Let’s talk about ADHD (a letter to my teen-aged self)

You’re not an airhead, space cadet, or dumb blonde. You have ADHD. 

Teenage girl with ADHD

Dear Teenage Katie,

Lately you have been starting to believe the joking jabs from your peers and even adults in your life, but I am here to tell you that you are neither a “space cadet” nor a “dumb blonde,” despite your hair color and all of the seemingly air-headed mistakes you make. Those mistakes are due to a neurological difference in the way your brain works; however, the possibility won’t enter your mind until almost ten years from now after the birth of your second child. You have ADHD.

I know what you’re thinking–the only people you’ve known to be diagnosed with ADHD struggled with grades and behavior issues in school. And they were all boys. Because of this, you will NEVER conceive it as a possibility. Unfortunately, that means you struggle through the next ten years without any therapy or guidance on how to function with your condition.

Now, however, I can use this fictitious forum to give you a few words of advice (which won’t help you, but might help others like you).

Starting this very moment: Stop. Being. So. Hard. On. Yourself. Stop crying over B’s and C’s. I know you want that 4.0, and you’ll have it (thanks to weighted classes), but grades are not worth your tears. I know you tried your best and are disappointed that you “failed” (news flash: a “C” is not failing, it’s AVERAGE). But cry over your breakups, fights with your friends, or Grandpa’s stroke, and never ever waste another lunch period in the bathroom crying over something as fleeting and insignificant as one test grade.

Realize that when you get anxious before a test, when someone puts you on the spot, when you talk to a boy you like, when you do math, or when you confront your adversaries, your brain will literally FREEZE. You will not have access to your vocabulary or computational skills.

In those situations, take a pass. Breathe. Breathe DEEPLY. And since you don’t know you have ADHD, after some of those moments you will cry in the bathroom out of frustration and lack of understanding. For if you had known, your teachers would have given you more time to relax and finish your tests (rather than cutting you off and giving you the D) and you would have been able to take your math exams in a quiet, separate room. You could have had a 504 plan to help get those school accommodations (no such help for the boys and adversaries though… sorry.)

Instead of beating yourself up, give yourself credit for succeeding despite the stress, late nights, anxiety, and perceived failures. It’s actually why no one caught that you had ADHD. You did well in school because you adapted, even if it meant staying up studying ineffectively until 2am, then setting your alarm for 5am to study some more when you couldn’t keep your eyes open any longer. You do fall asleep in class A LOT. Your teachers will mostly be tolerant of this (or you hide it well).

The important thing to remember is that good grades do not negate an ADHD diagnosis any more than bad grades define it. You have ADHD because your brain focuses differently, and you will learn strategies to work through those differences.

You will figure out that you can write papers more easily with wordless music playing in your headphones. After your friend tells about using notecards to study, your memory will be almost photographic for rote facts. Once you start outlining every word your teacher says in class, you will find a way to stay focused and everyone will want to copy your notes when they are absent. And that trick of making a list of conversational topics when calling a boy you like? Genius. It will definitely cut down on the awkward pauses.

You won’t figure out that your reading comprehension improves greatly with audiobooks until you are well past college, so there will be no hope of understanding a word of Heart of Darkness. Your friend’s dad will still mercilessly tease you about being blonde, and you will never be able to think of a good comeback because of your anxiety mind block. And I am really sorry to say that you will still get in trouble at home a lot, because you will never quite figure out how to control your impulsive temper or to remember what your parents wanted you to do (or not do, for that matter).

Instead of beating yourself up for your mistakes, realize that because you have this beautiful, frustrating condition, you will be creative. You will have innovative ideas to contribute in group work and class discussions. You will find comfort in art, music, photography, nature, and friends. You will often notice what other people don’t, which will make life rich and interesting. ADHD will not define you, but it WILL strengthen you. With relief you will embrace ADHD at your moment of realization: what makes you struggle is also what makes you great.

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Think you might have ADHD? I recommend watching this video.

This post was also featured on The Mighty.

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About Katie

Katie Bee is the author of for Elysium blog: a site about family, Down syndrome, home, art, and writing.

6 thoughts on “Let’s talk about ADHD (a letter to my teen-aged self)

  1. Elizabeth Idzi

    Love it! My son has ADHD…and the grades are NOT the issue…I have learned to adapt my parenting to his needs and with time he will learn to adapt to different situations….

  2. Kathleen Jones

    Thank you so much for posting this. My thoughts exactly. At the age of almost 45, I’ve finally found a doctor who takes my ADHD seriously. FINALLY getting the correct medications after years of misdiagnosis or “almost” diagnosis. I look forward to reading more from you. I am also a writer, but often can’t find enough focus to sit down and do it. I hope you don’t mind if I share this post. By the way, I’m also Katie!

  3. UMA

    This made me teary-eyed. I ALWAYS felt misundersttod…even to myself. I was able to hide it well, and became good at hiding my deficiensies most of the time, without even knowing what I had in the first place. Never had problems with grades, well maybe with math. Definitely with math…to this day. I could have written some of this. And when I finished reading it, it was like I gave my teen self a tight hug just now…in a way. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Katie Post author

      Math for me too. I am so happy you found comfort in reading this! It hurts when people assume intent for behavior (like labeling others lazy or uncaring). Hugs to you and your teen self! -Katie


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