By Sarah Nathanson
Every college student knows the feeling of boredom, the required class on Friday at 6 PM that makes your head loll as you start to watch the Netflix show on a laptop screen three rows ahead of you. Normal, right? But what if you could never make the boredom go away despite being sincerely interested in the subject? What happens when the boredom grows to a critical point, and you’re just not focusing in any of your classes, despite all your best efforts?
Bored, Lazy . . . or Something Else?
For the past five years, I’ve been completely unable to focus in class — and I’ve been amazing at hiding it. I thought maybe what I was studying simply bored me. Two weeks into every school year, no matter the professor or subject matter, my brain tapped out. At first, I thought, and hoped, this distraction would fade as my classes became more interesting — in the later years of high school, the early years of university, in higher-level seminar courses that I was super interested in. It never did. So then I just figured I was lazy — and lucky, really. Good at playing the dutiful student while really being a terrible one, I would consistently zone out in class and scramble to learn the material right before tests (through high school and the beginning years of university). This worked for a while, but as classes became harder, my grades began to slip below what I felt was a decent average. I couldn’t keep my long-standing study habits up any longer — they didn’t seem normal, and following the pattern was hurting me. So when my therapist suggested Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), and that I be tested by a psychiatrist, I was shocked but relieved. My issues had a name and I could deal with them! Finally!
A Frustrating Journey
When they hear “ADHD,” most people think of a bouncy 10-year-old with a mischievous smile and a skinned knee. I am 20, and my preferred activities usually include chairs and books. I never had the visible early childhood symptoms that usually precede an ADHD diagnosis (like hyperactivity or fidgeting). Now, as an adult with the ability to sit calmly in a chair (and, as I like to tell myself, possessing dignity and poise), I’m not an ADHD poster girl either. So much so, perhaps, that the psychiatrist I visited refused to give me the official diagnosis (even after I scored positively for ADHD on a test he gave me), and I was told that my symptoms pointed elsewhere — to anxiety, and to having chosen the wrong university program.
This situation left me in limbo for another six months, frustrated with both myself and my learning skills. When I finally got a second opinion, it confirmed my original therapist’s suggestion: I do have ADHD, and it’s treatable. For me, this treatment means a combination of medication and relaxing hobbies including yoga, gardening and knitting, all of which help calm me and focus my mind. That means I can be a good student as long as I make sure to prioritize this kind of self-care — and as a college student who is living alone for the first time, I’ve had to learn how to, as we all have. It can be hard, especially when facing stigmas around mental health.
Does It Affect You As Well?
Friends — if you know something’s genuinely wrong in the way you’re working, take action by getting professional help, and make sure you also trust your gut. It may be ADHD or it may be something else, but do take your struggles seriously. While my methods of dealing with mental health might not work for everybody — and I specifically mean medication, because while it helps me, many people don’t like it — there is always something you can do to cope, and there is always someone to talk to (be it a therapist or somebody going through a similar situation).
If you want to know more about ADHD, its symptoms and coping mechanisms if you are affected, the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada has lots of information and resources on its website. The fall term is coming up, which is stressful — so if you need to, contact U of T Health Services (it’s what they’re there for). Remember, not all mental health challenges manifest in the same way, and talking about concerns is a first step in the right direction.
If you have a similar story, or advice you’d like to share with your fellow NEWtonians, please comment below! Lastly, trust yourself — and good luck stumbling through this phase of adulting!