spectrum.
Well, there you have it! What now? I felt relieved that I was diagnosed, but I didn’t understand the MAGNITUDE of the diagnosis. I didn’t realize that having ADHD robbed me of my elementary, middle and high school years. I didn’t realize having ADHD had controlled every aspect of my life. The psychiatrist suggested I take Adderall every day to help balance me out. I didn’t want to take Adderall because I was scared and I didn’t want to be the weirdo that has to take a pill to be normal. I know it’s a chemical imbalance, but I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently.
I called my mom after I left the appointment and I told her I had ADHD, and God bless her because the first thing she said was, “Don’t tell anyone you have it, how embarrassing.” From that moment on, I went from feeling relieved to feeling ashamed. Something is wrong with me, I am different and it’s not cool. My husband encouraged me to try the adderal, so I did. I only told a handful of people, because I still didn’t understand my diagnosis well enough to explain it and I was embarrassed. For three months I took the medicine Monday through Friday, and let me tell you, it was life changing! I organized my house from top to bottom, read 4 books, I was calm, focused, and I felt smart. I felt like a normal person. I continued to take adderal until I became pregnant again.
Seven years later… I get it. I understand ADHD and how it works. I also understand that some people get the struggle and some don’t. And that’s okay. Having ADHD is not an excuse, it is not a crutch, it is who I am. It is what I live with 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It told me I was stupid, I wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t worthy of doing well. ADHD robbed me of what could have been such a different outcome in school. If only mental health was talked about more in the African American community and not “shushed” and “hushed.” Having an imbalance is not a bad thing. Needing to take a medication shouldn’t be a secret. Talking to a psychiatrist shouldn’t be shunned. It needs to be more talked about and more accepted in our community.
My story is not meant to be a pity-party. I’m here to raise awareness and help everyone understand me a little bit more. Everything I went through as kid was explained with my diagnosis. It’s literally an imbalance in my brain that I cannot control.
I’m not dumb, I’m not stupid, I’m not lazy, I’m simply different. I process things differently, I do things differently, I live my life differently because of ADHD.
Today, I am not on medication. I’ve tried several times to consistently take my meds, but I take them and then get tired of taking them and stop. When I was taking them Monday through Friday, I took weekends off. I know I should be taking them daily, because it would help so much. I will admit I am a different person on Adderall. When I take my meds I can sit down and read a book. Hell, I could write a book. I think differently when I take adderal. I come to conclusions differently. It’s like I can put pieces of puzzles together in my mind without any distraction, without any extra noise, without feeling dumb.
Things just make more sense on Adderall. I am more calm, I think before I blurt things out, I am for sure more organized! But, I am not all the way “me.” Even my husband took note when I very first started medication. He didn’t like the “zombie Jessica.” I wasn’t a literal zombie, but I was a more calm and focused version of myself. I loved that I was making stuff happen and getting stuff completed.
Being a stay-at-home mom plays a key role in me not taking my medication. I have more freedom and being a mom comes natural to me. It is something I love and something I am good at. Yes, I’m still an unorganized hot mess, and I take 30 minutes to figure out something that should only take 5, but I am aware and that’s half the battle. I Honestly think if I had a sit-down job where I had to focus, I would need to take adderal full-time. Blogging is hard for me as well, due to all the focus it takes to run your own brand, but I am trying my hardest to keep it together without medication.
The little girl who always felt like she was stupid is still there from time to time. I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away. Feeling “dumb” from such a young age has affected me into adulthood. When I find myself unable to focus or process something, my default is to say I’m just not smart. This is super hard to talk about, I feel super vulnerable right now, but it is real. I work everyday to try and beat out that monster that followed me through childhood.
This was a damn long blog, but I wanted to share my story. I wanted to talk about my past struggles, my present struggles and me living with ADHD daily. Mental health needs to be talked about more. It is okay to be different, it is okay to process a little differently, and it is okay to need extra help. It’s okay! No one is perfect. ADHD is my normal. It was the card I was dealt and I embrace it with open arms. I just needed to understand why I tick the way I do. All I can do is show people going through the same thing that they’re not alone.
Don’t be ashamed to be who you are. People living with ADHD are some of the smartest, most creative humans on Earth.
For the parents of those who have ADHD or you think your child may have it, try to have patience and understanding. Read about ADHD, know how it works and make your child feel like they are the smartest. I think that makes all the difference in the world. After really breaking down how ADHD works to my mom, she has a much better understanding, (and she claims she never told me I shouldn’t tell anyone). Hahaha!
I am currently exhaling. This was a hard blog to write, but I did it! Thank you for reading.