Living with ADHD: When your mind is the biggest distraction

Finley Liu
  • Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder is often misdiagnosed when someone is quiet and non-disruptive – the opposite of the stereotype
  • Living with the condition can feel like listening to Spotify and never being able to settle on a playlist
Finley Liu |

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In My Mind - a doodle done while procrastinating homework

Writing this article with ADHD is painstaking. That I finished it is amazing, as I was hard at it for 30 minutes and all I had was an intro.

Most people are able to work on something for a good amount of time. A 600-word article might take them an hour or so, maybe with a few breaks. For me, my mind is constantly wandering. Between each sentence, I can’t help but consider all the other things I could be doing: perhaps getting a snack, checking my messages, or watching a 40-minute video about building bamboo huts in Indonesia.

And this is a short piece on something I’m passionate about; imagine the time it takes to finish a maths project or chemistry test.

If you have a friend or family member with ADHD, here are some ways you can help them out.

On some level, everyone would rather do something fun than something tedious. But most people are able to override their desire for a good time and get back to work. Because of the way our brains are wired, people with ADHD (Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder) are constantly and involuntarily seeking stimulation; that desire for engagement often overrides finishing important things and staying in the present.

We can compare brain function to listening to music. Most people might change songs depending on their mood or what they’re doing. There are playlists for studying, working out, relaxing and more, and the volume can be gradually adjusted up or down depending on how much brain power you need.

Finley only learned she had ADHD fairly recently. Photo courtesy of Finley Liu

With ADHD, the volume slider is more like a switch, only on or off. At one moment, a million thoughts are looping through my head; the next, I’m staring into space, and everything turns into incomprehensible white noise.

Instead of listening to playlists, I’m constantly switching to different songs and genres trying to find something that fits my mood. Sometimes the songs buffer so slowly that each beat is static and glitchy until I’m forced to reboot the app. And once I find an album or playlist I like, there’s always an ad that ruins my groove with an irritating jingle that repeats over and over.

Some days the noise is unbearable, and I blow up, bursting into a temper tantrum, often at seemingly random moments.

Undiagnosed ADHD in girls can cause stress and anxiety later in life

I’m a good student, but my inability to maintain focus makes learning difficult. During class, I zone out frequently. It’s nice in my head space, where I’m free to explore the depths of my imagination and ponder all the questions swirling around. And then I’m yanked out of my bliss to the realisation I’ve missed everything the teacher said.

School projects, homework and tests take excessive amounts of time and brain power.

With subjects I enjoy, I can hyper focus for longer periods of time because the topic stimulates my brain. I spent around 30 hours in the past week perfecting my English project.

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With classes I don’t enjoy, my work quality is significantly worse. I struggle to pay attention in class, finish my homework, and prepare for assessments.

Although I’ve struggled with organisation, focus, and forgetfulness my whole life, I only found out I had ADHD this year. I always thought ADHD manifested as hyperactivity and misbehaviour because that’s how mainstream media portrays it. I was always well-behaved and calm, so no one ever suspected anything was wrong.

I only sought out a diagnosis because I stumbled upon a YouTube video about ADHD in girls.

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Typically, girls have inattentive type ADHD (previously known as ADD), where hyperactivity isn’t present. Inattentive ADHD kids tend to be non-disruptive and quiet, the exact opposite of the stereotype.

Preconceived notions such as these mean many people, especially girls, are never diagnosed.

Additionally, miseducation about ADHD causes harmful stigmas, and in my case, led to people denying my diagnosis.

Earlier this year, my counsellor and I told my teachers about my ADHD. One of them pulled me aside and told me they didn’t think I had ADHD and it must be a misdiagnosis. Another told me to “try paying attention more during class”.

I’m totally burned out and can’t focus on my studies. Help!

These moments made me self-conscious of my condition, and I almost regretted telling them. Educating teachers about learning disabilities would greatly support other students like me, and help identify students who have learning disabilities.

If you are diagnosed with ADHD, don’t worry! There is plenty of incredible support, both in real life and online. And once you to learn to harness your ADHD, it’s less of a disability and more of a secret weapon.

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